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Snark is something that we didn’t want.

2021 Oscars

Producer Stacy Sher not wanting snark is more the pity, as that’s surely how any discerning person will respond to this year’s ceremony. Firstly, it must contend with the nullifying impact of an Oscars so woke that any pretence at merit has gone out the window (it has, after all, always been loaded in favour of virtue signalling or self-congratulatory revelling in Hollywood’s titanic capacities for excess, sometimes simultaneously for the same film, and that’s only since it stopped habitually buying nominations). More damagingly, this year’s awards show looks as if it will have jettisoned any lingering, vestigial opportunities for fun.

Perhaps the anointed Pope of Pandemic Porn (Wolfgang Peterson is too old and German) Steven Soderbergh, realising the writing is on the wall for vast swathes of humanity but perversely caught in a celebrity-denial lifestyle, decided to double down by setting the ceremony at Union Station, in the “real” world. He claimedWe want you to feel like it wasn’t a show made by an institution” but the best way to do so might any option other than giving winners carte blanche to speak as long as they want – unless any of the nominees prove other than terminally, insincerely sincere as they “tell a story, and say something personal”. Likewise, shooting the proceedings with all the excitement of a film itself. That’s the excitement of a Soderbergh film, mind, so check your enthusiasm at the door.

I don’t worship at the feet of Oscar, and I’m definitely not an Awards Daily groupie, but I do find the Academy’s interests interesting, even if it’s often simply as a measure of how out of whack their tastes are. It should be clear from my reviews of those nominees I’ve seen that I’m less than enamoured of the Hollywood wokester parade. The only way there’d be a chance to salvage this mess would be David Letterman showing up as the surprise host and snarking his way through the entire shebang.

The quota wokeness, along with the dearth of big releases and big grosses last year – outside of China, natch – has only hastened the ceremony’s descent into an irrelevant pit of navel gazing. Nevertheless, rather than ignore it, the only sane and rational decision, I’ve bravely gone ahead with my annual Oscar Predictions. Of the big guns, I’ve yet to see The Father and Nomadland, which isn’t such bad form compared to some years. I’m doubtful either will seriously upset my pervasive lack of appreciation for this year’s contenders, but I’ve been able to find some degree of merit in most categories outside of Best Picture.

Best Picture
Winner: Nomadland
I’d like to win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Interesting Choice: Mank

While there has been much talk of another picture somehow pipping it, Best Picture is Nomadland’s to lose. Mank was never in serious contention; it’s even more trad-Hollywood than The Trial of the Chicago 7 (which has social conscience on its side). The latter might earn some old-school appreciation, but as an Aaron Sorkin, fairly conservative overview of the 1960s, it fails to hit enough genuinely topical and progressive note (the same might be said of Green Book, but two years ago is a whole other era). If voters want to reward an activist period-piece, there’s always the moribund Judas and the Black Messiah. I doubt that one has sufficient enthusiasm behind it, though, simply curt respect.

Promising Young Woman is too unrepentant in its stance and insufficiently congratulatory to meet the expansive gestures demanded by the Academy, but it’s still important to have it on the list for box-ticking purposes. Sound of Metal likewise offers the evergreen disability drama, but it’s almost quaint, despite its rawness and sound design. As for the The Father, it’s a case of muted respect, hard going and worthy, and much more likely to be rewarded for performance than as a whole piece. Which leaves Minari, and I just think it’s too slight, too shyly well-meaning and balanced. It would be the equivalent of Boyhood winning (which didn’t, of course).

So I’m sticking to Nomadland, sponsored by the World Economic Forum ("You will own nothing, including a home, and be happy"). The interesting choice would be Mank, just because it’s so damn unlikely, and it would be a slap in the face to everything this year’s awards have set themselves up for. My pick is more by default. It’s the one I enjoyed marginally more than the others, but by no means do I think it even does its subject matter particular justice. It does, however, feel like a movie rather than simply servicing a cause. Which makes it pretty reactionary this year.

Best Director
Winner: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)
I’d like to win: Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)
The Interesting Choice: Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)

Vinterberg’s an outside chance, possibly even more than Fincher (which is saying something). And of course, I’ve yet to see Another Round, so I’m going by past form. I may well have a different take when I catch up with Nomadland (advance word suggests Zhao has also done something pretty special with Marvel’s Eternals, and it’s quite something to stamp succeed in stamping personality on the Marvel machine). I was resoundingly unimpressed with Emerald Fennell’s scattershot Promising Young Woman and thought Fincher’s approach to Mank was outright tone-deaf. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari duties were solid, very much an actor’s director on that basis.

