2020 has seen some of the most spectacular performances from its actors and the 2021 Best Actor category looks to be its most diverse yet; not to mention that the majority are first-time nominees. Returning nominees include Anthony Hopkins for The Father and Gary Oldman for Mank. Hopkins gives one of the strongest performances of his career in the tragic tale of a man suffering from dementia and along with the uniquely poignant storytelling abilities of director Florian Zeller, he steals the screen and draws the audience in like no one else could. Gary Oldman is also a fantastic nominee for his work in David Fincher‘s Mank. Oldman is now a three-time Best Actor nominee, winning once for The Darkest Hour. His portrayal of Herman Mankiewicz is everything that cinephiles and lovers of classic film could have wanted from a story about the Citizen Kane writer’s troubled life.
The three first-time nominees give some of the most acclaimed performances of the year that deserve endless amounts of recognition. Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal is phenomenal as a drummer losing his hearing, and his commanding breakthrough into this category could not have been more well-earned. The anger and acceptance and beauty that go into his portrayal of a deaf musician is flawlessly performed and Ahmed’s career has rightfully led up to a nomination for a film of this meticulous caliber. Steven Yeun in Minari is another favorite nomination amongst the film community and his performance radiates a certain warmth that audiences need in times like these. His fatherly role is the perfect encapsulation of trying to achieve the “American Dream”, especially while trying to maintain a balance between South Korean tradition and the characters’ new lives in America. The late, great Chadwick Boseman is the final nominee of this category for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and this posthumous nomination was beautifully earned. Boseman takes this stage-adapted film and truly makes it his own, not only because of the commitment and charisma of his character but for his dedication to the role, even learning how to play trumpet.
Prediction: Chadwick Boseman
As often tends to be the case, the majority of this year’s nominees have been previously nominated with Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, and Carey Mulligan returning after earlier recognition while Vanessa Kirby and Andra Day receive their first nominations. Viola Davis and Andra Day carry on a longstanding love affair between the Academy and biopic performances with their titular roles as the famous singers in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, respectively.
With her most recent nomination, Viola Davis has become the most nominated Black actress in Academy history and the first Black actress nominated for Best Actress multiple times. Also making history with her nomination is Frances McDormand who became the first woman nominated for both acting in and producing the same film with her Nomadland performance and producer credit. Following her successes in The Crown, Mission Impossible – Fallout, and Hobbs & Shaw, Vanessa Kirby continues her climb in Hollywood, finding her first nomination from Pieces of a Woman. Finally, Carey Mulligan found her second nomination this year with her performance in Promising Young Woman, which has garnered widespread acclaim, winning her a number of awards already and has been seen by many as the role that will push her to a win here as well.
Prediction: Frances McDormand
Best International Feature Film:
The International Feature nominees are always an interesting batch of films because members are required to watch all the nominated films before voting. This year is no different. Two movies dealt with the liminal nature of being a refugee. Quo Vadis, Aida? is about a translator trying to get her family to safety during the Bosnian War, which tore the country apart and where some of the worst modern atrocities occurred. The Man Who Sold His Skin from Tunisia (the country’s first ever Oscar nomination) is a satire about a Syrian refugee who gets the Schengen visa (one of the most comprehensive visas available) tattooed on his back by a famous, cynical artist and is able to travel through Europe freely because he is considered a valuable piece of art rather than a human being. Both films couldn’t be more different in their approaches to the same subject. Quo Vadis, Aida is an effective and straightforward wartime and historical drama that uses its limited spaces cleverly, whereas The Man Who Sold His Skin is a prickly commentary on contemporary issues.
Based on a popular Chinese YA novel, Better Days tells the story of a young girl who is bullied mercilessly by her classmates and finds solace and protection with a street-smart outcast. Incredibly popular in China, Better Days plays like any recognizable teen romance, but its charismatic (and very popular) stars manage to fill this star-crossed love compelling and there is enough directorial flair from Derek Tsang to justify why it caught the eyes of Academy voters. On the almost polar opposite end is Collective, a Romanian documentary about journalists investigating healthcare fraud. Collective struck enough of a chord that it has been nominated in both this category and the Best Documentary category. Perhaps this is because of the fact that it plays like a crime procedural with its lack of “talking head” interviews, and the fact that the corruption is so inextricable with Romanian society as a whole that it seems impossible for these journalists to make any headway.
Finally, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round has been perhaps the most visible contender among these nominees. Its story about middle-aged men experimenting with drinking increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to enhance their lives has resonated enough that Vinterberg himself got a surprise nomination in the Director category. The story has an obviously interesting hook, but the movie is also grounded in the fact that Vinterberg’s daughter died in a car crash shortly before filming and clearly the issues of mortality weigh heavily on Vinterberg’s mind as his characters’ experiment goes horribly (and hilariously) awry. Perhaps audiences were in the mood for a feel-good “downer” of a movie, because it is clearly the front runner of these films.
Prediction: Another Round