MCN Commentary & Analysis

What is *Oscar 2021?

They are only 2 months away!!!!

Well, 2 months and 10 days.

That makes today the equivalent of the day after Thanksgiving 2019 before last year’s Oscar show. Happy holiday!

That said, it is time for me to stop mocking the *Oscars and to accept that they are not only happening, but that there is joy to be gained from the experience. It shouldn’t be happening, but how many weddings have you been to where you knew the same was true… and you still spent as much as you would have on the gift because who wants to be the grinch at a wedding?

After all the talk and the surprisingly early start for The King of The Apps, things are playing out pretty much as expected. They threw eight movies into the ring and still standing are Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, any one of them a possible Best Picture winner. And expect nods for Da 5 Bloods, Pieces of a Woman, and even the “thought that one was dead” Hillbilly Elegy. They may not be able to deliver a nom for Sophia Loren, but the film, The Life Ahead, is still a good bet for a song nomination.

The wire-to-wire movie of the season is Nomadland, from the renamed Searchlight Pictures. Fran is The Man. The movie brings a very specific and unique energy to the moment where people are not feeling free to be nomads. And the thought of a woman writing and directing fits the political moment.

But we’ve only filled about 60% of the categories with these power titles.

The superstar for a good chunk of the voting block is Promising Young Woman. It’s tough. It’s smart. It is about a woman who is as tough as Frances McDormand’s character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and a lot funnier. But as such, it also pisses off a lot of people. Carey Mulligan gives the performance of her career, but it doesn’t feel like Focus is maximizing their star. Female writer-director should be hailed as the next Billy Wilder… but for some reason is not. This is one of these titles that could come out of the dock and absolutely kill it… winning the most awards. But it could just as easily celebrate its six nominations and be happy just to be there… which would be a shame, especially in such a twisted season.

Minari comes from A24, the high-taste masters of the media universe. Neon is an endless joy, but A24 showed up first and dunked the clown before anyone even realized how absurdly smart and tasteful they are. But Minari makes Nomadland look like an action movie. Nominations? Yes. Respect? Yes. Wins? Tough sledding.

Sound of Metal is another movie with a deeply passionate constituency. Riz Ahmed has gone from a remote possibility to a likely Best Actor nominee. The problem for the film’s Best Picture hopes is the downfield ballot. The team is completely deserving, but they have not risen above the field, where there are even more stars below the line this season than above. But maybe. Paul Raci seems like a potential tipping point.

Where are people on News of the World? A similar place that Mank was at a month ago… and it looks like a favorite for most nominations. It’s really the only other conventional studio-like title in the game. And old-fashioned is every bit as much a constituency in The Academy as aggressively progressive. It could grab a handful of crafts noms or it could deliver a surprise.

And why isn’t Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan an oddball cinch for a very nice Best Picture slot to go with Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova? Isn’t this the year of the unexpected? Well… not so much. Split attention has always been a challenged for Academy voters of any age. Cohen is locked into a Supporting Actor nod for Chicago 7. Bakalova seems a lock for Supporting Actress. Writing is still possible. And there is always the “Wuhan Flu.”

It gets blurrier for other contenders. One Night in Miami… is as good a four-hander in a hotel room as you can expect… but it is that, albeit with great acting in one of the five true ensembles this season. The Father is an acting show and Olivia Colman’s potential nomination would come to someone who is beloved and in a category without a ton of options. Zendaya and Daniel Kaluuya are both stars who will be with us for many years onscreen, but the material they work with is ill-fitting for both. Never Rarely Sometimes Always has its one-sheet in the dictionary next to “Indie Spirit Movie,” which is not an insult, just a perspective of an organization that is different in focus, even this season. First Cow tooooooo.

How many times do I say “even in this season?” Lots. And I understand if some people think this is a shot at some of these titles. But they are wrong. It’s like going to Baskin-Robbins and they only have 10 flavors. There is some chance that your flavor is one of those 10. And if it isn’t, you can probably find flavors you like in that 10. But part of the experience of Baskin-Robbins is 32 (or more) flavor options… even if you always end up eating one of the same three flavors you always order. You still like Baskin-Robbins. You may think someone is an idiot for loving Rum Raisin, but you can respect bubblegum ice cream even if that isn’t what you want. It’s that season.

And there is this… as we were heading into this asterisk season, people were all excited that this would be the one to break the mold.

But after six months and maybe (maybe!) one title with impact that wasn’t being shown to festival audiences or in the gates from Netflix months and months ago, it is settling down to what is the same old thing. Money. Celebrity. Comfortable films. The only thing more radical than “normal” is that there is just one movie from Universal and one movie from Warner Bros. making a showing for major studios. The nominee from Paramount was released by Netflix.