Best Actor
Winner: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
I’d like to win: Steven Yeun (Minari)
The Interesting Choice: Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

If Hopkins wins this – and it earned him his third BAFTA, admittedly on home turf – it would be a surprising late stage switch to venerating an old timer. Certainly, if anyone were to upset Boseman’s posthumous win, it would be him. Hopkins really ought to get double the kudos, given his recent “jab” performance. Or perhaps he really does have dementia and just didn’t realise? Boseman has had this in the bag for a while, though. Since his death was announced, pretty much, so irrespective of the merit of his playing – which is fine, but nothing very exceptional, in a role that isn’t very exceptional – a critical, or voter mass appears to have been reached. Riz Ahmed is always accomplished, but his character doesn’t really stay with you, while Oldman is doing a fairly standard drunk act (however non-standard Fincher’s gruelling methods may be). I may change my mind once I see The Father, but Yeun’s sensitive, internalised performance is the one that has impressed me most.

Best Actress
Winner: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
I’d like to win: Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday)
The Interesting Choice: Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)

Carey Mulligan is still a frontrunner for many (some have suggested her affront at a Variety review may have torn it for her, however; she may also reek a little too much of Privileged Young Woman for current tastes). Viola Day’s makeup-massacre mugging as Ma Rainey may well lead to a victory speech, but she’s by the far the least deserving candidate. If not for woke voting, Frances McDormand might have a shot at taking home her third (sometimes Oscar likes to keep giving). The irony is that Andra Day’s unseasoned acting deep dive as Billie Holiday is a hugely impressive piece of work (in a hugely unimpressive piece of… cinema), but Davis seems to be getting all the attention. Kirby’s the rank outsider. Her performance is a solid one, but less instantly celebratory or as “big” as some of the others.

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
I’d like to win: Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)
The Interesting Choice: Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)

I speculated that Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield might cancel each other out in my Judas and the Black Messiah review, but I’m not sure who that would lead to, if it happened. Kaluuya is the highest profile nominee here, and he’s better than Stanfield in that movie, but neither did very much for me. Sacha Baron Cohen was way too old for Abbie Hoffman and his performance a hollow, dead-eyed shell. Leslie Odom Jr would be my runner up to Raci; like Day’s in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, his work is much more potent than the surrounding movie.

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)
I’d like to win: Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)
The Interesting Choice: Amanda Seyfried (Mank)

If Minari didn’t deserve its Best Picture nom, I can’t argue with either of the performance nods. Glenn Close being continually denied a statuette has become a running joke at this point, but it would be fairly ignominious if she finally took it for her hillbilly Mrs Doubtfire turn. Tantamount to Pacino winning for Scent of a Woman. Olivia Colman won recently. I think it’s that simple there. Maria Bakalova… Do decent improv skills guarantee Oscar worthy status now? Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is odious slime, and Bakalova is at least a trooper throughout its slew of revulsions, but no. Seyfried would be an interesting win, one of the few bright spots in Mank, although she’s a few years older than this award’s preferred ingenue (when it goes for the bright young pretty thing).

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin)
I’d like to win: The Trial of the Chicago 7 
Interesting Choice: Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)

The view seems to be that Promising Young Woman will take this home, if it takes home anything. I might be biased – no, scratch that, I am – as I didn’t thin Emerald Fennell’s screenplay was much cop at all. I didn’t think Aaron Sorkin’s was that great either, but it’s a slickly serviceable Hollywood history sat next to the soporific Judas and the Black Messiah and respectable but rote Sound of Metal. Minari is well observed until it makes a series of too-calculated final act choices and would be an interesting choice due to favouring largely subtle observances over grandstanding.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
I’d like to win: The White Tiger (Ramin Bahrani)
Interesting Choice: The White Tiger

That Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is nominated here underlines the joke these awards have become. It never used to be this way, not in the good old days, back when The Towering Inferno would find itself up for Best Picture. Baron Cohen sounds all the correct political notes for the Oscars, so his appearance is a fait accompli. Not because he’s made a remotely funny movie, but because the way in which he treats his victims is the way Hollywood sees its audience. One Night in Miami is too faux and lightweight in its activism for serious attention. The Father too challenging in its exploring its subject. Nomadland’s homeless porn is just right. The White Tiger would be interesting; if Slumdog Millionaire can win, it should be shoe-in. Of those I’ve seen, it would get my nod, even if it ultimately lets itself down.

Best Animated Feature
Winner: Soul
I’d like to win: Wolfwalkers
Interesting Choice: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Soul will probably win, and would certainly be a better choice than Over the Moon. Whether or not it’s superior to its Pixar stablemate Onward? More pretentious, certainly. Since I don’t rate the four I’ve seen, I’ve picked the Apple-exclusive Wolfwalkers. Farmageddon would be an interesting choice, the first effectively silent movie to win a major award since The Artist.

