The actual ceremony may still be over a month away, but this morning we finally received the nominees for the 2021 Academy Awards. The pandemic made this one of the strangest movie years and awards seasons of all time, but perhaps the most bizarre thing about the Academy’s nominees this year is that.. they’re actually kind of good? While there were a handful of snubs and disappointments, the Academy actually did a pretty quality job overall. Regardless of that fact though, it’s always more fun to start with the complaints. So, let’s get the snubs out of the way first.
Before I get to the snubs that I actually thought had a shot of being nominated, I want to quickly mention some films that I wasn’t expecting to be nominated, but was still holding out some small hope for. It would have been very nice to see either First Cow or Never Rarely Sometimes Always be included in this year’s show in some way. Another extreme long shot that would have been fun to see was a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Palm Springs. All three of those films found a spot on my Top Ten Movies of the Year list, and while I didn’t think there was even a small chance any of them would get much recognition from the Academy, I was still somewhat disappointed by the fact that so many films that were released earlier in 2020 seemed to just get lost over the course of this very bizarre year.
While I’m on the topic of movies that got lost in 2020, the first real snub I want to mention is Delroy Lindo not being included in Best Actor for his performance in Da 5 Bloods. As always, this year’s Best Actor category was an extremely packed race. Truthfully, I’m not mad at any of the five performances that ultimately were given the nod by the Academy. However, it is fascinating to me that around the halfway point of 2020, Lindo seemed like an absolute lock to be nominated in this category and perhaps even win. In fairness to the Academy, this snub feels more like a case of bad luck due to there being so many other great performances from last year more so than a mistake on their part.
The next snub I wanted to mention didn’t surprise me, but still disappointed me nonetheless. When I first saw Pixar’s Soul, I thought there was a chance that it could not only be nominated for Best Picture, but actually win. However, this morning the film did not receive a Best Picture nomination. As I stated, this wasn’t necessarily a surprise to me because the film just never really seemed to gain any momentum in the Best Picture category. But, I still stand by the fact that—amongst this crop of films—Soul is a legitimately worthy Best Picture option.
The category with the most snubs this year was Best Documentary Feature. I was honestly shocked and disappointed to see Boys State, Dick Johnson is Dead, or Truffle Hunters not receive a nomination. Prior to the nominations announcement, a lot of prognosticators pegged this category as the most difficult to predict. Ultimately, they turned out to be right because many people thought Truffle Hunters and Dick Johnson is Dead had far better chances of being nominated than My Octopus Teacher, which ultimately received a nomination.
The last “snub” I want to talk about is a tricky one because, truthfully, it has a lot more to do with who did get nominated rather than who didn’t. Glenn Close received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in the much-maligned Hillbilly Elegy. Now, Glenn Close is a legend, but unfortunately this was just not a good movie. I would have much rather seen Dominique Fishback, Jodie Foster, or Olivia Cooke get this nomination instead. I’m just hoping the Academy doesn’t actually give Close the win in this category, with what would essentially just be a “lifetime achievement” award.
Most people are in agreement that the biggest surprise of the morning was LaKeith Stanfield’s Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah. The surprise does not come from the fact that Stanfield’s performance is being celebrated though, but instead for how/where it is being celebrated. Pretty much everyone figured Stanfield would be running in the Best Actor category, rather than Best Supporting Actor—a category in which his co-star Daniel Kaluuya has been considered the favorite in for a long time. It seems like there is some weird category fraud every year at the Academy Awards, and truthfully it doesn’t bother me that much. However, I do find it odd that neither one of actors who play the titular roles in Judas and the Black Messiah is considered to be the lead. I’m still trying to figure that one out. What can I say, the Oscar’s are weird sometimes. To be fair though, I really like Stanfield’s performance in that film so I was happy to see him be recognized.
The other big surprise in this year’s nominees was Thomas Vinterberg being nominated for his direction of Another Round. A lot of people figured the fifth Best Director nomination was going to go to either Aaron Sorkin or Regina King, but Vinterberg ultimately received the nod. Personally, I was thrilled to see this. Another Round was one of my ten favorite films from last year, and Vinterberg’s directing absolutely deserved to be celebrated. This nomination reminded me of the success that Parasite had at last year’s awards, because both occurrences are clear indicators that the Academy is becoming more international as its membership grows.
