It’s been 84 years….
We’re finally here. An Oscar journey like no other this season, battling pandemics, closed theaters, extended eligibility, Zoom awards shows and separating us all from the things that have brought so many of us together.
In a year that saw a record number of women nominated (70 with 76 nominations) and non-white actors nominated in record-tying numbers (9, as in 2007 and 2017), there is so much of this season that I hope carries on into next and the future. While big-ticket films like Dune and West Side Story hit the sidelines for the late 2021 release what we saw is a bit of a utopian version of what the Oscars can look like. Not just an ‘indie’ Oscars (although they look more like the Spirit Awards than ever this year; take that, John Bailey), but one that shows the full breadth of what is ‘Oscar-worthy.’ This year showed us that the old phrase ‘Oscar bait’ still holds water with biopics and often staid material that is tried and true but also that we can finally move the needle of that definition. Moonlight, The Shape of Water and Parasite are as atypical as you can get in the canon of 93 years of Oscar and this year looks to be as well.
Chloé Zhao, whose four nominations is a record for a woman in a single year, gave us Nomadland, which has swept critics and industry alike and united us as we remain heavily divided politically and socially. Her deeply empathetic film led the way for what was essentially the year’s theme for film and definitely for the Oscars: stories of empathy, of understanding, of kindness. It also gave us the blistering social commentary of Promising Young Woman, the too-long-coming story of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, the historical document of the 1968 Democratic Election, a searing portrait of dementia in The Father, deaf representation at an Oscar level not seen since 1986’s Children of a Lesser God in Sound of Metal, two actors at the top of their game and sadly one in their last in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a lifelong passion project in Mank that closes with an Oscar itself, a truly American story in Minari.
While Nomadland feels like an uncrashable winner Sunday, I’ve definitely learned that nothing is certain until that last envelope is opened. And honestly, sometimes not even then.
Is there a chance for a Crash/Brokeback Mountain type of upset here? I’m not going to count it out, for sure. While Nomadland hasn’t missed a beat, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has built a late-breaking case for it to happen. It’s won SAG and ACE, just as Crash did. It has a large ensemble of actors and got just one supporting actor nomination from it, just as Crash did. But that’s largely where the comparisons end. Trial didn’t win WGA (like Crash did) and in 2005 the Academy had a real alternative to “the gay cowboy movie” with a socially and politically minded film that made them feel like they had addressed racism in a way they hadn’t quite done since 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. It marked such a huge divergence from what we knew the precursors to be (Brokeback had won PGA, BAFTA, Critics Choice and the Globe just like Nomadland). While The Trial of the Chicago 7 was geared toward being a timely film, looking to mirror the violence and uprising of the 1968 Democratic election with the 2020 Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, it hasn’t quite gelled that way. That’s before we even look at the fact that Aaron Sorkin missed a directing nomination. Looking at it from that perspective then we’d have a Green Book scenario. But wait, Green Book won PGA and had a locked in supporting actor nomination that carried the day. Trial does not have that. It would have to somehow Spotlight itself with just an Original Screenplay win to usurp Nomadland in Best Picture.
Can Trial beat Promising Young Woman for the screenplay award? There’s a chance, sure. And as we’ve seen at the Oscars before, once a pattern starts to emerge over the night, you can see the upset coming. If Trial beats Sound of Metal for film editing (as it did at ACE), then something may be afoot. If it indeed beats Promising Young Woman for original screenplay, look out. But that’s the thing; the number of obstacles the film needs to overcome and hoops it needs to jump through are kind of substantial. Not impossible in a ‘normal’ year much less one like this.
A Nomadland triumph would be the fifth win for Searchlight Pictures (starting with 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire through 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, 2014’s Birdman and 2017’s The Shape of Water), an astounding record in the modern era, and the first under Disney since the takeover in 2019.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on April 25 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the Union Station in Los Angeles.
Here are my ranked final Oscar predictions in Best Picture.
1. Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG, PGA, plus ACE, MPSE
Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey and Chloé Zhao, Producers
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG, PGA, SAG plus ACE, ADG, ASC, CAS, DGA, MPSE, WGA
Marc Platt and Stuart Besser, Producers
3. Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG plus ACE, ADG, CDG, DGA, MUAH, PGA, WGA
Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell and Josey McNamara, Producers
4. Minari (A24) – SAG, PGA plus ACE
Christina Oh, Producer
5. Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) – PGA plus ACE, CAS, MPSE, WGA
Bert Hamelinck and Sacha Ben Harroche, Producers
6. The Father (Sony Pictures Classics) – BAFTA, GG
David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne, Producers
7. Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros) – PGA plus CDG, WGA
Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler, Producers
8. Mank (Netflix) – BFCA, GG plus ACE, ADG, ASC, CAS, MPSE, MUAH, VES
Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski, Producers