A close look into some of the nominations for this year’s unique ceremony.
By Julissa Castro and Ilenia Reale / Staff Writers
This past year has been different without any doubts. Many events were strongly affected by the pandemic and so does the 93rd edition of the Academy Awards. The ceremony was first supposed to take place on Feb. 28, but it was postponed to April 25 in order to let directors finish the production of their movies. However, despite what everyone was expecting, the Oscars won’t happen over Zoom, but in person at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, as tradition wants. Probably based on the uniqueness of the time we are currently living in. this year’s nominations seem to have a common underlying theme: diversity. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most nominated films, and not only, of this year’s Academy Awards!
Promising Young Woman
Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Adam Brody
Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Genres: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller
In her director debut, Emerald Fennell promises her viewers a revenge ride that will expose rape culture and its effects, not only on the victim but on their loved ones. Promising Young Woman follows Cassandra, (played by Carey Mulligan), a med school dropout who works as a barista on the weekday and has an odd hobby on the weekends. Through a sequence of shots in a nightclub, showcasing the male behavior, the camera focuses on Cassandra, our protagonist, who is drunk in a booth. A group of men watch her from afar and start debating how irresponsible women are to put themselves in a situation where everyone can take advantage of them. As the night goes on and Cassandra has been rescued by one of the men, things turn around quickly when her so-called rescuer takes her to his apartment. There, while he is ready to score the night with Cassandra, it is revealed that Cassandra isn’t drunk, but it is part of her act as she tries to intimidate and scare men into thinking twice before ever approaching a woman.
The death of her friend, Nina, at the hands of a frat boy, has taken a psychological toll on Cassandra, separating her from society and reality, making her participate in harmful behavior, as she takes a sort of a vigilante role. She is able to find a moment of peace and snap back to reality when she reunites with her college classmate Ryan played by Bo Burnham. The color scheme begins to shift into more pastel warm colors, in contrast with the vibrant tones from the opening, and the pacing slows down, signaling that Cassandra may finally be able to find peace. Yet new evidence about Nina’s case resurfaces, sending Cassandra back into her own habits, but this time she has decided to end it once and for all. The movie shows what many women around the world endure. How an innocent night out can turn into a woman’s nightmare. The film leaves its audience with questions: What happens to the men after she encounters them? What would justice for Cassandra and many other victims look like?
Promising Young Woman is nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Lead Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing. With a storyline full of plot twists that explores various genres, Romance, Thriller, Comedy. The exposition of themes such as revenge, the male behavior, and the rape culture in parties; the amazing acting of Carey Mulligan, and an ending which will leave its viewers wanting more, Promising Young Woman has become a fan favorite in this Award season.
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Writer: Lee Isaac Chung
Stars: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho, Darryl Cox
Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
A couple of years ago, Director Lee Isaac Chung had decided to quit the film industry. Yet he gave himself one last opportunity and set to write Minari, a semi-autobiographical film about a family of Korean immigrants pursuing the American Dream. The movie draws from Lee’s recollection of memories growing up in Arkansas and the cultural shocks he encountered. The film follows the Yi family as they move from California to Arkansas to pursue Jacob Yi’s (played by Steven Yeun) entrepreneurial ambitions. Jacob and his wife Monica (played by Yeri Han) were previously working at a processing plant as chicken sexers, however, Jacob has ambitions to provide his family with a better lifestyle and moving to Arkansas is the first step. According to Jacob, 30,000 Koreans arrive in the United States every year, he sees a business opportunity to produce Korean vegetables that help the Koreans in America have a taste of their home.
The film immerses its viewers right at the center of the Yi family. Following each of the characters as they try to adjust to their new lifestyle, how Jacob, optimistically, is trying to get the farm running, while his wife Monica, on the other hand, is wary of what the future would look like. The children, David (played by Alan Kim), and Anne (played by Noel Kate Cho), are made aware of the difference they have in comparison with the people of Arkansas. Anne and David get comments about their features and language. The children also find some of the customs and practices of the residents strange. These details signal that adjusting may take time but it’s not impossible. The Yi family lives in a trailer this tight place allows a closer look at the family dynamic, which becomes even tighter with the arrival of Soonja, Monica’s mother (played by Yuh-Jung Youn). The addition of Soonja adds layers of domestic comedy to this family drama. She becomes a medium in which Anne and David can reconnect with their Korean roots. Soonja introduces them to many Korean foods, games and curses, and in exchange, the kids are her guide to the American culture.
