One year after the shortest awards season in Oscar history, we have now experienced the other end of the spectrum, with the 2021 ceremony not occurring until Sunday, April 25. Unlike other award shows that have relied on hosts to entertain their viewers without any in-person audience, the Oscars is once again going forth with no host, with each category introduced by last year’s winner. Furthermore, the organizers of the event have already announced that they will not allow any virtual acceptance speeches and expect all nominees to be in attendance. A few of those nominees, eight, in particular, are hoping to hear their name called for the most significant award of the night: Best Picture.
Following are reviews of those eight films. If you want more riveting reviews be sure to follow @mainlinemoviereviews on Instagram.
As the most recent of all movies nominated this year, Florian Zeller’s directorial debut hasn’t had many opportunities to flaunt its incredibly rich and moving tale of a father (Anthony Hopkins) suffering from dementia who is cared for by his loving daughter (Olivia Coleman).
Those who have seen it are treated to a mind-bending story where each previous scene contradicts the next and you begin to question what has really happened and what is simply your mind filling in the purposeful gaps left by Zeller’s meticulous script. The result is an accurate portrayal of dementia and it certainly takes the viewer along for the ride.
However, having not seen Zeller’s play of the same name from which this movie was adapted, I couldn’t help but conceive that the impact on myself would have been greater in a theater. While I enjoyed and felt moved by how scenes were shot, remaining in one room during the entirety of the story and slowly seeing the scenery around me change, similar to what occurs in the movie, would have led to a more surreal experience than what I received from my screen, where the changing locations and camera angles removed me from going through the same mental gymnastics as were originally intended.
Second perhaps only to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Father’s two leads, Coleman and Hopkins bring their characters to life wonderfully. Specifically, Hopkins gives by far his best performance yet, no doubt aided by his personal experience with aging and beginning to question what role he has left to play in society. It remains to be seen who will walk away with Best Actor, but a late win on his home turf at the BAFTAs have kindled new momentum for Hopkins where he faces off against the favorite, Chadwick Boseman, for his performance in the previously mentioned Ma Rainey.
The Father surprised many with six nominations this year and looks to have chances in both Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, but faces tough competition from fellow best picture nominee, Nomadland.
Another year and another attempt at Oscar glory for Netflix, which has churned out films during the pandemic in hopes of striking gold. This time it is acclaimed director David Fincher with an ode to one of the greatest movies in cinematic history. Mank follows the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races, and struggles, to finish the script for the movie Citizen Kane.
The film captures Hollywood of the 1930s, weaving in Mankiewicz’s interactions with those who influenced his script, such as dinner parties at William Randolph Hearst’s (Charles Dance) private castle or Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), the rumored illegitimate daughter of Hearst. At the heart of it all is Mankiewicz himself (Gary Oldman), who oddly enough, is 20 years older than the real Mank was when writing the movie. The peculiarities don’t stop there as the writing itself is often smug and leads into a rather exaggerated performance by Oldman, especially compared to those around him, who seem much more rooted in reality.
Clocking in at thirteen minutes over two hours, the movie drags on for longer than it needs, leaving me oftentimes confused about why certain scenes are included and subsequently bored by the overall story.
The saving grace here is that Mank is a technical feat, much like the 1941 film it styles itself on. Black and white is often a risky choice for modern movies, but the choice brings this film together and helps cast a nostalgic look upon each moment. Flashbacks and editing in the style of Citizen Kane adds some much-needed excitement to my viewing experience.
Leading the field thanks to a whopping ten nominations, including Best Director, Actor, and Supporting Actress, Mank hopes to avoid the fate of technically savvy Netflix movies before it such as The Irishman and win at least one award, which it is likely to do in the production design category.
Sound of Metal
Combining classic Oscar subject matter, like the story of an artist and one dealing with a disability, Sound of Metal is a look into what happens when a heavy-metal drummer is upended by the sudden loss of his hearing.
As would be expected based on the synopsis and title, sound is as much of a character in this film as any of its actors. The sound work conducted on this film is some of the best I’ve ever heard and allows the film to thrive by bringing the audience into Ruben’s life and allowing us to experience hearing loss. Scenes are performed where we, like Ruben, can’t interpret the characters who are speaking, and, just as Ruben’s ability to use sign language increases, so does our ability to understand those around him. The movie’s technical blend between the frustration of silence to the comfort of commotion parallels Ruben’s transition from agitation to acceptance and finally advancement.
