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The 2021 Oscars Nominations: How to Conduct an Awards Ceremony in a Pandemic

Illustration by Ben Beechener

The 93rd Academy Awards promises to be a unique event in the almost 100-year history of one of the world’s most prestigious annual awards ceremonies. By the time we reach the day of the 2021 Oscars – the 25th April – 14 months will have elapsed since the last ceremony, two months longer than the usual 12 month period. This extension was agreed upon last June in order to mitigate against the delays the pandemic has already and continues to bring to film production and release. Despite this, many films due to be released in the last year have still remained out of the box office, including the latest James Bond instalment No Time to Die, Villeneuve’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune, and Spielberg’s latest creation, a new movie version of the musical West Side Story. Not only has COVID-19 delayed the ceremony by two months and forced the eligibility window to be extended, but adjustments have also had to be made to the nomination criteria. In a typical year, movies must have had a one-week theatrical release in either New York or Los Angeles to be eligible, but in April of 2020 the Academy adjusted the rules such that films premiering on streaming services could be nominated, providing they had originally planned to open in theatres. Whilst this decision does seem to mostly benefit big budget releases that were due to receive mass success at the box office, it overall makes a lot of sense given the uncertain nature of the last year for the film industry. The sustained impact of the now year-old pandemic also means that the ceremony itself has been disrupted, though the team running the Oscars broadcast have announced that it will not follow the likes of the 2021 Golden Globes which was conducted over Zoom. Instead, the ceremony will take place on an outdoor set, with all nominees either present or absent by choice, but not calling in remotely. Other than this, the 2021 Oscars remains typically shrouded in secrecy, with the mechanics only really being revealed to the public when the ceremony itself unfolds. 

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were announced on the 15th of March by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas. Mank (available on Netflix) leads the total nominations with 10, followed by The Father with 6 – a film not due for a UK release until June. A few films remain interestingly absent from the list – Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami earned just 3 nominations, including an omission of a Best Director nomination, and Spike Lee’s latest feature Da 5 Bloods leaves with just 1 nomination for Best Score. With the rise of online streaming services producing original features, an increasingly important statistic comes in the form of nominations by studio. Netflix leads by a mile having amassed 35 nominations this year, followed by Amazon with 12, Disney and Warner Bros. both on 8, and Focus Features on 7. 

Only 8 films have received Best Picture nominations this year (the maximum possible is currently 10) – The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. The slate this year is fairly diverse, though there is nothing massively unexpected or radical, particularly with the presence of Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7 as the old-school Oscars picks. Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) is probably the favourite, a win that would cause Netflix to yet again narrowly miss out on a Best Picture award. The main competitor would possibly be Minari, depending on its predicted ensemble win at the SAG awards next week, or one of the old-school picks mentioned previously. The presence of the highly-praised Wolfwalkers, by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, in the Best Animated Feature category could prove to be a problem for Disney’s continued domination of this category, despite both Onward and Soul also being present. A win from any one of these three could be expected. 

As a big film music fan, the Best Score category is always of particular interest, and this year’s unrecognition of Ludwig Göransson’s Tenet score has caused some outrage (especially on Twitter). Christopher Nolan’s long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer declined the Tenet project as he had committed himself to Villeneuve’s Dune, resulting in Göransson’s acquisition. Despite some criticism levelled at the overwhelming volume of Tenet’s soundtrack, its absence from the list remains somewhat surprising. The double nomination for duo Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor is good to see and a win for Soul is expected given the soundtrack has already swept the category this season. However, I would also love to see a win for newcomer Emile Mosseri (member of the indie-rock band The Dig!) and his nomination for the brilliant soundtrack of Minari.

As far as individual awards go, this year we have seen many of the first time instances we should have been getting years ago. Steven Yeun (Minari) has become the first Asian-American nominated for Best Actor, and Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) is the first Muslim actor to be nominated for the title. Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) has become the first Asian woman and woman of colour to be nominated for Best Director and, combined with Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), this year is the first year that two Asian directors have been nominated for Best Director. This is also the first year that two women have been nominated for Best Director – Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman). There is still a long way to go, and the Oscars is still a white-male-dominated institution, but these milestones are nonetheless important to identify and commemorate. 

The 93rd Academy Awards starts at 8PM EST on the 25th April which is 1am on the 26th April in the UK, so feel free to tune in on Sky or Now TV if you’re really committed to watching the action unfold. Alternatively, keep an eye on Twitter during the night for the highlights, or, if you’re someone who actually likes getting sleep, take a look on the internet the following morning to get the full run-down.