It feels like Parasite’s historic 2020 Best Picture win happened approximately 20 years ago, but the 2021 Oscar nominations are finally here. A virtual, pandemic-affected award season has been bizarre on several fronts, and this year’s nominations have differed from the Academy’s status quo, with streaming releases leading the charge and female directors getting a long-overdue spotlight. Below, we hand out our winners and losers from Monday morning’s nominations slate.
Winner: An International Oscars
In fall 2019, Bong Joon-ho iconically referred to the Oscars as a “very local” ceremony. Months later, his film Parasite made history by becoming the first non-English film to win Best Picture. And this year, the ceremony is continuing to trend away from its local tendencies and the #OscarsSoWhite narrative that’s dogged the Academy, with a nomination slate that sees David Fincher as the only white American filmmaker nominated for Best Director, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun becoming the first Muslim and Asian American actors to be nominated as lead actors, respectively, and only 20 percent of the acting nominations composed of white Americans
But the most pleasant surprise of the Oscar nominations—I literally gasped when it got announced—was Thomas Vinterberg getting a Best Director nod for Another Round, a thoughtful Danish film with a unique perspective on the ennui of a midlife crisis and the best ending of the year. (Hint: it involves Mads Mikkelsen dancing.) There’s little chance Vinterberg will win the award, but let’s give a toast to Another Round—and the hope that the Oscars continue to get a little less local every year—all the same.
Winner: Female Directors
The Academy made history with its Best Director nominations this year. Not only did Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) become the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, but with Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) joining her among the five nominees, this is the first time more than one female filmmaker has been up for the award in the same year. That it took until the 10th decade of the Academy’s existence for this to happen—lest we forget only five women had even been nominated for Best Director before Monday—somewhat undermines the feeling of triumph here, and the Academy still has a long way to go when it comes to both diversity and inclusion.
Nevertheless, this is especially great news for Zhao, who ought to be considered the front-runner after winning the directing Golden Globe earlier this month. If Zhao wins, it’ll mean Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) would no longer be the only female winner in the category. As frustratingly incremental as it has been, progress is still progress.
Even with the Academy expanding the Oscars eligibility window for this year’s ceremony, it was always destined to be an award season dominated by streaming releases, with so many prospective major studio contenders (i.e., Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation) sitting it out until theaters can reopen at closer to full capacity. The Academy and Netflix have had a frosty relationship for years, but the pandemic has forced an uneasy alliance between the voting body that favors the traditional theatrical experience and the ever-growing streaming company thirsty for some Oscars prestige.
With David Fincher’s Mank leading all movies with 10 nominations (nearly a third of Netflix’s ceremony-leading 35 total nominations), the streamer might never have a better shot at that elusive Best Picture win. (Although, despite Mank leading the way, The Trial of the Chicago 7 likely has the strongest odds of nabbing Best Picture.) Time will tell whether this is finally Netflix’s year, but there’s no denying that the company is as determined as ever to [clears throat] mank it happen.
That said, the likely Best Picture winner is currently streaming on Hulu.
Loser: The Sickos Clamoring for Jared Leto
The Academy never throws a perfect game when it comes to nominations, and heading into Monday, the prevailing sentiment was that its WTF pick of award season was going to be for Jared Leto’s work in The Little Things as a serial killer suspect who looks and behaves like a tethered version of Jared Leto:
Alas, the Academy did not choose violence, opting for a Best Supporting Actor slate that’s much more measured (shout-out Paul Raci for Sound of Metal!). Sure, it’s a little strange that Judas and the Black Messiah costars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield both landed in the supporting category—who is the lead actor in that movie if not one of them? But if a little clever Oscars politicking means that the ceremony will be free of Jared Leto, well, I’m glad we live in this society.
Winner: Maria Bakalova
A much-deserved nomination for Maria Bakalova’s revelatory work in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm seemed almost too good to be true—a performance that includes doing a show-stopping “fertility dance” and telling Republican women to masturbate isn’t on the typical Oscars wavelength. Thankfully, Bakalova was rewarded, joining the more, uh, traditional supporting performances in Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father), Amanda Seyfried (Mank), and Youn Yuh-jung (Minari). Fresh off a Critics Choice Awards win and a BAFTA nomination, Bakalova isn’t just sneaking into the Supporting Actress Race: she might be a dark-horse contender to win the damn thing. But even if the road ends with an Oscar nomination, that would still be considered great success!
Loser: Ludwig Göransson’s Kickass Tenet Score
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was always going to be on the outside looking in at the Oscars, with the only certain lock being a Visual Effects nomination in a year largely deprived of blockbuster epics. But—and I can’t believe I’m out here defending Tenet—it’s a real shame that the Academy didn’t recognize Ludwig Göransson’s score, a spectacular work that does much of the heavy lifting in creating the destabilizing feeling that you’re somehow unstuck in time. (Much like the protagonist of Tenet, who is literally called “The Protagonist,” because Christopher Nolan.) There is no Tenet without Göransson, and the Oscars have created a similar void by leaving it out of the Best Original Score race.
Loser: Nick Jonas’s Suit
Cohosting from the United Kingdom, celebrity power couple Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas were exactly what you want out of early-morning Oscar nomination presenters. The duo didn’t force any cringey humor, and largely breezed through the slate—though I’m not sure if Chopra Jonas needed to read the entire title of the Borat sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, multiple times, which probably added several minutes to the proceedings.
Really, the only mark on this duo was Nick Jonas’s questionable outfit choice, since my guy looked like he stained an entire suit with a combination of mustard and car wax.
That face he’s making says, “You’re damn right I’m wearing this suit on purpose.”
Winner: Minari’s Best Picture Odds
While it’s downright tragic that the adorable Alan Kim didn’t get a Supporting Actor nod—try not to cry watching his Critics Choice acceptance speech—Minari still showed up strong in the Oscar nominations. In addition to a Best Picture nod, the film scored acting nominations for Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Isaac Chung was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and Emile Mosseri’s music is up for Best Original Score. Heading into Monday morning, Minari had solid odds to enter the Best Picture race, but the delightful nominations for Yeun, Youn, and Chung indicate that the movie is more than an also-ran. Look out for Minari to avenge its shameful subjugation at the Golden Globes and make some noise at the Oscars in April. At which point we better see Alan Kim hanging out with his favorite actor, Sonic the Hedgehog.
Loser: Da 5 Bloods (and Specifically Delroy Lindo)
Even though it debuted on Netflix in the middle of summer, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods had all the makings of an Oscars contender. But in the time between the film’s release and the delayed award season, Netflix has released an astonishing amount of Oscars bait—and with so many eligible movies, one or two were bound to be left out. Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Hillbilly Elegy, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom all came into Monday’s ceremony with more momentum than Da 5 Bloods, and though Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Hillbilly Elegy missed out on Best Picture noms, Da 5 Bloods was almost entirely ignored, picking up only one nomination, for Best Score.
The film is one of Lee’s finest achievements to date, and one of the best movies of the year—it’s hard to imagine an award season without it. But worse than that, the Academy also ignored Delroy Lindo, who delivered nuanced, career-defining work in Da 5 Bloods as a Trump-supporting Vietnam War vet—the kind of performance that screams “Oscar worthy” every second it unfolds onscreen. The Oscars got a lot right this year, but Lindo—and indeed, Da 5 Bloods in general—deserved so much better.