Oscars 2021: The Best Picture Nominees, Ranked
Despite their reservations and controlled choices, the Academy Awards have always been a much-awaited affair for everyone in the world who goes to the movies. The Oscars have managed, yet again, to sail through the difficult times and nominate films from all over the world, surprising at times with their choices and snubbing some of the finest films of the year. Having said that, this year’s nominations are surprising, to say the least. Without the presence of most “big names”, the jury had a more expansive spectrum of choices, concerning the Best Picture category. While there were films which I would have loved to see somewhere in the list of nominations- Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow”, Eliza Hittman’s “The Assistant” and Sean Durkin’s “The Nest” being a few of them- this is still a satisfying list.
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In this piece, I rank all the Best Picture nominees of The Oscars 2021, from my least favorite to the most. The ranking originates from a strictly personal choice and is unconcerned by how the film proved in popular consensus.
Director- David Fincher
Mank is an undeniably fascinating experience. The film, which dropped straight to Netflix before 2020 wrapped up, is a grand passion project. This film is as much about the creative conscience of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the brilliant mind behind Citizen Kane, as it is about a creative crisis. The film benefits from the excellent performance of Gary Oldman as Mank, as well as the outstanding Amanda Seyfried in her supporting turn as a vivacious twentieth-century actress, Marion Davies. However, the film feels more diluted than fierce, primarily because the screenplay, written by David’s father Jack Fincher back in 2000, has dated quite a lot in two decades.
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Moreover, the technical qualities aside, Mank’s nomination in the Best Picture category feels little beyond an honour for an effective passion project. And a rather uncouth exercise in socialism from what is an otherwise firmly rooted institution.
With better period dramas such as Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, Regina King’s One Night in Miami and George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom just around the corner, Mank feels rather undeserving.
7. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO-7
Director- Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin outlines a necessary picture of a historical revolution quite broadly in The Trial of the Chicago-7. Based on the 1969 legal trials of seven defendants based on conspiracy, the film manages to depict an enormously inspiring tale of seven defendants based on conspiracy. The major reason why the film works is the fantastic screenplay Sorkin has penned here. The entertaining writing is brimming with a lot of rousing wordplays. At the same time, the film maintains a restraint in terms of characterization. The trial also boasts of rich performances from an excellent supporting cast, led by Sacha Baron Cohen playing an electrical Abbie Hoffman.
This is an urgent and technically well-imbued film. However, its strengths have been majorly let down by the heavy-handed and shallow direction of Aaron Sorkin. The persuasive writing and acting only exist to upgrade a shoal legislative dialogue.
However, The Trial of the Chicago-7 has the zest of an essential film as well as a crowd-pleaser, a combination that frequently serves for The Academy to hand over the Best Picture.
6. SOUND OF METAL
Director- Darius Marder
Director Darius Marder’s clutter-breaking film is about the coming-of-age journey of a deaf musician who is having a hard time coming to terms with the sudden chaos around him. It was appreciated all around the world for the fantastic leading performance Riz Ahmed delivered.
The performance of Riz has been celebrated with so much fervor that it’s virtually become impossible to see the film as a stand-alone. Technically too, Sound of Metal is a big win. The immersive sound design and sharp editing combine in a supremely effective manner to channel the impact of a screenplay that induces a sense of urgency right from the beginning. However, the film stands a more genuine chance in the Best Actor category, than the Best Picture.
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Despite everything that Sound of Metal gets absolutely right, I often wondered what could one make out of the film had Riz not been so astonishing in his portrayal of the drummer Ruben. This is a man who reveals his emotions with a heartbreaking subtlety and delivers, single-handedly, one of the most brilliant climax scenes for a film in recent times. The film needs to be admired for its intelligently filmed conflict between acceptance and passion though. And for resisting overindulgence or ballast stories like these often carry with themselves.
5. JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Director- Shaka King
In Judas and the Black Messiah, Shaka King delivers an incredibly well-conceived portrait of the Black Panther Protests. Through a refreshing mainstream narrative, the film does an able job of exploring the darker, more layered and captivating undertones of what is supposed to be straightforward, hard-hitting minority activism.
The film benefits from the fabulous performances of Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya, who justify the richness and broad writing of the film with their outstanding delivery. Also, the film makes for a timely update on the Black Lives Matter movement, which has jolted the anti-racism movements across the world, to the core. The film is perfect Oscar bait.
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The flourishes of the film go beyond how well the idea has been incorporated on paper. The film recreates a Shakespearean tale of a betrayal with an eye for empathy, and with a richness that often surprises- with the grand production design and the largely amusing cinematography this highly dramatic tale never fails to entertain and move. The film is a little too long, and the climax might be too cold and unaffecting for the jury to buy into. However, there’s no reason why the film should be denied the honor. And it’ll certainly come as a pleasant surprise if it bags the Best Picture as well.
4. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Director- Emerald Fennell
The tale of vigilante justice gets a subversive, brilliant spin with Emerald Fennell’s terrific film Promising Young Woman. The richly aesthetic film tells the story of Cassandra, a woman who pretends drunk in the local bar, attracts agreeable men to fetch her, arouses the predators inside them, and teaches them terrorizing, unforgettable lessons they better not forget. This wickedly fascinating night job has an emotionally rooted reason as well. The intention of Cassie to do this goes beyond feminism. She doesn’t want that what happened to her best friend Nina, happens to anybody else.
The film works primarily because Emerald, in her debut film, takes the wild narrative to many audacious places. She uses her terrific sense of humour to imply it visually in the costumes and the production design. She further infers it through the black comedic writing which is razor-sharp. A bonus is the bewitching and insanely imaginative crime drama at the very core of the film. The twists and turns are intelligently written, especially the clever climax which changes the heat of the entire film in a matter of minutes and makes it instantly divisive.
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However, the most satisfying thing about the film is the wonderful Carey Mulligan. Her depiction of Cassie is innovative and attractive, and her comic timing both controlled and explicit. Her acting is effortlessly sensuous in the film, and so are her looks. Her performance levitates what is perhaps the most substantial fictional feature to come out of the #MeToo times we’re living in.
3. THE FATHER
Director- Florian Zeller
Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his stage play, The Father is the most delicate film running in the Best Picture race. The film’s depiction of the relationship between a father and a daughter is affectionate. However, its character study of an old man walking into the embraces of a failing memory is so heartbreaking and specific that it had me sobbing copiously in the end. The film has been uplifted by the terrific performance from Anthony Hopkins.
It feels endearingly personal to see him churning out his inner energies as he plays a dementia patient with a tremendous sense of empathy and entertainment. Followed by the ever-dependable Olivia Coleman in a supremely effective supporting turn.
The film also utilizes Florian’s sharp visual skills as a first-time filmmaker. The incredibly understated production design is worth grabbing the Golden lady, and so is the nuanced editing. The adapted screenplay is also what makes the film’s mascot more comprehensive. It loosens the proceedings in the headspace of old Anthony like a thriller. Which works most expertly.
Director- Lee Isaac Chung
Director Lee Isaac Chung delivers minimalist poetry in Minari. The film is also a masterclass in how to employ a persuasive and moving drama to your narrative without seasoned trappings such as pulling the heartstrings of the audience. Chung never attempts to push the emotional buttons. However, the family drama at its core has such depth and flavour that it’s hard not to be moved by the everyday struggles of the Yi family as they go about their business. It’s hard not to resonate with the attempt of Jacob to realize the American dream. It’s hard not to smile over grandma Soon-Ja, her antics and her attempts to win over her grandson David.
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Set in the 1980s, this semi-autobiographical tale of a Korean American family which moves to the Arkansas farm in search of its American dream (and its various rugged challenges), the film is a heartbreakingly effective chronicle. Some of its visual passages being utterly poetic. Minari is literally Korean water celery, which can be grown anywhere you plant it. Lee finds the right spot and cultivates it with endearing affection.
The film has mostly benefitted from the terrific performances from the supporting cast. The rich performances from Youn Yuh-Jung, Han Ye-Ri, Alan Kim and Will Patton stand out in a mesmerizing way. Minari might or might not be winning the Best Picture, it has won a lot of hearts already.
Director- Chloé Zhao
As a fluid, poetic ode to the American dream, Nomadland is not just cinematically an achievement. It’s an achingly profound third feature from a filmmaker. This film is so mystic in its grounded authenticity that it doesn’t feel like it’s directed- at all. Zhao’s improbable visual flair informs her distinctive, original filmmaking skills. Delightfully American in intent and meticulously honest in its minimalism, this film succeeds in becoming both a heartfelt portrait of a community which cinema needs to talk about more often, as well as an ingenious character study. If anything else, it only confirms the invigorating power of movies. This is because it achieves an ecstatic, inspirational screenplay without pushing any emotionally manipulative buttons.
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It’s not the sort of film that gets anything wrong for that matter. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards (who also shot ‘The Rider’) is simply incredible, brewing elements true to the craft of Terrence Malik. But the reason why it is my favourite film of 2020, is that it gave me the best performance of 2020. Frances McDormand channels the old-world mascot and the drifting wilderness, blending it movingly as the protagonist Fern.
Each symphony, each layer to the writing, and every moment of excellence in Nomadland complements this performance, that truly feels one’s own. She is this film, and this film is the purest that you’ll see in a while. The film, admittedly, does nothing about the economic failings or their sheer politics. But this is an indifference that has nothing to do with the film’s acquired poetic language. However, the film deserves plaudits and attention it’s getting. It is my favourite, and arguably the finest film in the race of Best Picture nominees.