The pandemic hasn’t been too kind to the movie world. Movies have either had their release date delayed or have been sent straight to streaming or other home video platforms. Many films that were planned to release during this past year still haven’t. This makes this upcoming Academy Awards a particularly unique show. That being said, some especially great movies were able to see the light of day.
I’ve done my best to watch as many of these fantastic nominees as possible to determine which ones I think and hope will take home the prestigious award. Here are my 2021 Oscar picks:
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Glenn Close gets completely lost in her role and brings the character of Mamaw to life. Between her acting and the outstanding prosthetics, she’s completely unrecognizable. Her performance stands out as one of the better elements Hillbilly Elegy has to offer and carries much of the emotional weight of the film. Close also wonderfully portrays the gray areas of a person’s personality. She seamlessly switches from caring grandmother to a wife who’s willing to light her husband on fire. It’s certainly a memorable performance and will be a tough one to beat.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Daniel Kaluuya seems to be the obvious choice for this category. He gives an absolutely stellar performance as Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party. His performance steals the show, and his intense, emotional speeches captivate the audience. The film feels more like his character’s story at times rather than Bill O’Neal’s. Kaluuya’s performance leaves such a huge impact on the viewer, even once the film is over.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
“Another Round” – Denmark
Another Round is one of the only International Feature Film nominees to also be nominated in another category this year, which shows how worthy of a win it is. Mads Mikkelson gives one of the best performances of his career, and Thomas Vinterberg truly proves why he deserved a nomination in the Director category. The film offers a unique look at what it’s like to go through a midlife crisis while offering both fun and tragic moments for the audience to enjoy. Pulling off the two tones in a single film can be a challenge, but Vinterberg pulls it off effortlessly. It’s an entertaining ride of a film that many audience members can connect to.
“A Concerto Is a Conversation”
This is a tough category because both production and content need to be taken into consideration. If it was purely based on content, I’d say Do Not Split should win. However, A Concerto is a Conversation easily stands above the other nominees when considering the production side of the film. The camera shots and editing are incredible. Plus, the content the short documentary focuses on is both interesting and powerful. Kris Bowers’s conversation with his grandfather about their family history and how it showcases the evolution of race relations is absolutely captivating, and it points out important issues that many may not have realized. It’s certainly a powerful 13 minutes of film.
“My Octopus Teacher”
Again, the Documentary categories require one to look at both the production and the content together, and because of that, My Octopus Teacher is the most impressive. The underwater footage is as clear as any footage you’d see on land in other movies. Craig Foster managed to capture some perfectly-timed shots of sea life, like some creatures camouflaging or an octopus clearing rocks out of a cave by rapidly swaying her tentacles. Seeing a bond form between a human and an animal is legitimately entertaining and educational at the same time. Some of the narration can feel dry at times, but it’s ultimately an amazing documentary.
“Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”
This is probably the underdog choice for this category, but it’s the only song nominated that is actually used during the movie and is important to the plot, while the rest are just slapped onto the credits of their films. Plus, it’s a well-written, heartfelt song. It’s also bilingual, which adds to how impressive it is. A few of the other nominations, while great, are songs covering the same themes, so they almost feel like they cancel each other out.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Soul is one of the most beautiful movies Pixar has put out in years, and should be the clear winner over the other nominees even though they are all absolutely fantastic as well. Soul has stunning animation and music, and it offers an important message for audiences of all ages. It also blends heart and humor immensely well. The animation in the film is particularly interesting because it uses different styles throughout without it ever feeling out of place, which can be a difficult feat to accomplish.
“One Night in Miami”
This is one of the tougher choices this year, but One Night in Miami will likely take home the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay category. Despite the majority of the film taking place in a single location, the dialogue carries the film and keeps the audience’s attention throughout. The dialogue is so well thought-out that when each line is said, you know who would say it based on each character’s personality. With a script this great, it’s hard not to assume this one will win.
“Promising Young Woman”
Promising Young Woman is witty, dark, and fun all at the same time. It’s a unique story we haven’t quite seen before with necessary themes and premise. The dialogue is also creatively twisted, creating the film’s distinctive tone. Emerald Fennell proves she’s worthy of this award despite her not having many films under her belt.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
I’ll be honest, part of me truly wants Steven Yeun to win this one, but Minari isn’t accessible to watch yet and I haven’t been able to see the extent of his performance. That being said, Chadwick Boseman makes his final performance a memorable one. With Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom taking place in a single location, it’s up to the performances to keep one invested, and Boseman excels at doing so. He brings the character of Levee to life so much so that one can forget that it’s Boseman playing a character rather than seeing a real person in action. Chadwick Boseman left the world with one fantastic final performance.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”
This is another tough category to predict a winner for this year, as each of the nominees are pretty equally outstanding, but Carey Mulligan deserves the win just a bit more for her role in Promising Young Woman. She adds to the dark nature of her role while also bringing a lot of personality to it. She completely carries the film as her character plans her next revenge. Mulligan manages to add to both the upbeat tones and the darker ones throughout the film without ever skipping a beat. Promising Young Woman is a character-led story, so it needs an actress who can give a performance that can guide it, and that’s just what Mulligan does.
Chloe Zhao, “Nomadland”
Director Chloe Zhao brings some outstanding scenic visuals to Nomadland. Of course, the story is a joy to follow, but the movie also looks absolutely stunning. There are details in many shots throughout that tell a story on their own, which is interesting to see in a film. There’s also a unique mechanic used during various scenes where it feels like it switches between a fiction piece and a documentary while still feeling like the same story. Zhao took some bold choices while directing Nomadland, so it should hopefully pay off.
