OPINION: ‘Minari,’ ‘PYW,’ and ‘Chicago 7’ emerge as frontrunners in chaotic Oscar race

‘Minari’ has been garnering a great deal of attention in past months, which only helps it stay competitive in a tight Oscars year. Coupled with increasing discrimination against Asian Americans in the United States and around the world, it would no doubt be a powerful moment for it to win Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards. Promotional artwork courtesy of A24.

It’s been anything but smooth sailing for the film industry these past 12 months.

Movie theaters closed.

Film production halted.

Actors released videos of encouragement while poolside at their mansions, tucked away in the Hollywood Hills.

I still can’t get that tone deaf ‘Imagine’ cover out of my head.

With the help of streaming services and video on demand, we have still had a very active year in film and a particularly strong one at that. From deliciously dark comedies to emotional character studies to not-so-subtle biopics, the quality of films was definitely not affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

To honor this past year in film, the Oscars have returned to their duty by nominating films, filmmakers, actors, and more from all over the world for numerous categories. Considered to be the most prestigious award for filmmaking, the 2021 Oscar nominations were announced on March 15 by Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas.

Let’s go through some of the biggest categories, discussing predictions from frontrunners to upsets to worst case scenarios.

The nominees for Best Picture are The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Chloé Zhao flexes her storytelling abilities with what many critics refer to as the most beautifully directed film of the year, ‘Nomadland.’ The film follows Fern (Frances McDormand) who begins her life as a van-dweller in the American West. Promotional artwork courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

These nominees can pretty easily be divided into a top and bottom half: Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are the frontrunners in this race based on precursor nominations and wins, as well as several timely ties related to most of these films.

With the recent spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans, a film that celebrates this targeted group like Minari would be very fitting as the winner of this award. Similarly, the tragic story of Sarah Everard and subsequent #notallmen debate might tip the scale in favor of Promising Young Woman, a win that would definitely be beneficial in breaking stereotypes in what the Academy views as “Oscar-worthy.”

Nomadland, a beautifully documented journey of a woman’s unconventional lifestyle, perhaps fits the “Oscar mold” best, featuring a strong leading performance by Frances McDormand (though not a career high) and captivating direction from Chloé Zhao. For the latter, a directing win is more than likely in her future, with the visuals of Nomadland, as well as anticipation for the upcoming Eternals, bringing her right into the spotlight.
Another worthy contender comes in The Trial of the Chicago 7, whose modern parallels to the 1960s and strong ensemble make it a formidable nominee in its six categories. With the assistance of great editing and a near-perfect balance of humor and drama, it could make a sweep of all its awards if The Academy chooses the recent BLM protests to be the most effective cultural reflection of today.

‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ follows the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the unforgettable federal trial that followed. With undeniable similarities to BLM and the protests associated with the cause, it has a strong possibility to take home a great deal of Oscars on the big night. Promotional courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

For me, it’s a toss-up between The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Promising Young Woman for Original Screenplay, as they are both cleverly written and convey their messages most effectively. They are also two of the most entertaining films of the year. I would happily rewatch these two films before anything else nominated.

Oh, by the way: sorry, Sacha Baron Cohen. Supporting Actor is 100% going to Daniel Kaluuya.

Better luck next year.

Though Mank was initially thought to sweep award season, that has simply not been the case. It has been losing and even missing nominations at other major shows, such as the SAG awards, who have a reputation of outlining a year’s Oscar competition. Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, who are both nominated for Oscars for their performances in the film, have scored little to no accolades thus far.

Mank,’ a biopic following the writer of Citizen Kane and his tumultuous relationships with elites and alcohol, slowly slips out of contention for the 2021 Oscars. This comes as many speculate that the Academy could be moving past its phase of praising “movies about movies.” Promotional artwork courtesy of Netflix.