Best International Feature
Winner: Another Round
I’d like to win: Another Round
Interesting Choice: Collective

Danish drinking dramedy Another Round’s presence in another lead category (Director) is a strong sign of where this one is destined, although Collective (a Romanian picture also nominated in Documentary Feature) would be an interesting choice. There’s also highly-regarded Bosnian war drama Quo Vadis, Aida? (UN translator tries to save her family against the backdrop of the Sebrenica massacre), major Chinese hit Better Days (a tale of bullying and street gangs), and The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisian tattoo/living art drama).

Best Documentary Feature
Winner: My Octopus Teacher
I’d like to win: Collective

I’m not fiercely keen on the documentary categories at the Oscars, as they often represent the most glaring examples of manipulative filmmaking, particularly so due to their veneer of telling the truth. I gave My Octopus Teacher a look, a feel-good (well, your mileage may vary given the ending) doc about a diver and the octopus he “befriends”. To its credit, it’s much more transparent about its artifice than your average BBC natural history unit doc. Mostly, though, I found its front-and-centre maker off putting. Both Crip Camp and My Octopus Teacher are both on Netflix. The former concerns New York’s Camp Jened, designed for teenagers with disabilities. The Mole Agent follows a man hired to go undercover in a Chilean nursing home, while Time (on Amazon) tackles the monolithic prison system through a woman’s quest to have her husband’s sentence shortened (at the same time, it has received criticism for being partial with the facts of the case). Collective covers journalists investigating Romanian public healthcare fraud and probably has the most genuine investigatory lens of the candidates.

Best Documentary Short
Winner: A Love Song for Latasha

This year’s documentary shorts are all variously exploring subject matter relating to causes – not overly unusual, since it can be a self-righteous salve to the main categories’ historically sumptuous debauchery – but the frontrunner is definitely A Love Song for Latasha, helped along by availability on Netflix and topical subject matter (a voluntary manslaughter verdict inflaming racial tensions). Other topics includes Oscar favourite Nazis (French resistance fighter Colette returns to Germany to visit the concentration camp where her brother died), Oscar favourite Ava DuVernay (executive producer of A Concerto Is a Conversation) about composer Kris Bowers family history, the opposition to Hong Kong’s Extradition Law Amendment Bill (Do Not Split) and the famine in Yemen (Hunger Ward). The latter ought to get the coverage, but the media partiality point it underlines will likely be reflected in the winner.

Best Live Action Short
Winner: Feeling Through

Frontrunner is The Letter Room (Oscar Isaac as a prison officer with a comedy moustache). Also present: Feeling Through (charting a friendship with deafblind man; cynically speaking, Sound of Metal has probably cornered half of that equation this year); White Eye (man pursues his stolen bike); Two Distant Strangers (on-the-nose tale of time-loop police brutality, possibly too on the nose even for Oscar, but you never know); The Present (an attempt to buy a wedding anniversary gift in the West Bank; the Palestinian perspective taking an Oscar? Unlikely). Despite the obviousness of voting for a short featuring a high-profile actor, I’m picking the less noted Feeling Through, on the basis Sound of Metal probably won’t go home with anything major and voters may look to this as inverted compensation.

Best Animated Short
Winner: If Anything Happens I Love You 
I’d like to win: Opera

I have seen all of these. Yes-People is a mildly amusing dose of Icelandic humour regarding differently intended utterances of “Yes” (in Icelandic, obviously), with nothing smart or visually inventive enough to merit a win. (3/5)

Opera is somewhat stunning, offering a vertically designed cross sectional pyramid of society and everything that comprises from bottom to the top, how it feeds off itself and is born, grows, self-destructs and is reborn. Intricate and fascinating. (4.5/5)

Burrow also offers cross-sectional animation, of a rabbit trying to sort his hole in the face of other fauna’s interruptions/intrusions. Nice to see a different Pixar style, but nothing very special. (3/5)

Genius Loci is a bizarre semi-abstract (and overlong) dive into existential chaos as the protagonist becomes subjectively entangled in the sphere of those she encounters. She may even be a dog. Striking, but a little too random. (3.5/5)

If Anything Happens I Love You is the odds-on-favourite. It’s well animated, but it’s exploiting, I mean sensitively exploring, terror of high school shootings through bereaved parents. I couldn’t stomach it, I’m afraid, but voters doubtless lap that kind of thing up. (2/5)

Best Original Score
Winner: Soul
I’d like to win: Minari
Interesting Choice: Mank

Usually I’m impressed by at least one nominee in this category, regardless of the accompanying film. Not this time. I don’t outright dislike anything aside from Da 5 Bloods’ meandering jazz doodle (utterly inappropriate to a movie that was ludicrous enough without that on spray-creamed on top). News of the World is just kind of “there”, and while it’s James Newton Howard’s ninth nomination and fifth for score (with no wins), I doubt he’s going to get the career medal win here. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have two showings. They might be expected to cancel each other out, but score is traditionally a magnet for animation; I don’t expect there retro-noir Mank score will be on the minds of many, but like pretty much every category outside of Cinematography and Production Design, it would be interesting to see it rewarded. Emile Mosseri’s score for Minari gets my vote.

