Well, the 93rd Academy Awards aired last night, and they were something. On one hand, it was incredible to see people interacting. The change of venue to Union Station was intimate and fun. Some of the acceptance speeches were incredible (Youn Yuh-Jung roasting everyone and Daniel Kaluuya shouting out his parent’s sex life-skip to 1:46). But there were questionable calls: Best Picture was not last and the producers gambled the end on a Chadwick Boseman win with a very real possibility that Anthony Hopkins would (and not show up).
All in all, it was great to see some normalcy and to see some wonderful films awarded. I won’t go through all the categories, but highlighting the winners and why you should check them out.
Picture & Director: Nomadland
Nomadland: There’s a reason it won Best Picture. Nomadland is an intimate and deeply heartfelt portrayal of a nomadic subculture in the American Southwest, but also of transition growing old, capitalism, and the notion of holding on. Best Director winner Chloe Zhao has painted a picture of a vital, yet not always uplifting American spirit, with now three-time Oscar winning Frances McDormand in the lead. Trailer. Watch on Hulu.
Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-Jung
Minari: Lee Isaac Chung’s tender and moving family drama won audiences over, especially with this winning performance from Youn Yuh-Jung as a lovable, fiery grandmother. She’s the first Korean to win an acting Oscar, and it’s wholeheartedly deserved (even over the legendary Glenn Close). The entire film is a heartrending telling of a deeply American tale, while Yuh-Jung, and the rest of the cast (Steven Yeun was also nominated) give performances of a lifetime. Trailer. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya
Judas and the Black Messiah: A little bit of category fraud won’t damper Daniel Kaluuya’s parade as he collected his first (of likely many) Oscars portraying Black Panther Fred Hampton. A vital and nuanced role in this historical drama allows Kaluuya (and fellow Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield) to show his range as a charismatic, powerful, and tender leader, lost too early to history. Trailer. If you missed it on HBO Max, you can rent it on Amazon Prime.
Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman: I don’t think a lot of people got to see director Emerald Fennell’s (who is an actor on The Crown) debut, a subversive look at gender and sex and power dynamics in today’s society. With an Oscar nominated performance from Carey Mulligan (who should have won IMHO), we can’t wait to see what Fennell does next. Trailer. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Mank: While it didn’t go home with any of the big awards it was up for, David Fincher’s Mank took home the statue for Cinematography for its beautifully rendered vision of pre WWII-era Hollywood. Bleeding authenticity, the story of Citizen Kane’s script came to be from the mind of Herman J. Mankiewicz is a love letter to black and white movies, punctuated with an undervalued performance from Amanda Seyfriend. Trailer. Watch on Netflix.
Documentary: My Octopus Teacher
My Octopus Teacher: While not my personal favorite to win (Time was one of the most arresting films, documentary or otherwise, I watched last year), My Octopus Teacher traded on hope and optimism, in a year where there wasn’t very much of it, either. Set in the ocean off the coast South Africa, it follows a man and octopus who develop a beautiful friendship, and teach us about humanity along the way. If you’re feeling a little down, this aquatic tale will warm your heart. Trailer. Watch on Netflix.
Costume & Makeup: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Shut out in the acting categories despite stunning performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was awarded in the craft categories. Set in the 1920s, the adaptation of an August Wilson play comes to life on the screen, with incredible costuming, makeup and production design. Despite the bombastic performances and great production value, it seems like this film is under-seen. Please watch and pay homage to Chadwick Boseman’s final role. Trailer. Watch on Netflix.
Visual Effects: Tenet
Tenet: Say what you want about the plot or script or audio mixing, but Christopher Nolan’s Tenet looks incredible. A visual feast amongst the spy thriller, time-reversing, mind bender action film. Probably helped by the fact that Dune, Fast 9, No Time To Die, etc. were moved to 2021, nonetheless, Tenet delivers on the CGi action front. Trailer. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Editing & Sound: Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal: If you’ve read my newsletter for a while, you’ll know I’ve been pushing Sound of Metal all over the place. Very happy to see it awarded. A small film that’s more a personal emotional journey than story-driven, it features a tour de force performance from Oscar nominated Riz Ahmed, and a wonderful supporting role from also-nominated Paul Raci. Trailer. Watch on Amazon Prime.
Shoutout Letterboxd for helping the film community keep track!
For last week’s recommendations, check it out here.