Oscars 2021 – What I’d Vote

With the Oscar ballot deadline having gone by and the ceremony a matter of days away many people and sources – including myself – are setting in their final predictions. And so, until then here’s my personal favourites in each of this year’s categories, along with why I’d vote for them – in the almost impossible event that I were a member of the Academy (it’s probably a good thing that I’m not).

Starting with the technical categories, building up towards the major competition of Best Picture, I’ll be excluding the short film categories simply due to the fact that I haven’t seen either enough or any of the nominees.

Best Cinematography – Nomadland
Place is an integral part of Nomadland. It’s a character in itself that becomes a part of the human characters we see throughout the piece. Therefore, it’s essential that we believe this. Luckily, the atmosphere of Nomadland, and the occasional documentary style, is established with ease thanks to the excellent look of the piece. With it’s dark pastel-like hues in the various landscapes that the film transports the viewer to, Joshua James Jacobs creates a visually stunning view that’s easy to escape to, much better than many a travel show. Out of all the nominees in this category Nomadland is certainly the most visually stunning film to watch. It looks fantastic.

Best Costume Design – Pinocchio
A close one, for me, between Pinocchio and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And while Ann Roth provides the Ma Rainey cast with some cracking suits Massimo Cantini Parrini really helps to emphasises the darkness of Matteo Garrone’s take on Pinocchio. The film is certainly not as light as the Disnified takes on the tale that audience have become used to, and leans into the darker fantasy elements of the tale. The costumes in the film capture the strange, dishevelled, fantastical animal-like (sometimes literally) world in which the characters live in and provide something truly unique and original, especially amongst the mostly period drama fare of this year’s Costume Design nominees.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Pinocchio
Much for the same reason as the Costume Design ‘vote’, the intense detail of the hair and make-up within Pinocchio truly helps to emphasise the tone and themes of the piece. These strange characters and beings are totally believable and you don’t question them in the world for a second. The transformations that the cast go through – particularly ten year old (likely eight at the time of filming) Frederico Ielapi into the titular authentically wooden boy – all feel genuine. On watching the film it’s one of the first things that instantly hits you as you see each new figure emerge onto the screen, the intense detail in the look of each individual character. In fact, the hair and makeup in Pinocchio was perhaps the best of last year. It’s unlikely to win at the Oscars but, if I were voting, it would certainly have my vote.

Best Production Design – The Father
Initially my choice would have been for the design of classic Hollywood studio surroundings in Mank. However, after having had the film sit in my mind for a while my decision has been swayed to The Father. Perhaps not the most obvious choice in this category, however, much of the film works around the idea of the constantly changing details in the set. It helps to put you in the mind of the central character as his surroundings become unrecognisable to him and subtle changes grow bigger and bigger. Such changes have a great effect on the impact of the film, and, perhaps more importantly, it’s plot.

Best Sound – Sound Of Metal
From the early everyday sounds such as dripping coffee, creaking floors and the opening and shutting of doors to the muffled, distorted and chaotic sounds that Riz Ahmed’s character just about hears as he rapidly loses his hearing there’s no denying the importance of sound in Sound Of Metal. Add to that the musical sequences of the heavy metal band that causes his hearing loss and there’s certainly plenty of different essential noises covered in the piece. All putting you into the mind – ears, rather – of the central figure and further into the cleverly designed and immersive sound of the world of the film.

Best Visual Effects – Tenet
Tenet may have been a complete mind-melt and may not made a lick of sense – it’s certainly no surprise that it hasn’t appeared in the Best Sound Category, although perhaps a slight one that it wasn’t featured in Score – but, there’s no denying that the action certainly benefitted from the visual effects that were at work. Helping to capture the chaos of battlefields and seemingly reverse fights it stands out from the other nominees in this often blockbuster filled category this year. What’s admirable about Tenet is just how much of it was done in camera, as practical effects, with as little CGI as possible – as Christopher Nolan likes to work. Those details perhaps make Tenet stick out that little bit more from the other nominees in this category this year. It’s amazing how some of the effects and stunts (which the Academy still need to properly recognise) were pulled off on set and in camera. It leaves you thinking “how did they do that?”, alongside the universal “what is going on?”

Best Original Song – Husavik from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga
Husavik stands out in this category as the song that I’d be most likely to return to to actually listen to because I like it. It’s the one that I can properly remember and lightly goes around my head for a little bit after hearing it. I can’t properly provide any other reason as to why I’d vote for it, just that I like it and, in my opinion, it’s the best of the lot.

Best Original Score – Soul
For me this was a close one between Soul and Da 5 Bloods. While the score for Da 5 Bloods is fantastic, Soul’s just had that edge for me. From the otherworldly sounds of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Great Before music to Jon Batiste’s equally descriptive jazz sections for the New York scenes the score creates new details within each of the worlds that are discovered in Soul. It pushes across the feeling of just how integral music is to the film, and the life of the central character, just how passionately he feels about it. It’s such an immersive and energetic piece of work.

