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  • James Kunovski

2021 Oscar Nominations: What’s In & What’s Out

I anticipated this year’s very late Academy Award nominations with slight anxiety. Were they going to go down the safe route, like years past, were they going to venture out of their comfort zones, and has this pandemic year forced underdogs into the spotlight? For the most part, the latter rings the truest for the vast set of nominees, who prove to be some of the strongest contenders in a while, and that half-thought that popped into your mind when you first watched the eventual nominees, “gee, I hope this gets nominated for an Oscar” mostly materialised. Especially excited to see “Minari” and “Promising Young Woman” here, but as is the case every year, there were plenty of surprises and snubs. So, the class of the 93rd Oscars are here — who’s in and who’s out?

IN: Low-Budget Cinema

2021 welcomed the most consistently entertaining and challenging selection of Best Picture nominees in some time. The consensus seems to be that these films would have likely been pushed aside by larger, more popular movies in a busier year, making them a triumph for low-budget cinema. Of the eight films, Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has the highest budget, standing at $35 million. Compare that to yesteryear’s average budget of $65 million. True independent cinema, (more on par with what “Moonlight” achieved in 2017) can be found through strong contenders “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman” and current front runner “Nomadland.”

OUT: Play Adaptations

Aside from “The Father,” play adaptations mostly suffered from Best Picture’s truncated form. These include “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (five nominations) and “One Night in Miami” (three nods). One assumes if the number of potential Best Picture numbers was secured at ten (a rule that starts next year), that duo would be present.

IN: Streamers

No doubt, the appeal of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon were boosted by the pandemic but the sheer content that the former pumps out has culminated into thirty-five nominations. Amazon received twelve, which is still higher than any major studio — Disney is next with eight nods. Sure, Netflix knows when to drop its award contenders and garnering that many nominations is an impressive feat but they still have the hurdle of major wins and when it comes to legacy, it’s those that stand out the most.

OUT: Pedro Almodóvar

It’s rare for an established director, especially one who the Academy adores, to craft a short that garners speed on the festival circuits and right into the Academy shortlist. It’s even rarer for the Academy to turn around and not nominate it. True, Almodóvar’s “The Human Voice,” led by an alluring Tilda Swinton is pure auteur indulgence but its riveting energy not only positioned it for a nomination but as a front runner to win. Oh well, I’m sure Almodóvar isn’t too bothered — it’s only a year since “Pain and Glory” picked up two nods.

IN: Diverse Directors

A lineup of directors that honours two women, two people of colour, its first Asian-American, a Hollywood veteran, and European influence is a move in the right direction. Aaron Sorkin from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” missed out but as one-in-five Best Picture winners from the last decade proved, that doesn’t always stop you from taking Best Picture. The increasingly European sector of the branch likely warranted Thomas Vinterberg for “Another Round” a nomination — in a way, he repeats what Paweł Pawlikowski did for “Cold War.” Vinterberg joins the ranks of Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari,” David Fincher for “Mank,” Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.”

OUT: Tenet

Academy members reportedly had screener issues with Christopher Nolan’s latest work so a fairly tepid reaction was expected (add the film’s already polarising reception) but that doesn’t make Ludwig Göransson’s absence from Best Score less disappointing. Even though they undertake the shortlisting process which is designed to avoid such occurrences, the music branch has a reputation for ignoring heavy-hitting scores, like Justin Hurwitz’s Golden Globe-winning work in “First Man". Still, “Tenet” received attention for its production design and visual effects.

IN: Late-Breakers

This year’s ceremony was the first time in eighty-seven years that films from two calendar years were eligible. Even though plenty of the eight best picture nominees enjoyed somewhat of a split-year release (between theatres and streaming), no two films benefited more from a late breakthrough than “The Father” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Enjoying their American release this February, both films received six nominations.

OUT: Da 5 Bloods

Regardless of your opinions, Spike Lee’s films always pack a punch, and although his latest genre-mash about four African American Vietnam veterans and their search for a fallen friend’s legacy might have been more uneven than his previous “BlacKkKlansman,” the Academy rejected Lee this time around. Receiving only one nomination for its score, even Chadwick Boseman missed out in supporting, but the true sting lies in the snub of lead Delroy Lindo.

IN: Minari

Since “Moonlight” won Best Picture in 2017, A24 has struggled to break back into the Oscars race. They found their latest success with Lee Isaac Chung’s intimate drama about immigrant, family life in 1980s Arkansas. In another more packed year, “Minari” might have been pushed out of the more coveted slots by higher-grossing, higher-seen flicks, but in this unusual year, it was able to prosper with six nominations. Steven Yeun becomes the first Asian-American nominated in lead actor and Korean screen veteran Youn Yuh-jung gets her Hollywood due in supporting actress.

OUT: The Mauritanian

At the time, Jodie Foster’s surprise supporting actress Golden Globe win for Kevin Macdonald’s comfortably bait-y legal thriller signalled her as another contender in the increasingly unpredictable supporting actress field. Then, it was generously welcomed by the BAFTAs’ long-list; that jury nominated it five times, including for lead Tahar Rahim. “The Mauritanian,” which follows the true story of a Guantanamo Bay detainee and suspected terrorist’s fight for freedom, showed up empty Monday morning, despite a fairly lacklustre adapted screenplay field and the appeal of Foster’s performance and that wig-of-a-lifetime.

