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March/April 2021

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OSCAR CONTENDERS 15 POST MAR/APR 2021 T he 93rd Academy Awards are almost here, and the nominations are in. Of course, there are the usual shocks and surprises — no Best Director nom for Aaron Sorkin's stellar work on The Trial of the Chicago 7? No Best Director nod for Regina King's impressive work on the critical- ly-acclaimed One Night in Miami…? No Best Picture nom for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy, and a PGA nomination)? No Ma Rainey's Black Bottom or Da 5 Bloods? No Zoom acceptance speeches in PJs? But no shock remotely compares to the real-life disaster movie we've all lived through thanks to a microscopic virus, which has upturned everyone's lives and also wreaked havoc on the biggest movie celebration of the year (which takes place far later this year, on April 25 th , after a two-month extended voting period) and utterly devastated the film business over the past year. One glaring result is that all the usual spring and summer blockbuster studio releases simply never happened. And the few that did finally limp onto the big screen — like Tenet — underperformed, as frightened audiences stayed home and instead streamed movies from the safety of their couches (subscribers are now officially 1.1 billion and growing). With traditional studio releases a thing of the past for now — at least in 2020 — it seemed like the door was left wide open for the streamers to rush in and take the Oscars by storm. And charge in they did, led by Netflix, which scored the most nominations — a stunning 35, beating its own previous record of 24 it set in 2020. The streaming giant racked up 10 nominations for David Fincher's Mank, another six for The Trial of the Chicago 7, and noms for the animated feature Over the Moon, Pieces of a Woman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The White Tiger and Crip Camp, a documentary from the Obamas' company Higher Ground, which has a deal with Netflix to produce films and television shows. Amazon Studios also scored its highest-ever Oscar nom tally — 12, includ- ing six for Sound of Metal (which also scored a surprise Best Picture nod), and nominations for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and One Night in Miami… Even streaming newcomers to the Oscars got some love. Apple, which only joined the film business a little over a year ago, earned its first nominations — a best animated feature nod for Wolfwalkers and best sound nod for Greyhound. Disney+, which launched in 2019, also scored its first noms — for Mulan, The One and Only Ivan, Onward and Soul, and the acclaimed Nomadland, which was produced by Disney-owned Searchlight, and which is currently streaming on Hulu, scored six noms, including ones for top prizes Best Picture and Best Director. Hulu also won a nomination for Andra Day's star turn in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. The irony of all this is that a lot of these streamer success stories began with the traditional studios; the Tom Hanks World War 11 naval thriller Greyhound was a Sony film that morphed into an Apple Original film; Borat 2 was orig- inally a Universal release; and The Trial of the Chicago 7 was scheduled for a Paramount release. But when the pandemic radically altered the normal distri- bution landscape, the streamers were able to take advantage of the situation and reshape the industry — and the awards season. With all that in mind, we now present our annual look at some of the nominees. B E ST P I C T U R E / B E ST D I R EC TO R What a difference a year makes; this time last year, the global Hollywood studio blockbuster Joker and such Oscar-worthy and high-profile prestige projects as The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917 and Little Women had been nominated as Best Picture contenders. But COVID-19 and shuttered the- aters changed all that, and this year's list for the top prize reads more like the entries of some small festival celebration of low-budget indie movies: Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7. But that sea change has also helped spearhead some long overdue changes to Oscar, making this year's Best Picture contenders the driver behind the Academy's arrival at an historical diversity milestone, both in acting and directing. Nine actors of color earned noms (a far cry from 2016, when Oscar once again celebrated an all-white list of nominees). Minari's Steven Yeun is the first Asian/American to be nominated in the Best Actor category, Sound of Metal's Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim lead actor nominee ever, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom star, the late Chadwick Boseman, is the first Black posthumous acting nominee. And even more strikingly, two women were nominated for Best Director — Chloé Zhao (for Nomadland) and first-time director Emerald Fennell (for Promising Young Woman), who joined Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and David Fincher (Mank). How historic is it? It's the first time that more than one woman has been nominated for Best Director in the Oscars' 93-year history, Zhao is the first woman of color to be nominated for directing and the first woman to receive four nominations in a single year, and Fennell becomes only the third woman with three nominations in a single year. The surprises also spilled over into their male counterparts. When American/ Korean director/writer/producer Lee Isaac Chung (see my interview with him at debuted his semi-autobiographical drama Minari at Sundance last year, it won the audience and grand jury prizes, and immedi- ately emerged as a front-runner in the awards season. Even so, for a director with barely any name recognition outside the festival circuit, it's a real coup for Chung to make the cut. And while Danish director (and Dogme 95 co-found- er) Thomas Vinterberg, nominated for his acclaimed comedy-drama Another Round, may be a more familiar name to the Academy — his 2012 film The Hunt won an Oscar nom for Best Foreign Film — he still surprised many insiders by beating out more high-profile names, including Aaron Sorkin. History was also made when the first all-Black producing team of director Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah scored a nomination for Best Picture, as well as four more, including supporting actor nods for Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. The searing political drama, a Warner Bros. limited release running on HBO Max, also earned a nom for director of photography Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, Widows), and the behind-the-scenes creative team that included editor Kristan Sprague (Random Acts of Flyness), supervising sound editor Rich Bologna (The Hunt, Marriage Story) and Oscar-winning re-re- cording mixer Skip Lievsay (Roma, Gravity). Post was all done at Company 3 in New York, except for the sound, "which we did at the Warner stage in New York," reports King. "I love every part of post, especially as it's your final rewrite and you get to cherry pick the best moments from the shoot, and you get to try stuff you'd never have thought of at the moment, and reshape everything from the overall narrative to a tiny moment in a scene." The main editing challenges? "The pandemic, as we had to do it remotely after the first cut," he adds. "Same with all the music. We had to work remotely, and we recorded at Oscar Contenders Streaming platforms see strong representation as a result of the pandemic BY IAIN BLAIR

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