2021 Oscars: Preview

This year’s Oscars are finally here after multiple pandemic-related delays. Even now, with the ceremony taking place primarily at Los Angeles’ Union Station and the Dolby Theatre this Sunday, there’s a sense of nervousness about how it will all come together. As esteemed director Steven Soderbergh – one of the producers of this year’s show – put it, mounting the Academy Awards under Covid-19 regulations has been “the walking definition of trying to build an airplane while it’s in the air”.

Still, with so many studio projects shifting release dates, it’s been a fine year for independent movies to shine. Among them, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, his semi-autobiographical tale of a Korean family in Arkansas, has picked up six nominations. It may not have the legs of last year’s Best Picture winner, Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean masterpiece Parasite, but Yah-Jung Youn’s turn as a spiky grandmother has put her as a frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actress. She’s also the first Korean performer ever to win an Oscar nomination.

History has also been made in the Best Director category; it’s the first time two women have ever been nominated in the same year. British filmmaker Emerald Fennell will arrive with her rape-revenge tale Promising Young Woman, though she – and the three male candidates – will be hard-pressed to beat Chloé Zhao, who is the favourite for her sublime road movie Nomadland, which should also take Best Picture and may even see star Frances McDormand claim a third Oscar of her career.  

Beyond Fennell’s film, Britain has a strong interest, with Florian Zeller’s dementia drama The Father also picking up six nominations, including Best Actor for Sir Anthony Hopkins and Best Adapted Screenplay for Zeller and Christopher Hampton. Vanessa Kirby is also competing for her first Oscar for her stirring turn in grief drama Pieces of a Woman while Daniel Kaluuya – already a BAFTA and Golden Globe winner – is up for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, another film on six nods.

Curiously, it seems that Mank – the film with 10 nominations, the most of any film – may be the bridesmaid of this year’s Oscars. David Fincher’s exquisite-looking movie, written by his father Jack Fincher, about the scripting of Citizen Kane, hasn’t quite been strong enough to overturn other movies during awards season – although it did win Best Production Design at the BAFTAs. Erik Messerschmidt’s glorious black-and-white lensing was also awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Feature Film at the recent American Society of Cinematographers awards, meaning he could still claim an Oscar for his work.

From a personal point of view, I’d love to see Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal rewarded, particularly in the category of Best Sound where the team behind this story of a drummer losing his hearing manage some truly innovative work.  The same goes for those behind the outstanding visual effects for Tenet. And Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round also truly merits winning the Best Foreign Language category for one of the most life-affirming movies of the past twelve months. Whatever happens on Sunday, it’s going to be a unique moment in Oscar history.

The 93rd Academy Awards screen on Sky Cinema on 25 April. For more details click here.

James Mottram