Awards season has stealthily caught up with us for a year marked by a notable lack of films (and cinemas to show them in). The subsequent extension of film eligibility has allowed numerous gems to snag some nominations for what might just be the most diverse, strangest and (unfortunately) underseen Oscar night in the award’s history. It is truly reflective of 2020’s chaos.
The Oscar race this year is defined by a few category frontrunners but a largely free-for-all competition among the others. Nomadland is the one to watch: an impressive sweep at such ceremonies as the BAFTAs suggests this is a shoo-in for Best Picture, as well as Director for Chloé Zhao (which will come in handy for her next film’s marketing campaign, Marvel’s The Eternals’). Other guaranteed wins include Soul for Animated Feature (and I’m firmly backing its Original Score chances), Sound of Metal for a Whiplash-style Editing and Sound win and, through absolutely no competition, Tenet for Visual Effects, even if the average rom-com allegedly has more VFX shots.
One hotly contested field is Best Actor, which sees Riz Ahmed up against an Academy-friendly Gary Oldman performance, Anthony Hopkins for what some have labelled a career best performance in The Father, and the late great Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Hopkins took home the BAFTA and is touted to cause an upset, but Boseman’s tragic death displayed to many the conditions that he was delivering strong performances in, making his work even more impressive. This could go either way.
Similarly the Best Actress batch is contentious: can Frances McDormand, star of Fargo and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, become a super rare triple Oscar winner? Furthermore, can Olivia Colman, the British national treasure from Peep Show and Hot Fuzz, walk away with a Supporting Actress trophy in a field that includes Glenn Close (8 nominations and no wins!) and Borat’s daughter? Chances are this is Youn Yuh-jung from Minari to lose.
Daniel Kaluuya’s stratospheric ascension into Hollywood might be solidified with a win for Best Supporting Actor, even though his nomination in that category and not Best Actor has been controversial. Or could Sacha Baron Cohen steal this one away as a reward from the US and A for his role in satirising the political right, and potentially swaying voters, pre-2020 election? Anything is possible at the moment!
The line between theatrical and streaming from home has arguably never been more blurred. Coming out of a year where cinemas world-wide closed their doors and exclusives were hidden behind paywalls on sites like Disney+, I don’t think I’ve been more overjoyed at the selection of nominees this year. Perhaps for that same reason, this year’s ceremony marks the point where I have seen more films on the shortlist than not.
Okay, maybe I am still a bit hesitant about Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm holding two nominations, and the fact that A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is shortlisted for Best Animated Feature, but we’ll make this work. It’s rather sad actually, for all of my excitement, the animated categories are typically one of my highlights – but 2021’s ceremony just doesn’t grasp me. I’ve seen Soul, so I shall root for that one. In addition, with the rules now changing about streaming platforms being nominated, some sleeper hits were in for recognition, especially Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga which could easily be a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, far more than Borat and with a more compelling storyline to boot.
Moving onto the awards, Sound of Metal is my bid for Best Sound as the way its sound engineers have portrayed its narrative of developing deafness as a musician is incredibly impactful. In terms of Best Original Song, I would love for “Husavik” from Eurovision… to win but I’m also a fan of Leslie Odom Jr. so I won’t be too downcast if One Night In Miami also takes home the prize. As for Best Costume Design, normally it’s an overlooked category but Emma‘s attention to historical detail sealed the deal and every nominee stepped it up this year, as with Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
The only categories I can’t seem to call are the most important ones. Anyone could be the recipient for the Best Actor and Actress and their supporting counterparts. Chadwick Boseman has already received numerous accolades for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and if he wins, he will be the second posthumous actor to receive it (Peter Finch being the first in 1977 for Network). As for Best Actress, any of the nominations would be my pick to win – everyone was on top of their game this year!
Just don’t ask me to pick Best Picture. I’ve praised Promising Young Woman to no end, and I do so with either Emerald Fennell or Chloé Zhao (director of Nomadland) take home the prize. This the first year that two women have been nominated in both Best Director and Best Picture, and the chances of someone following on in Kathryn Bigelow’s footsteps in 2010 is undoubtedly high.
As a low-key awards season reaches its climax tonight with the Oscars, I think we can all agree that the proceedings have been somewhat underwhelming. With this year’s ceremony being pushed back to April and UK cinemas still shut, the typical Oscar excitement feels muted with accessibility for certain films being severely restricted as distributors were faced with a dilemma during this pandemic: put their film online or wait and hold out for a theatrical release. Unless you’ve attended a recent UK film festival (physical and virtual) or been lucky enough to obtain a screener, then tracking the traditional run-up and taking part in the usual predictions have been difficult. Thankfully at the time of writing, six out of the eight Best Picture nominees are available to rent/stream online with the two exceptions being bookies favourite Nomadland heading onto Disney+ this coming Friday and The Father releasing in cinemas this June (fingers crossed).
In regards to the ceremony, history is set to be made with Chloé Zhao potentially becoming only the second female and the first woman of colour to win Best Director for Nomadland, a quietly understated drama about a widow adapting to life as a modern-day Nomad, someone who roams America in their own camper-van whilst collecting seasonal work on their travels. Its seamless usage of non-professional actors combined with Zhao’s slow but intimate direction will likely see her walk away with not only Best Director but also Best Picture as well.
Meanwhile both leading acting categories are hotly contested and can easily go either way. Although the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal are still in the mix, I will be rooting for Anthony Hopkins to take home Best Actor for his astonishing performance as an ageing man coping with dementia in The Father – filled with charm but inevitably heartbreaking, I could barely hold back floods of tears as the credits rolled. For Best Actress, there is a case for any of the nominees to win and as much as Frances McDormand’s formidable performance in Nomadland would take my vote, I won’t be surprised if it’s a close call between Viola Davis for Ma Rainey… and Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman.
As always there is potential for some upsets and this year is no different. With six nominations including Best Picture, Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 could provide plenty and although it has received praise, I sense a whiff of events repeating from 2019 when Green Book shockingly won the top prize (and the less said on that subject, the better). In addition, Thomas Vinterberg’s thoroughly entertaining comedy-drama Another Round will likely win Best International Feature Film from another strong list of nominees and it’s nice to see him recognised in Best Director. Whatever the outcome is, it’s going to be an intriguing, if not sleep-depriving, three hours.