IN: Mank, in some quarters

Naturally, David Fincher’s polished Old Hollywood pastiche was bound to be nominated, even guaranteed to be the most nominated of the year, but patchy admiration across the board, alongside significant snubs, suggests that members like the craft more than they love the film. “Mank” has the most nominations of the year, with ten; Oldman, Seyfried and Fincher's efforts caught on. Missing out on an editing nomination effectively crushes its Best Picture chances, as does its writing snub —go figure, for a film about a Hollywood screenwriter.

OUT: Documentary Front Runners

The documentary branch’s new favourite pastime is snubbing favourites. For the past four years, the winner of the Critics’ Choice Documentary Feature has not been nominated by the Academy: respectively, “Jane,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, “Apollo 11” and “Dick Johnson is Dead.” “Dick Johnson” and the hyper-political “Boys State” were healthy shoo-ins but even the latter could not manage to quench enough voters’ appetite. Instead, the surprise nominees were “Crip Camp,” “My Octopus Teacher” and “The Mole Agent,” respectively ranked sixth, ninth and fourteenth on Goldderby, amongst the high-ranking and emotionally stirring duo, “Collective” and “Time.”

IN: Glenn Close

Although Close was hardly ignored in the awards circuit leading up to Oscar nominations, surprise breakthroughs like Helena Zengel in “News of the World” and Jodie Foster in “The Mauritanian” threatened the treasured actress’ place in the category. Despite “Hillbilly Elegy’s” critically panned notoriety, Close received her eighth nomination as the fiery and performative Mamaw. She now holds the record with Peter O’Toole for the most acting nominations without a win. With that, Close also becomes one of three actors, and the first in thirty-seven years, to be nominated for both an Oscar and a Razzie for the same performance. One wonders would Academy members backed off from lauding her again had she won for “The Wife”?

IN: Category Fraud

The biggest surprise of the announcement was when LaKeith Stanfield of “Judas and the Black Messiah” was revealed as the fifth slot in supporting actor. Though an inspired pick, his inclusion in the supporting race, when his studio campaigned for lead, was a blindsiding choice. As names went on, and Alan Kim from “Minari” and Jared Leto from “The Little Things” missed out, I was confusingly convinced that David Strathairn from "Nomadland" was the last name to be called. Could we see a rule change in the future? Either way, it’s not as strange as Barry Fitzgerald’s nominations in both lead and supporting way back in 1945 for “Going My Way.”

IN: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Just when you thought the Academy’s snobbery (although, they are getting better) would pull through and Sacha Baron Cohen’s ballistic sequel would be completely shut out, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” garnered two nominations. Announcers Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas spent some time announcing the boundless list of writers (Cohen amongst them) nominated for adapted screenplay — not a shocking choice considering the first "Borat" was also nominated for its writing. The real surprise came when the Academy embraced Maria Bakalova’s convention-breaking, Rudy Giuliani-facing turn as Borat’s daughter, Tutar.

IN: Tunisia & Romania

Tunisia and Romania received their first nominations for Best International Film — the latter was also rewarded in feature documentary. Romania’s dual nods for the gripping social exposé “Collective” was anticipated but recognition for Tunisia’s “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” given its obscure release, was surprising. At least we can be relieved that members do watch the screeners.

We're still over a month away from game night — plenty of time for the voters to re-evaluate, a wider audience to embrace new films, and for myself to start predicting how the winners could and should go. Stay tuned!


93rd Academy Award Nominations

Best Picture

“The Father”

“Judas and the Black Messiah”




“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari”

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

David Fincher, “Mank”

Thomas Vinterberg, “Another Round”

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”

Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”

Gary Oldman, “Mank”

Steven Yeun, “Minari”

Best Actress

Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”

Andra Day, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”

Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”

Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”

Lakeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Glenn Close, “Hillbilly Elegy”

Olivia Colman, “The Father”

Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”

Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah”


“News of the World”


“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Editing

“The Father”


“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Best Documentary Feature


“Crip Camp”

“The Mole Agent”

“My Octopus Teacher”


Best Documentary Short Subject


“A Concerto Is a Conversation”

“Do Not Split”

“Hunger Ward”

“A Love Song for Latasha”

Best Animated Feature


“Over the Moon”

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”



Best Animated Short


“Genius Loci”

“If Anything Happens I Love You”



Best Live Action Short

“Feeling Through”

“The Letter Room”

“The Present”

“Two Distant Strangers”

“White Eye”

Best International Feature

“Another Round” (Denmark)

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania)

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods”



“News of the World”


Best Original Song

“Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

“Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

“Io sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead”

“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling


“Hillbilly Elegy”

“Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”



Best Costume Design


“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”




Best Production Design

“The Father”

“Ma Rainey's Black Bottom”


“News of the World”


Best Sound



“News of the World”


“Sound of Metal”

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters”

“The Midnight Sky”


“The One and Only Ivan”


Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

“The Father”


“One Night in Miami”

“The White Tiger”

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah”


“Promising Young Woman”

“Sound of Metal”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”


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