Oscar Contenders in a year without Cinema

Carey Mulligan –

David Prendeville

The 93rd Academy Awards Ceremony will take place in the early hours of Monday the 26th of April. It will likely be the strangest ceremony in its long history, given that there will be no in-person attendance. It will also finally bring to an end an especially long awards campaign for all the films and film-makers involved.
While many predicted that this truncated year for cinema would give the Academy the opportunity, or rather force them, to recognise smaller, more interesting works, the final list of nominees announced on March 15th, hardly represent anything radical. David Fincher’s Mank leads the way with ten nominations. The Netflix production ticks plenty of Oscar boxes – previous winner (Gary Oldman), playing a real-life person (Herman J. Manckiewicz), in a period film about Hollywood, directed by a previous nominee (Fincher). The film’s tepid reviews though may have harmed its chances of nabbing any of the big awards on the night. The hot favourite for Best Picture is Chloe Zhao’s acclaimed drama Nomadland. The film follows a woman, who after the closure of her business during the great recession, takes to the road as a modern-day nomad. It has been seen as the favourite for some time now. The other films nominated for Best Picture are: The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal and The Trial of the Chicago 7
Zhao is also seen as the favourite to nab Best Director. Zhao and Fincher will compete against Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) for the big prize there. Up until recently, Nomadland’s star Frances McDormand was seen as a shoo-in for Best Actress, though she now faces stiff competition from Carey Mulligan for her turn in Emerald Fennell’s black comedy Promising Young Woman. McDormand is Oscars royalty, having previously won Best Actress for Fargo in 1996 and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri in 2017. However, the momentum at the moment seems to be with Mulligan’s searing turn as a woman out to seek vengeance for a tragic event in her past. Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Andra Day (The United States Vs. Billie Holiday) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) make up the other contenders in the Best Actress category.
In the Best Actor role the frontrunner is the late Chadwick Boseman, who tragically died at the age of 43 last year. His final film role in George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has received universal praise. The other nominees here are made up of Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Gary Oldman (Mank), and Steven Yeun (Minari). Of those, perhaps Ahmed would be the one most likely to provide an upset, but it remains unlikely. Best Supporting Actor also seems to be fairly solidly cemented with Daniel Kaluuya the overwhelming favourite for his turn as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers, in the hugely acclaimed Judas and the Black Messiah. He faces off against his own co-star in the same film, Lakeith Stanfield, along with Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami) and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal).
The standout surprise nomination of the year is, undoubtedly, Maria Bakalova’s nod for Best Supporting Actress for her turn as Borat’s beleaguered daughter in the belated Borat sequel Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm. The film, while a decidedly mixed bag, will be remembered for that infamous scene that finds Rudy Giuliani in a rather compromising position opposite the excellent Bakalova. It is terrific to see the Academy recognise comedy, something they rarely do. It would be great to see them go one further now, and actually give Bakalova the prize. She faces competition from Olivia Colman (The Father), Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Amanda Seyfried (Mank), Youn-Yuh Jung (Minari).
In terms of Irish interest, the big news was that Kilkenny based animation company Cartoon Saloon nabbed a nomination for Best Animated Film for their hugely acclaimed Wolfwalkers. The film is directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart. This is the third time the animation company has received an Oscar nomination in this category. They previously got the nod for The Secret of Kells in 2009, Song of the Sea in 2015 and The Breadwinner in 2018. They also received a nomination for Best Animated Short for the film Late Afternoon in 2019.
The most disappointing aspect of this year’s nominations is the lack of recognition for Kelly Reichardt and Charlie Kaufman for their work on First Cow and I’m Thinking of Ending Things, respectively. Reichardt has established herself as one of the key modern American film-makers. Her quiet, meditative films would usually be seen as far too close to the arthouse to really figure in academy minds. If ever there was a year to change that, this was the year. Kaufman has received Academy love before, even winning Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, since he started directing his own scripts and became the scourge of Mark Kermode, he’s moved into ever more idiosyncratic and decidedly less Oscar-friendly territory. It’s also terribly disappointing to see Irish actress Jessie Buckley not receive any recognition for her towering central performance in Kaufman’s film.