Oscar Musings 2020 by Prasad Nadhavajhala
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24 April 202
San Francisco

Everything about this year's Oscars, to be telecast on Sunday from Los Angeles, is unusual. Many nominated films were never released in the theaters due to the pandemic and were directly streamed to the living rooms across the world. For the second time in the history, Academy awards will be given for the films released in the last 14 months (Jan 2020 to Feb 2021) instead of a calendar year. Women, Blacks and Persons of color had record Oscar nominations and front-runners in many categories.

Shootings of many big budget movies from major studios were cancelled in 2020 due to the severe Covid conditions and their releases were postponed, some indefinitely. Small indie films, which usually have problems with wide theatrical release, found record streaming hours in their opening week on OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Disney. Audience were hunger for entertainment at home during the lockdown and lapped up quality movies in any language from any part of the world.

Seven movies are in the race for "Best Film" award. Though there are strong contenders like "The Trial of Chicago 7" and "Mank", the award is a lock for "Nomadland". This low-budget film, starring Francis McDormand and some real-life American nomads playing their roles on screen, was written, edited, produced and directed by Chinese-American filmmaker Chloé Zhao. It was indeed a rare achievement for Chloé to be nominated in all the four categories! This was only her second feature film and was based on the non-fiction book "Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century" by American journalist Jessica Bruder. Frames of beautifully shot Western USA (by the cinematographer Joshua James Richard, Chloé's longtime boyfriend) along with subtle and moving background score by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi will stay with the viewers long after watching the film. Joshua James Richard was nominated for Oscar but the music was not qualified since the soundtrack of the film was taken from Einaudi’s earlier albums “Seven Days Walking.”

“Best Actor” race is between Chadwick Boseman ('Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom') and Anthony Hopkins ('The Father'). Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of a man's slow descent into dementia is chilling and may be one of his career-best performances. He would have walked away with the award in an ordinary year. Again, these are unusual times and we lost a great actor Chadwick Boseman in the middle of the pandemic. Everyone watching "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" wondered how Chadwick gave such fantastic portrayal while dying of cancer and none of his co-stars on the set knowing the truth. Academy voters and the audience would love to see Boseman to be presented the award even posthumously.

The most difficult prediction out of all categories this year is "Best Actress". We have four superb performers vying for the award - Viola Davis ('Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'), Andra Day ('The United States vs. Billie Holiday'), Frances McDormand ('Nomadland') and Carey Mulligan ('Promising Young Woman'). Since this is the year of ‘Nomadland’, I will go for Frances McDormand who carried the entire film with very few dialogues.

Another toss up in this year's awards is "Best Supporting Actress" category. All five nominees Glenn Close ('Hillbilly Elegy'), Olivia Colman ('The Father'), Amanda Seyfried ('Mank'), Maria Bakalova ('Borat Subsequent Moviefilm') and Yuh-Jung Youn ('Minari') deserve to win. South Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn, who played the wild grandmother role in 'Minari' is the front-runner but I will go with Glenn Close (another wild grandmother in 'Hillbilly Elegy') who has been nominated eight times in the past without a win.

Everyone loves the works of three-time director nominee David Fincher (‘Seven’, ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Social Network’, ‘Gone Girl’) but he never won the Oscar. He is nominated again this year for “Mank”, an ode to old Hollywood. Actress Emerald Fennell (who played Camilla in Netflix series "The Crown") created a storm with her directorial debut film 'Promising Young Woman', a strange rape revenge drama. Chloé Zhao is the clear favorite to win “Best Director” award for ‘Nomadland’ and will only be the second woman to win this award after Kathryn Bigelow ('The Hurt Locker', 2009).

Writing has been phenomenal this year and there are wonderful screenplay nominations in this category. In “Best Original Screenplay” category, the race is close between Aaron Sorkins ('The Trial of the Chicago 7') and Emerald Fennell ('Promising Young Woman'). Sorkins won Oscar earlier for 'The Social Network' and may try to repeat but the first-time nominee Fennell will walk away with the award for her fresh take on #MeToo revenge saga. “Best Adapted Screenplay” category has the best in the recent times: 'The Father', 'One Night in Miami', 'Nomadland', 'The White Tiger' and 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm'. Both 'The Father' and 'One Night in Miami' were adapted from the stage works while 'Nomadland' and 'The White Tiger' were adapted from the novels. Borat sequel looks odd in this category but nine writers including Sacha Baron Cohen were credited for this comedy. Best Picture 'Nomadland' should carry the "Best Adapted Screenplay" award for Chloé Zhao but this movie is the triumph of improvisations by non-professional nomads. Who can forget the climax scene in the movie where Bob Wells (the elderly real-life nomad and popular vlogger of YouTube channel called CheapRVliving) plays Bob Wells and details his grief to Francis McDormand? "What's remembered lives" and "See you down the road" may be part of film lexicon now but I feel the complex layered structure of 'The Father' will be given the award.

My predictions for Oscar night:
Best Film: 'Nomadland'
Best Director: Chloé Zhao ('Nomadland')
Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman ('Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom')
Best Actress: Frances McDormand (‘Nomadland’)
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya ('Judas and the Black Messiah')
Best Supporting Actress: Glenn Close ('Hillbilly Elegy')
Best Original Screenplay: 'Promising Young Woman'
Best Adapted Screenplay: 'The Father'
Best Animated Feature Film: 'Soul'
Best Documentary Feature: 'My Octopus Teacher'
Best Foreign Film: 'Another Round' (Denmark)
Best Cinematography: Joshua James Richard ('Nomadland')
Best Editing: 'Sound of Metal'
Best Original Score: 'Soul'
Best Original Song: 'Speak Now' ('One Night in Miami')
Best Production Design: 'Mank'
Best Costume Design: 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'
Best Sound: 'Sound of Metal'
Best Visual Effects: 'Tenet'

Prasad Nadhavajhala can be contacted at [email protected]

Past articles:
Oscar musings 2018
Oscar musings 2017

Oscar musings 2016
Oscar musings 2015
Oscar musings 2014
Oscar musings 2013
Oscar musings 2012
Oscar musings 2011
Oscar musings 2010
Oscar musings 2009


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