Live Updates: Oscars 2021
Nomadland, the epic odyssey of a woman who loses her job and her home and joins the growing number of Americans living out of vans as they search for work, is the big winner at the 2021 Academy Awards.
It was named Best Picture, beating out the likes of Aaron Sorkin’s historical drama Trial of the Chicago 7, and David Fincher’s story of old Hollywood, Mank, about the creation of Citizen Kane.
Written, directed, edited, and produced by Chloé Zhao, Nomadland is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. The film has a fictional composite character – a widow named Fern, played by Frances McDormand – interacting in scenes with many of the actual individuals featured in the book’s pages.
Nomadland was nominated for six awards.
Since its premiere on Sept. 11, 2020, at the Venice Film Festival, Nomadland had received accolades from dozens of critics’ groups and film societies, including top awards from the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, and the National Society of Film Critics. It was also named the American Film Institute’s Film of the Year.
This year’s Oscar nominees had been notable for their diversity, in stark contrast to last year’s awards when only one person of color was nominated in the main acting categories, and no women were nominated for Best Director, prompting a social media outcry.
In response, the Academy created a set of “inclusion standards” for Best Picture nominees, to be phased in over four years starting in 2022. Those standards did not affect this year’s nominees.
McDormand, who produced as well as starred in the film, had issued a call in 2018, when she was accepting her Best Actress statuette for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, for Academy members to insist on an “inclusion rider” in their contracts, mandating diversity behind the camera. In making Nomadland, she took her own advice.
Say what you will about the quality of Tyler Perry’s body of work — and there are plenty of valid critiques to be made on that front — the successful filmmaker’s personal contributions to various social causes and assistance to those in need are worthy of praise. When not providing Meghan and Harry refuge from the stifling prison of royal life, he has, among other things: paid for seniors’ groceries; financially assisted the families of Black people killed by police; and created Camp Quarantine at his production studio, which allowed creatives and artists to continue working during quarantine.
And so it’s unsurprising that on Sunday evening, Perry took home the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars. The honor is given out periodically to an “individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.” Viola Davis, who collaborated with Perry on the 2009 film Madea Goes to Jail, presented the award.
In a rousing speech, Perry told a story about helping a woman in need buy a pair of shoes, and how it served as a lesson in withholding judgement. “I want to take this Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle,” he concluded, “… because that’s where healing happens, that’s where conversation happens, that’s where change happens. It happens in the middle. So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment, and help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one’s for you, too.”
Forget #OscarsSoWhite for 2021. With wins for Youn Yuh-jung as Best Supporting Actress, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor, there is a real possibility that performers of color will sweep all four of this year’s Oscars for acting.
The sweep happened at the Screen Actors Guild Awards just a month ago, where Youn’s Korean grandmother in Minari, and Kaluuya’s martyred Black Panther in Judas and the Black Messiah, were joined later in the evening by wins for Viola Davis as Best Actress and the late Chadwick Boseman as Best Actor for their portrayals of a real-life blues singer and her fictional trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Because the Screen Actors Guild is the largest of the Hollywood guilds, and because there is substantial overlap between its membership and that of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, industry observers look to the SAG Awards as predictors of Academy voting patterns.
In past years, the SAG Award trophies have often (though not always) matched up with the eventual Oscar statuettes. Last year, all four SAG winners – Actor Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Actress Renée Zellweger (Judy), Supporting Actress Laura Dern (Marriage Story) and Supporting Actor Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), also won Oscars in their respective categories.
If that happens again, it will be a welcome follow-up to last year’s much-lamented Oscar nomination cycle, which saw just one non-white nominee (Cynthia Erivo nominated for Best Actress for Harriet) among the 20 performance category slots.
In response to that debacle, the Academy instituted inclusion standards for Best Picture nominees. But the new diversity rules are being phased in starting next year, and didn’t affect this year’s nominating process.
This year’s precedent-setting line-up, in which nine of a possible 20 acting nominations went to performers of color is attributable to the choices film studios made about which of their completed films to release during a pandemic which has shuttered theaters worldwide for more than 12 months.
Youn Yuh-jung has made Oscar history – and with such style! The glamorous staple of South Korea’s film and TV scene is the first Korean and the second Asian to take home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. (The first, Japanese American actress and singer Miyoshi Umeki, won for Sayonara in 1958. Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for Babel in 2007, but the Japanese actress lost that year to Dreamgirls‘ Jennifer Hudson.)
