Holy crow, it’s finally here: the 93rd Academy Award nominations are out. For the longest time, I questioned whether we were even going to have an Academy Awards ceremony this year due to, you know, a global pandemic going on. And even though the ceremony was delayed by two months, the nominations still came out a few weeks shy of when the actual ceremony is normally held. Hey, if we get through this pandemic and host the Oscars during its regular schedule year after year, I will never complain about the Academy Awards ever again. Except for its snubs: those will never be overlooked even if we’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
The first Best Picture nominee leading the pack with 10 nominations is David Fincher’s drama Mank, which tells the true story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his writing of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. No surprise there as not only has Mank been the leading contender for the Golden Globes, the Satellite Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards, but it’s also related to Citizen-freaking-Kane. If David Fincher directed a drama about the toilet scrubber working on set of The Godfather, the Academy would give it 12 nominations just for the association alone. But I am happy for David Fincher as this is the first year where one of his movies has received the most nominations at the Academy Awards. Will it lead to a gold statuette? Possibly, but it really could go either way on Oscar night. There have been ceremonies where the most-nominated picture swept at the Oscars (The Shape of Water and Birdman in 2018 and 2015) to winning literally nothing (American Hustle in 2014).
What follows is a very interesting predicament, and something I personally have not seen at the Academy Awards since… well, ever. The next six Best Picture nominees all have six nominations each. Yes, dear reader: six Best Picture nominees with six nominations each. That’s been unheard of at the Academy Awards for quite some time. Usually there’s one or two other favorites that has seven or eight nominations apiece, then the other three or four nominees share the rest of the nominations. This year, most of the Best Picture nominees are on unusually equal footing, which makes this year’s Oscars more difficult to predict compared to previous ceremonies.
One of the early leaders in contention at the moment is Nomadland, an Indie drama darling directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand as a widow traveling the land after her husband died. I recently reviewed the movie on my buddy Andy Branca’s show “The Critics Corner,” and we both felt a bit underwhelmed by the movie’s slow, groggy, and overbearing pace. However, I do feel like the movie’s subject of grief and isolation resonates well with many people, especially in a year as terrible as 2020. Plus, the camerawork by Joshua Richards is gorgeous and for sure a contender in the Oscar’s cinematography category. Everything else, from director to actress to film editing to adapted screenplay, is up in the air. But personally, I’m shocked the movie wasn’t nominated for a best sound editing Oscar for those vivid sound effects of McDormand pooping in her van. Those sounds were very convincing.
Another contender is the Aaron Sorkin-directed historical drama Trial of the Chicago 7, which tells the true story of seven anti-Vietnam War protestors charged with incitement to riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The movie is a brilliant, funny, affectionate, and eerily relevant movie for the times we live in and a great look back at one of our most contentious moments in American history. But I’ll be honest: I was expecting it to get nominated in several more categories than what it was nominated for here. Besides Best Picture, Trial of the Chicago 7 was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song with Celeste Waite’s “Hear My Voice,” and Best Supporting Actor for Sacha Baron Cohen. Personally I think it could have also gone for Best Production and Costume Design, and Sorkin was definitely snubbed in the Best Director category, especially with Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg nominated despite not also being nominated for Best Picture.
Funny enough, Trial of the Chicago 7 isn’t the only Best Picture nominee to feature Black Panther leader Fred Hampton: he’s also the subject of Shaka King’s shocking biographical epic Judas and the Black Messiah. What’s surprising about this movie isn’t the fact that it it has six nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song for H.E.R.’s “Fight For You.” What’s surprising is two of its nominations come in the same category, with leads Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield both being nominated in the supporting actor category. Why does the Academy keep doing this? Five years ago, Dev Patel was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Lion despite playing the freaking lead. Now Judas and the Black Messiah is given the same treatment for not one, but two of its leads. Is that just the Academy’s prerogative during a pandemic: to screw with the audience? Either way, Kaluuya and Stanfield’s chances for winning probably stand better here than in the Best Actor category, where they would have had to gone up against the likes of Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and the late Chadwick Boseman. Still, it’s frustrating to see the Academy shortchange actor’s performances and label them as “supporting” roles when they’re literally the heart and soul of a movie.
Other indie darlings recognized with six nominations apiece include the amnesiac The Father, the tender and sweet Minari, and the progressive banger Sound of Metal. I’m happy to see Riz Ahmed get a much-deserved Best Actor nomination for Sound of Metal, as well as his supporting co-star Paul Raci, and am even happier to see it even elevated for Best Picture consideration. I also love seeing the Korean cast and crew of Minari recognized in these same categories and not in the Best International Film category, something the Golden Globes famously screwed up in its past ceremony. It’s also nice to see The Father nominated in so many categories despite being such an under-the-radar sleeper hit.
The other surprise comes in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, not because it’s nominated, but because of how many times it is nominated. Besides Best Picture, Promising Young Woman is also nominated for Best Actress with Carey Mulligan, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay and Director for Emerald Fennell. That last nomination is especially exciting, because the Academy Awards has been historically biased towards female nominees in the director category. Greta Gerwin wasn’t even nominated for Best Director last year for Little Women, and the last time a woman won Best Director was 2010 with Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker. Alongside Chloe Zhao, this is the first year where two women are being considered in the Best Director category. Even if neither of them win, congratulations are owed to them both, and we can only hope the preverbal glass ceiling will continue to break from here.
Unsurprisingly, the Oscars still managed to squeeze out a few snubs despite how few films they had to consider thanks to the pandemic. Da 5 Bloods, for instance, was overlooked in all of the acting categories, and even the technical categories too like cinematography and editing. The Outpost was equally overlooked at this year’s ceremony, and Caleb Landry Jones was straight up robbed for supporting actor. So too was Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson in The Devil All The Time, though with how gritty and queasy that film is, I’m not too surprised that Academy voters decided to distance themselves from it. The most maddening snub, to me, is Leigh Whannell’s remake of the horror icon The Invisible Man. Visuals effects, cinematography, production design, Elisabeth Moss’ horrified performance: you couldn’t find room for The Invisible Man in any of its categories? Really?
Regardless, I’m excited that the Oscars aren’t just happening this year, but they’re happening with a (mostly) stacked pool of nominees. It says something about the film industry that it endures a financially devastating event as massive as the coronavirus pandemic, yet it’s able to continue to produce amazing storytelling and performances despite all of the adversities it faced in 2020. Here’s to the Academy Awards finally arriving in 2021, and here’s to me continuing to bag on them.
– David Dunn