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Austin360's Oscars picks: Who should win, who could win and who was snubbed

Eric Webb
Austin 360
Director Chloé Zhao, left, appears with actress Frances McDormand on the set of "Nomadland."

The theaters weren't always open the past year, but movies still got us through. Shade the award show format all you want, but we're happy that the 93rd Academy Awards are still on, especially because some stunning films got us through our dark pandemic days.

Here are our picks for winners in a few major categories at Sunday's Oscars, which air at 7 p.m. on ABC. 

More:Austin360's favorite 25 movies of 2020: What and where to watch

Best picture

What we want to win: "Nomadland." It's always nice to see a quiet and genuinely moving picture take the top prize over a splashy golden calf (see also "Moonlight" over "La La Land"). All the better if it tells a story about people that don't get to be our big screen heroes too often — here, an older woman on the economic margins, played so breathtakingly by Frances McDormand. 

Our review:'Nomadland' is a film for all of us left out in the cold

We wouldn't be mad about: "Minari." The same reasoning above applies; I guess I'm saying that I don't want "The Trial of the Chicago 7" or "Mank." Lee Isaac Chung's lyrical immigrant tale succeeds on every level — visually, it's a vision of rural childhood that comes only in dreams, and its narrative and performances defy you to not find empathy for those that America thinks of strangers.

Our review:'Minari' and the American dream of reaping what you sow

What to mark on your ballot: "Nomadland." A controversy about the film's portrayal of gig work doesn't really draw blood, and it's racked up plenty of top prizes already.

What we wish had been nominated: "Da 5 Bloods." Spike Lee's outsized Vietnam vets movie plays like opera when you watch it. It pulses with topical, revolutionary spirit (see also: the filmography of Spike Lee) and still brings both pulpy adventure and Kleenex fuel. Throw in an all-time great Delroy Lindo and a mournful turn from the late Chadwick Boseman, and it's puzzling that the Academy left "Da 5 Bloods" out.

Billie Holiday (Andra Day) takes on the feds when they don't want her to sing "Strange Fruit" in the period drama "The United States vs. Billie Holiday."

Best actress

Who we want to win: Frances McDormand. She just won in 2018 for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," but that movie is a tire fire. McDormand's portrayal of Fern in "Nomadland" is short on words and high on little moments that say it all. She's in almost every frame you see, even after you turn the movie off.

We wouldn't be mad about: Andra Day. General consensus is that Lee Daniels' "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" is a middling movie with a magnetic star turn from singer Day. (... I liked it.)

Who to mark on your ballot: Andra Day. She's really that good, and a fresh face feels satisfying. Shades of Renée Zellweger's gold for the camp biopic "Judy"? (Again ... I liked it.)

Who we wish had been nominated: It's been disappointing to see "Minari" mom Yeri Han left out of the big prizes this season. She's controlled and devastating as a Korean American mother trying to keep it together in an Arkansas mobile home. And remember when we weren't sure if any movies would come out in 2020, and an Elisabeth Moss win for "The Invisible Man" was a genuine possibility? Let's go back to there. (Her snarling, monstrous turn as a tortured author in "Shirley" also would've been a fun dark horse.)

Riz Ahmed in a scene from "Sound of Metal."

Best actor

Who we want to win: Riz Ahmed. The man's shown up with maximum shine in supporting roles ("The Sisters Brothers" and "Nightcrawler" come to mind) and prestige TV ("The Night Of," "Girls") for years now. Let's put a crown on him for his down-and-dirty take on a punk drummer losing his hearing. 

We wouldn't be mad about: Steven Yeun. "Minari" doesn't work without Yeun, harnessing the full power of fatherly bravado, dreaming to a fault in the face of American capitalism's cold indifference. Plus, that smile. C'mon.

Who to mark on your ballot: Chadwick Boseman. When the "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" star died from cancer last year, it forced film fans to imagine the great performances they'd never get to see. A rare posthumous prize seems assured.