The surprising underperformance of David Fincher’s latest film is a clear sign that award shows in general are beginning to take more risks and break new ground when it comes to deciding winners. Movies about making movies and Hollywood have been prioritized for decades, but it appears as though the time has come for new genres and personalities to take center stage.

Rightfully so.

Speaking of new personalities, let’s delve into the last-minute bombshell: Promising Young Woman. A revenge thriller with clever nods to the #MeToo movement, many wondered if the Academy would even recognize it. Despite immense praise for its screenplay, direction, soundtrack, and Carey Mulligan’s performance, it is still a very, very different film than what it usually nominated.

Nonetheless, it scored five nominations, including Best Picture. Though the top category is a bit dicey, Carey Mulligan is the one to beat this year in the leading actress field. Winning Best Actress from the National Board of Review and bringing an empowering, mysterious character to life so effortlessly with her subtle yet memorable performance, she is more than deserving of the Academy Award for Best Actress this year.

Carey Mulligan offers a seductive and engaging performance of a traumatized woman seeking revenge for her late friend’s rape in ‘Promising Young Woman.’ The director and writer of the film, Emerald Fennell, is up for two awards herself, while the film as a whole is also competing for Best Film Editing and Best Picture. Promotional artwork courtesy of Focus Features.

In my opinion, the only upset I can really see happening in this particular category is Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday. This is really only due to her Golden Globes win despite an even more last-minute entry into the race than Mulligan. The film has received mixed reviews from critics, which could hurt her chances compared to the universally lauded Promising Young Woman.

We’ve seen better than what McDormand and Viola Davis gave us this year, with their wins with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Fences, respectively, being much more deserved. Vanessa Kirby has also failed to build enough momentum to even be a serious threat for Pieces of a Woman.

Supporting Actress is perhaps the most chaotic category of the year. Pretty much any of the five women could take it, with each one having their own individual moment of glory at some point during the race. 

My gut tells me it will be Maria Bakalova.

Insert gasp here.

I know, comedic performances are rarely given credit by the Academy, who always seem to go with screamers and sobbers. However, just like PYW, the Bulgarian actress has been defying the odds and proven herself to be an award darling. Arguably the best part of Borat 2, Bakalova could soon see herself as an Oscar winner if the Academy decides to disobey their precedent.

Otherwise, Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) is probably next in line to take it. Her enlightening performance as an unorthodox grandmother in 1980s Arkansas was personally my favorite part of the film. 

As much as I would like to see Seyfried in this race, her chances become more bleak day by day. She doesn’t really have that “one big moment” in Mank that makes her stand out, and going back through all five nominees, it really puts her in a precarious position.

A good performance nonetheless, but this year is stacked.

Chadwick Boseman’s sudden death in August of 2020 rocked the world and made one of his final performances in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom hit that much deeper. An energetic and charismatic performance, it undoubtedly deserves the Oscar for Best Actor. Not only is giving Boseman this award well deserved, but it also is a beautiful way to honor his legacy and acknowledge his everlasting impact on all of our lives.

Chadwick Boseman received a posthumous nomination for his leading role in the musical drama ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ His supporting role in Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ was also circulating in award circles, proving his range and legacy as a Hollywood icon taken far too soon. Promotional artwork courtesy of Netflix.

Regardless of how well I think my Oscar lineup is situated now, there is always the possibility that something changes and the trajectory of a certain category becomes more clear — or more blurry. As production companies and studios fight to campaign for their candidates, we could see quite the finish as we near the night of the 93rd annual Oscars.

Here is a list of my predictions in the major categories. In only one category does my prediction contradict that I would most like to see win (see below).

Best Picture: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (will most likely win) — Here, I would most like to see Promising Young Woman win

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Supporting Actress: Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)

Best Director: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)

Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman

Best Adapted Screenplay: One Night in Miami…

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Trailers for all 8 Best Picture nominees can be viewed here:

The 93rd Academy Awards are currently scheduled for April 25, 2021.

Alex Prince is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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