The production design team behind Mank were given the challenge of recreating 1930’s Hollywood, and they definitely succeeded. Every set piece that was built looks and feels like it belongs decades ago. The shots that were filmed on location were perfect for the period they were going for. Plus, they built some pretty impressive structures, like the tally board and stage for the election and the shrine Amanda Seyfried is tied to in the beginning. Every prop chosen, whether it be microphones, decorations, alcohol bottles, or cameras, match the time period, helping to immerse the audience in 1930’s Hollywood.
Erik Messerschmidt, “Mank”
Erik Messerschmidt, the cinematographer behind Mank, recreated some of the shots from Citizen Kane perfectly. The lighting, angles, and overall tone all work together to pay homage to the cinema classic. Even though the film is black and white, the film feels vibrant during the more upbeat scenes and somber during the darker ones. The cinematography of Mank successfully pulls in the audience more than most other films.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Nothing in the Costume Design category felt too special to me this year, but Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom does have the most impressive costumes out of the nominees. Ma Rainey and her backup dancers wear especially extravagant outfits when performing on stage. She dons other equally-fancy dresses throughout the film as well. Her band that the movie focuses on wear suits (all visibly different ones at that) that set the scene for the time period. Some of the attire, Levee’s shoes in particular, are even the focus of some of the dialogue, making it actually important to the plot.
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND
“Sound of Metal”
Sound of Metal is so much about sound, it’s a shoo-in for Achievement in Sound. The movie’s audio gets drowned out when Ruben starts losing his hearing, and we hear everything how he hears it when he gets the cochlear implant. The audio being done in such a manner allows the audience to experience sound like the character does, which is something rarely seen in movies. There are scenes throughout where the sound is focused on as much as the plot, like when Ruben bangs on the metal slide so the child can hear and feel it. Not only is it the most impressive audio in this year’s films, but it’s probably one of the biggest achievements in sound in movie history.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“If Anything Happens I Love You”
If Anything Happens I Love You is one of the most haunting animated short films I’ve seen. It tells an all-too-real story about grief and how it can affect people while also bringing attention to an important issue. The animation itself is spectacularly done with TVPaint and sets the mood of the film. To top it off, the powerful story is told with no dialogue, and the characters’ shadows express their emotions rather than themselves. It’s a truly unique piece that won’t leave your mind soon after you see it.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
“Two Distant Strangers”
Two Distant Strangers does have some instances of unintentional goofiness, but its message and how it’s conveyed is hard to dismiss. It draws a lot of attention to the very real issue of police brutality and it’s often focused on people of color. It uses a similar premise to Groundhog Day to showcase that message, allowing it to stand out from other films with similar themes. The story is also told in a way that you never know what will happen next and you have no idea how the protagonist will get past each challenge. Even the end credits showcase the names of many victims of police brutality, urging viewers to remember their names. It’s both important and moving.
There are a couple of incredible scores nominated this year, especially Soul and Minari, but the one that stands out the most is Mank. Mank’s score is composed of music that sounds like it’s from the 30s and 40s, but with a bit of a twist. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took music that would exist when Citizen Kane was made, and took an experimental approach to how to change it for Mank. There are moments when sounds that would exist within the world of the film are used in the music, like a typewriter being used along with the rest of the orchestra. The score also uses a wide variety of music, ranging from somber tunes to more upbeat melodies, and even hectic-sounding pieces.
Tenet’s story may be relatively forgettable, but it’s a visual effects masterpiece. Christopher Nolan proves that he can keep finding new ways to mess with our minds. With the footage being edited to have some things and people moving forward in time while others are moving backwards in time, it creates a spectacle to look at while causing the audience to scratch their heads wondering how it was done. Nolan went out of his way to stick to traditional effects any way he could. The vehicle crashes and explosions are real, and the third act shows off the impressive effects on a huge scale.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
The editing in The Trial of the Chicago 7 is nothing short of impressive, as it crosscuts real footage with what was filmed for the movie. Showing what actually happened in real life makes the rest of the movie feel more impactful. Another great example of skillful crosscutting in the movie is Abbie Hoffman’s stand-up being shown while also cutting to more serious shots with the other characters. The riot scene is edited in a way to present the sense of chaos and anxiousness, and the result is brilliant.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Hillbilly Elegy’s makeup and hairstyling is breathtaking. Glenn Close is unrecognizable in her makeup. She looks identical to the person she is playing. Even more impressive is how they have Amy Adams play the same character at multiple ages, and the makeup artists managed to have her actually look like she was older or younger rather than wearing prosthetics. It would be pretty shocking to see this makeup team lose.
Minari deserves to win the evening’s big prize, as it expertly showcases what it’s like for immigrant families in the U.S. The film is heavily inspired by director Lee Isaac Chung’s memories of his own childhood, making it more personal and adding an extra layer to the emotion of the story. Not only does the story hit home for Chung and the actors involved, but it’s likely relatable to a lot of the audience. A movie that can resonate with its viewers on such a deep, personal level definitely deserves the award for Best Picture.
As always, I’ll be writing a followup article reflecting on how my picks did after the big show, so keep an eye out for that as well. Let me know in the comments who you think will take home the Oscar for each category. The Academy Awards air April 25th, 2021 at 8:00 PM Eastern.