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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Weekender: Predicting the 2021 Oscars' main categories

Screen-Shot-2021-04-21-at-5.22.39-PM
Promotional posters for the Oscar 2021 nominees are pictured.

As the 93rd Academy Awards approaches, we reflect on another year of film, despite the strangeness of 2020. While many movies had to skip their theatrical releases and land themselves directly on streaming sites, and others had their release dates postponed to 2021 altogether, there is still a well-deserving number of films that have found themselves scattered across the list for the Academy Award nominations. I want to reflect on this year’s nominees in four of the main categories: best actor in a leading role, best actress in a leading role, best original screenplay and best picture. Like every year, some of these categories are stacked with a number of possible winners, while others have a clear leader.

When I first heard that Chadwick Boseman had been posthumously awarded the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, I thought that perhaps this was given to him as more of an acknowledgment of his life’s work and a "thank you" for his career, and less because he actually had the best performance of the year. Then I watched "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" (2020). Boseman’s performance fully encapsulated the hard-on-the-surface but emotionally raw character that is Levee Green. Even though the film had an abrupt and rushed ending, Boseman’s performance steadily drove the story along, making it a pleasure to watch. The Oscar for best actor in a leading role should go to nobody but Boseman, and I only wish he were here to deliver an acceptance speech.

Although Boseman is the clear frontrunner for best actor, Anthony Hopkins’ stunning performance in "The Father" (2020) should also be recognized. Hopkins plays Anthony, an old man who is losing his memory and his grasp on his surroundings. I found the film to be too confusing, albeit the puzzlement was certainly part of the filmmaker’s plan to help the audience get inside of Anthony’s head. Hopkins was able to play a character who could flip a switch and go from gleefully tap-dancing to crying out for his mother like a child throughout the film. If there were a second-place award for best actor, I certainly think it would go to Hopkins.

If the pattern continues for best actress and the winner is once again the same as the Golden Globe winner, as will likely be the case for best actor, then we can expect to see Andra Day take home the Oscar for her fiery role as Billie Holiday in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" (2021). Part of what is so commendable about Day’s performance is the complexity of the character that she had to tackle — one who sings, fights and cares. Day’s talents allowed her to play Billie Holiday in a way that felt like we were watching the real Billie Holiday, which is no easy feat.

That being said, I don’t see the Oscars following in the Golden Globes’ footsteps for this one. Instead, I think Frances McDormand will rein in this year’s Oscar for best actress for her peaceful portrayal of Fern in "Nomadland" (2021). It seems that often when the acting awards are given, they go to whomever had the hardest or most complex role to achieve, such as Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013),Renée Zellweger in "Judy" (2019) or Joaquin Phoenix in "The Joker" (2019). Although successfully playing such a difficult character is a commendable task, actors and actresses should not be overlooked for their achievements with characters who lead a quieter existence, such as Fern in “Nomadland.” McDormand played Fern in such a way that she was indistinguishable from the other nomads in the film who were actually playing themselves. For this, she deserves the Oscar.

At the root of every good film is the necessity for a strong story, and three distinguishable elements that should be found in every great screenplay are how effectively the story pulls at the audiences’ emotions, how layered the story is (which typically adds to its level of originality) and how clearly it tells what it is trying to achieve.

The five nominations for this year’s best original screenplay are quite varied — and there are a few possible winners. "Judas and the Black Messiah" (2021) tells the striking true story of a Black Panther Party infiltrator whose actions ultimately lead to the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton."Minari" (2020) is an intertwined story about an Asian American family and the father’s attempt at starting a farm in Arkansas."Promising Young Woman" (2020) has the feel of a chick flick watched for pure entertainment, but actually creatively tells a story of a woman seeking revenge."Sound of Metal" (2019) has a very indie feeling which works to tell the emotional story of a drummer who loses his hearing. Lastly, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020) is about the seven defendants charged with conspiracy after the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago.

All of these screenplays were outstanding to watch played out on the screen, and each is deserving of being nominated in this category. Although the winner of this category is a bit of a guessing game, since none of these screenplays are astonishingly better than the rest, "Minari" has my vote. While many of the other nominations are just telling stories, "Minari" goes far beneath the surface and successfully intertwines so many different symbols and themes that I cannot help but give it all of my praise. At the root of "Minari" is its originality — the story of an Asian American family starting a farm in Arkansas, all while dealing with other family and work troubles, is not one I have seen before, and the story was told with  rawness and authenticity.

The film's accomplishments do not end there, however, but instead go on to incorporate unique characters, cohesive themes and individual moments of fear and symbolism. The characters of the grandmother and Paul, who works on the farm, each have a certain quirk to them that provide most of the film’s laughs, until humor no longer has an appropriate place in this film. Different elements of the story also provide the building blocks for emotional appeals, such as the development of David’s health problems, the search for what it actually takes for Jacob to help his family and, of course, the "Minari" plant, which symbolizes the resilience of Asian American immigrants in the United States.

The film that wins the best picture category, which is the most anticipated award at the Oscars, is essentially just that — the best film of the year. This often has to do with the culmination of success in all of the components of the film — one’s covered by the aforementioned awards categories along with other elements such as directing, cinematography and editing, to name a few. 

All of the films nominated for best original screenplay have also been nominated for best picture, in addition to "The Father" and "Nomadland," which both received best adapted screenplay nominations, and "Mank" (2020). Although there are a few top contenders for this year’s best picture, "The Father" and "Mank" can immediately be crossed off the list. In fact, I’m not even sure why they received nominations in the first place.

Although "The Father" has phenomenal acting performances and high-quality technical aspects, it lacks a best picture-worthy story behind it. Albeit watching an old man slip away from reality, with fear in his eyes the entire time, is emotionally successful, too many questions were left unanswered at the end, and the story was not as coherent as its fellow nominees.

Considering how "Mank" does not even have a screenplay nomination, it is essentially a no-brainer that it will not be winning Best Picture. And rightfully so. "Mank" is, quite frankly, a boring story that did not leave a lasting impact after the picture faded off the screen. Although it had beautiful costume design and enthralling sets, the story felt more like an attempt to exploit the success of "Citizen Kane" (1941) for further profit than anything else.

Although I don’t think the "Trial of the Chicago 7" will actually be the one to win best picture, it shouldn’t be overlooked. The movie has compelling performances and tells a heartbreaking story that makes the audience feel powerless at times, until the characters find ways to restore their hope. Even though it likely won’t take home the Oscar, it is absolutely praise-worthy.

"Nomadland" is the current top contender for best picture, as projected by manymedia outlets, but I still think "Minari" has a chance. Although "Nomadland" is well-acted, has a distinctive cast and tells a beautiful story, the easily comprehensible and well-acted "Minari" has greater complexities that drive its narrative.

As the Academy Awards approaches this Sunday, April 25, it will be interesting to see who takes home awards from a field of Oscars nominees that ismore diverse than years past.