A Guide to the Academy’s 2021 Best Picture Nominees

In the pandemic-encompassed year of 2020, there’s no doubt that the film industry faced unprecedented challenges during every step of the movie-making process. However, it seems that the resilience of these filmmakers ultimately claimed victory, since the candidates for the Oscars’ Best Picture category did not falter against the usual high-quality standards. This year, the Academy is hosting the Oscars on Sunday, April 25. After the announcement of the full list of nominees, Hollywood critics have busied themselves with the responsibility to compare the nominees and pitch their predictions. Now, let’s take a closer look at the qualifications of each of the eight 2021 Best Picture nominees. (Content warning: mentions of sexual assault.)

The Father”
With a whopping 100 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Father” explores the relationship between a daughter (Olivia Colman) and her aging father, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), whose early-stage dementia takes over his mind and shrouds his world with confusion and skepticism. As Anthony’s reality and fabrication grow into a boundaryless blur, the story dives into the reflection of identity and coping with grief. Directed by Florian Zeller, this movie of connection and alienation boasts nominations in six categories at the Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, and Best Picture. Although Hopkins’ and Colman’s stellar performances amplified every aspect of the film, critics predict that this film is placed at a disadvantage since it is not as flashy as the usual Best Picture winners.

Set in the 1930-40s, “Mank” follows the journey of a screenwriter struggling with alcoholism, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he races to finish the screenplay of “Citizen Kane” within a ticking 90-day deadline. In this movie, Mankiewicz (also known as Mank) traverses down his memory lane as flashbacks of years prior become interwoven into the screenplay of one of the greatest movies of all time. Directed by David Fincher, whose films have received forty Oscar nominations collectively, “Mank” topped this year’s list as the release that received the most Oscar nominations with a stunning ten total. With reminiscent Old Hollywood-styled cinematography and competency in nearly all categories, many critics deem “Mank” a major competitor for the Best Picture trophy. However, since the Academy recently freshened up its voters with younger generations, the real question becomes—is Old Hollywood’s influence powerful enough to stir appreciation from this new crowd?

In the pursuit of the American Dream, Jacob (Steven Yeun) moves his wife (Yeri Han) and kids (Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho) from Korea to California, and they later relocate to rural Arkansas. Intertwined with the challenge of growing Korean fruits and vegetables on their new fifty-acre farm, the relationship between Jacob and his wife, Monica, spirals into daily bickering. This family themed drama that explores cultural identity and generational anguish is directed by Lee Isaac Chung, and has already won Best Motion Picture (Foreign Language) at the Golden Globes. Produced by the same companies as previous Oscar Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” “Minari” does indeed share many similarities with its predecessor. Pegged as one of the best movies of the season by Hollywood critics, is possible that history will repeat itself? If it does get bestowed the Best Picture title, “Minari” will follow in the history-shattering footsteps of “Parasite” and become the second Korean-language film to take home the trophy.

The story of “Nomadland” follows the journey of Fern (Frances McDormand) while she navigates through her bleak economic future as a nomad after losing her job. Left with nothing but memories, Fern adapts to a life on the road, and meets fellow modern day nomads who suffered from the 2008 financial collapse. This beautiful naturalistic filmmaking that portrays a woman from an intimate humanist perspective is the third feature film by Chinese director Chloé Zhao. Given the success of similar film “Searchlight” in the Best Picture category, “Nomadland” seems to be the frontrunner amongst this year’s nominees. Besides, it recently won the top prize at the Producers Guild Award (P.G.A.), which critics usually regard as a reliable prediction for the Oscars, so keep an eye on this masterpiece on Oscar night.

“Promising Young Woman”
After the sexual assault of her best friend, the life of a promising med school student, Cassie, spirals into confusion and chaos as she drops out of med school. Hoping to teach men a lesson, Cassie spends her nights pretending to be drunk at the bar, until one day, she comes face to face with the choice of avenging the bitter past or having a potentially happy future. Directed by Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” is considered a strong candidate, having earned numerous nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, P.G.A.s, and the Golden Globes. However, according to film critics, it seems unlikely that this movie will claim Best Picture at the Oscars, since it didn’t make it to the list of likely nominations on various critic review websites.

“Sound of Metal”
This innovative film intimately portrays the life of punk-metal drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), as he begins to experience hearing loss during his adrenaline fueled one night gigs. Although he is welcomed into a community at a secluded sober house, he faces the dilemma of choosing between adapting to his new conditions or escaping back to his former lifestyle. Directed by Darius Marder, the sound effects throughout this film utilize innovative sound techniques, making it likely to win in the Best Sound category (the Academy recently combined Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into one category). Although most critics are not expecting “The Sound of Metal” to win in the Best Picture category, none can deny that the leading actors’ strong performances are likely to sweep several acting awards.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Based on the initially-peaceful-protest-turned-violent-clash at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” depicts the worlds of the seven accused ringleaders of the protest while featuring glimpses of their court trials. The second directorial effort of Aaron Sorkin, the plot of this film echoes that of our current society as the world and justice systems come under the spotlight of partiality and the power of protest. Led by terrific performances by the entire ensemble, critics believe the topic of this film might be just right for the Academy’s taste. Although it didn’t earn a Best Director nomination at the Oscars like most of its fellow nominees, keep in mind that “Green Book” and “Argo” both recently grabbed the Best Picture title without Best Director nominations.

Judas and the Black Messiah”

Revolving around the Black revolutionary organization, the Black Panther Party, “Judas and the Black Messiah” depicts the dilemma of undercover F.B.I. informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who was tasked with keeping tabs on a Party leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Falling too deep into the game, O’Neal has to decide if he should align with the Panthers’ forces for good, or obey his superior’s commands and subdue Hampton and his Party. Critics believe that the Academy’s decision to nominate two supporting actors from this production indicates their favorable response to the film. Already breaking the record for being the first film produced by all Black producers, it looks like there may be even more trailblazer moments on the horizon if the film takes home the Best Picture trophy.