And when *Oscar voting closes, aside from drive-ins, 95%+ of the voters will have never seen anything they voted for on a movie screen (some may have been at Sundance last year for Promising Young Woman). And 98% of those will have not seen any of the titles without taking a break to go to the bathroom, getting another glass of wine, or answering the door when Doordash rings.

As in every season, I really like a lot of the people who are competing for awards. Incredible talent. Great stories. Hard work. Worthy work.

But I want to sit in a dark theater to watch Mank… and Minari… and Sound of Metal. I want to hear the crowd laugh and gasp and cry in Promising Young Woman. I want to feel the claustrophobic tension of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami… I want to be the only laughing at an inappropriate joke in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. I want to watch men squirm in Pieces of a Woman and to see how many people with walkers head up the aisle when Andra Day offers up her naked ass in The United States vs Billie Holiday.

And much as it always makes me nuts, I want to hear people going on about how Florence Pugh will get nominated for Black Widow or the fights over which West Side Story is the better West Side Story and to learn Lashana Lynch’s name.

I don’t want to grade the Oscar show (or the *Oscars) on a curve. I don’t want to make fun of yet another high-end Zoom award show. I don’t want to discuss the horrible ratings that are coming.

But I have no choice.

Next year in The Dolby.

6 Responses to “What is *Oscar 2021?”

  1. Stella's Boy says:

    Ratings were on a downward trend already though right? Of course ratings will be low and of course Covid and its consequences will be blamed, but Oscar ratings have been low for a while. Haven’t there been many culprits? A lack of blockbusters nominated? Peak TV and streaming? The politics of many in the industry? And so on. I haven’t watched in years and don’t much care about the Oscars anymore, but low ratings isn’t new or surprising.

    Promising Young Woman is probably my favorite contender right now. Da 5 Bloods and One Night in Miami are up there, too. Can’t wait to see Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, and Nomandland soon, hopefully all three by the end of this weekend. Lots of great movies for the Academy to choose from.

  2. jk105 says:

    I grew up obsessed with all things Oscar but slowly but surely lost interest in the show, perhaps starting when Bravehart, Crash and Dances With Wolves won Best Picture over far superior films in years they were distributed. I stopped watching after The Green Book won and now gladly get a full night of sleep rather than gnash my teeth in horror over the mediocrity the Oscars honor. (Although occasionally they get it right). I still follow Oscar news, but the telecast itself has lost me as a viewer.

    But in addressing Poland’s main point, I join him in mourning the fact that the year end awards are happening for films that mostly have not been seen in a theater. However, I do take joy in the fact that all these awards (including Oscar) did not let the pandemic stop us from honoring what critics or Academy members consider the best of the year. And most of the films Poland discussed brought me pleasure even as I saw them on my Mac and television. I can’t wait to go back to the theater, but nonetheless, seeing Nomadland at home was one of the best moments of 2020. These films made the pandemic endurable. That’s worth honoring.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    The weirdest thing is the near absense of PR. Nomadland has been running Oscarish ads, lately. These ads underscore how little there has been……. and how much movie ads are part of the film going experience. Those Oscar ads, movie ads generally, currently rare, really are mind worms.

    I wonder if those ads, urgent enough to pry us away from our couches, are as much a part of the movie experience as the big screens themselves, distinguishing movies from TV movies. It would be a popular Oscar category.

    We will experience a startling blast of movie advertising when the theaters re-open.

  4. Stella's Boy says:

    JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is as good as I’d hoped. I don’t have enough superlatives for Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. He is mesmerizing and moving and powerful and just ridiculously amazing. That man commands the screen like few others. I didn’t want the movie to end because I wanted to continue to watch that performance. The supporting cast is great. The story is timely and fascinating. It packs a lot into two hours. Sure it’s not perfect. Sheen’s Hoover is cartoonish and some of the characters on the edges of the narrative get a little lost (was a bit confused about the specific circumstances of what happened to Palmer and Winters). But the quibbles are minor. This is an outstanding movie that deserves all the accolades, awards, etc.

  5. palmtree says:

    I find it odd to hear Minari described as slow. I personally found it to be entralling with each moment full of conflict and tension and well-crafted storytelling. The reason people need more than seems to have more to do with it competing with all the other content at home, mostly TV shows that are over-plotted and over-written. I’m sure in a theater the pacing of Minari would seem completely appropriate and absorbing. I haven’t seen Nomadland yet, but Zhao’s The Rider would probably be equally seen as being slow even though it’s one of the greatest films in recent memory.

  6. palmtree says:

    Or for that matter, Moonlight…which rather famously won.

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