Best Film Editing – The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Normally I’d go against the tendency for the Academy to give this award to the ‘flashier’ editing of the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Ford V Ferrari. However, in the case of The Trial Of The Chicago 7 the montages truly do have an impact. This is amongst the pacing of chaotic protests, courtroom dramas and multiple other elements. While I was close to saying Promising Young Woman – especially with the way a number of the confrontational scenes are so effectively edited you don’t tend to notice them – the flashier style of some of The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s montages and sequences are perhaps what stick out most from that film.

Best Documentary Feature – Time
One of the categories where, admittedly I haven’t seen all of the nominees (I really want and need to check out The Mole Agent!), however Time acts as an emotional, and deeply personal, insight into its subject matter. Perhaps hitting harder because of events in the past year it’s a fine piece of work and you certainly feel involved in the fight that the family unit at the heart of the film is raging on with. It stirs up feelings of upset and anger, more effective because of the impassioned and raw home movie style that the film takes.

Best International Feature – Another Round
While on the surface Another Round might look like a heavily-boozy comedy – there are certainly a number of laughs to be found here – underneath it, and very much on show on the surface, it’s a film layered with much deeper themes and ideas. The humour goes in hand with drama which brings along with it emotion which is dashed throughout this fine balance. There’s plenty of heart throughout the film and it’s screenplay, alongside a carefully constructed balance of themes. Add in some great performances (particularly Mads Mikkelson in the central role – there’s a chance that the screenplay and Mikkelson could have been close to nominations) that truly bring to life the tone of the film and there’s plenty to really like and enjoy about Another Round.

Best Animated Feature – A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Yes, Soul is great. Yes, Wolfwalkers is fantastic. Yes, the Shaun The Sheep theme remix at the very start of the credits after a brilliant film is atrocious. But, I just love Farmageddon. A genuine laugh-out-loud every single minute film with plenty of sci-fi references that never feel as if they’re shouting at you for attention, simply acting as homages to classic films and TV shows that are part of a genre the creators clearly love. The animation is, as expected from Aardman, wonderfully high quality, and even packs in plenty of jokes in the background. It’s not trying to be anything bold, overly layered or extravagant, simply a very funny film – which it absolutely succeeds in being. Farmageddon is simply a pure joy to watch filled with chuckles, giggles and pure belly-laughs that should work for anyone, no matter what age – it certainly worked for me.

Best Original Screenplay – The Trial Of The Chicago 7
I love Emerald Fennell’s perfectly written monologue towards the end of Promising Young Woman. It’s a sensational piece of writing that not just captures the themes of the film but the real life experiences and feelings of so many, capturing anger and emotion that runs throughout the film with expert precision. The screenplay for the film as a whole is pretty great. But, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is an Aaron Sorkin courtroom drama that’s as good as you would hope it to be. Smart, witty and filled with plenty of fast-talking exchanges and detail in short spaces of time. And yet, in this film there’s also plenty of time to dwell and pause on certain lines of dialogue – not as much of the ‘walk and talk’ style that Sorkin has become known for writing so well. It’s a great script that truly captures the spirit of the courtroom drama that it’s aiming for. Admittedly, there are a handful of characters who really don’t get much to do and you forget they’re there, but those who we do get a focus on, or at least see more of within the ensemble, are well-written with enough detail to have distinguishable enough personalities and traits. But, the thing that stands out most is certainly the exchanges in the courtroom, alongside the dialogue that makes up the montages.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Father
Nothing else overly strikes me in this category. I like the other film’s mentioned but in terms of screenplays The Father certainly stands out from the other nominees (although Nomadland does have plenty of thoughtful dialogue). However, the subtlety of The Father emerges in the screenplay. There’s so much precise dialogue and detail within the language that characters use – particularly within the deteriorating state of Anthony Hopkins’ excellently performed central figure. The changes and developments are perfectly captured in speech that feels natural and understands the struggles and worries of each of the characters. It’s a wonderfully refined screenplay that really hits home and adds to the emotional gut-punch by the end of the film.

Best Supporting Actor – Daniel Kaluuya in Judas And The Black Messiah
It was evident from Get Out, and his developing career since, that Daniel Kaluuya would one day win an Oscar, and he may very well, deservingly, win it for his role as revolutionary Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Kaluuya is spectacular in this role, convincingly delivering a number passionate speeches and crys for unity. It’s a loud performance that you can’t help but be captivated by and entranced in the words that he declares in a rallying call, even on re-watches the response is almost magnetic, as if you’re hearing the words for the first time. He’s a powerful presence and commands the screen whenever he appears. Such feelings and impacts even manage to make their way into some of the character’s quieter scenes and moments. It’s simply another brilliant performance Kaluuya, and one very much worthy of awards.