Minari is set to tell the story of what the American Dream looks like. The warm tones of the movie, the complex dialogue between the characters, the family interaction with their neighbors and one another are all part of this intimate story Director Lee is telling. Soonja plants Minari, a green vegetable that grows in a creek bed, near the family farm. It not only grows but flourishes, drawing a metaphor on how the Yi’s will also flourish in this new territory. Minari has earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Filled with amazing acting, a roller coaster of emotions, exposition of the family dynamic, Minari redefines what flourish means.
Sound of Metal
Director: Darius Marder
Writers: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric, Lauren Ridloff
Running Time: 2 hrs.
Genres: Drama, Music
Sound of Metal is a movie in which its viewers use Ruben’s ears (played by Riz Ahmed) to navigate the complexity of the story. The intricate sound design allows full immersion into Ruben’s world. The raw portrayal of emotions, and the emotional and psychological impact a health crisis has on a person’s life, forcing someone to grow and adapt to their new reality, are all themes which make the Sound of Metal a heart-wrenching story, and a ballad between noise and silence.
Ruben is a former heroin addict who now uses punk metal as a substitute. He and his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke) are in a band where he is the drummer. This high rush of adrenaline is what has kept him sober, alongside his girlfriend. Both Ruben and Lou depend on each other, playing the role of each other’s anchor. The opening scene is a full blow of punk metal, and Ruben giving his heart and soul to his performance. The next morning, while the audience is given a glimpse of Ruben’s morning routine, his world goes silent. The viewers also notice the shift as they barely hear the echo of the music in the background. He goes to the doctor, where he is told he has lost his hearing on both ears. Ruben’s world seems to crumble, yet he quickly looks for a solution to his problem. However, Lou is concerned with Ruben’s situation and takes him to a remote commune for former deaf addicts. Joe, (played by Paul Raci), is the leader of the community and takes being deaf as an identity rather than a problem, something Ruben strongly disagrees with. At his early stages, Ruben is anxious to fix his deafness. Ahmed plays his character Ruben with urgency and distress, which leads the audience to feel Ruben’s desperation. As time progresses, his pacing starts to slow down, Ruben learns sign languages and is spending more time with the deaf community. Yet, he hasn’t fully accepted his situation, he is still eager to get back to his old life. The movie suggests on many occasions that Ruben’s salvation lays in his acceptance, but he never yields to it. He gets his old life, but it isn’t back to normal. The ending is flooded with the overwhelming feeling of Ruben getting his hearing back. A new reality he has to adapt to, but it quickly becomes too much for him to bear, leading him to let the silence drown him.
Sound of Metal sound editing is key for the movie’s storyline. It is brilliantly structured so that the viewers can empathize with Ruben’s journey, adding a more intimate feeling to Riz Ahmed’s extraordinary performance. With six Academy Award nominations in Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound, “Sound of Metal” explores a unique way of immersing its audience in the story.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Director: George C. Wolfe
Writer: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts
Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.
Genres: Biography, Drama, Musical
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom represents a crucial addition to Netflix’s repertoire. It is a movie of great social and cultural importance, as it addresses the struggles of the black community back in the 1920s that, unfortunately, persist in contemporary society. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a strong Kairos; for instance, the picture gains even more value in the context of the fights brought forward by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is part of a bigger project started by actor Denzel Washington. His goal is to produce films based on plays written by August Wilson, one of the most famous African American playwrights. Washington plans on bringing to life a total of 10 plays, that are all part of Wilson’s so-called Century Cycle. This cycle of plays covers the history of African Americans throughout every decade of the 20th century. Washington started the project in 2016 by directing and starring in Fences, set in the 1950s. The actor follows up on his project this year producing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, set in the 1920s. Next on the agenda is an adaptation of The Piano Lesson, a play set in the 1930s, for which Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990.
I am very excited about the upcoming adaptations as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was truly a gem. The movie allows the audience to take a look into the lives of “the Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, and her band. The film unravels in the span of a day inside a recording studio in Chicago, where Ma Rainey and her band need to record some songs for a new album. Right from the beginning we get the idea of who our characters are. Ma Rainey, who shows up very late, is somewhat of a diva. She is very demanding and knows what to do to get what she wants. In the band, instead, we find Levee, a young man with big dreams and a hurtful past. Overall, two strong and intriguing personalities destined to clash.
