Welcome to the weirdest Oscars race ever. On Monday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally announced its nominations, about two months later than usual and a full year after most North American movie theatres were shuttered due to you-know-what.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of nods were directed toward streaming giants: Netflix (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Amazon (Sound of Metal, One Night in Miami) and Disney+ (Soul) all notched nods. Also expected: nominations for such sure-bets as Chadwick Boseman (Best Actor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Frances McDormand (Best Actress for Nomadland), Carey Mulligan (Best Actress for Promising Young Woman) and David Fincher (Best Director for Mank).
But there is only so much Oscar love to go around – and the snubs and surprises from this morning’s announcement ring as loud as a multiplex’s fire alarm after a popcorn machine goes haywire (forgive the tortured simile, but I would give anything to be trapped inside a theatre right now, even if it were slightly ablaze). Here are the best, worst and strangest moments from the 2021 Oscar nominations.
Be Honest: Who Has Seen These Movies?
In certain corners of the film critic community, there are grumblings that this year’s Oscars shouldn’t even be a thing. I can see why: without the quasi-equalizing force of movie theatres – and the massive marketing campaigns that come along with theatrical releases – it is an open question as to just how many audiences out there are super-passionate about the Oscar prospects of The Father or Nomadland (both of which have not even been released in Canada yet; more on that below). Still, I don’t subscribe to the theory that we shouldn’t spotlight truly amazing cinematic work. Even with *gestures broadly at everything* the film industry has released some all-timers into the world, through whatever means necessary. But the Oscars do feel all so very small and curious a thing when so much of the film industry, and the world, is mired in chaos and confusion.
Manks for Everything
Ahead of its release this past December, it seemed the world was Mank’s to lose. It had the prestige of filmmaker David Fincher, making his Netflix feature film debut. It starred Gary Oldman, already a certified Oscar champ. Yet the drama about the making of Citizen Kane, California socialism and the origins of fake news, among other things, didn’t make as large an impression on general audiences as it did on a very particular circle of film critics and industry historians – and Netflix wasn’t exactly crowing about its viewership numbers, either. But never doubt Hollywood for celebrating a movie that celebrates (or at least examines) Hollywood: Mank walked away with the most nominations on Monday: 10, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Oldman and Best Supporting Actress for Amanda Seyfried.
Delroy Lindo Left to Bleed
It wasn’t so long ago that Delroy Lindo appeared to be a lock for a Best Actor nomination thanks to his stellar work in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. But despite Lindo delivering the performance of his career in the Vietnam-set drama, and despite Netflix giving the film a big boost last summer, Lindo consistently trailed his contemporaries once awards season started in earnest. His absence is entirely the Academy’s loss: we’ll be talking about Lindo’s work here long after memories of 2021 fade.
Shots on Vinterberg!
In the morning’s biggest surprise, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg snuck into the crowded Best Director field to yield a nod for his excellent midlife crisis/alcoholism drama Another Round, which stars Mads Mikkelsen (who, regrettably, went unnoticed by the Academy). The next round, and a whole lot of crushing ennui, is on Vinterberg, everybody!
Even though Warner Bros. clearly campaigned to have Judas and the Black Messiah star LaKeith Stanfield be considered the lead actor, and Daniel Kaluuya as supporting actor, somehow both men got slotted into the Best Supporting Actor category. Both are excellent in the film, but practically this means that the two performers will likely cancel each other out and The Trial of the Chicago 7′s Sacha Baron Cohen (who was nominated here but disappointingly not as Best Actor for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) will win.
Sound of Surprise
Speaking of Best Supporting Actor, Sound of Metal’s Paul Raci was always going to be a long shot for Academy recognition, but what has 2020 taught us if not to remain eternally optimistic, lest the crushing defeat of reality smother us all? As the alcohol counsellor to Riz Ahmed’s newly deafened drummer, long-time character actor Raci stole every scene he was in, delivering a genuine breakout moment. And, shockingly, the Academy delivered, handing Raci a nod even though this was one of the most crowded Best Supporting Actor categories in some time.
When Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami premiered at the Venice Film Festival this past fall, the drama imagining the events of a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Sam Cooke was instantly hailed as Oscar material. “The first solid Oscar contender to drop in the fall festival circuit!” proclaimed Variety. How strange and disappointing, then, to see the engaging and powerful film fall almost completely off the radar. Only supporting actor Leslie Odom Jr. (who played Cooke), screenwriter Kemp Powers and the film’s original song Speak Now scored nods, with King herself left out in the cold.
Ever since the Golden Globes snubbed Minari’s leading man Steven Yeun and slotted Lee Isaac Chung’s drama into the Best Foreign-Language Film slot instead of its presumed Best Picture category, the odds felt stacked against Minari. But the Academy woke up to this film’s excellence, awarding Minari six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for the scene-stealing Youn Yuh-jung and Best Actor for Yeun, who just became the first Asian-American actor to be nominated in the category.
Ahead of Hillbilly Elegy’s release this fall, members of AAA (that is: Amy Adams Acolytes) assumed they’d finally have the momentum to get the nominated-six-times-but-never-awarded actress the Academy Award she so deserves. Then they saw the movie. While Adams had some momentum – she did after all net a Screen Actors Guild nomination – the AAA club will have to wait for another go-round.
Silence of the Oscars
Jodie Foster surprised industry-watchers when she managed to score a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the then- (and still now-) little-seen Guantanamo drama The Mauritanian. And she surprised further when she actually won, leading some to assume an Oscar nod was in her near pajama-clad future. Alas, it was radio silence (no lambs, though) for Foster on Monday morning. Same went for her co-star, and fellow Globe nominee, Tahar Rahim – even though his performance as the unjustly incarcerated Mohamedou Ould Salahi was one of the highlights of the year.
Malcolm & Marie In the Middle
It is more than a little funny that, half a year after paying US$30-million for Sam Levinson’s black-and-white two-hander Malcolm & Marie in the hopes of snagging some Oscar gold, Netflix can boast exactly zero high-profile nominations or awards for the film. It has also been so slammed by critics – that’s what happens when you devote a good portion of a movie to, um, slamming film critics – that Malcolm & Marie is now shorthand for pandemic-era purchasing panic.
This Land Is My Land, That Land is Nomadland
The most unintentionally hilarious/sad thing about Monday’s nominations is the fact that Nomadland – which boasts six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Chloe Zhao – hasn’t even been released yet in Canada. And it won’t be for another month. While Americans have been able to watch the film through U.S.-only streamer Hulu, and in whatever theatres might be open, Canadians are out in the cold. A planned March 19 Toronto-area theatrical release is likely not happening due to … well, Toronto-area theatres remaining shuttered. Instead, we’ll likely have to wait until April 9, when Nomadland is set to open in select Canadian theatres (depending on local health restrictions) and become available to stream on Disney+ add-on service Star.
The 2021 Academy Awards will air live April 25 at 8 p.m. on CTV/ABC.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.