Looking ahead at this weekend’s Oscars
April 21, 2021
Here we finally are, better late than never, The COVID-Era Oscars. This coming Sunday, April 25, the 93rd annual Academy Awards will air worldwide following the strangest movie season.
Steven Soderbergh is producing the show, which means it will almost certainly be a smart and unique program. David Fincher’s Mank has the most nominations, but, real talk, many of the awards seem to be up in the air this year. Fitting, considering how odd the movie year was.
In this week’s column I’m going to attempt to do three things for each of the major categories:
1. Guess which of the nominees will win.
2. Pick my favorite of the nominees.
3. Pick who I think should have won the award, whether they were nominated or not.
BEST ACTOR (MALE)
Chadwick Boseman will almost certainly win for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. While his performance was very good, the film itself wasn’t the greatest. So is this almost-sure-thing award for Boseman a lifetime achievement award for the late actor, who tragically passed away last year? Yeah, sorta.
Of those nominated, I think Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Father was the most impressive. Or maybe Gary Oldman in Mank.
My pick, however, would be Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah. Kaluuya was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this performance, which I don’t fully understand. Is Kaluuya in Judas less than Boseman is in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom? This one feels political. The Oscar folks want a big tear-jerking moment for the Black Panther himself. I get it. I don’t love it, but whatever.
BEST ACTOR (FEMALE)
It feels as if any of this year’s five nominees could win this year, as the honor has been spread out among the nominees at other awards shows.
I think Frances McDormand will win for her performance in Nomadland, and if she does, that will be her third Best Actress award. That would make Franny second all-time, I believe, in the category, trailing the great Katherine Hepburn by one. That would be historic, and the Oscar folks like that sort of narrative.
Of the nominees, I think Frances is the best option and, of all the performances I saw in the 2020 movie cycle, I think Frances gave the most.
All that being said, I would not be upset if Carey Mulligan won for her turn in Promising Young Woman.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (FEMALE):
There’s a chance that Glenn Close will somehow win for her performance in the awful Ron Howard film Hillbilly Elegy. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. I’ll guess that Amanda Seyfried will win for her performance in Mank, though I’m really not sure this year.
Of the nominees, I’d pick Borat breakout star Maria Bakalova, who gave what I think could be considered a legendary performance alongside Sacha Baron Cohen in the how-is-this-so-good-I-can’t-believe-it Borat sequel. Rewatch that film and imagine the conversations Cohen, the director, and Bakalova had to have before some of those scenes. Then watch her performance with that in mind. Truly incredible stuff.
Which female actor do I think gave the best supporting performance of the 2020 movie cycle? Easy: Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson in Judas. Not even a question in my opinion.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (MALE)
This one is locked up, I think. Daniel Kaluuya (who, again, should have been nominated in the Best Actor category) will win. The only way he doesn’t is if he and his fellow Judas nominee Lakeith Stanfield split the vote.
Of the nominees I obviously think Kaluuya should win and, while we’re on the subject of Kaluuya, I’d suggest that he’s joined Joaquin Phoenix and Christian Bale in the upper tier of best working male screen actors. (Tier two would be guys like Leo and Pitt.)
And, finally, who would I pick to win, nominees be damned? How do I not pick Da 5 Bloods star Delroy Lindo? And why is he never in the Oscar conversation despite having a truly incredible, unique career?
We’re all expecting Chloe Zhao to win for Nomadland, but I think this category will offer the biggest surprise of the year by giving the award to David Fincher. He should have won for The Social Network and Zodiac both and has certainly already paid all the dues that the Academy usually needs to give someone a lifetime achievement award.
That being said, if he does win, I don’t think we’ll look back on a Fincher win for Mank as a lifetime achievement honor. The movie is too good for that. Fincher’s direction is as sophisticated and masterful as it gets.
Who would I pick among the nominees? That’s tough. I like all the nominees this year, and they all did very different things. I’ll go with Thomas Vinterberg’s work on Another Round.
And, lastly, if I could award anyone, nominee or not, who would I honor? Charlie Kaufman for I’m Thinking of Ending Things. (Also: shoutouts go to Steve McQueen and Kelly Reichardt.)
Despite this being one of our most deserving groups of nominees ever, I think it comes down to three movies: Mank, Nomadland, and Judas and the Black Messiah. Assuming Mank doesn’t do some kind of surprising Oscar sweep, I’m putting my money on Nomadland as this year’s big winner.
Of the nominees, I think it’s pretty clear from this week’s column that I’d pick the truly remarkable, important, gorgeous Fred Hampton epic, Judas and the Black Messiah. Judas, Nomadland, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and First Cow were my favorite films of the 2020 cycle.
Of those, I’d probably go with Judas by a hair over Nomadland. Both have a lot of important things to say about America, if in very different ways, and both are beautifully made, unique films. I’m going with Judas for a number of reasons, but mostly Kaluuya’s performance and Sean Bobbitt’s incredible cinematography.
The Oscars will air at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 25, on ABC. Before the show airs, send your picks my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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