It seems incongruous that the 93rd Annual Academy “Oscar” Awards are still on for  April 25, 2021. The pandemic is ongoing; over three million dead worldwide (more than half of that in the U.S. alone); many theaters have been closed for a year or more; movie releases delayed, and productions struggling, so why not just call IT off, or maybe postpone the whole thing? 

Well, to be honest the pandemic hasn’t really stopped us from watching movies  in our phones, computers,  TV screens, or some rare theater that’s open.  Just like the new normal of masks on, social distancing, and frequent handwashing, streaming movies are here to stay.  We need  movies, not just for entertainment but to maintain sanity in our locked down lives!

The  Academy’s roughly 10,000 voters are now younger and no longer predominantly white and such diversification reflects on this year’s surprising nominations. There may be no COVID-19 related film, but the nominations represent a response to the other long on-going  pandemic of racial and gender inequality, systemic racism,  school shootings, and institutionalized policy brutality.  Common themes are evident. Movies about long neglected Black artists, political movements, social uprising, and the immigrant experience. 

Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of color; a first ever-Korean nominee; first-ever Muslim Black actor, and two female directors nominated.  With this, I think the Academy is atoning for its sins. But it also raises the danger of making a film win solely to favor members of under-represented groups, which have been treated unjustly in the past. The awards should still be based on merit, on the mastery and artistry of the craft not just because it feels right to undo a perceived wrong. Also, will this be the norm, or is this just a one- time correction? Only time will tell.

That said, it’s time to put an end to the longest Oscar awards season in modern history. So, without further ado, here is the fearless forecast. 

ANIMATED FEATURE:  Soul (Pixar). With three nominations for animated feature, score, and sound-- this is the one to beat. Existential theme wrapped in glorious jazz. Astounding powerhouse voice overs: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Graham Norton, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Wes Studi.  Pete Docter has won twice before for Up, and Inside Out.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:  A long obscure category. With the added time (April instead of February)  and availability to view from home, and two nominees from outside the U.S. this category just got harder to predict. Yes People is  a very New Yorker type cartoon set in an apartment building and very relatable.  If Anything Happens, I love You, deals with parents grieving the loss of child in a tragic school shooting and  should win this. But voters may go for the happier tale of the furry rabbit in Burrow  from Pixar and make it win.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  I liked My Octopus Teacher from Netflix, it’s heartwarming and is my pick.  Time (first ever black woman  to win the  Sundance directing prize) and its theme of focusing and righting an injustice,  or Crimp Cramp (produced by the Obamas) about disabled and marginalized people, would be second and third choices.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: A Love Song for Latasha—from Netflix, watched by many and again on the theme of focusing on an injustice surrounding the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins at a South-Central Los Angeles store. Second choice: A Concerto Is a Conversation.

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:  Feeling Through, about a young Black man who quickly becomes responsible for helping a middle aged deaf and blind white man catch a bus home; a reversal of stereotypes. Second choice:  Two Distant Strangers (Netflix) race relations between a Black man and a white cop caught in a time loop. Timely; the George Floyd trial was ongoing during voting time.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) insisting on  nominating only movies produced under a WGA American contract, did not include Mank or Nomadland or The Father for their yearly prize which they awarded to  Borat, Subsequent Movie.  But the Oscars, under a different set of rules,  would go to Nomadlandwith Chloe Zhao as solo screenwriter (based on the book "Nomadland" by Jessica Bruder).   The Father  would be my second choice based on the popular French Play “La Pere” by Florian Zeller co-written with 1988 Dangerous Liaison winner, Christopher Hampton.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  The WGA awarded this to Emerald Fennel for Promising Young Woman, and I feel the Oscar rightly belongs to her.  She also won the Critics Award. And her win will be in keeping with the prevailing theme of acknowledging female talent. With Chloe Zhao winning for Adapted Screenplay, it will be an Oscar first that both screenplay  awards are won by women, with no male co-writers.  And most of all, it’s one hell of an amazing story!  A possible upset would be for Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7 on the wings of a SAG award for the cast, and on the theme of focusing on a social uprising and the resulting clearly prejudiced trial 

PRODUCTION DESIGN:  Mank -Donald Graham Burt (production designer), Jan Pascale (set decorator). 1930s Hollywood in black and white. The only redeeming thing for this well-intentioned but long boring movie. It has won the award from the Art Directors Guild, BAFTA, Critics Choice, and the newly formed Set Decorators Society in their first year. Will most probably be the only Oscar that it would  win.  Second choice: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, almost all the film is set in a recording studio. And third would be Tenet.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Nomadland- Joshua James Richards (director of photography) captures a van-dwelling modern-day nomad’s journey in the changing colors of the American West.  Mank despite being black and white had great moments of majesty in technical nuanced choices  and would be my second choice.