There weren’t many other big surprises amongst this year’s nominations. In recent years, it feels like the nominees in most of the categories—especially the bigger ones—are becoming increasingly predictable. This problem was only heightened by the fact that the Academy elongated the awards season this year by moving the ceremony to the end of April. I suppose the only other big surprise was The White Tiger being nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay.
The first winner I want to highlight is a company that is extremely familiar with the concept of winning, Netflix. For the first time ever, Netflix led all studios with 35 total nominations. This was not a surprise at all given the state of the movie world last year, and the fact that many of the major studios pushed their awards contenders to next year. Still, it is a sign of just how dominate a force Netflix has become in the film space. Just a couple years ago in 2018, they only had eight nominations. Now they’re leading the way with over 4x that amount.
Ten of the nominations that Netflix received came from the next winner on my list, which is David Fincher’s Mank. This film may have to be considered a winner with an asterisk though, because while it led all films in terms of nominations, it doesn’t really seem to be a front-runner in pretty much any category. People have already started comparing Mank to another Netflix film from last year, The Irishman, which received ten nominations but zero wins.
The next big winner of the nominations is Minari‘s Best Picture chances. Lee Issac Chung’s film received a total of six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, acting nominations for Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Score. While it’s seemed like Nomadland winning Best Picture has been a foregone conclusion for a while now, a tighter race may now actually be developing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minari gain even more momentum by the time the ceremony rolls around on April 25th.
The other two films that I want to give a shoutout to as winners are The Sound of Metal and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Much like Minari, The Sound of Metal received six nominations. That is a great accomplishment for a film that was mainly talked about only for the brilliant performance that Riz Ahmed gave in it. While I don’t think this film has the Best Picture chances that Minari does, I do think its six nominations show the world that it is more than just a great performance, it is a great film. As far as Borat Subsequent Moviefilm goes, the fact that it received only two nominations does not sway me from my opinion that it was one of the biggest winners of the day. I can’t count the number of times that Hollywood has tried to make a sequel to a classic comedy film many years after the original came out. Most of the time it doesn’t work, and even the ones that do turn out to be okay certainly don’t ever make any noise at the Oscar’s. That is an accomplishment in and of itself. And truthfully, I’m extremely glad Borat Subsequent Moviefilm received this recognition because, given the circumstances, there’s no doubt in my mind that it was one of the most important films of 2020. I also want to give a shoutout to Maria Bakalova who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in the film. Forget losing/gaining weight for a role or filming outside in harsh conditions, working as a co-star alongside Sacha Baron Cohen in a largely improvised comedy film—especially a Borat film—may just be the most difficult task an actor can have. And not only was she able to succeed, she actually shone brighter than perhaps even he did in the film. For that reason alone, she deserved her nomination.
I touched on this a bit earlier while discussing Delroy Lindo, but Da 5 Bloods was definitely the biggest loser this year. Spike Lee’s film received just one nomination after being one of the most talked about movies of the year halfway through 2020. I know many people had problems with this film, but I was expecting, or perhaps just hoping, that it would do better than that.
Although Regina King’s One Night in Miami… did pick up three nominations, the fact that it really seemed to be the “first film out” in terms of the Best Picture nominees does make it somewhat of a loser. Also, King did not receive a nomination for Best Director like some had predicted. Still, three nominations is nothing to be ashamed of, and quite honestly that is a pretty impressive achievement for King’s directorial debut.
The last loser I will mention is an interesting one. After it finally debuted earlier this year, it was pretty clear that Malcolm & Marie had pretty much no chance of showing up at the Oscar’s—except for a possible nomination for Zendaya’s performance. So, while its zero nominations don’t come as a surprise to anyone, I do think it is ultimately a bit of a disappointment given the buzz this movie had before it was released. The fact that it was one of the first official movies conceived of, shot, and released in the pandemic—mixed with the star power of Zendaya and John David Washington—made it a highly anticipated movie for a lot of people, myself included. But ultimately, it feels like it just kind of came and went in terms of both awards season recognition and the cultural zeitgeist. I definitely wasn’t expecting that to be the case when I first heard about the film towards the beginning of 2020.
The Oscar’s take place on April 25th at 8:00PM and I’m ready to be surprised, delighted, and disappointed with many of the winners just as I was with many of the nominees.