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Below the Line’s 93rd Academy Awards Preview and Predictions – Part 2

April 20, 2021 09:00 | By

Hopefully, you’ve already read Part 1, which includes most of the below-the-line crafts, but now, we’ll get to some of the other categories we haven’t covered yet, which are mostly above the line but also includes a few odds and ends that we just didn’t get to.

The short film categories tend to be an office pool destroyer, because so few people take the effort to see them, even though every year, they’re readily available to watch both theatrically and online through a program that ShortsHD has been doing for over a decade now. 

Animated Short

If Anything Happens

If Anything Happens I Love You (Netflix/ShortsHD)

I will freely admit that I go into this category with a definite favorite, and that is Will McCormack and Michael Govier’s If Anything Happens I Love You, because it’s such a warm and moving film about a timely subject, gun violence and particularly active shooter incidents at schools like Sandy Hook and Columbine. But it’s not morbid or sensationalistic about it, which is why the movie creeps up on you. Its biggest competition is probably Burrow, another kid-friendly Pixar Animation ringer if ever there was one. Fortunately, I have absolutely zero confidence in any of the other three shorts, whether it’s the French art snobbiness of Genius Loci, the what-the? Factor when it comes to Erick Oh’s Opera and Yes-People, the latter two both fine feats of animation but storywise, none of them really connect as these things need to do. This one is between Pixar and the animation newbies, both of which are readily available on streaming services, but I think If Anything Happens is a much stronger and more memorable short.

Love Song for Latasha

A Love Song for Latasha (ShortsHD)

Documentary Short

Consistently one of the stronger overall categories at the Oscars, but also one of the categories where not every Academy voter watches everything and votes for some odd reason. This year is a particularly tough year due to the quality of the nominations. Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman’s Hunger Ward is about a group of nurses watching over malnourished children in war-torn Yemen, which is quite moving but also very much a downer.

Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan’s A Love Song for Latasha is a striking cinema verité doc about a young black girl killed at a Korean market that offers an unexpected twist with its ending that ties her death to a major historical event. Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard’s Colette is about a 90-year-old French woman who returns to the German prison where her brother Jean-Pierre was killed during WWII for being part of the resistance. It definitely ticks a lot of boxes for Oscar voters, and it’s a terrific doc with a lot of crying that struck me quite personally, having gone back to Germany with my father, who managed to evade the horrors of the Holocaust.

Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’s A Concerto is a Conversation examines the relationship between one of the film’s directors, Kris Bowers, a young composing prodigy and his grandfather Horace. It’s definitely a lighter subject which also makes it an easier watch than some of the others. 

Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook’s Do Not Split is an intense look at the Hong Kong protests to retain independence from China that began during the Fall of 2019 and continued through 2020 with some amazing cinema verité footage that’s fascinating to watch but might also feel dated.

This is a really tough call. My personal choice would be Colette, although I think A Love Song for Latasha is a fantastic doc and one well deserving due to its relevance to #BlackLivesMatter, and then A Concerto is a Conversation is a light and pleasant movie with a positive message that doesn’t involve death, famine or other horrible things that fill our daily news cycles. If I went with my gut, I’d pick Colette, but then my other gut (I have a couple) says that the Academy trying to make a change would go with Concerto, because it’s just a pleasant story not about white people.

Two Distant Strangers

Two Distant Strangers (Netflix/ShortsHD

Live Action Short Film

Always a tough category when you try to determine if and how the Oscar voters that actually bother to watch all five shorts to vote in this category might connect with any of them.

Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski’s Feeling Through is a perfectly nice short about a young NYC street kid helping a blind and deaf man get where he’s going. Travon Free and Martin Desmon Roe’s Two Distant Strangers benefits from being featured on Netflix and being a heads-on tackling of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in a direct yet still entertaining way akin to Groundhog’s Day.

Oscar Isaac stars in Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan’s The Letter Room as a corrections officer whose job involves going through mail to inmates, making sure that nothing bad gets through, partially about his relationship with an older inmate waiting for a letter from his daughter. When he reads a letter to an inmate on death row from a former girlfriend threatening to kill herself, played by Alia Shawkat, he steps in and gets involved. It’s a perfectly fine short, funny at times, poignant at others, but not much more.