“I feel like I’m an Olympian just competing for my country,” Youn exclaimed earlier this month in a Morning Edition interview about her performance. In the celebrated film Minari, she plays Soon-ja, the recently arrived grandmother of a small Korean American boy who disdains his elderly relative when she arrives in rural Arkansas, where the family has recently relocated.
But the relationship between the two evolves into something “incredibly beautiful and lyrical,” said Vulture senior writer E. Alex Jung, who discussed the film recently on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. “She is the one who really sees him, I think,” he said. “She is the one who actually takes to the environment the best, I would say. She explores it. She is excited by it, and then she finds a place to grow something, which is this plant, minari, which is what the movie is named after that she knows can thrive here. And that’s obviously how she sees her grandson. And that’s something his parents can’t really see.”
Jung described the actress as “an absolute legend in Korean cinema.” While Youn’s performance in Minari was received rapturously by critics, her win was not necessarily in the bag. A virtual unknown in Hollywood, she was up against eight-time acting nominee Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) and a brash, buzzy newcomer from Bulgaria. Maria Bakalova’s no-holds-barred performance in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm catapulted her into instant stardom.
Youn Yuh-jung told Morning Edition that her performance in Minari paid spiritual homage to her own great-grandmother, who survived near-famine conditions after the Korean War. “I really understood this script deeply,” she said. “It connected me. The script was very authentic and very real to me and very genuine story to me. It was very touching.”
Pixar’s Soul has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, becoming the only film ever to win that award without playing in U.S. movie theaters.
Last October, with the COVID-19 pandemic having closed most of the nation’s cinemas, Disney announced that it was opting to release Soul — which centers on a jazz musician who’s trying to reunite his accidentally separated soul and body – as a Christmas release exclusively on its streaming service Disney+.
This marked the first time a full-length Pixar feature had been released for home viewing without first playing in movie theaters.
Overseas, in such markets as China, Russia, and South Korea where COVID-19 had largely been brought under control by year’s end, and where Disney+ is not an option, the film opened in theaters at reduced capacity. So far, it has grossed about $135 million overseas.
Before its win at the Oscars, Soul had already made history on other fronts. It is the first Pixar feature to have a Black protagonist (voiced by Jamie Foxx), the first with a predominantly Black cast and the first with a Black co-director (Kemp Powers).
In the run-up to the Oscars, Soul swept up Best Animated Feature awards from dozens of critics’ groups and film societies, including the Golden Globes, BAFTA, the AFI, the Art Directors Guild, Black Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, and the ANNIEs.
Soul comes from filmmaker Pete Docter, whose films Inside Out, and Up, also won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, and co-director/writer Powers, the playwright and screenwriter of One Night in Miami. Besides Foxx, it features the vocal talents of Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Questlove, Angela Bassett and Daveed Diggs, and features original jazz music by Jon Batiste, and a score composed by Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Chloé Zhao has won the Oscar for directing Nomadland, becoming the first woman of color to win the award and the second woman to win (Katheryn Bigelow, was the first). Zhao was also the first woman to get four Oscar nominations in a single year, in the Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture categories.
Nomadland offers a glimpse into the lives of older Americans who live and travel in their vehicles, mainly for economic reasons, embracing it as a nomadic lifestyle. The film’s cast includes real-life nomads.
Zhao and Frances McDormand, who produced and stars in Nomadland, traversed the country for months, meeting the nomads and incorporating their experiences into the film. “I’m looking for some kind of truth,” Zhao told NPR. “I’m looking for some kind of authentic moments.”
Zhao grew up in Beijing and attended a boarding school in London before moving to Los Angeles to finish high school. She got her bachelor’s degree in political science, then studied film at NYU, where one of her teachers was director Spike Lee. At NYU, Zhao began creating her cinematic style of blending fiction and documentary.
For her first feature film in 2015, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, she also used non-actors. She shot it at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “There was such an American message and identity in these images,” Zhao told NPR “The clash between the old and the new, seeing a Lakota boy on bareback on a horse at a gas station, and he’s wearing a Tupac T-shirt, is very special. So that’s how I first went there.” Songs My Brother Taught Me premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Her second feature, The Rider, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017. It told the story of a young rodeo rider who suffers a traumatic brain injury and received the festival’s Art Cinema Award. Next up for Zhao: the November release of her directorial debut in the Marvel cinematic universe, The Eternals.
