Oscar race begins to come together following hectic year for film


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The official logo for the 2021 Academy Awards. The nominations will be announced on March 15, 2021, and the ceremony itself will be held on April 25, 2021.

Noah Sparkman, Editor-in-Chief

Even after what could reasonably be considered to be a barren year for film, the Oscar race is now fully underway, and is more intense than one might expect.
Following the Hollywood Foreign Press Association having announced the Golden Globe nominees, the public now has a more accurate barometer of what to expect from the Academy when Oscar nominees are announced on March 15.
The main takeaway from the nominations is that many categories are absolutely wide-open. Expected heavyweights like Spike Lee’s Vietnam War throwback “Da 5 Bloods” and Regina King’s historical drama “One Night in Miami” took huge blows to their campaigns. Meanwhile, several under-the-radar films like Emerald Fennell’s revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” suddenly became contenders.
On the Best Picture front, this is one of the hardest years to predict in recent memory. As of now, it seems that there are two frontrunners; Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and Chloe Zhao’s poignant character study “Nomadland.”
Chronicling the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the trial that followed, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has picked up the expected nominations on its campaign thus far, and its use of the historical context to comment on current events is something that has long appealed to Oscar voters.
However, “Nomadland” looks perfectly capable of bucking tradition. The film is a critical darling, and has devoured the circuit thus far. Although female-directed films have notoriously fallen short of Oscar gold, the Academy’s recent departures from tradition imply that “Nomadland” may have a very real chance at taking home the big prize.
In addition, Lee Isaac Chung’s immigrant drama “Minari” remains a possible dark horse candidate, riding high on extraordinarily strong reviews and a flurry of nominations. The Asian-American drama’s chances are regarded as much stronger due in part to the extraordinary success of “Parasite” last year, proving that the Academy is willing to recognize diverse films.
The Best Director race is a fairly direct reflection of the competition for Best Picture, with Zhao and Chung being the likely favorites. Lagging slightly behind are King, Sorkin, and Fennell.
If that list indeed translates into who is nominated, the inclusion of three women would be a seismic event for the category, which has historically shut them out to an almost inexplicable degree.
This potentially huge step forward for women in the industry comes in a year with a very strong Best Actress field as well.
Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”), and Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) are all neck-and-neck for the honor, with the trio each receiving their fair share of buzz thus far. Even fringe contenders like Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) and Yeri Han (“Minari”) have a legitimate chance of breaking through.
However, the Best Actor race does not seem to be nearly as tight. The field is certainly full of talent, including career-best work from Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”). However, it seems as though the award is destined to go to Chadwick Boseman.
Following Boseman’s tragic and untimely death in 2020, his final performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” as Levee has dominated the talk around the category, with critics hailing it as the best work of his career.. Many have posited that an Oscar would be an incredibly touching tribute to a man who was beloved in the industry, and it looks likely that he will receive one.
Ultimately, in a year in which the film industry was tested to an extraordinary degree, it is incredibly refreshing to be able to marvel at what has shaped up to be a very intriguing awards season. There is no doubt that when Oscar nominations are announced on March 15 there will be backlash, and there will likely be even more when the winners are honored on April 25.
However, the art form that so many hold dear will be celebrated like it is each and every year, and given the things that have been taken from us recently, that fact is something to value in and of itself.