The work of Riz Ahmed as Ruben and Paul Raci as his mentor, Joe, should be applauded. They both bring nuance to their roles, making them feel real and relatable even if they aren’t always communicating through voice. Ahmed’s unsettled visage gives insight into the deep pain being experienced by his character and gives weight to his performance. Raci has one speech later in the film discussing how being deaf is not a handicap and, as the son of deaf parents in real life, it is clear the personal depths from which he draws his feelings for that powerful moment.
Six nominations and an all-but-guaranteed win for Best Sound await Sound of Metal at this year’s Oscars. Along with that, they also have nominations for their two actors, original screenplay, and film editing. Notably, Riz Ahmed’s nomination is important as the first Muslim Best Actor nominee.
Though the movie is based on a somber topic, it handles itself beautifully and is more inspirational than anything else. It surely deserves its place as a top film out of everything released this year.
Promising Young Women
Subverting the expectations of the typical rape-revenge film, Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut, Promising Young Woman brings an original and contemporary perspective to one of Hollywood’s more forgotten genres.
Cassandra, played by Carey Mulligan, spends much of the film seeking revenge on men who take advantage of vulnerable women. Her actions stem from a traumatic experience with her friend during medical school that caused them both to drop out. Though her character has a fairly consistent mindset and goal, Mulligan brings depth and sensitivity to a role that might otherwise have been perceived as dry if not for her performance. Her co-star, Bo Burnham sprinkles his comedy chops throughout the movie to endear himself to the audience and lull us into a sense of trust.
Fennell’s decision to cast the men who hurt Cassandra as people who have previously engrained themselves in society as seemingly nice guys is a clever and effective turn of events. From Sam Richardson (Richard on VEEP), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin on Superbad), and Max Greenfield (Schmidt on New Girl), we as an audience are forced to reconsider our assumptions, pushing forward the film’s message.
None of these pieces would work without the pacing of editor Frédéric Thoraval and writing from Fennell. The action starts immediately and doesn’t let up. While the constant movement at times prevents scenes from truly resonating with the audience, it is all in service to set up a thrilling finale that is sure to be at odds with what many had expected or hoped to see.
Mulligan remains the slight favorite for Best Actress, but similar to years past, the race is still a toss-up. For Best Picture, Promising Young Women has gained some last-minute hype due to a win at the BAFTAs, but it’s unlikely to be of any help against the other top contenders. This movie is expected to get some hardware in the Best Original Screenplay category. Finally, although she is unlikely to win, Fennell’s nomination for Best Director is a historic moment as the fifth woman ever nominated in the category along with her counterpart Chloé Zhao.
Personal story films have become a welcome addition to the Oscars in recent years. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari fits that category perfectly: detailing his own childhood experience moving to a small town in Arkansas during the 1980s as one of few Korean families in the area.
It is a tender tale that certainly takes its time to engross itself with each character, connecting us to their motivations, desires, and personalities. The plot isn’t extreme. There’s no enormous overarching conflict or wide array of characters. For the majority of the film, we only interact with the same five members of a family, no more and no less.
In a chaotic year, many have found themselves reveling in the quiet of this film and appreciating its subtlety. To be honest, the ending left me a bit lacking inside. I was hoping for more of a conclusion or deeper exploration, but I can see where others have found a profound beauty in the story, even if I did not.
Building off a stream of recent successes, Steven Yeun once again shows off his versatility as the patriarch of the family. But, the real stars to me were eight-year-old Alan Kim and Yuh-Jung Youn as his grandmother. The unique bond their characters shared lent itself to blending comedy and drama to portray the struggle of adjusting to a new culture while holding onto heritage.
While this film won’t be for everyone, it is definitely worth watching. The assimilation of Yeun’s character into both Arkansas and his family provides interesting dynamics and heartfelt conversations.
After controversy at previous award shows for being sequestered into solely the foreign-language category, Minari is nominated for Best Picture and has one of the best chances to win behind the front runner Nomadland. Steven Yeun’s nomination is historic as the first Asian-American to ever be nominated for Best Actor and his co-star Yuh-Jung Youn looks likely to win for Best Supporting Actress. In total, Minari enters the night with six nominations.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Contrary to popular thought, Judas and the Black Messiah has less to do with the Black Panther Party and more to do with the relationship between two of its most important members during the late 1960s.
Director Shaka King delivers a direct and focused screenplay that hits all the right notes in terms of action and drama. The plot itself is incredibly interesting and important for anyone curious about 20th-century American politics and culture. It is filled with ups and downs that truly keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Instead of portraying characters as heroes and villains, which King could easily have fallen back upon, he instead paints a nuanced picture that gives insight into why events took place and the complicated feelings behind what occurred.
