Oscars Predictions: Best Director – Can Anyone Beat Chloé Zhao?

Clayton Davis
·8-min read

Variety's Awards Circuit is home to the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars from Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis. Following Academy Awards history, buzz, news, reviews and sources, the Oscar predictions are updated regularly with the current year's contenders in all categories. Variety's Awards Circuit Prediction schedule consists of four phases, running all year long: Draft, Pre-Season, Regular Season and Post Season. Eligibility calendar and dates of awards will determine how long each phase lasts and will be displayed next to revision date.

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2021 OSCARS PREDICTIONS:
BEST DIRECTOR

UPDATED: Apr. 8, 2021

AWARDS PREDICTION COMMENTARY: Two women made the cut in best director, which is a first in the category, with only one first-time filmmaker making the cut (Fennell). Feeling there would be a swell in the European vote, BAFTA nominee Vinterberg makes it over Florian Zeller (“The Father”), which is surprising considering how well it did overall, and Mads Mikkelsen didn’t make the cut in best actor.

SNUBS: Darius Marder (“Sound of Metal”), Shaka King (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), Regina King (“One Night in Miami”), Kirsten Johnson (“Dick Johnson Is Dead”), Ekwa Msangi (“Farewell Amor”), Dan Scanlon (“Onward”), Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”), Max Barbakow (“Palm Springs”), Charlie Kaufman (“I’m Thinking of Ending Things”), Dawn Porter (“The Way I See It”), Kevin Macdonald (“The Mauritanian”), Kornel Mundruzco (“Pieces of a Woman”), Florian Zeller (“The Father”)

PRECURSORS LEADER: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
Awards Circuit Winners Chart (2020-2021)
2021 Awards Season Calendar

AND THE NOMINEES ARE:

  1. Chloé Zhao
    "Nomadland" (Searchlight Pictures)

    THE "OSCAR SCENE"
    "I’m gonna be seventy-five this year and I think I’ve had a pretty good life. I’ve seen some really neat things kayaking all over the country... A moose family on a river in Idaho. Big white pelicans landing just six feet over my kayak on a lake in Colorado. Or... coming round a bend of a cliff and finding hundreds and hundreds of swallow nests on the wall of the cliff. And the swallows flying all around, reflecting in the water so it looks like I’m flying with the swallows. And little babies are hatching out. Egg shells are falling out of the nest and landing on the water right next to me, these little white shells. And... it was just so awesome, Fern! I felt I had done enough. My life was complete. I felt like if I were to die right then, it would be OK. How many people can say that?" - Swankie (Swankie)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated

    PRODUCERS: Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao
    SYNOPSIS: After losing everything in the Great Recession, an old woman embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.
    STARRING: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells

  2. Emerald Fennell
    "Promising Young Woman" (Focus Features)

    THE "OSCAR SCENE"
    "Look, I always liked you at med school. Okay? I genuinely like you. And I can’t stop thinking about you spitting in my coffee. So go to lunch with me this weekend. Please. If you don’t like it, we can have a safe word, and you can leave, no questions asked." - Bo Burnham (Ryan)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated

    PRODUCERS: Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell and Josey McNamara
    SYNOPSIS: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.
    STARRING: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Molly Shannon, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Max Greenfield, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Chris Lowell, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson

  3. David Fincher
    "Mank" (Netflix)

    THE "OSCAR SCENE"
    "You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one." - Gary Oldman (Herman Mankiewicz)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations (2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and 2010's "The Social Network")

    PRODUCERS: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski
    SYNOPSIS: 1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.
    STARRING: Tom Burke, Lily Collins, Joseph Cross, Charles Dance, Monika Gossman, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Tuppence Middleton, Toby Leonard Moore, Gary Oldman, Tom Pelphrey, Amanda Seyfried, Sam Troughton

  4. Thomas Vinterberg
    "Another Round" (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

    THE "OSCAR SCENE"
    "Now is the time. Let’s dance! Come on." - Mads Mikkelsen (Martin)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Martin

    PRODUCERS: Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Kasper Dissing
    SYNOPSIS: Four friends, all high school teachers, test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood.
    STARRING: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang

  5. Lee Isaac Chung
    "Minari" (A24)

    THE "OSCAR SCENE"
    "So we can't save each other, but money can? The truth is, I grew used to the idea of a divorce...David is better, and that's just as well...One day this kind of thing will happen again, and you'll fail completly, and it's inevitable what will happen to us." - Yeri Han (Monica)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated

    PRODUCERS: Christina Oh
    SYNOPSIS: A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.
    STARRING: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-jung Youn, Will Patton

† = no release date scheduled / could be delayed / may not be eligible
†† = could be campaigned in the lead or supporting categories / original or adapted screenplay categories

AWARDS CATEGORY HISTORY (Best Director)

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. The most awarded films in Oscar history are “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at 11 statuettes. The most nominated films in Academy history are “All About Eve,” “Titanic” and “La La Land” at 14. “La La Land” is the only film of the three to have lost best picture. The biggest Oscar “losers,” meaning most nominated and walk away with zero awards, are 1977’s “The Turning Point” and 1985’s “The Color Purple” at 11 each. John Ford has the most wins in this category with four, with Frank Capra and William Wyler behind with three. Wyler has the most nominations of any director with 12, with Martin Scorsese next in line with nine. Clint Eastwood was the oldest winner in Oscar history at 74 when he won for “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), while the oldest nominee ever is John Huston at 79 when he was nominated for “Prizzi’s Honor.” The youngest winner in history is Damien Chazelle for “La La Land” (2016) at 32, while John Singleton was the youngest nominee of all-time at 24 when he was shortlisted for “Boyz N in the Hood.” (1991)

Academy Awards Predictions (All Categories)

2021 Golden Globes Predictions (Film)

2021 SAG Awards Predictions (Film)

About the Academy Awards (Oscars)

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. Since 1927, nominees and winners are selected by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). 17 branches are represented within the near 10,000 person membership. The branches are actors, associates, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers, directors, documentary, executives, film editors, makeup and hairstylists, marketing and public relations, members-at-large, members-at-large (artists’ representatives), music, producers, production design, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects and writers.

  • The Oscars are scheduled for Sunday, April 25, 2021.

About the Golden Globes

The Golden Globes Awards, hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is held annually with 93 members since 1944. The group recognizes excellence in film and television across drama and comedy or musical categories. Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” holds the record for the most awards won by a single film with seven. Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Alan Parker’s “Midnight Express” are next in line with six each. Robert Altman’s “Nashville” has the record for most nominations received by a film with 11 while Colin Higgins’ “Foul Play,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part III” and Mike Nichols’ “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” share the record for receiving the most nominations and not winning a single award at seven.

  • The Golden Globes are scheduled for Feb. 28, 2021.

About the SAG Awards

The Screen Actors Guild Awards, hosted by SAG-AFTRA, is an annual award show that has become one of the most important and key indicators for the Oscars. Four films have won the most SAG awards with three: 1999’s “American Beauty,” 2002’s “Chicago,” 2011’s “The Help” and 2017’s “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Three movies have been nominated for the most SAG awards with five: 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” “Chicago” and 2008’s “Doubt.”

  • The SAG Awards are scheduled to take place on Sunday, April 4, 2021

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