FILM EDITING:  The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Alan Baumgarten) won the American Cinema Editor’s Best Edited Feature Film and is expected to also win the Oscar. But I think Sound of Metal, (Mikkel E.G. Nielson) will be the upset winner here as the categories of editing and sound often go in tandem. Chloe Zhao did her own editing for Nomadland but will be honored as Director not Editor.

VISUAL EFFECTS:  Tenet - Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott R. Fisher, Mike Chambers.  Christopher Nolan insisted for an in-theater showing but still resulted in a lackluster US gross despite showing in nearly 3,000 theaters. It had done better abroad. That said, it is a big, bold film designed for the Imax screen. Fans long starved for escapist extravaganza flocked to it and will honor it for what it basically stands for: visual effects.

BEST SOUND: (Sound Editing and  Sound Mixing have been merged into this award) And the winner is, drumroll… Sound of Metal (Darius Marder) a movie where actor nominee Riz Ahmed portrays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer slowly losing his hearing. You don’t appreciate it ‘til you lose it.

ORIGINAL SCORE:  Soul—soulful! Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, who won the Oscar for “The Social Network” will win again. Thanks largely to jazz musician Jon Batiste.  But  watch out for James Newton Howard’s haunting  music from News of The World. He has been nominated eight times. Could be overdue for a win.

BEST SONG:   This is a toss-up.  Io Si (Seen) from The Life Ahead  (Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini) -- or Speak Now from One Night in Miami (Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr., and Sam Ashworth). Diane Warren has been nominated 11 times. Talk about being overdue. And the film stars the great Sophia Loren as a Holocaust survivor who helps a Black undocumented kid who snatched her purse.  On the other hand  is never nominated Leslie Odom, Jr. (breakout star from Hamilton) in a film directed by Regina King (snubbed of a nomination) about a fictionalized meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke – gathered, discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the ’60s—a current favored theme for recognition. Leslie Odom who plays Sam Cooke is nominated for Supporting Actor. Voters will award the acting prize to Daniel Kaluuya and would  award him the Best Song Oscar instead.  

COSTUME DESIGN:  The Costume Designers Guild awarded their prize to Mulan, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in the fantasy film, and period film categories beating out Emma, Mank, and Pinocchio. The Oscar can only go to one winner unless an unlikely tie happens. Best bet, given the film’s subject and title, would be Ma Rainey—the trailblazing ’20s blues singer, who flaunted her flashy wardrobe to convey a sexy, subversive image. Plus, the designer is 89-year old Ann Roth, who had won for The English Patient in 1997. Second choice: Emma because it stars popular Anya Taylor Joy from Queen's Gambit.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:  Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Mia Neal (hair and wig designer, makeup department head), Sergio Lopez-Rivera (personal makeup artist for Viola Davis), Jamika Wilson (personal hair stylist for Viola Davis). Award deserved for Viola Davis’ dramatic transformation.  Plus, the real Ma Rainey made her wigs out of horsehair, and had a mouthful of gold teeth. Also, a first in Oscar history that two Black women are nominated in this category.  Second choice: Emma.

INTERNATIONAL FILM:  Another Round (Denmark)- front runner and predicted winner--a sober teacher in midlife crisis who joins his close buds in an experiment in heavy drinking. Worth noting that Director Thomas Vinterberg is nominated for Best Director. That helps carry the film.

Quo Vadis Aida ? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)- revisits a horrific period that has been long buried, as women still search for over a thousand missing men murdered by the Serbian army in Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

Collective (Romania), also nominated for Best  Documentary-- the corrupt Romanian health care system is exposed when a fire burned a nightclub leaving 64 people dead.

Better Days (Hong Kong) -- a bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations.

The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)- A Syrian refugee in Lebanon allows his back to become a canvas for a famous tattoo artist. Soon, collectors are bidding for his back which has become a work of art.

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Always the wild card in the awards. Won by ingenues. And Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Movie Film) was just that: brave and crazy, but  intelligent with her uncensored feminist views;  just what uptight prudes in the West need.  She’s probably nominated because of her hotel  scene with disgraced Rudy Giuliani. She won the Critics’ Choice, but I think the Academy will look askance from this crude comedy and favor the off-kilter and feisty  Korean grandmother Youn Yuh-jung for Minari. She smokes, cheats at cards, and is the most enjoyable character in this mostly languorous movie. She plants the titular Minari, the allegorical vegetable that grows strongly in its second season, after it’s died and come back.  She won the SAG and BAFTA award, and represents a final recognition for Asian actors that have long been ignored. She will just be the second Asian sup[porting actress winner, after Miyoshi Umeki’s 1957 win for Sayonara.  Glenn Close for Hillbilly Elegy is  a far cry from her usual roles. It’s her eighth nomination, and I think the Academy will again ignore her knowing she’ll be back yet again. Olivia Colman for The Father: she won for Best Actress already and the Academy is taking a break from all the British wins of the past. Amanda Seyfied as Marion Davies in Mank embodies the black and white glamour and style of Hollywood, the moral compass to Gard Oldman’s Mank, but she has no other wins to propel her on.