Los Angeles’ Union Station provided the new backdrop as actor Regina King opened the ceremonies for the 93rd Academy Awards. King assured the audience that everyone had been “tested and re-tested,” and that while masks may be off on-camera, they were on off-camera.
King alluded to the recent Derek Chauvin conviction, saying that if things had gone differently, “I might’ve traded in my heels for marching boots.”
But things continued somewhat normally as King introduced the nominees for Best Original Screenplay, ultimately giving the award to Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.
Fennell, who was pregnant during the shooting thanked her child, “who did not arrive until a couple of weeks after shooting because I kept my legs crossed the whole way through.”
Promising Young Woman is a revenge story of sorts as the anti-hero Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, forces men to fess up to their past misdeeds. Fennell told NPR last year that she was drawing from different genres:
“I think I really set out to write and make a revenge movie that felt like it had all the pleasures of the genre, but also it was coming from a real woman,” she said. “So really wanted it to be kind of an examination of real female rage. And I think life does feel like a romantic comedy when you fall in love. And it does feel like a horror film when things go wrong. And if you’re as damaged and traumatized someone like Cassie is, then it also feels like a thriller drama.”
The makeup and hairstyling team from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has won an Oscar. Hairstylists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson are the first Black women to win in this category. Makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera is also part of the Oscar-winning team.
Neal created 100 wigs for the film, including two for actress Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues.” The hairstylist, who studied at Juilliard, worked on the Broadway productions of Julius Caesar, A Raisin in the Sun and The Iceman Cometh and designed Oprah Winfrey’s wigs for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
In keeping with the real-life Ma Rainey’s preferred hairpieces, Neal told Vogue she handmade one of the wigs with horsehair imported from England. She said the horsehair arrived covered in manure and lice eggs, and that she had to oil, sanitize and boil it in order to make the custom wigs soft and lightweight.
The wigs were then fashioned by Wilson, Davis’ personal hairstylist since 2008. “She wanted someone who could style her hair and handle it,” Wilson told NPR. “African Americans are familiar with both types of hair, y’know? We just don’t do one texture of hair. We can do it all. And by actors now speaking up and saying that they want someone who can handle their hair, they have to bring an African American hairstylist because there’s not very many Caucasian hairstylists that feel comfortable doing African American hair.”
Wilson was the hair department lead for How to Get Away with Murder, the TV series costarring Davis. Since the same show, Lopez-Rivera has been Davis’ makeup artist. For the character Ma Rainey, he fitted her with her gold teeth, and gave her face a sweaty greasepaint look, with smeared-on eyeshadow and cheek rouge.
Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) has become the first woman of color to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Nomadland also won Best Picture. Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) is the first Korean to win Best Supporting Actress. And Pixar’s Soul has won Best Animated Feature, becoming the only film ever to win that award without playing in U.S. movie theaters. Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Frances McDormand (Nomadland) took home the awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Below is the full list of 2021 Academy Award winners, marked in bold.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
Gary Oldman (Mank)
Steven Yeun (Minari)
Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Andra Day (The United States Vs. Billie Holiday)
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)
Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery Of Prodigious Bribe To American Regime For Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan)
Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)
Olivia Colman (The Father)
Amanda Seyfried (Mank)
Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)
Actor in a Supporting Role
Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Leslie Odom, Jr. (One Night in Miami…)
Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)
LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)
Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)
Mank (David Fincher)
Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
Animated Feature Film
Over the Moon
A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Collective (Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana)
Crip Camp (Nicole Newnham, Jim Lebrecht and Sara Bolder)
The Mole Agent (Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez)
My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster)
Time (Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn)
International Feature Film
Another Round (Denmark)
Better Days (Hong Kong)
The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Music (Original Song)
“Fight For You” (From Judas and the Black Messiah; Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile Ii; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas)
“Hear My Voice” (From The Trial of the Chicago 7; Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite)
“Husavik” (From Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson)
“Io Sì” (Seen) (From The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti A Se); Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini)
“Speak Now” (From One Night in Miami…; Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth)
Music (Original Score)
Da 5 Bloods (Terence Blanchard)
Mank (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) Minari (Emile Mosseri)
News of the World (James Newton Howard)
Soul (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste)
The Father (Yorgos Lamprinos)
