Oscars 2021: the winners, the losers, the forgotten

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Chau Nguyen

It’s time, once again, for the annual award show celebrating the year’s best movies, in a year when no one can go to the movies. But since nothing can stop Hollywood stars from giving awards to each other, and since the Academy didn’t even bother to show the nomination clips, here are my hot takes on the winners, the losers, and the forgotten of this year’s Oscars. 

I also watched all of the Best Picture nominees over spring break so that you don’t have to, because admit it—the only thing you have watched this depressing year is about 1,500 hours of cheesy Netflix rom coms, your cat, and the wall. 

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7: 

Prepare yourself for a film about political injustice and social movements that couldn’t have come at a timelier moment: Oscar season. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is Aaron Sorkin’s first film to touch on historical truths since, well, his last four successful movies (“Molly’s Game”, “Steve Jobs”, “Moneyball”, and “The Social Network”). It features Sacha Baron Cohen’s wackiest Boston accent, to which he landed a Best Supporting Actor nomination, as well as Eddie Redmayne’s midlife crisis of being an Englishman trying to imitate an American. So get inspired by another lost Oscar-bound Sorkini speechifying screenplay that can almost change someone’s mind about something political, if they are open to the idea in the first place, and if they’re caught on a good day. 

  1. Minari

You’d expect some kind of horror films that turn out to be an elaborate metaphor about family and relationship or whatever. Instead, A24 brings “Minari”, a movie about an Asian family in America, which is already horrifying given how it’s an American film about American problems (immigration and assimilation), yet winning in the Foreign Film category at the Golden Globes. Return to the 80s, which despite what “Stranger Things” and “Wonder Woman 1984” say, was realistically not covered in neon everywhere. In this stirring tale about the Yi family aspiring to make it big in rural Arkansas, farming is really effing hard, marriage is even harder, but at least Mountain Dew is still delicious. Only its deliberately slow pace can give audience enough brain time to realize this movie is a re-animated version of the “Simpsons”: angry dad who loves food, sad mom who worries all the time, grandparents who are starting to lose it, a rebellious boy with a smart sister, who all cram into a beaten-up car every time they leave the house. 

On a heavier note, in a year where misinformation, nativism and bigotry make killing six American women of Asian descent “a really bad day,” seeing an Asian American movie receiving its due recognition is like sticking a band-aid on an open wound. Well, Steven Yeun is the first Asian American to be nominated Best Actor, while Youn Yuh-jung is the first South Korean, second Asian Best Actress, but most importantly, the first since 1957 to win without playing an overly fetishized role. Another box ticked, well done Oscar! Who’s next?

  1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Experience the moving story of the Black Panther in this intimate portrayal of the relationship between leader Fred Hampton and William O’Neal, an FBI snitch in the party. Nod in unanimous agreement as you commend Daniel Kaluuya for his achievement in winning Best Supporting Actor, and gasp in horror at Jesse Plemons’s incarnation of yet another sick-to-the-stomach looking white man. Make sure you review your lessons on the iconic Civil Rights movement, because despite this movie’s emotional depth, it has as much historical knowledge as Forest Gump. Regardless, this movie still deserves a Best Picture nomination, but it still stings when “Da 5 Bloods” by Spike Lee got snubbed. Academy Award people, you do know you can honor more than one Black director at a time, right?

  1. Mank

From the colossal castles up top San Simeon to the bustling boulevards of Boys Town, all of Hollywood is in the tank for “Mank.” Fight Club’s front man David Fincher manages to get everyone talking about his direction: from film historians to film festival programmers, even film preservationists want hanky-panky from Mr. Manky. If you don’t have intimate knowledge of Hollywood history, hit the books! Grab your most patient grandparent for a black-and-white retro revisionist rollercoaster of righteousness, relevance and rebuke, which ends with a rightfully earned Best Cinematography for all the black-and-white expressionism and silhouette imageries. 

Gary Oldman shines as Herman J. Mankowitz in cat’s pajamas who was half the actor’s age when this all took place. There’s the lovely Lilly Collins as Mank’s secretary, who takes notes on his opinions. And the amazing Amanda Seyfried as Mank’s friend, who listens patiently to all of his opinions. Also the transcendent Tuppence Middleton as Mank’s wife, who sits quietly as Mank has his opinions. Great job ladies! Maybe you will get some of your own opinions one day. 

  1. Sound of Metal

Meet Ruben Stone, a hardcore rock drummer who loses his hearing and faces the worst nightmare scenario of any musician. Follow this tattooed punk as he goes through the five stages of grieving his job, girlfriend, and their hippy lifestyle, with an extended stop in anger. Watch in silent rumination as this skillfully written love story unfolds into an exploration of addiction and sacrifice, or a shoe-in to win all the Sound and Film Editing awards (which it did, and rightfully so). Continuing the tradition of “Whiplash” as angry drummer movies that deserve Best Picture but wouldn’t win, Sound of Metal allows Riz Ahmed to be the first Muslim to ever receive a Best Actor nomination. It’s crazy how we’re still hitting all these firsts after almost 100 years of the Oscars. Yay? 

  1. Nomadland

Let Chloe Zhao’s masterful direction sweep across the pristine beauty of America, from the rocky mountains of the Midwest to the first Best Director win for an Asian woman. In this drama that could be viewed as the indictment of modern capitalism or an endorsement of how sweet living on the road in a van can be, Frances McDormand soars above her previous achievements to win Best Actress and Best Picture. I mean look at her: dealing with a mid-life crisis by hitting the road, getting an indoor stove for hot chowder, living among ample storage, and having no landlord breathing down her neck—McDormand’s portrayal of a determined, headstrong female figure will never fail to earn her an Oscar. She did so three times already. 

  1. Promising Young Woman

From Emerald Fennell, the writer-director who I still haven’t forgiven for being so mean to Lady Diana in “The Crown”, comes the tale of a vigilante who uses herself as a man bait for sexual predators so she can give these creeps what they truly deserve: a stern monologue. In this film whose main character is a white person in clown makeup who hates society, the only thing that can prevent it from being a Lady Joker movie is its powerful message to girls: do not trust men. No wonders why it won Best Original Screenplay!

  1. The Father

Anthony Hopkins gives a performance of a lifetime as an old man refusing help for dementia as it slowly eats away at his mind. It’s such a heartbreaking, realistic, torturous and cruel portrayal of a man’s final days, there’s no way you would want to indulge even more into this much depression and anguish. This year has been hard enough, maybe you should try watching some TikTok instead, made by Sir Hopkins himself too? 

You know what, actually, don’t do that.