Who we wish had been nominated: Delroy Lindo. As a Trump-supporting Black veteran of the Vietnam War whose PTSD drives him to "Heart of Darkness"-levels of betrayal, Lindo and director Spike Lee created a mythic role that will loom large in cinema history.

Yuh-Jung Youn plays the Yi family grandmother, Soonja, whose arrival from Korea turns grandson David's young life upside down in "Minari."

Best supporting actress

Who we want to win: Yuh-Jung Youn. Our favorite rascally grandma stole and then broke hearts in "Minari." We all love a card-playing savage in their golden years. Plus, her final moments in the film give the role a dynamism that should make her win a lock.

Our interview:'Minari' star Yuh-jung Youn knows how to create a good grandma

We wouldn't be mad about: Amanda Seyfried. Ingenue supporting player from light fare like "Mean Girls" and "Mamma Mia!" inhabits the skin of a real person for auteur-y Hollywood bait is a readymade Oscar narrative. But the thing about it is, Seyfried's salty and sublime as platinum-maned mistress Marion Davies in the otherwise fizzling "Mank."

Who to mark on your ballot: Yuh-Jung Youn. She's got the momentum, and you don't stop the Meryl Streep of South Korea from getting what she wants.

Who we wish had been nominated: This is all fun and games for the most part, but one Oscars snub I'm actually perturbed by is Olivia Cooke's exclusion here for "Sound of Metal." Playing the musical and romantic partner to Ahmed, her saucer eyes give pages worth of plot in one bereft glance. It also would have been nice to have Dominique Fishback here for "Judas and the Black Messiah." Her take on Deborah Johnson is the warm pulse of the tense historical drama.

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are competing against each other at the Oscars for "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Best supporting actor

Who we want to win: Daniel Kaluuya. Listen. It's fraudulent that both Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are nominated as supporting for "Judas and the Black Messiah." Who's the lead if not one of them — Martin Sheen in Halloween makeup? But Kaluuya's fire incarnate as slain Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton.

We wouldn't be mad about: Paul Raci. One of the nicest surprises of the nominations reveal was Raci, a character actor mostly seen on TV who played the main character's deaf mentor in "Sound of Metal." The actor is the hearing son of deaf parents and fluent in American Sign Language. His supporting turn is earthy, warm stuff.

Who to mark on your ballot: Daniel Kaluuya. He's one of the best that the screen has to offer these days, and if anyone deserves induction into the Oscars canon this year, it's him.

Who we wish had been nominated: Real answer: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (who nabbed a deserved Emmy for "Watchmen") in "The Trial of the Chicago 7." He's the best part of an entertaining if tired Aaron Sorkin exercise. Chaos answer: Ewan McGregor as flamboyant, sadistic gangster Roman Sionis/Black Mask in "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)." Not a single person had more fun, or was more fun to watch, on screen last year, including Margot Robbie playing an actual clown in the same movie.

Carey Mulligan, left, Emerald Fennell and Laverne Cox on the set of "Promising Young Woman." At the Oscars, Fennell is nominated for best director and Mulligan is nominated for best actress.

Best director

Who we want to win: Chloé Zhao. A Zhao win for "Nomadland" would make history — she'd be the second woman and the first woman of color to take the directing prize. And though her film is quiet, her execution was a feat: a cast of largely non-professional actors, almost surreal shots of the American West's natural splendor, subtle but unmistakable themes running throughout like a silver thread. 

We wouldn't be mad about: Lee Isaac Chung grew memories of his boyhood into an empathetic bloom with "Minari," which challenges the white narrative of American identity with grace. And don't forget Emerald Fennell, whose funny, spiky, horrifying "Promising Young Woman" is actually daring and different, which would be a lovely thing to reward.

Our review:A 'Promising Young Woman' hunts predators

Who to mark on your ballot: Chloé Zhao. She's the frontrunner, and that's how it should be.

Who we wish had been nominated: The Oscars have not been generous to Spike Lee, and this year is no exception with "Da 5 Bloods." For a wildcard wish, Radha Blank's deeply personal and deeply delightful "The Forty-Year-Old Version" got shut out this year, but how rad would it have been to see her nominated here?