Have the Unexpected Bafta Results Just Changed The Oscars Race?

Olivia Ovenden
·13-min read
Photo credit: -
Photo credit: -

The 2021 Academy Awards are almost upon us, with the long road to the Oscars this year made even more gruelling thanks to the date being pushed back because of the pandemic. This means that films which were released in 14 B.C. will be competing against those which have not yet been released in cinemas around the world.

The nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards, which will take place on the 26th April, show some willingness to bring the ceremony in line with efforts to diversity across the industry. Finally there's some recognition of female directors, with two women nominated in the category for the first time in the ceremony's 93 year history. Meanwhile non-white actors have finally been given their due, with Black actors dominating the best supporting actor category, a historic nomination for Steven Yeun as the first Asian-American in the best actor category, and Riz Ahmed as the first Muslim in the same group.

The Zoom doom which plagued the Golden Globes was not quite so technically terrible at the Baftas this week, but the ceremony felt void of any glamour or real excitement thanks to many of the big names not showing up to collect their shiny trophies. A shame given that the Baftas for once outdid themselves at recognising both homegrown and female talent, with Nomadland and Promising Young Woman picking up big directing and writing prizes. Whether the upsets on the night will have any impact come Oscars night seems unlikely yet not impossible given that the nominations are a big step change for the Academy.

Here's how things should and, inured to Oscar night disappointment as we are, actually will, turn out on the big night in the major categories:

Actor in a supporting role

Photo credit: Judas and the Black Messiah
Photo credit: Judas and the Black Messiah

Should win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

The daylight robbery which occurred when Daniel Kaluuya lost for Get Out to Gary Oldman for D*rkest H*ur is a slight which we still think about when we stare at the ceiling on nights we cannot sleep. Truly though, Kaluuya is an ascendent talent with a strong set of performances in Steve McQueen's Widows, Black Panther and Queen & Slim to his name since said slight. He also scooped the Golden Globe and Bafta awards for best actor recently, perhaps setting him up for another win.

Will win: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

If only to avoid having LaKeith Stanfield, the first nominee with face tattoos as he pointed out on Instagram, taking the mic and calling out The Academy members one by one.

Wildcard: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Raci's nomination was a nice surprise for fans of the Riz Ahmed–fronted film in which he gave a stellar performance. Raci, who is the lead singer for Black Sabbath tribute band Hands of Doom, plays a Vietnam vet who runs a substance abuse program for deaf people, giving the sort of character study that sometimes breaks through. "To have this kind of validation for all the work that I’ve been doing is just an absolute blessing and a cherry on top of the chocolate sundae that I’ve been working on for all these years," Raci told Esquire in response to his nomination, which sounds like the makings of a speech we would like to hear.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Photo credit: Courtesy of A24
Photo credit: Courtesy of A24

Should win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Alongside her co-star Steven Yeun, Korean acting legend Yuh-Jung Youn has made history with her nomination in a year which has finally seen Asian and Asian-American actors recognised, after all the cast of Parasite were snubbed last year. As the grandmother in the family Youn brings the sense of humour and fun to this film as she watches wrestling in her pants and insults the children for being stupid and American. Playing with our expectation of the immigrant story, her role is the heart of the story and, as we see when the camera lingers on her broken face, the one watching over this family.

Will win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

Up until very recently our money was on Olivia Colman for The Father; her 2019 Oscars acceptance speech made it impossible for anyone to dislike her forevermore. But now, given Youn's exceptional speech at the Baftas, it feels like the stars are aligning for this role inspired by director Lee Isaac Chung's own grandmother. Minari appears to have lost a bit of momentum in some of the larger categories, and recognising her performance would be a much needed show of solidarity to the AAPI community in the wake of a string of several horrific hate crimes.

Wildcard: Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Close is part of a rarified group nominated for a Razzie and an Oscar for the same in this film which was near-universally panned. In a strange bit of symmetry she missed out to Colman for her performance in The Wife two years ago. Might they rectify that and finally give her one on her eighth try? File it under extremely Oscars things that might happen.

Best original screenplay

Photo credit: Melissa Lukenbaugh - Getty Images
Photo credit: Melissa Lukenbaugh - Getty Images

Should win: Minari

Minari is a fable about chasing the American dream and how the immigration experience changes through different generations of the same family. Lee Isaac Chung's script is deeply moving, very funny, and captures the throwaway barbs and attempts at reconciliation which families exchange. The original screenplay nod is often given to up-and-comers who The Academy believe aren't yet worthy of the directing award, it being the award Jordan Peele walked home with for Get Out. That said, when Bong Joon Ho picked up this award in 2020, everyone thought that meant it was out the running for best picture. Remember how that turned out?

Will win: The Trial of the Chicago 7

With multiple nominations and wins in the category, Aaron Sorkin is essentially a screenplay Oscar in human form. His extremely wordy scripts – packed with righteous speeches and quick-fire walk and talk scenes, are catnip for the Academy. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is also the sort of anti-Trump, "power of protest", Democratic Party wet dream of a film which Hollywood liberals believe is the epitome of progressivism. No comment!

Wildcard: Promising Young Woman

Despite many nominations, it's unlikely Emerald Fennell's film will walk away with any wins. However, this category is perhaps her best chance, and what transpired at the Baftas this year. Given that the Academy are desperate to prove they believe in female filmmakers, offers an easy win for them. Us? Jaded?

Best adapted screenplay

Photo credit: Amazon Prime
Photo credit: Amazon Prime

Should win: One Night in Miami

Regina King's directorial debut imagining the words spoken between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown in 1964 has been generally under-nominated this year. Adapted by Kemp Powers from his play of the same name, the script captures the same claustrophobia as the play, while also bringing some new energy and movement to the story. It's a brilliant example of taking famous figures and colouring between the lines of history, as Powers told Esquire: "I wanted to focus on those human things which in many ways allow me to connect more to them than the many great things they did."

