Originally set for February 28, 2021, this year’s Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) was forced to reschedule to a later date on April 25 (Monday morning on April 26 in Malaysia time zone) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the worldwide pandemic, of course, has changed the way all things are handled these days. And the Oscars are no exception as well, with limited audience capacity set to 170 people as part of their safety protocols.
Leading the most Oscar nominations this year is David Fincher’s black-and-white biographical drama Mank with 10. Five nominees, in the meantime, including Florian Zeller’s The Father, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland and Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 received 6 nominations each. The other two — Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman and George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — both garnered 5 nominations in total.
Below are the 8 Best Pictures nominees, all ranked from worst to best.
This year’s most-nominated film for the Oscars happened to be one of the most overpraised movies of 2020. It’s actually hard to believe since Mank should have been David Fincher’s wheelhouse, given his prior experience in Zodiac (2007) and The Social Network (2010). While the film excels in its technicality from Erik Messerschmidt’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ spot-on jazz-infused score, Fincher’s overall direction is oddly hollow. Not even Gary Oldman’s showy performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz can do much to offset most of the film’s shortcomings. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 10 (Best Picture, Best Director – David Fincher, Best Actor – Gary Oldman, Best Supporting Actor – Amanda Seyfried, Best Original Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Best Cinematography – Erik Messerschmidt, Best Production Design – Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale, Best Costume Design – Trish Summerville, Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff and Best Sound – Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin)
7) The Trial of the Chicago 7
Here’s another Best Picture nominee that feels like a missed opportunity, with the exception of the top-notch acting ensemble (Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman is the MVP here) and Aaron Sorkin’s trademark snappy dialogues. And despite the intriguing yet timely fact-based event of the seven defendants a.k.a. Chicago 7 accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the story surprisingly lacks dramatic urgency. Sorkin may be good with the way he wrote his dialogues but his direction, similar to what he did in Molly’s Game remains uneven. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor – Sacha Baron Cohen, Best Original Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin, Best Cinematography – Phedon Papamichael, Best Film Editing – Alan Baumgarten and Best Original Song – “Hear My Voice” by Daniel Pemberton & Celeste)
6) Promising Young Woman
Emerald Fennell’s subversive look at the otherwise familiar rape-revenge fantasy genre is certainly a bold piece of work. But only to a certain extent, where Carey Mulligan excels the most in her layered performance as the vengeful Cassie while the ending is unlike anything you would expect for such a genre. Fennell has an eye for good visuals aided by Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography but somewhere in between, Promising Young Woman curiously lacks a solid backstory to justify Cassie’s personal mission. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 5 (Best Picture, Best Director – Emerald Fennell, Best Actress – Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay – Emerald Fennell and Best Film Editing – Frédéric Thoraval)
5) Judas and the Black Messiah
Daniel Kaluuya gives his career-best performance as the charismatic Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, whose rousing speeches such as “You can murder a liberator, but you can’t murder liberation. You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution. You can murder a freedom fighter, but you can’t murder freedom!” truly showcase his acting prowess. Judas and the Black Messiah also features LaKeith Stanfield in one of his best performances to date, who plays a petty thief recruited by the FBI to become an informant by joining as one of the members of Hampton’s political party. The history may take place over 50 years ago but the story’s major themes of civil rights and injustice remain as relevant as ever.
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actors – Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, Best Original Screenplay – Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas, Best Cinematography – Sean Bobbitt and Best Original Song – “Fight for You” by H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas)
A moving, if a tad melodramatic drama about the Korean immigrants’ experience living in America (in this case, rural Arkansas), with a great acting ensemble (Youn Yuh-Jung’s scene-stealing supporting role as the unconventional grandma comes to mind) and Lee Isaac Chung’s overall empathetic direction. Technically speaking, Minari is both gentle and beautiful to look at, as evidently seen in Lachlan Milne’s cinematography. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Director – Lee Isaac Chung, Best Actor – Steven Yeun, Best Supporting Actress – Youn Yuh-Jung, Best Original Screenplay – Lee Isaac Chung and Best Original Score – Emile Mosseri)
3) Sound of Metal
In what could have been a typical melodrama about an unfortunate character (Riz Ahmed’s Ruben Stone) coping with a severe hearing loss, Darius Marder took a more pragmatic approach by putting us through Ruben’s emotional and physical condition. For the latter, Marder went one step further by emphasising Nicolas Becker’s intricate sound design to create a different soundscape varied from loud to muffled noises, which is best experienced if you watch Sound of Metal with a pair of headphones. Also notable for featuring Riz Ahmed in his finest performance to date while Marder made the right choice casting actual deaf actors to add authenticity to the film. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Actor – Riz Ahmed, Best Supporting Actor – Paul Raci, Best Original Screenplay – Darius Marder, Abraham Marder and Derek Cianfrance, Best Film Editing – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen and Best Sound – Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés Navarrete and Phillip Bladh)
Chloé Zhao’s subdued drama about a widow (Frances McDormand’s Fern, in one of her most excellent performances ever seen) living a nomadic life following her husband’s death is both melancholic and affecting piece of cinema. Also worth noting is Zhao’s cinéma vérité directing style and her keen eye for beautifully composed filming locations in some of the United States’ desolate landscapes. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Director – Chloé Zhao, Best Actress – Frances McDormand, Best Adapted Screenplay – Chloé Zhao, Best Film Editing – Chloé Zhao and Best Cinematography – Joshua James Richards)
1) The Father
Dementia is a scary thing that can happen to anyone. And in The Father, which marks playwright-turned-filmmaker Florian Zeller’s feature-length directorial debut, he doesn’t shy away from exploring the cruel sense of reality as well as an unvarnished portrayal of an elderly person suffering from mental deterioration. The person in question is played by Anthony Hopkins in his stunning late-career performance to date while Olivia Colman provides strong support as the daughter. The film also benefits from Zeller’s unique visual and narrative approach by allowing us to feel and experience what it’s like in the titular character’s mental condition. (Read my full review here)
Total Oscar nominations: 6 (Best Picture, Best Actor – Anthony Hopkins, Best Supporting Actress – Olivia Colman, Best Adapted Screenplay – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, Best Film Editing – Yorgos Lamprinos and Best Production Design – Peter Francis and Cathy Featherstone)