A Look Into the 2021 Oscar Movies

The nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards are coming out on Monday! After the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the BAFTAs, we’re already pretty sure of what films are getting nominated for each category. Since I didn’t talk about some outstanding films in my Best Movies of 2020 article and absolutely hated some others that are receiving major attention in this award season, I decided to talk about all of them here. So here they are:

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“Nomadland” by Chloé Zhao

Probably the most hyped movie of the year, Nomadland is a gorgeous and free-spirited film about a woman who after losing her husband, decides to travel America as a nomad without having a steady job. More than that, the film has an outstanding work of cinematography and mise en scene, accompanied with a loose narrative that may make mainstream audiences feel a little lost. But is exactly this kind of cinema that needs to appear more in award shows, especially for the fact that it was directed by a woman. I’m pretty sure the film will win Best Picture and Director at the Oscars this year, which it’s about time when it comes to another woman winning a director award. But this also represents a small change in the pattern of the Academy, who usually glorifies films like The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank (more about them below). The only thing that makes me a little confused is that Nomadland is a very similar movie to Chloé Zhao’s latest feature, The Rider, which didn’t even come close to receive the same attention as this one did.

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“Minari” by Lee Isaac Chung

Without a doubt my favorite movie of this award season and definitely one of the best films of 2020, Minari is stuck between the classifications of an American film and a foreign one for being set in the United States but being mostly spoken in Korean. By telling the story of a Korean family who moves to America in the 80s, Minari portrays the chase of the American dream through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy who sees his parents struggle to adapt to a new land. It’s a very simplistic film made with perfection and a sharp and charming script that evokes the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu. Hopefully, it will win something at the Oscars.

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“Promising Young Woman” by Emerald Fennell

I really love the premise for Promising Young Woman and I really appreciate that this movie was made and it’s being talked about a lot, but I have to admit the conception was somewhat poor. By telling the story of a woman who pretends to be drunk at clubs for her to be picked up by men so she can get revenge of a trauma from her past, Emerald Fennell’s feature has way too many holes in the story to ignore. Not mentioning its brutal and exaggerated ending doesn’t seem to fit with what the movie was trying to say in the first place. It’s definitely a cool movie with many fun elements but there could have been so much more here that I felt a little betrayed when the credits started to appear. One way or the other, with everything that’s been happening with Promising Young Woman, we can probably say that Fennell is a very promising young director.

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“The Trial of the Chicago 7” by Aaron Sorkin

I really like this film even though many people don’t. Maybe it’s because it screams “Oscar-bait” or it’s because of Steven McQueen’s “Mangroove”. Either way, The Trial of the Chicago 7 works great by telling the true story of the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants unjustly charged by the government with conspiracy after a Chicago protest. Aaron Sorkin wrote a very sharp script that is elevated even more with the movie’s editing and character performances. The only problem I have with this film is that is indeed an Oscar-bait movie and I think it isn’t interesting to give major prizes to these type of films anymore. The format’s still very classic Hollywood and even though I appreciate the film, I feel like it’s time for movies like Minari and Nomadland to shine.

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“Mank” by David Fincher

And speaking of movies that I don’t think it’s interesting to have anymore, Mank it’s probably one of the most unnecessary of all. I love David Fincher and what he tried to do here but Mank is simply not a good film. By telling the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz and how he wrote Citizen Kane, Fincher creates a film that tries to be half political and half biographical but can succeed in neither. In short, it’s a movie about a drunk white man trying to write a script while he remembers about a political election that happened some years prior, and… that’s it. The movie doesn’t go anywhere with what it has, consisting of never-ending scenes of men talking non-stop. It doesn’t talk about Citizen Kane, it doesn’t talk about Orson Welles and it doesn’t talk about cinema in general. It’s mainly about this election which wasn’t important back then and it’s still not important today and by the end of the movie, you feel like nothing happened in terms of story and character arcs. Sure, the cinematography is beautiful, the acting is good, the production design is on point and even the sound is interesting. But those things don’t make good films and Mank is unfortunately not a very good one.

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“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” by Jason Woliner

As I said before, Borat Subsequent Movie Film is probably one of the most important movies of 2020 for denouncing the absurds of the Trump administration and talking about extremely important subjects such as feminism, sexual abuse, white supremacy, and fake news. Through a mockumentary, Sacha Baron Cohen talks about a very dark reality that is both funny and frightening, raising important questions about the world we live in today. Maybe it won’t receive as many nominations it deserves, but it’s definitely a movie everybody should watch.

