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Oscars 2021 nominations: The brilliant, the hopeful and the ordinary

I do hope that we are treated to the spectacle of the awards show like every other year.

March 16, 2021 / 12:40 PM IST

So, Oscars 2021 nominations are up - a list of the best of the best that deserve uncle Oscar. Blame the delay on the pandemic, and the decency of the Academy who wanted to accommodate everyone who could have otherwise released their movies in the theaters. And that includes the releases on OTT platforms.

“As long as you were going to release them theatrically,” they said, forgetting the huge and sometimes ugly debate about why movies should only be watched on the big screen. Collective memories are short that way. The announcement of the nominations was live streamed, but I do hope that we are treated to the spectacle of the awards show like every other year.

Thankfully, Mank (it’s on Netflix, watch it now!) gets a well deserved Best Picture nomination. But, there are mind blowing contenders in this category.

Appreciating Mank is like appreciating the best whiskey in the world. You need to sigh into cinema, tasting the joy and wit of writing for films. The film is so sharp you have to watch it twice to enjoy it. And, as someone on social media recommended, watch Mank, then Citizen Kane and then come back to Mank again. That is the best advice ever!


Minari is the story of a Korean family who want to live the American dream. It is worth all the effort you can make - including pleading your kids to help find an uninterrupted stream - to watch the film. Minari is Korean dropweed, and it is not just the story of their struggle of growing it that is important, but the relationships between grandma and grandson, husband and wife and then the community... Where do they find such brilliant actors?

Watching The Father was difficult because I found shades of my own dad in the film. As always Anthony Hopkins just shines bright. Every facial expression will make you believe that cinema does not always have to be a comic book spectacle.

Sound Of Metal gets a deserved nomination for the Best Picture. It is on Amazon Prime, and it is jaw-droppingly good. It is as intense as a drum solo you heard in Whiplash (yes, they’re connected) you have watched. Riz Ahmed (cannot wait for everyone to say "he’s Indian" the moment he wins...).

Nomadland stars Frances McDormand who is everyone’s favourite and has received rave reviews everywhere, as has the film Promising Young Woman and Judas And The Black Messiah.

I was heartened to see The Trial Of Chicago 7 make it to this list. This movie is quite well written, but the context is important. For us in India, there are some parallels that will astonish, and realisation that politics everywhere is just as dirty.

I am rooting for David Fincher to win the Best Director for Mank, but the contenders' list is beyond brilliant. There is Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round, Lee Isaac Chung for Minari (and I won’t argue if he wins!), Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.

The choice for the Best Actor in a leading role (male) is far more difficult. Riz Ahmed is a drummer in Sound of Metal, who is suffering from hearing loss, Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is so good as a foil to the brilliant Viola Davis (who gets nominated as the Best Actor Female) you will watch it even if you know nothing about soul and jazz music. It plays on Netflix now! Steven Yeun gets to be the first ever Asian-American to be nominated for this award and his gentleness on screen will win your heart when you watch Minari. Anthony Hopkins being nominated for his role in The Father is not a surprise, and Gary Oldman is so good as Mank that you wish they would give all the actors the Oscar this year.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The United States v. Billie Holiday are both on Netflix, and you can watch the inimitable Viola Davis and Andra Day earn their nominations for best leading actors, female. Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman, also on Netflix), Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) are the other fabulous performers vying for the Oscars 2021.

So far so good. But, to see The White Tiger in the Best Adapted screenplay category was a little weird. Adarsh Gaurav, who plays the lead role is a brilliant find. One part of me wants to salute Ramin Bahrani for taking an unreadable book and making an odd yet interesting film out of the book. I hated how the mostly white publishing world went through gushing about Indians writing in English phase, so to see the film being nominated in this category was not such a happy moment. But all the best!

I was surprised to learn that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an adaptation from a book. And the writers list is like an ensemble cast. The Father, Nomadland and One Night in Miami are the other contenders. One Night In Miami is on Netflix. You will be amazed to watch what happens when brilliant actors who play African American leaders with totally diverse political ideologies and agenda meet.

What the nominations and the subsequent award ceremony that has been delayed too does to movie mad folks is easy to understand. Some will roll their eyes at the awards, labeling them American. Others will talk about the awards not being ‘Black’ enough. Some cynical voices will say that Indians are so democratic every film magazine (now websites) gives every actor some award or the other (or they won’t dance on stage or show up for the ceremony).

All I ask for is a chance to watch all these awesome contenders and yes, complain about how they almost always choose awful ‘India based’ content.

Why have not I mentioned Best International film contender? Because I have already awarded it to Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple, and I do not care yet for the other films predictably from Bosnia and Hong Kong, Tunisia…
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
first published: Mar 16, 2021 12:04 pm

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