Oscars 2021: Our verdict on the Best Picture nominees and the best of the rest from the Academy Awards - with trailers
Our film critic, Mark Liversidge, casts his verdict on the Best Picture nominees and takes a look at others to look out for.
The lack of films and cinemas may not be the biggest issue we’ve faced in the last 12 months, but the escapism and cultural nourishment that the movies offer has been sorely missed by many of us.
While we have been able to watch some films at home, nothing can replace the collective experience offered by watching a quality drama or the catharsis of seeing a brilliant comedy.
But the Academy Awards will be different this year for more than just the fact that it will be held across a variety of locations due to travel restrictions, and almost two months later than usual as well.
In an average year, there’s a good chance that even someone who’s only made a couple of trips to the cinema that year would be able to name one of the big nominees, or would have seen a poster for it in the multiplex foyer.
Last year’s big nominees included Sam Mendes’ first World War drama 1917, the latest epics from Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, a much talked about take on comic book villainy with Joker and the first ever non-English language winner in Parasite. Even Donald Trump saw fit to comment on that one.
While this year’s films may be less familiar, they are of no less quality, and it might be a chance for a few films and film makers that otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to be noticed to have their moment in the spotlight.
So if you fancy an all-night vigil with a rather different awards ceremony this year, here’s what to look out for at the 93rd Oscars, being handed out on Sunday 25th April.
There are eight best picture nominees this year, and I’ve ranked them in order of how likely they are to win, from most to least…
An astonishing film from writer and director Chloé Zhao, likely to become only the second woman to win an Oscar for directing (after Kathryn Biglelow with The Hurt Locker 12 years ago).
Her film only has two professional actors: Frances McDormand as a woman who sells her house after her husband dies and travels the country in a van picking up seasonal work, and David Strathairn as a fellow traveller.
The rest of the cast is made up of real American nomads playing versions of themselves, and they offer a profound insight into the struggles of the forgotten American working classes with some moments of almost heart-breaking beauty.
A film that would be a worthy winner in almost any year, with McDormand’s understated passion drawing it all together.
Nomadland is on Disney+ from April 30th and in cinemas when they reopen.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7
If you’re looking for the definition of an all-star cast, then Aaron Sorkin’s film probably has it.
After attempts by both Steven Spielberg and Paul Greengrass to make the script, Sorkin eventually directed it himself, and his examination of protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the subsequent trial includes Eddie Redmayne and Sasha Baron Cohen among the defendants, Mark Rylance as the defence lawyer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the prosecution and Michael Keaton as the attorney general. Kelvin Harrison Jr also plays Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya in another of this year’s nominated films, Judah And The Black Messiah.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is available to stream on Netflix.
While Parasite won the main prizes at last year’s Oscars, it was disappointingly overlooked in the acting categories.
It may come as no surprise, then, to hear that Steven Yeun (best known for his roles in The Walking Dead and Burning) is the first Asian-American actor to be nominated at the awards.
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical story of his upbringing sees Yeun’s farmer Jacob attempting to make a life for themselves on the land in Arkansas. Youn Yuh-jung is a strong contender for the Best Supporting Actress award as Jacob’s mother-in-law Soon-ja.
Minari is available to rent for £9.99 from distributor Altitude’s website and all major platforms.
Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan picks up her second Oscar nomination, 12 years after her first (for An Education), as a med school dropout seeking revenge on those who mistreated her best friend years earlier.
She spends her nights pretending to be drunk and then revealing she’s sober when men attempt to take advantage.
Writer-director Emerald Fennell, nominated in both categories, has a history of creating strong female roles: she was not only head writer for season 2 of Killing Eve, but stepped in front of the camera to play Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown.
Promising Young Woman is available to watch on Sky Cinema and NOW TV..
Citizen Kane is still regularly cited as one of the greatest films ever made, and as is often the case the behind the scenes dramas are as fascinating as the those on screen.
David Fincher directs from a script by his late father Jack, which leaps around in time and follows Herman Mankiewicz’s attempts to write the screenplay for Orson Welles’ classic.
Somewhat surprisingly it’s only Gary Oldman’s third nomination for best actor, in a cast which also includes Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst (the inspiration for the fictional Kane) and Amanda Seyfried as Hearst’s lover.
Mank is available to stream on Netflix.
Judas And The Black Messiah
There was some confusion when the nominations were first announced, as both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield received nods in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Of the two, it’s difficult to know who should feel more hard done by: while Kaluuya, who first shot to fame in TV series Skins, is really the lead actor, he’s also favourite to win for his portrayal of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. This means Stanfield is likely to lose out for an equally strong performance as Bill O’Neal, who becomes an FBI informant and infiltrates the party in order to avoid jail time.
Judas And The Black Messiah is available to rent for £15.99 on all major platforms.
Sound Of Metal
Writer-director Darius Mardur was best known previously for co-scripting 2012 film The Place Beyond The Pines, and after attempting to make a documentary about a heavy metal drummer who becomes deaf, he instead delivered a fully fictionalised film along the same lines. Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) delivers a riveting performance as the drummer struggling with the onset of deafness, and Olivia Cooke (TV’s Vanity Fair) is his bandmate and girlfriend.
Sound Of Metal is available to watch on Amazon Prime or to rent online and will be in cinemas when they reopen.
Trailer makers often look forward to the opportunity of being able to name people as Academy Award winners next to their name, and previous winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman are both nominated again for their work here. Hopkins plays a man struggling to deal with the onset of dementia, while Colman is his daughter, trying to find ways of coming to terms with his increasing confusion. Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) also receives his third nomination for the script, adapting a play by the film’s director Florian Zeller.
The Father is due to open in cinemas on June 11.
Four others to watch out for
And here’s four other films to pay attention to for their nominations; although they’re not up for the big prize, they’re all likely to get some attention…
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
One of the most devastating moments in the film world in the last twelve months was the death of actor Chadwick Boseman. He seems likely to follow Peter Finch and Heath Ledger as posthumous acting winners in the story of an influential blues singer (Viola Davis) and her trumpeter Levee Green (Boseman), who’s trying to cut his own record deal.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available to stream on Netflix.
While it doesn’t have the high profile of Parasite, this film from Danish director and Dogme co-founder Thomas Vinterberg does lead in some unexpected directions. Vinterberg is also nominated for best director for his tale of four teachers trying to stay very slightly drunk to make themselves more confident and creative, with Mads Mikkelsen adding both fun and gravitas in the title role.
Another Round is due to open in cinemas on June 11th.
Oscar doesn’t always manage to pick the best films as winners: while I expect Pixar’s story of a jazz musician working as a teacher who’s trying to get his soul back into his body to win Best Animated Film, the best film this year is actually a gorgeously rendered, confidently told story from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon about the daughter of a hunter who finds out the secret of a pack of wolves they’re hunting.
Soul is available on Disney+ or to rent online; Wolfwalkers is on Apple TV.
And spare a thought for Glenn Close. Seven previous nominations without a win, and this year she’s up for both an Oscar and a Razzie – the awards given to the films perceived as the worst each year – for the same role. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this was the film to finally break her duck!
Hillbilly Elegy is available to stream on Netflix.
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