Will win: Nomadland

Adapted from Jessica Bruder's non-fiction book about the Americans who are unable to retire and instead travel the country in search of work while living in their vans, Chloë Zhao's screenplay keeps some of the real life characters from the story playing themselves in the film. This lends the film a gripping sense of realism that makes it feel like a docudrama while also paying respect to the real people behind the story.

Wildcard: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen's return was yet another anti-Trump tirade which could be irresistible for the Academy to doff their cap to in the wake of his departure. It might not have packed the same shock as the original, but there's a chance they end up deciding IS NIIICE.

Best director

Photo credit: Tommaso Boddi - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tommaso Boddi - Getty Images

Should win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Zhao has made history as the first woman of colour to be nominated for the directing award for a story which captures the real turmoil engulfing so many in America, people who are there in plain sight but hidden away. Blending realism and the sweeping vistas of Western cinema, Zhao captures the overwhelming feeling of awe at seeing purple skies and towering mountains, all while keeping close to the human stories she is telling.

Will win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

In addition to it being richly deserved, there's no way that the Academy are going to wipe out their good press boost for nominating two women for the first time ever and not have one of them win. Right? Right??

Wildcard: David Fincher, Mank

Imagining the memes is enough to make you want it to happen.

Actress in a leading role

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

Should win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

If Joaquin Phoenix took home the top prize for his portrait of male anger in Joker, then Mulligan's unhinged howl of female rage deserves the same due. As Cassie, Mulligan has the unapologetic fury of a comic book super villain while capturing the very real anger that women feel around sexual assault. If only to wipe their hands clean of the years which Harvey Weinstein was thanked on stage after God, this is the sort of role they should be putting their weight behind.

Will win: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

For a while it appeared as though Vanessa Kirby was the frontrunner for this award for her incredibly physical performance in Pieces of a Woman, a role which included an extraordinary 24-minute, single take birth scene which kicks off the film. But as awards season has drawn on McDormand has yet again become the force to beat for her exacting depiction of Fern, a role which is partly inspired by her own dreams of giving up acting and taking to the road in an airstream while drinking Wild Turkey. Let's just hope that McDormand manages to make it, as her unblinking avatar and the hastily strung together speech which someone read out on her behalf at the Baftas wasn't so great.

Wildcard: Andra Day, The United States vs Billie Holiday

Day's unexpected but welcome nomination comes off the back of her Golden Globe win for playing Holiday earlier this month. Day captures the soul of the singer in the same way that Renée Zellweger did with Judy Garland, a role which saw her rewarded at the Oscars last year. Perhaps the Academy will listen to Frances McDormand's literal instruction during her 2018 SAG awards speech: "This is really great and I thank you, but there’s a lot of young ones coming up and they need doorstops too. Let’s think about that."

Actor in a leading role

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix


Should win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

"Every day he did take after take physically, emotionally and spiritually committed, so there was no clue whatsoever and no reason for me to think anything otherwise, because the performance is extraordinary," is how Ma Rainey's Black Bottom director George C Wolfe spoke of Boseman's performance to Esquire. The extraordinary performance he produced, considering what we know now of his health, is a testament to an actor who gave his all to his work. One scene in particular stands out, where Boseman's Levee breaks down about the abuse he had witnessed his mother suffer. It's the best of his career and an Oscar-winning moment.

Will win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

In addition to all of the above reasons it should win, the Hollywood ending of Boseman being posthumously awarded the Oscar is one that The Academy simply cannot resist my child.

Serious wildcard: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

We were extremely confident that nobody could beat Boseman, but then the Baftas surprised us and gave Hopkins the fourth of his career. Interesting. It's worth noting that it's very unlikely that Hollywood will resist the posthumous Oscar, but Hopkins's surprise win has added a pinch of excitement to a race which has seemed tied up for months. Just a pinch.

Best picture

Photo credit: -
Photo credit: -

Should win: Nomadland

Every year the best picture nominees make the case that they speak to what America is going through right now. The pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have left marks on all of us in immeasurable ways, making films about the power of family and the need for justice resonate more strongly. In Nomadland, the message is less clear, and perhaps more powerful as a result. We see the stories of elderly Americans living out of their vans, but speaking of it like they are on a permanent vacation. There is footage of backbreaking labour in Amazon warehouses, but which the workers believe pays well and looks after them. There is a picture of a life on the edge which might feel horrifying, but at the same time is a kind of freedom and closeness to the earth which we all pine for. Nomadland is a story about how broken America is right now, but really of how broken humans have always been inside. As in real life, away from the lessons which movies try to teach us, what is right and wrong isn't always clear.

Will win: Nomadland

This weird awards season might have less of a clear frontrunner than in some years, but having picked up the top prize at Venice Film Festival last year, with much steam gathering since, Nomadland is the one to beat. It might not be coming in to the final furlong with the mega hype some films ride on, but it's been quietly recognised as a masterpiece from a major new directing talent and one which speaks to something inside us all.

Wildcard: Minari

Whether Minari can pull a Parasite is a question that in itself is tied up in how we view foreign-language cinema as an outsider. That said, there are similarities in the trajectories of the Korean-language films, with Minari going into the ceremony off the back of winning the foreign-language prize at the Globes, and with six nominations for the Oscars, the same number Bong Joon Ho was sitting on in 2020. If Minari were to take the top prize on the night it would perhaps make an even greater statement about foreign-language films than Parasite: recognising an Asian-American film as a defining portrait of America, and the family it features as decisively American.

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