The 2021 Academy Awards: The Weirdest Ever?

If you’re a movie nut — and you probably are if you’re visiting this somewhat obsessive film review site — then you’ll know this has been a most unusual awards season.

This year’s Oscars, airing on Sunday night, April 25th, have been extended two months from their usual late-February date, and with cinemas in most places closed (Nova Scotia included, once again), the Hollywood hype machine has ground to a halt. Whether you miss cinemas or not, it’s hard to deny — days from what’s likely to be the least-viewed Oscar ceremony in decades — that theatrical exhibition helps people care about feature films. I hope the studios, streaming and otherwise, recognize that.

With only digital, at-home options, movies feel a lot less special. A new or familiar series might be the entertainment choice for most rather than a critically acclaimed but harrowing biopic or intense drama. I can hardly blame someone for not being able to sit through Pieces Of A Woman, where Vanessa Kirby is nominated for Best Actress, when I haven’t yet found the courage to see it — and I do this semi-professionally!

Let’s not forget, the Academy Awards were invented as a promotional tool. There’s an argument to be made that with a lot of the bigger-budget Hollywood pictures postponed by the pandemic, smaller indie movies have earned more eyeballs and more critical accolades. Would movies like Promising Young Woman, Minari, or Sound of Metal earned the same attention on another year?  That might be the silver lining to all of this.

Don’t ask me what to expect from the ceremony. I gather they’re eschewing Zoom for a real, in-person experience, but I have no idea what that’s going to look like. One of the locations for the ceremony is Union Station in Los Angeles — where they shot scenes for Blade Runner, amongst other features through the years. The show is being produced by director Steven Soderbergh— director of pandemic horror Contagion —  so I’m hopeful it’ll at least be entertaining.

I’m also not particularly good at predicting the winners — I was thrilled when Parasite won the big prize last year, but don’t often get it right. I know what my heart wants, not what the Academy will choose. I will say that the acting categories are a lot more unpredictable this year, which is a pleasure.

For the full list of nominees, go to the Oscars website. Here’s what I’ll be cheering for on Sunday evening (click on the titles to read my original reviews), with a few random thoughts about the contenders.

For Original Screenplay, I’d really like to see Emerald Fennell take it for Promising Young Woman, though I expect the ever-popular Aaron Sorkin, one of the few people in Hollywood called a genius on the regular, will win for The Trial Of The Chicago 7

For Adapted Screenplay, I’d be fine for Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller to win for The Father, though given how few nods One Night In Miami received, and how impressive it is turning a play into cinema — better, even, than another Oscar-nominated theatrical adaptation, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — I’d be good with that one, too.

For Best International Feature Film, I haven’t seen enough of the nominees to offer much of an opinion here, but I have seen the frontrunner, Another Round aka Druk from Denmark. It’s a fine film — maybe not director Thomas Vinterberg’s best, that’s probably The Hunt — but as half a Dane I’ve gotta cheer for the home team.

For Best Animated Feature Film, I’d really like to see the award go to filmmakers other than Pixar — as much as I enjoyed Onward and Soul. Wolfwalkers, which I finally caught up with this week on Apple TV+ is an absolute joy from the Irish animators Cartoon Saloon. Their angular,  woodcut-styled animation is such a pleasure to watch, but the narrative here is the thing. It’s a fable about sisterhood — a British townie girl meets an Irish wood-dweller and they become friends. It’s also about the conflict between colonialism and a more holistic, indigenous way of living.  The film is wonderful and I gather the studio has been nominated many times previously without winning. Give it to them for once.

For Best Actor in a Leading Role, this is a terrific category this year. Chadwick Boseman has to be the favourite for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — the actor having passed away since the film was made. He gives a genuinely powerful performance, but the film is an ensemble. I wouldn’t call him a lead any more than I would Viola Davis, nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part. Yuen and Oldman are fine in Minari and Mank, respectively, but for me it’s Ahmed in Sound of Metal or Hopkins in The Father. They’re in almost every scene, and we’re seeing nuance we’ve never seen from either of them before. With Hopkins’ 50+ years on screen, and he’s still doing this quality work? Give him a second Oscar. (His first was for Silence Of The Lambs).

For Best Actress in a Leading Role, I also have to catch up on a couple of films — I’ve still got time! — but it’s hard not to give this one to McDormand for Nomadland. It would be her third, and entirely deserved. I’m also a longtime fan of what Carey Mulligan does, but while I really admired Promising Young Woman, I think she might have been even better in Inside Llewyn Davis, Shame, and Wildlife. Of course, she wasn’t nominated for those films (her only other Oscar nomination came in 2009 for An Education), but I’m certain she’ll get another shot.

For Best Actor in a Supporting Role, it’s another solid category of performances. There’s no doubt Sasha Baron Cohen raised the energy of The Trial of the Chicago 7, and I’d kind of like to see him win just to hear his sure-to-be-a-barnburner speech, but how much more ballsy would it have been for the Academy to nominate his courage and achievement in the Borat sequel? I mean, if they can nominate Maria Bakalova, right? How many other actors here put their lives on the line for their art and politics? Lakeith Stanfield is a great talent and has deserved recognition before this, but his role is kind of the weakest part of Judas And The Black Messiah, and he’s the lead! I’d argue he shouldn’t even be in this category. Leslie Odem Jr is terrific in One Night In Miami, but more worthy of recognition than the other three main actors in the film? I wouldn’t say so. Paul Raci in Sound Of Metal is terrific, a once-in-a-lifetime role for someone who is deeply embedded in the deaf community in real life as he was raised by parents who were deaf. All that said, this award has to go to Daniel Kaluuya for Judas. He’s so good you wish the picture had just been a biopic about Fred Hampton.

For Best Actress in a Supporting Role, I’m kind of leaning toward Amanda Seyfried. She’s the one character in Mank you really give a shit about. Olivia Colman in The Father is a wonder, and Yuh-Jung Youn is also very good in Minari, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Seyfried.

For Best Director, I feel like Hollywood’s longtime affection for Fincher — and not having given it to him when really deserved for The Social Network — means he’s the favourite here for Mank. But if Nomadland does well through the night, don’t be surprised if Chloé Zhao gets the gong. A Danish dark horse could be Thomas Vinterberg. The Academy really likes him, apparently.

For Best Picture, it’s Nomadland‘s to lose. It has so much human, social capital — it has things to say about America in collapse, and Hollywood recognizes that. There’s some backlash to the film — a suggestion that it romanticizes poverty, which seems bonkers to me. I guess the fact it uses real people — who I’m sure were well compensated for their time — makes it a bit fuzzier an issue, but are we at the point where storytellers in Hollywood, while recognizing all their privilege, can no longer make movies about people who aren’t in their tax bracket?

A possibility of an upset is if the older, more conservative wing of the Academy decides to go the narcissist route and give it to Mank, because Hollywood can’t resist a movie about Hollywood. Or if they go safe, like they did with Green Book, and decide the more conventional, liberal drama, The Trial of The Chicago 7,  should get the award.

However it goes, however weird it gets, I look forward to the glamour and the intrigue. I’ll be Tweeting through the evening — follow me @FlawInTheIris.


About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.