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Wednesday February 1st

Column: The surprises and snubs of this year’s Oscar nominations

Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' on Netflix. Photo courtesy of David Lee/Netflix.
Buy Photos Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' on Netflix. Photo courtesy of David Lee/Netflix.

Despite a tumultuous year for the film industry in 2020, Monday’s Oscar nominations showed us that the year brought some exemplary movies. As always, these nominees had plenty of pleasant surprises among them, as well as many deserving films and performances unfortunately left out.

This year’s Best Picture slate is particularly strong, including Chloé Zhao’s brilliant “Nomadland,” the apparent frontrunner after wins at the Golden Globes and at fall film festivals. Leading the pack in nominations is David Fincher’s “Mank,” scoring 10 nods.

However, a few notable films were unable to secure a nomination. One of these films is Regina King’s engaging historical drama “One Night in Miami...,” which I expected to gain a spot among the nominees after critical acclaim and nominations for other awards. 

Also snubbed was George C. Wolfe’s August Wilson adaptation, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” While the film’s stars, Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis, received nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively, the acclaimed drama was not nominated for Best Picture. However, I predict that Chadwick Boseman’s electrifying final performance will win the Best Actor prize after other award wins.

One excellent film that was shut out entirely is Eliza Hittman’s personal independent drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” I had an inkling of hope that the Academy would recognize the screenplay of this moving and urgent portrait of young women in America, but this was not the case.

In the category of Best Supporting Actor, the young Alan Kim, who gave an impressive performance in “Minari,” was not nominated. However, the category is filled with excellent performances, including Daniel Kaluuya’s terrific role in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” my current pick to take home the prize. I was pleasantly surprised to see Paul Raci’s empathetic turn in “Sound of Metal” receive a nomination.

One particular point of confusion and surprise in this category is the categorization of both LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya as supporting actors in “Judas,” which leaves me wondering whom the Academy considered the leading actor in the film. Warner Brothers campaigned for Stanfield as the lead, but the Oscars placed him in the supporting category.

Despite some snubs and unusual choices, one good aspect of this year’s nominations is that the Academy included more representation of women and BIPOC individuals than in previous years. Steven Yeun of “Minari” became the first-ever Asian American actor to receive a Best Actor nomination. 

Other nominees of Asian descent include Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed from “Sound of Metal,” Best Supporting Actress nominee Youn Yuh-jung from “Minari,” and Best Director nominees Chloé Zhao and Lee Isaac Chung, who directed “Nomadland” and “Minari,” respectively.

Zhao’s and “Promising Young Woman” director Emerald Fennell’s nominations for Best Director constitute the first time in Oscar history that the Academy has nominated two women for this category in the same year.

Multiple Black actors were nominated this year as well, including the aforementioned Kaluuya, Stanfield, Boseman and Davis, in addition to Leslie Odom Jr., who appeared in a supporting role in “One Night in Miami,” and Andra Day, whose leading performance in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” was nominated.

While the film industry has a long way to go before achieving equity, the Academy’s steps in the right direction in this year’s nominations are commendable.

With more precursor awards shows left before Oscar night, the races are still in contention. However, I see frontrunners beginning to rise, including Boseman in “Ma Rainey” and Carey Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman.”

While the Academy Award nominations can often be frustrating, I was pleased to see many of the best films of the last year, including “Nomadland,” “Sound of Metal,” “Minari” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” get nominated in several notable categories. 

After Monday’s announcement, I feel that the Oscars have largely represented the best films from a strong, if strange, year for cinema.


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