Farah Nabulsi’s The Present is a nice Arabic short involving a Palestine family near the Gaza border dealing with the conflict there that’s been so prevalent in so many movies over the past few decades. That might actually hurt its chances more than help it. Lastly, Tomer Shushan and Shira Hochman’s White Eye is an Israeli drama about a missing and possibly stolen bicycle, but it really has the least impact of the five nominees, as it’s fairly bland.

I feel like the relevance and timeliness of Two Distant Strangers might help it win this category even if (and maybe because) its #BlackLivesMatter message is very much on the nose. My personal favorite was The Present, and Nabulsi could definitely be a filmmaker to watch.

Life Ahead

Ibrahima Gueye (L) and Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead (Netflix)

Achievement in Music (Original Song)

Oddly, I do not have a lot of opinions about this category. Most of the nominated songs are fine. My personal favorite is Celeste and Composer Daniel Pemberton’s “Hear My Voice“ from The Trial of the Chicago 7, but I get the impression that Academy members get sick of hearing the question, “When are you gonna give Diane Warren an Oscar? When is Diane Warren gonna win after being nominated so many times?” While her song co-written with Laura Pausini, “Io Si (Seen),” is perfectly fine, the first song in Italian that’s been nominated in this category,  I have a feeling it’s not the best song nor is it the most-watched film over Trial or One Night in Miami… or Judas and the Black Messiah, and it doesn’t have the kitschy charm of “Húsavik” from Eurovision Song Contest.

International Feature

There have been many years when the former “Foreign Language” category might have been harder than it is these days, but when an International Feature nominee gets nominated in other categories — as did Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma or Michael Haneke’s Amor, and of course, last year’s Parasite — it’s bound to win this category. That’s the case with Denmark’s Another Round for which director Thomas Vinterberg got into what was a really tough category, essentially bumping someone else, probably Aaron Sorkin. I’ll be honest that I’ve only seen two of this year’s nominees, although I’ve heard great things about Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Quo Vadia, Aida? from the three people I know who’ve seen it. I would have liked Romania’s Collective to win a well-deserved Oscar, but I think that’s more likely to win in the Documentary category. I’m not even sure it’s worth discussing this category more, because it feels like Another Round has won over the hearts of so many people who have seen it, that it’s more surprising it didn’t get an actual Best Picture nomination.

Nomadland

Frances McDormand in Nomadland (Searchlight)

Achievement in Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

For a long time, this seemed like it was going to be a pretty cut-and-dry category even with the Writers Guild (WGA) not nominating Chloé Zhao for Nomadland or Florian Zeller’s The Father — neither of them written under WGA rules. That just made it more difficult, especially with WGA winner Borat Subsequent Film, Kemp Powers’ excellent adaptation of his play One Night in Miami… and the outlier The White Tiger still being in the mix. Even though The Father recently won BAFTA and Borat eventually won the WGA, I just don’t see the Oscar voters going for a sequel and a mostly improvised one at that — even with a Best Picture nomination, The Father seems to be more about Hopkins’ performance than anything else, and the other two movies just didn’t get enough Academy support with only a couple nominations. Nomadland should add this to its winner’s list on Oscar night.

Achievement in Writing (Original Screenplay)

It’s impossible to ignore the Aaron Sorkin in the room for this one, he being a previous winner for his screenplay for David Fincher’s The Social Network with three Oscar nominations since. Sorkin’s script for The Trial of the Chicago 7 has already won the Golden Globe (his third!), but the WGA and BAFTA went with Emerald Fennell’s screenplay for Promising Young Woman, and that’s the real kicker, because the Academy often (but not always) leans towards a newbie in this category: Michael Arndt for Little Miss Sunshine, Diablo Cody for Juno, David Seidler for The King’s Speech, and Jordan Peele for Get Out