Through amusing music, polished scenography and spot-on makeup and costumes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an accurate representation of the 1920s. Not by chance, the movie has been nominated at the Oscars for Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Costumes. However, the strong suit of the movie lies in the outstanding cast. In the role of Ma Rainey, Viola Davis was able to give us another amazing performance, which earned her a nomination for Best Actress. Also, Chadwick Boseman playing Levee was nominated as Best Actor. Many believe that Boseman is going to win the Oscar because of his sudden death weeks after finishing the takes for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Even though this dramatic event might influence the Academy’s decision, Boseman’s win for Best Actor would be more than well-earned, as he was remarkably a pleasure to watch as Levee.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a relevant movie in the cinematographic landscape. It presents the problem of racism in an unvarnished and honest way. It might make one uncomfortable from time to time because of the truth behind the characters’ words. No matter how harsh, its message is so crucial that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom deserves to be seen.
One Night in Miami…
Director: Regina King
Writer: Kemp Powers
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Genres: Biography, Drama
Actress Regina King debuts as director with One Night in Miami… and definitely leaves an impression on the audience. The movie, available on Amazon Prime Video, is based on a staged play written by Kemp Powers inspired by true events that takes place in just one night in Miami. At first, it seems to be a normal day in the life of four men, but, slowly, One night in Miami… turns out to be the key to get into the room where the revolution happened.
It is February 25, 1964. Boxer Cassius Clay, who will later be known as Muhammed Ali, meets on the ring with champion Sonny Liston. Despite everybody’s expectations, Clay is able to win the title, which represents a high point in his career. After the match, he meets up with some of his friends in a hotel room to celebrate his victory. What was meant to be a very light night spent among friends, becomes a meeting of strong value and difficult talks. For instance, Clay spends the night with other celebrities Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcom X. These four men played a fundamental role in the 1960s, as they all had an impact on the way the black community was perceived in the USA. Throughout the night, Clay, Brown, Cooke, and Malcom X find themselves discussing their pivoting positions in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, showcasing their accomplishments, and arguing about which one of them is actually having the greatest influence.
Being set mainly in a room, One night in Miami… could have faced the risk of becoming monotonous. However, the though-provoking dialogues are so well-developed that the movie never becomes a weight for the audience. The interaction between the characters leads to interesting reflections about racism in the United States that are as relevant now as they were then. For this reason, I am very content with the nomination of One night in Miami… for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie also received another nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the performance of Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. I believe the actor did an amazing job in this role; he captured my attention from the first appearance and rightly deserves this nomination. However, I was not as pleased with the performance of Eli Goree as Cassius Clay; for instance, his character fell low for me compared to the other ones, which, at times, ruined the whole atmosphere of the movie. Regardless of this little hiccup, One night in Miami is a stunning movie that I would advise everyone to watch.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jack Fincher
Stars: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey
Running Time: 2 hrs. 11 min.
Genres: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Available on Netflix since last December, Mank is a movie directed by David Fincher with a long story behind. The screenplay was first written by Jack Fincher, David’s father, back in the 1990s. Unfortunately, though, Jack was never able to find somebody who would have produced the picture in black and white as he wanted it to be. Three decades later, his son David decided to dive in this forgotten project and to bring it to life.
The movie is set between the 1930s and the 1940s and deals with the real story of Mank, short for renown screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, played by already Oscar winner Gary Oldman. Hollywood’s Golden Age is portrayed through flashbacks of Mank’s career that is slowly deteriorating because of his abusive relationship with alcohol and his arrogant ways with people in the film production environment. While we follow his past life, the audience also gets a peek into Mank’s work as a screenwriter. For instance, he has been appointed to write a grand screenplay in a very short amount of time. Despite the challenges that Mank has to face during the writing process, he is able to come up with one of his best works that will then become the notorious movie Citizen Kane.
Mank seems to be the Academy’s favorite for this year’s Oscars. As a matter of fact, the picture has been nominated for a total of 10 categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Actor for the performance of Gary Oldman as Mank. Despite the Academy’s appreciation, the movie doesn’t seem to have impressed the audience very much. On the contrary, Mank has received an overall negative feedback, with which I associate myself. For instance, even though Mank is very strong on the technical aspects of cinema, it is very underwhelming when it comes to the story itself. The biggest issue of the movie is, ironically, the screenplay itself, which is, in poor words, very boring. I have to admit that, not even after half an hour, I wanted to quit watching it because it didn’t seem to lead anywhere. The dialogues are not well written and a little confusing; in fact, I finished Mank not quite sure what the movie was really about.