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah (as Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party). He swept the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, SAG, and BAFTA Awards. He was nominated before for lead actor in 2018’s Get Out.  Second choice would be Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7; can’t believe Borat could be such a great actor.  Lakeith Stanfield also for JBM  pales against Daniel K in the same movie.  Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami nominated more for his singing than acting;  will win Best Song, not this supporting lead award. Paul Raci, who plays a deaf counselor in Sound of Metal,  lost at the BAFTAs to Daniel K, and that will repeat at the Oscars.

 

BEST ACTRESS:  Frances McDormand as Fern, who in Nomadland wanders around the American West in a van (because she can’t afford an RV). Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. No, it is not a TP commercial or a Coke commercial but that drink features prominently when Ma Rainey, the Mother of the Blues,  threatens to walk out of a recording session if she wasn’t given an ice-cold coke. Carey Mulligan in the revenge fantasy, Promising Young Woman. Scheming, devious, and fun! Andra Day in The U.S. vs. Billie Holiday— targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair. Arrested for singing the banned song, Strange Fruit, a song born of black lynching (Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breezeStrange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees) –the movie is a statement of systemic racism,  very  relevant to this day. And then we have Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman- whose portrayal of a  tragic home birth and resulting  loss is so riveting and most deserving of a win.

The odds: Frances has  two Best Actress wins;  Viola  has one, for Supporting Actress.  Frances won the Golden Globe for this, but so did Andra Day.  Frances got the BAFTA; and Viola won the SAG award, which is a good indicator of an Oscar win. But then, Carey won the Critics’ Choice Awards, and seems to be the popular choice of voters who probably want someone new to win. Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday are both Black singers, so they will cancel each other out;  but Andra unlike Viola sings in the movie, so maybe she has the edge. Trivia: Diana Ross was nominated in 1973 for Lady Sings the Blues where she played Billie Holiday, and she lost to Liza Minnelli (Cabaret). Final ranking: Carey Mulligan, Andra Day, Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, Vanessa Kirby.

 

BEST ACTOR:  Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), posthumous Oscar. The sentimental favorite best known for his role as Black Panther. Gone too soon. He will be the second after Peter Finch (1977, Network) to win post death. Dark horse:  Anthony Hopkins for The Father.

 

BEST DIRECTOR:  First time ever, two women nominees. And one, Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) will win. She edited the film,  wrote the screenplay.  Zhao is the first woman of color to be nominated Best Director. The film has won Venice’s Golden Lion, Toronto’s People’s Choice Awards, and the Golden Globes. She has won the Golden Globe, DGA, BAFTA, and Critics choice directing awards.  A win for her is well deserved, and she will be just the second woman to win.  

 

BEST PICTURE:  Would win:  Nomadland, the frontrunner. It has won the PGA, DGA, Golden Globes and BAFTA. I equate its popularity with a realization that our pandemic existence with limited liberties and travel destinations is just like wandering down the road, seeing people similarly situated. It embodies regaining our freedom once you’ve lost everything.  Or maybe, it is the 21st century Grapes of Wrath where countless individuals, facing economic troubles from the pandemic, roam around the country in search of a better life. To honor it, is to compensate for own stagnant existence. 

 

Should win:  The Trial of the Chicago 7. A big ensemble; great cast on trial arising from riots at the 1968 DNC in Chicago, Illinois with issues still relevant today: protests, civil rights, biased judges, and police brutality.  Sound of Metal –a heavy metal drummer goes deaf. Great story line on a topic rarely dealt with.  Minari, is  about Korean immigrants working menial jobs (sexing baby chicks)  who pursue the American Dream by starting a farm for Asian vegetables in Arkansas. Tedious and slow, and not as popular as last year’s surprise winner Parasite.  

Mank takes a  retro look at Hollywood in the 1930s thru the eyes of alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he finishes the script for Citizen Kane. A movie about a screenwriter for one of the best films ever made. In black and white, but it gets long and boring. The Father- played by Anthony Hopkins to daughter Olivia Colman (both Oscar winners)-deals with the turmoil brought about as one ages and cannot accept the changing circumstances brought about by dementia. Excellent as expected of a British production; but the Academy has had enough.  Judas and The Black Messiah is  Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O'Neal. A potent dose of black history complete with a gun violence and police brutality. Timely then and now.

 THAT'S IT.  

THANK YOU and SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

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Our guest contributor- Vidor Nosce



Vidor is a Filipino 'transplant' working as a tax research attorney in the US. He is an art, architecture and film enthusiast.  The pandemic hasn't stopped him from watching movies.

 

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