The screenplays for Minari, Sound of Metal, and Judas and the Black Messiah also fit into the latter category, and this is a rare year where all five nominees in this category also got a Best Picture nomination. (It tends to be 4 out of 5, at best.) That leaves this category in a place where you have to wonder which of the five movies is the most popular among the most Academy voters. To some, this might seem like the best category to praise Fennell’s groundbreaking film —  like at least three of those other nominees, it’s also driven by a strong leading performance. This category may also end up being a giveaway for a possible spoiler in one of the lead acting categories if Promising Young Woman does win, because, as you’ll read below, Carey Mulligan is in one of the toughest categories of the season. Oddly, and like Film Editing, this is a category where only three of the Original Screenplay winners in ten years have gone onto win Best Picture — last year’s Parasite and Green Book the year before that.

Minari

Alan S. Kim (L) and Yuh-jung Youn in Minari (A24)

Supporting Actress

Another tough category here, because certain nominees like Golden Globe winner Jodie Foster and News of the World newcomer Helena Zengel weren’t nominated. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that Glenn Close might finally win her well-earned Oscar for Hillbilly Elegy, which at the time also a presumptive make-up frontrunner, but that movie has fallen by the wayside due to controversy surrounding J.D. Vance, author of the original book. 

Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn received a lot of critical raves for her performance in Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, and she’s won in this category both from SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and BAFTA awards, both important precursors.  Maria Bakalova, the breakout star of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won the Critics Choice Award, and she’s been everywhere with her bubbly and adorable personality. While I don’t have a personal preference between Youn or Bakalova, I do prefer Minari as an overall movie, and Youn offers a more dramatic performance than Bakalova’s comedic one, so that might lean the Academy in that direction.

Supporting Actor

Until people started seeing Judas and the Black Messiah, it seemed like Leslie Odom Jr. might be the logical frontrunner for his performance as Sam Cooke in Regina King’s One Night in Miami…, and then people saw previous leading actor nominee Daniel Kaluuya (for the aforementioned Get Out) and his portrayal of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who some feel is more of the lead performance in Judas…  at least more than Fred Hampton’s appearance in Sorkin’s Trial of the Chicago 7. Anyway, that movie’s only acting performance out of the huge SAG Ensemble-winning cast is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. (Confused yet?)

Kaluuya is on a roll from the Golden Globes to the Critics Choice to SAG to BAFTA. He just hasn’t lost, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else in this category is strong enough to deprive Mr. Kaluuya — recently, a first-time Saturday Night Live host — from winning his first Oscar.

Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra in Promising Young Woman (Focus Features)

Lead Actress

By far, this is the toughest category at this year’s Oscar. That’s been the case for months now, which will just make the announcement of the winner on Oscar night that much more exciting. First, we have two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand, the beloved veteran starring in Nomadland, a very popular film in which she is mostly the only trained actor (other than David Strathairn, who should have received an Oscar nomination for his scenes with her). Then, there’s Viola Davis, another veteran and multiple Oscar nominee and winner, but in the supporting category for Fences, a previous August Wilson adaptation like her latest, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (She plays Ma Rainey.) We have two first-time nominees, including Andra Day playing a far better-known singer in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and Vanessa Kirby in the drama, Pieces of a Woman. Then we have previous nominee Carey Mulligan in what could be this year’s Black Swan (or as mentioned above, Juno). 

We’re literally dealing with a category where the awards have been split with all but Kirby winning something. As much as I loved Pieces of a Woman and Kirby’s performance, I’m gonna remove her for other reasons, including the behavior of her controversial co-star, Shia LaBeouf, which puts a damper on the whole movie.

McDormand just won this category from BAFTA for Nomadland, which followed Davis taking home the coveted SAG win. Andra Day won the Golden Globe, while Mulligan took home the Critics Choice and has received a great deal of support by really being out there throughout the past two weeks, including a stint hosting Saturday Night Live.

See what I mean? I personally think it’s best to remember that Davis and McDormand are past winners and regular Oscar players that they won’t offer the novelty of honoring one of the two newbies, Day and Mulligan. Promising Young Woman just has a lot more support in all branches of the Academy and bearing in mind that the male-dominated groups tend to go with younger (and often hotter) actresses, I’m giving Mulligan the edge to win her first Oscar.