Mank is not a movie for everyone. It could be considered a picture with a cinematographic depth that cannot be appreciated by everyone. However, I believe that somebody fascinated with Old Hollywood and willing to miss on an intriguing plot, might enjoy Mank especially because of its costumes and cinematography. This said, I don’t think that the movie deserved to be nominated for so many categories and, if Mank won for Best Picture, it would be very unfair considering the other candidates.
Directors: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Genres: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Music
Soul is Pixar’s new animated movie which dives into questions that many have wondered. What is my purpose? Where do we come from? Where do we go after we die? What is the meaning of life? Following its predecessor Coco into touching after-life topics, and Inside Out in portraying human emotions in an animated comical way, Soul tries to answer these questions.
The protagonist Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx, is a middle school music teacher, and Jazz piano player. Joe has spent his life following his dream of being a recognized piano player, and when he is about to achieve it, he dies.
His soul is transported to the Great Before, where he is in denial, and does everything in his power to go back to his body which is in a sewer in New York City. Joe is not going to let his opportunity of success pass, and his salvation comes in the form of 22: a soul who has not found her spark. 22 badge is Joe’s ticket back to earth. 22 and Joe have a rough start but start bounding throughout the film. As 22 tries to find her sparks, Joe starts looking back at his life, which now is filled with regret. He spent all his life yearning for the future and stuck in his world that he forgot to live the present. He failed to appreciate every little moment of life.
Soul takes place in New York, a city filled with life in every corner. The atmosphere is dynamic following the flow of the jazz music that emanates from every corner. Presenting a diverse animation, with most of the characters being BIPOC, Soul portrays the richness of jazz music through its Academy Award-nominated Score. While Pixar is known for exploring topics about life and our role in society, there is deeper sentiment in Soul. Joe Gardner is a character that many can relate to. The pursuit of dreams can take a toll on the dreamer’s perspective of reality. Where the only thing that matters is reaching it. No matter what is lost and sacrificed to attain it. While some may have already found their spark, others struggle to find the meaning. 22 represents those who are stuck in an internal conflict about their purpose. But Soul offers a new perspective on what should be a person’s take on life. With Academy Award nominations in Best Sound, Best Original Score, and Best Animated Feature, Soul tries to uncover the meaning of life through animation and music.
If anything happens I love you
Director: Will McCormack, Michael Govier
Writers: Will McCormack, Michael Govier
Running Time: 12 min.
Nominated for Best Animated Short, If anything happens I love you is a short movie released by Netflix that, in only 12 minutes, it is able to impact its viewers. The short movie, written and directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, is an exceptional representation of an emotion that, unfortunately, many of us have had to face: grief.
The short movie doesn’t only focus on grief, but also addresses a current issue that has caused too much pain in the USA: school shootings. For instance, the audience comes to understand later in the short that the daughter had died in a school shooting soon after she had sent a text to her parents saying: “If anything happens I love you.” This particular moment results heartbreaking because of the simplicity and the truth of those words that have been used by actual students involved in school shootings.
The short movie sheds light on issues that have been protagonists of our lives for far too long. Despite the general melancholic atmosphere, the short also provides a sign of hope. Even though the loss of a child is devastating, by staying together, it is possible to find some peace.
Through the use of black and white and an essential design, the short movie shows the naked vulnerability of two parents who are forced to deal with the loss of their young daughter. The picture doesn’t rely on words, which helps to convey even more what mourning feels like. The two parents are not able to communicate with one another, as they are stuck in a limbo of whys and sorrow. However, their deeper emotions are expressed thanks to their shadows that interact with one another throughout the whole short.
The 2021 Academy Awards marks a year of adjusting to a new reality. A reality in which creative creators fight for a more diverse and inclusive film industry. A reality in which going to the movie theaters has converted to streaming a movie. This year’s nominees represent the first step of a long fight. For the first time in the Academy Award history, there are two female directors nominated for Best Director. Emerald Fennell director of “Promising Young Women” and Chloé Zhao director of “Nomadland” are strong contenders, with films that portray humanity and emotions in an intimate and personal way. Many speculate that for the first time BIPOC will take all the acting categories. With Chadwick Boseman, nominated for Best Actor, Andra Day, nominated for Best Actress, Daniel Kaluuya, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Yuh-Jung Youn, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, all strong contenders for their respective categories.
The 2021 Oscars will go down in history as one that has marked a precedent and a beginning for a more progressive film industry.