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“Pieces of a Woman” by Kornél Mundruczó

Now, this is a movie that I really loved and I think it’s being overlooked because people are too concern with the story. Directed by the Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó, who directed White God and Jupiter’s Moon, Pieces of a Woman is an incredible tour de force about a woman who tries to put the broken pieces of her life together after losing her baby. More than that, it’s a movie about grief and suffering and how people face those problems in different ways. Vanessa Kirby probably delivers the most impressive performance of the year, just like Kornél Mundruczó, who creates one of the most fascinating and hypnotizing works of mise en scene. The introduction of the movie itself is a labor scene shot on a continuous take. The camera that kept coming and going through the rooms of this scene still prevails throughout the rest of the movie, like a ghost who drifts away without a purpose, and just like the movie characters, look for a meaning. The result is beautiful, touching, and poetic.

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“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by George C. Wolfe

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in my opinion, isn’t just one of the worst movies of this award season but it’s also one of the worst films of 2020. Based on the play of the same name by August Wilson, the movie tells the story of the recording of an album by Ma Rainey and her band, focusing on the relationship of these people and the hierarchy of producers and artists, whites and blacks. What could have been an interesting film ends up being an absolute disaster for the lack of vision of the director, who shoots a film that is constantly shifting scenes and prologuing the story in ways that are not only boring and unnecessary but that simply doesn’t work in a medium that is cinema. It lacks depth, consistency, and subject. The cinematography and set design are so artificial that is kind of difficult to take the movie seriously. The performances of Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman are probably the only good thing that comes out of this extremely difficult movie that doesn’t feel like a film or a play.

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“One Night in Miami” by Regina King

Another movie that I have no idea what the fuzz is about is One Night in Miami, a film that tells the story of a meeting that never happened between Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay after the boxer’s defeat in 1964. Despite talking about important subjects, the movie doesn’t give us anything interesting or new. Regina King’s direction couldn’t be more mediocre, who builds a film of several men talking about race, politics, and religion in a bland and uninteresting way. The fact that these are not fictional characters doing things that never happened already makes me feel like I’m watching something that I shouldn’t take it very seriously, and the fact that they talk about things we already know make One Night in Miami a movie that I don’t fully understand the existence. Maybe is it because I’m white and not American?

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“Judas and the Black Messiah” by Shaka King

In contrast with these other black character-driven films, I think Judas and the Black Messiah way more decent and interesting. It’s still not an amazing movie but I think it has more soul and power than One Night in Miami and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom put together. It tells the true story of Bill O’Neil, a black man who infiltrated the Black Panther organization to help the police to arrest Fred Hampton, leader of the Panthers. The result is something similar to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, focusing on the life of Fred Hampton and everything he did to fight the oppression against black people in the 60s. Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are great in their roles, and Shaka King’s direction is pretty solid and energetic comparing to the ones of Regina King and George C. Wolfe.

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“The Mauritanian” by Kevin Macdonald

A movie that we are not really sure how it will be received at the Oscars but that impressed me more than I’d like to admit, The Mauritanian can be seen as a better version of the 2019 film The Report. Based on the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the movie tells the true story of how a Mauritanian man was kidnapped by the American government after 9/11 and was held captured for fourteen years without a trial. Despite being slightly melodramatic, I loved how The Mauritanian is an anti-American film. It denounces terrible things the country has done during the Bush administration that it kept going through Obama and it’s still happening with Biden. I mean, didn’t he just bombed Syria the other day? Better than that is Tahar Rahim’s performance, who I really hope gets a nomination on Monday because he truly deserves for playing such an amazing role that raises extremely important questions about democracy, justice, happiness and forgiveness.

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“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” by Lee Daniels

Being the second movie about a black American jazz singer in this award season, The United States vs Billie Holiday is an interesting biopic about the famous Billie Holiday and the difficulties she faced with the government, the police, and drug abuse while she was alive. I had no idea Strange Fruit was a song about black lynching and everything the movie shows just proves even more how racist America is. I mean, after all these movies in the award season and The Mauritanian, I must admit you Americans really need to clean up after your shit because this problem runs deep. Despite not being an outstanding film, the message it’s the strongest and most important part of the movie, along with Andra Dey’s performance, who makes a great job when we remember this is her first role as an actress.

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“Sound of Metal” by Darius Marder

And last but not least, Sound of Metal is probably one of my favorite movies of 2020 that tells the story of a drummer who goes deaf. Despite being extremely well received by critics, I kind of feel that this is the type of movie that should remain in the indie circuit and that will lose its strength if it gets nominated for many Oscars. I mean, I love Riz Ahmed in the film, but is he worth a Best Actor nomination? I have my doubts. Either way, it’s definitely an important and touching film that you should definitely check it out if you haven’t.

I would have loved to talk about The Father, but like most people, I haven’t seen the film yet. This is probably the only film from this award season that hasn’t come out yet, with a VOD release scheduled by the end of March. In general, I think this award season isn’t very good, even though it’s an extremely important one for shining a light on many women directed films and stories of black people. I just wished many of these films were a little better. You can also check out our own nominees and winners at the Papiro & Mint Awards.