One might think that this would be a strange year for the Oscars because there were so few films that got a traditional theatrical release. I thought the list to choose from would be paltry, but with extending the qualifying dates well into 2021, we have a decent crop of good films. So the awards won’t be a joke, and they won’t have an asterisk by the year to indicate that we shouldn’t take those awards seriously.
Unfortunately, it’s been difficult for anyone trying to see all the possible films if they didn’t catch the film during its short release time, and if you don’t have every streaming service imaginable. So, not having seen every film, but certainly having read much about them, here are some thoughts on the race.
This one is easy. Nomadland has won nearly every award in this category up until now, and this is as close to a lock as we’ll find this year (except for one award). Fortunately, the film is worthy of the award, and is not just the strongest in a weak bunch. I was happy to see Sound of Metal in the running, though it never had a chance to actually win. Mank, which many thought might win even before it was released, was a bit of a letdown to many folks, and while still a good film, is not a great film. Minari, from what I understand, is the “feel-good-but-is-still-a-good-movie” among the rest, and has a slight (and I mean slight) chance of winning, but that’s the only real competition to Nomadland.
Note: The win for so-called “Best Picture” given by the Screen Actors Guild is really “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture”. That’s a whole different thing than “Best Picture.” This year that award went to The Trial of the Chicago 7, which had a large cast with many excellent performances. Smaller, tighter casts were featured in the other nominees: Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Minari, and One Night in Miami. There’s nary a weak link in all those non-winners. But The Trial of the Chicago 7 had perhaps the largest and most varied cast, and that might be why it won. But is it a real Best Picture contender? Not at all.
No contest here. It will be Chloé Zhao for Nomadland. She won the Directors Guild Award, and the film is set to win Best Picture. I was glad the academy didn’t feel pressure to give a nod to Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7, as it got nominated for Best Picture and will likely win Best Original Screenplay. Cynics may note that Hollywood will be happy to give this award to an Asian woman (the first to be nominated in this category) and will then pat itself heartily on the back for being so inclusive. That will happen, but in this case, it will also be deserved.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
This is the one true lock. It will be (the late and sorely missed) Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Yes, it could be seen as a nod to a great actor who will be greatly missed, but as with Zhao, the award will be deserved. This is an outstanding performance, and the fact that he give it his all while dying is something of a miracle. What is regrettable is that Delroy Lindo of Da 5 Bloods wasn’t nominated. He surely deserved it. And it would have been nice in any other year to see Anthony Hopkins pick up a second Oscar in his old age for The Father. Riz Ahmed’s nomination for The Sound of Metal is his prize, as it is for Minari’s Steven Yeun. Gary Oldman has won relatively recently, so he is out of the running. It’s Boseman all the way.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
This one is up for grabs. The Screen Actors Guild gave it to Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Andra Day won at the Golden Globes for the United States vs. Billy Holiday, Carey Mulligan has won many awards for Promising Young Woman from more local groups and festivals, and Frances McDormand—the early frontrunner—just won the BAFTA (the British “Oscar”) for Nomadland. Since actors make up the majority of voters for the Oscars, it seems like Davis might have the edge. I personally would like to see Mulligan win. Have always been a fan, and she contributed a completely different performance last year with The Dig. I can’t predict this one with any assurance.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
This one is a no-brainer. It’s going to be Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah. For those who still don’t know this actor, he was the lead in Get Out. Kaluuya is really more of the lead, but with film-dominating performances that are not clearly the lead, it’s become fashionable to put the actor in a supporting role category (e.g., Viola Davis in Fences). And he’s not just good, but he OWNS the film; he’s a force throughout, and deserves his win.
This category was a bit confusing this year. Kaluuya’s film partner in Judas and the Black Messiah was Keith Stanfield, who was initially presented as the lead. But here he is in this category, which isn’t really reflective of his role, and isn’t really good enough to be nominated. Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night in Miami surely deserves his place on the list, and if not for Kaluuya, would likely be the winner. But Kingsley Ben-Adir As Malcolm X in One Night in Miami was just as good, if not better. He’s been ignored this season, but anyone with an eye for talent surely noticed.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
The early money was on Amanda Seyfried for Mank, but she has faded in recent months. Maria Bakalova is getting great acclaim for her work in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, and the supporting roles is where Oscar is more comfortable giving awards for comedy. This could p-o-s-s-i-b-l-y be where the Academy decides to finally give an Oscar to Glenn Close, but Hillbilly Elegy was ravaged by the critics, and the tension here might be between wanting to finally give her an Oscar, and not wanting to give her an Oscar for this film. My money is on Bakalova at the moment.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
There are good reasons why any of these nominees could win. With Nomadland winning Best Picture, that might pull the script into the win column. But with the love flowing for Sasha Baron Cohen this year, he could win for Borat. White Tiger’s final award is the nomination itself. One Night in Miami’s central idea is strong, and the film’s ability to keep as many ideological balls as possible in the air throughout the film is admirable. The Academy loves intelligent and “classy” scripts, too, and that may bring a win to The Father. Not sure about this one yet.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
This one might be a bit of game-changer. Normally, an Aaron Sorkin script is the default winner any year, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is both intelligent and witty. The man’s a legend, and that may be enough for some voters. But Promising Young Woman is young, fresh, brilliant, and written by a newly arrived female writer-director. I think the script is better than the film, and this may how the Academy will show its love for this film. Surely the arrival of such a talented director is an encouraging sign for the future
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Well, we don’t have a film like Parasite, which won this last year, and then cleaned up on the rest of the major awards. But we do have Another Round, which has gotten great reviews, and which snagged a Best Director nomination this year for Thomas Vinterberg. That may be enough to convince voters that this is the best. The others are virtually unknown compared to the higher visibility of foreign films of years past. Blame that on COVID….
Quick thoughts on other categories:
Best Animated Feature: Onward and Soul may cancel each other out, giving this to Wolfwalkers.
Best Cinematography: Mank’s cinematography has already won awards, and if it wins here, will be the rare modern-day black-and-white film to win the award. It’s stunning and would be a worthy win. None of the other nominated films (Judas and the Black Messiah, News of the World, Nomadland, and The Trial of the Chicago 7) are known for the lush imagery that seems to attract votes. The slight exceptions are News of the World and Nomadland, whose vistas are beautiful but rough.
Best Film Editing: The Best Picture often gets this as an accompaniment to the other awards. But in the year of Sound of Metal and Promising Young Woman, that’s not a lock.
Best Original Song: “Fight for You” and “Speak Now” have nearly identical functions in their films, and may cancel each other out. “Hear My Voice” is not far away from them. We may actually have voting based on the quality of the song!
Best Sound: I’ll be really surprised if Sound of Metal doesn’t win.
Best Visual Effects: Tenet and Mulan are the only films anyone has heard of. (Slightly exaggerated, but close to being true.)
Final note: These are likely to be the least watched of any Oscar show in years. For one, it’s going the virtual route, which is necessary but not fun, and viewers may choose to skip that. Then there is the thin list of films to draw from. There have obviously been no blockbusters to choose from, and there are not even any deeply loved films in the bunch—all because of the pandemic and the small roster of films released. Also, a famous or funny host used to be a draw. But now everyone is running in fear of saying anything controversial, so the Oscars have passed on employing that possible help. The only emotional attraction is going to be the win for Chadwick Boseman, and the Academy should be happy that is one of the last awards given that evening.