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

Lead Actor

In any other year, this might be a shoe-in for any of the five nominees, particularly veterans and previous winners like Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father (which won a BAFTA award a few weeks back) or Gary Oldman, a more recent Oscar winner, this year for his performance as the title character in David Fincher’s Mank

Others in the category include relative newcomer Riz Ahmed for The Sound of Metal, who has been delivering some amazing performances in recent years, and Steven Yeun’s performance in Minari is also great. They both also offer the type of ethnic diversity that many have been clamoring for from the Academy, and Ahmed’s performance is particularly respected.

And then there’s Chadwick Boseman, the beloved Black Panther actor who died in 2020, making Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom his very last performance, and it is a great one. Even though Hopkins’ BAFTA win a few weeks back might offer some opposition, and I personally think Ahmed deserves this Oscar, the late Boseman winning his first and only Oscar posthumously seems to be the likeliest scenario here.

Achievement in Directing

This may be the easiest category at this year’s Oscars since Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao has been winning every directing award this season, including the Golden Globe, BAFTA and most importantly, the award from the Directors Guild (DGA). Even if for some strange reason, Nomadland doesn’t win Best Picture, this category is a shoe-in for Ms. Zhao.

Trial of the Chicago 7

Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

Motion Picture

If you look at all the other categories and try to figure out how all of those winners add up to what might win Best Picture, you’re very likely to be scratching your head, because the projected winners seem to be all over the place. A few of the movies potentially winning other categories aren’t even in the Best Picture race like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Midnight Sky. This seems fairly typical of the Academy in recent years where you don’t see one movie, like Slumdog Millionaire or The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King winning everything. Awards are more spread out these days.

We’re looking at eight nominees in this category, and all of them have their merits even if the few noticeable absences like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and One Night in Miami… and even Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods seem stranger. Going through the list, I would immediately take Florian Zeller’s The Father out of the equation even if it does happen to win Best Actor for Hopkins. David Fincher’s Mank, while good, just hasn’t had the overall support of other movies, except for some craft awards. Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal is a pretty significant achievement, enough to win Marder a DGA Debut Director award, but it also has a lot of support among all branches, including actors and writers.

There was a point when I thought Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah might be a serious contender, but right now, it’s mostly getting attention for Daniel Kaluuya’s performance more than anything else.

Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 won the coveted SAG Ensemble Award and has received a number of craft accolades like the ACE Eddie for Dramatic Feature this past weekend. The problem is that while Sorkin received a DGA nomination, he didn’t receive a corresponding Oscar in the Directing category, and that’s never a good sign unless you’re named Ben Affleck and your movie is so beloved that it wins Best Picture even without a directing nomination. This is very rare.

That leaves three movies, and while I think that Minari and Promising Young Woman are both wonderful movies (both in my top 5 for 2020, in fact) and both of them have their fans, there’s no denying that Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland has connected with people both in the industry and outside of it. The fact that it won both the PGA and DGA awards clinches my thoughts that the movie will draw a lot of votes from Academy members in many branches, and that’s why I’m picking it as this year’s Best Picture winner.

BTL’s Final Oscar Predictions

Live Action Short Two Distant Strangers

Documentary Short A Concerto is a Conversation

Animated Short If Anything Happens I Love You

Visual Effects The Midnight Sky

Sound Sound of Metal

Production Design Mank

Costume DesignMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Make-Up and Hair DesignMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Film Editing The Trial of the Chicago 7

Cinematography Nomadland

Animated Feature Soul 

Documentary Feature My Octopus Teacher

International Film  – Another Round

Original Score Soul

Original Song – “Io See (Seen)” from The Life Ahead

Original ScreenplayPromising Young Woman

Adapted Screenplay Nomadland

Supporting Actor – Daniel Kaluuya/Judas and the Black Messiah

Supporting Actress – Yuh-Jung Youn/Minari

Lead Actor – Chadwick Boseman/Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Lead Actress – Carey Mulligan/Promising Young Woman

Director – Chloé Zhao/Nomadland

Picture Nomadland