Bill O’Neill (Lakieth Stanfield) is a layered human caught between the FBI and his personal beliefs. Across the screen from him is the ever-talented Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, the leader of the national Black Panther Party. Kaluuya gives a powerful performance, showing a man who strongly believes in his cause and refuses to let the fear of death get in the way of progress.
While Stanfield and Kaluuya are spectacular in this film, it wasn’t until afterward that I learned the people they portray were 17 and 20 years old respectively. Using actors of the same age would have been even more compelling than it already was. Such a change would also better demonstrate the extremity of actions by the FBI during that time.
Judas and the Black Messiah had one of the largest surprises of all Oscar nominations when both Stanfield and Kaluuya were nominated for Best Supporting Actor even though Stanfield is clearly the lead actor in the film. Even still, Kaluuya has won every precursor to the Oscars and looks to finally win after losing out in 2018 when nominated for Get Out. Beyond the acting category, Judas is unlikely to win another award but should hold its head up high as one of the more important and timely films this year.
Trial of the Chicago 7
From the crafty mind of Aaron Sorkin and the backing of Netflix comes a politically savvy court-drama that has as much to say about current society as it does about events that took place 53 years ago.
In typical Sorkin fashion, the dialogue here is extremely fast-paced, jumping both from character to character and idea to idea. Such a style would likely be too overwhelming without the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Mark Rylance making up key parts of a skillful acting ensemble. The only time this becomes a problem is with the editing of the film, which features a lot of quick cuts and flashbacks that are confusing when trying to piece together where these moments fit in the whole story.
The plot itself will be a mixed bag for most. Much of the movie takes place inside of a courtroom that feels overdramatized and often cheesy, but I enjoyed the back and forth between the lawyers, witnesses, and judge. When the story is taken outside of the courthouse and into the streets of Chicago, there is a lot more action and excitement leaving not as much reliance on Sorkin’s script.
Before Trial, Sorkin has only directed one other film, so his inexperience and lack of specific style is noticeable when watching. There isn’t a concise method to the storytelling. It seems as if Sorkin himself wasn’t sure how to approach the subject from a visual standpoint.
In contempt of its shortcomings, the incredible performances, and solid writing make for a movie that certainly deserves its six Oscar nominations. Its best chance to win comes in the screenplay category where it must go head to head with Promising Young Woman. For Best Picture, it will face an uphill battle after Sorkin did not receive a nomination for Best Director, typically important criteria in order to win.
An unlikely frontrunner, Nomadland has ingrained itself as an unfiltered glimpse into the world of modern-day American nomads, uprooted by the Great Recession, who travel in packs across the West and live in vans.
Unlike the other movies nominated for Best Picture, Nomadland is far from being about one person but is instead about an entire lifestyle.
Director Chloé Zhao masters the art of the meaningful pause during this film, which includes many moments of quiet. Sights and sounds are crucial pieces of the story, and Zhao gives time to reflect on how they build the larger environment.
The main character Fern, played patiently and thoughtfully by Francis McDormand, is simply a vehicle used to enter this haven for the nomads. Many of the characters featured prominently in the movie are not even true actors, but instead, real nomads that were a part of Jessica Bruder’s book, which served as Zhao’s inspiration. These interactions give an extreme sense of genuineness and their stories are easily the most interesting of everything that happens. Zhao makes these people feel like credible and experienced actors, especially when they have to work alongside one of the industry’s best in McDormand.
Outside of the real nomads, this film doesn’t have a lot of forward-moving plot. There are a few conflicts Fern faces, but with the movie focusing so much on her community, I didn’t feel as connected to these dilemmas when they arose.
Overall, this is an artistic film in every sense of the word. The cinematography is stunning, and the acting feels so real. If there was one movie I would predict to win Best Picture, it is Nomadland. Chloé Zhao is also up for three other awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and finally, Best Director, where she is all but a lock. McDormand is nominated for Best Actress and has a real chance to win.Joshua Richards is nearly guaranteed to win for cinematography. Nomadland has a chance to clean up at the Oscars this year so even if it isn’t the most exciting film, I would have to recommend people watch while it’s still free on Hulu.
Though the theaters haven’t been open this year, films have still been coming out. I’m hopeful that this new era of releases directly to streaming services will allow people the opportunity to experience films they otherwise would not have.
For those interested in seeing how these films perform, don’t forget to tune in. April 25 at 8:00 p.m. EST on ABC.