Best Supporting Actress – Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari
Yuh-Jung Youn doesn’t just give the best performance in this category, or in all the acting categories this year, but perhapos the best performance of the entire year. She captures the heart, spirit, joy and emotion that’s packed into Minari perfectly. Her performance as the grandmother of the family is wonderfully natural and fits in with the family dynamic of the rest of the cast in much the same way. Youn pinpoints perfection with her performance and truly encapsulates the swirling feelings that the film comes up with. Her performance is one that’s strong not from force or seeming ‘oscar-baity’ or anything like that, she’s simply a natural delight to watch in the role and delivers an amazing performance. There’s not much else that I can say.

Best Leading Actor – Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal
Chadwick Boseman delivers a top performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Anthony Hopkins is worthy of awards for the utterly devastating portrayal he provides in The Father. However, Riz Ahmed totally transforms into his character in Sound Of Metal. After having delivered a brilliant performance as someone coping with their body deteriorating and potentially removing their career from under them in Mogul Mowgli he topped this with the fear that’s deep in Ruben’s (his character) eyes, coping with a sudden rapid loss of hearing. Ruben looks like Ahmed, however somehow he appears physically different and you forget that he even looks like Ahmed, or that there’s an actor behind the character. The performance feels so genuine and authentic that you completely buy into it and thanks to it almost forget that all of this is a fiction, that what you’re watching is a narrative feature film. You know exactly what the character is thinking, worrying and stressing about, throughout the film in each scene and are taken along his journey with him. Feeling uplift and upset based on his actions and responses to the film’s events. It’s a superb performance and truly the standout in a category of very different performances.

Best Leading Actress – Andra Day in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday
It’s hard to believe watching The United States Vs. Billie Holiday that Andra Day has had relatively little on-screen acting experience in the past. She takes the role of Billie Holiday head on and gives a bitingly strong performance. The film as a whole may not be somewhat middling overall, however Day’s performance makes the viewing entirely worth it. She captures Holiday’s distinct jazz and blues styling in the various musical and performance sequences, puts emotion, care and restraint into the more personal elements of Holiday’s life and is even great in the more stylistic, seemingly choreographed moments of the piece. Her performance lifts many of the film’s scenes and is consistently strong throughout. In a strong, unpredictable, Best Leading Actress race, Day is the potential outsider who deserves the attention for her nomination.

Best Director – Chloé Zhao for Nomadland
Nomadland is a beautifully directed film. Not just because of the way that it looks but because of the caring way in which it appears to have been formed. A thoughtful depiction of an underthought of group in America, almost documentary like in fashion and tone. There’s a great amount of small details that strengthen the various personal stories we hear throughout the film that impact those of the central character. Zhao’s fine touch and ability to make place as much of a character as the human figures in the piece – as seen in her excellent 2018 feature The Rider – is very much present here and has a big impact on the events that occur throughout the film, there’s not a huge deal of plot and yet the film feels so full of easy-to-digest detail. She does a fantastic job in crafting the world, visualising it and getting across a subtle, thoughtful, personal and engaging film.

Best Picture
As Best Picture is voted for via preferential ballot I’m going to list here what my ballot would look like, with one being the best and eight being the least best – just because something is lower down the list certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. If you asked me tomorrow, or even in a couple of hours, this list might look quite different. But, as of this moment in time this is what it would look like (and no, I’m not overly confident on it being right – I’m sure with re-watches, and in closer proximity to each other, this list would likely change).

1. Promising Young Woman
2. Sound Of Metal
3. Nomadland
4. The Trial Of The Chicago 7
5. The Father
6. Minari
7. Judas And The Black Messiah
8. Mank

To focus on my top choice, as that would be what I’d vote if I was only allowed one choice. This was a tough choice between Promising Young Woman and Sound Of Metal, but Promising Young Woman just edged itself over the mark for that first place position. It’s a fine blend of revenge thriller, (very) dark satire and rom-com. Each one seamlessly fitted in and still managing to revolve around the core themes and the plot – a number of serious elements are never just there for simple narrative reasons and actually have impacts on character’s. Even on the small screen the story still feels highly cinematic, as if it should be experienced on the big screen. There’s fiery passion from those at the heart of the film and that comes through in the performances and the narrative as a whole. With each of the genres moulding around the themes of the film almost perfectly and never clashing it flows really well and engages you in the sometimes tense and suspenseful story that unfolds. It’s a truly great piece of work, especially as a debut feature.

Some of these films may very well appear in my top ten of the year, come the end of the year, and in a different order. Again, this is only how I view them at the moment, and could even change tomorrow depending on how I feel. But, I’m fairly certain that, while the rest of the list would likely be a completely changed, unconfident jumble, the top spot would still be a toss-up between Promising Young Woman and Sound Of Metal.

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