Best Original Song
Winner: Speak Now (Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami)
I’d like to win: Speak Now (Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami)
The Interesting Choice: Husavik (Eurovision)

I’d have been more impressed if that was actually Rachel McAdams singing. Husavik is a very serviceable Eurovision clone, such that you could easily imagine it as a winner. Celeste’s Hear My Voice seems cynical in its heartfelt sincerity in the context of The Trial of the Chicago 7’s plastic history, so I’m not betting on that one. Io sì (Seen) from The Life Ahead also sounds like a genuine Eurovision entry; it’s running second place, but I’m going to agree with the favourite here as also the better song of the bunch (none of them are particularly to my taste, but this, and more so Odom Jr’s performance in the movie, is the best in this category).

Best Sound
Winner: Sound of Metal
I’d like to win: Sound of Metal
Interesting Choice: Soul

Sound Mixing and Sound Editing have been compressed into the one category this year. Two Guantanamo Hanks banging the gong (Greyhound and News of the World), and they appear to be safely at the bottom of the pile. That leaves Mank and Soul, both reasonable options, although recognising an animation is a rarity. Sound of Metal ought to have no trouble, then.

Best Production Design
Winner: Mank
I’d like to win: Tenet
Interesting Choice: The Father

Judging by earlier awards ceremonies, Mank already has broad approval in this category, although I’d like to see Tenet rewarded over historical exercises like Mank and Ma Rainey. The Father winning would baffle me, and I don’t think News of the World has a hope.

Best Cinematography
Winner: Mank
I’d like to win: Nomadland
Interesting Choice: The Trial of the Chicago 7

This is a toss-up between Nomadland and Mank, although I should say I think Mank looks absolutely horrid (the irony for a meticulous Fincher film winning). Nomadland looks good, although not appreciably more wilderness-riffic than News of the World. I don’t particularly know what Judas and the Black Messiah is doing here, even less so The Trial of the Chicago 7. Which would make the latter interestingly random.

Best Make Up and Hairstyling
Winner: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I’d like to win: Mank
Interesting Choice: Hillbilly Elegy

Nothing here especially stands out, other than Charles Dance’s cadaverous look in Mank. Ma Rainey was over made-up and then some, but I suppose that counts in a Joker kind of way. I don’t think Emma or Pinocchio are likely. Hillbilly Elegy would be hilarious for Close’s Mrs Doubtfire drag.

Best Costume Design
Winner: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
I’d like to win: Mulan
Interesting Choice: Pinocchio

Costume Design and Makeup are likely Ma Rainey’s sure things, but almost anything here (Mank, Emma., Mulan, Pinocchio) has the kind of obvious traditional “quality” tailoring that would make a win reasonable. Pinocchio would be interesting, though, just because a Roberto Benigni movie recognised at the Oscars so long after he was (embarrassingly) feted would tickle me.

Best Film Editing
Winner: Sound of Metal
I’d like to win: Sound of Metal
Interesting Choice: Promising Young Woman

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the frontrunner here? I must be missing something about that very obvious, linear affair, but I guess it fits with the Bohemian Rhapsody side of less conspicuous work being recognised. I’m picking Sound of Metal on the basis of its sound work reflecting on the overall composition (the Whiplash factor? It also took editing and sound Oscars). Promising Young Woman would be interesting because I don’t think it is really. Well edited. I’d be surprised if Nomadland or The Father won, but only mildly.

Best Visual Effects
Winner: Tenet
I’d like to win: Tenet
Interesting Choice: Love and Monsters

This is Nolan’s to lose – both his previous science-fiction efforts took the Visual Effects Oscar – since it boasts far and away the most distinctive effects work in the line-up. Mulan’s perhaps the only serious competition, and I don’t think it’s even close. The kind of FX seen with The Midnight Sky – which is surprisingly close to Tenet in terms of betting odds – and The One and Only Ivan is accomplished but over familiar. Love and Monsters might be an interesting choice, since the creature designs are at least different and distinctive.

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