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
Promising Young Woman (Frédéric Thoraval)
Sound of Metal (Mikkel E. G. Nielsen)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Alan Baumgarten)
Judas and the Black Messiah (Sean Bobbitt)
Mank (Erik Messerschmidt)
News of the World (Dariusz Wolski)
Nomadland (Joshua James Richards)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Phedon Papamichael)
The Father (Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’hara and Diana Stoughton)
Mank (Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale)
News of the World (Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan)
Tenet (Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas)
Love and Monsters (Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox)
The Midnight Sky (Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins)
Mulan (Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram)
The One and Only Ivan (Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez)
Tenet (Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher)
Documentary (Short Subject)
Colette (Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard)
A Concerto Is a Conversation (Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers)
Do Not Split (Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook)
Hunger Ward (Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman)
A Love Song for Latasha (Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan)
Short Film (Animated)
If Anything Happens I Love You
Short Film (Live Action)
The Letter Room
Two Distant Strangers
Greyhound (Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman)
Mank (Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin)
News of the World (Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett)
Soul (Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker)
Sound of Metal (Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh)
Emma (Alexandra Byrne)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Ann Roth)
Mank (Trish Summerville)
Mulan (Bina Daigeler)
Pinocchio (Massimo Cantini Parrini)
Makeup and Hairstyling
Emma (Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze)
Hillbilly Elegy (Eryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew Mungle and Patricia Dehaney)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson)
Mank (Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen Labaff)
Pinocchio (Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti)
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad)
The Father (Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller)
Nomadland (Written for the screen by Chloé Zhao)
One Night In Miami… (Screenplay by Kemp Powers)
The White Tiger (Written for the screen by Ramin Bahrani)
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Judas and the Black Messiah (Screenplay by Will Berson & Shaka King; story by Will Berson & Shaka King and Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas)
Minari (Written by Lee Isaac Chung)
Promising Young Woman (Written by Emerald Fennell)
Sound of Metal (Screenplay by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Written by Aaron Sorkin)
This is the most diverse year in Oscars history, and thanks to a new UCLA study, we now know why.
According to UCLA’s bi-annual Hollywood Diversity Report, which for 2021 is subtitled “Pandemic In Progress,” Hollywood made enormous strides last year with regard to inclusion for women and people of color both in front of, and behind, the camera.
The report usually covers only theatrical releases, but (like the Academy Awards) this year it also includes streaming to account for the way audiences saw movies in 2020.
Among its findings: women and people of color gained ground in each job category it tracks (lead actors, total cast, writers and directors).
In the top 185 films released, the report finds that people of color made up 39.7% of leading roles, a marked improvement from 2014, when UCLA launched the study, when people of color represented just 10.5%. Women had 47.8% of film leads, as opposed to 25.6% in 2011.
And that diversity appears to be what audiences are looking for. The report found that on average, films with between 41-50% minority casts fared best at the box office, while films with less than 11% minorities fared worst.
The report acknowledges that all of these numbers were affected by the fact that film studios held off on releasing many of their big-budget attractions in cinemas, and that streaming services picked up many mid-range films.
“Our report finds that women directors and directors of color have overwhelmingly diverse productions,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, the report’s co-author and the director of research and civic engagement for UCLA’s division of social sciences. “However, these films often have smaller budgets than those helmed by male directors and white directors. So, in a year where more diverse productions were made more accessible to larger audiences through streaming services, the contrast is stark as to what types of films have the big budgets. There is a clear underinvestment of films made by, written by, and led by women and people of color.”
Only 338 films were released last year, compared with 987 in 2019.
As tonight’s Oscars ceremony closes out the longest — and most unconventional — awards season in Hollywood history, it’s worth asking: What exactly will we see during the TV broadcast of the 93rd Oscars?
Though produced in pandemic, it won’t feel like the world’s most star-studded Zoom call; several presenters and nominees will appear in person, after lots of testing and a required quarantine period. There will even be a red carpet of sorts, planned for a 90-minute special on ABC called Oscars: Into the Spotlight, but without the throngs of fans and press we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the background (it will, however, feature performances of all five tunes nominated for best song).
Viewers won’t have to watch a big-name comic like Chris Rock or Steve Martin sweat their way through the proceedings; for the third time in a row, the Oscars will unfold without a single host. The show’s producers and writers feature interesting names, including director Steven Soderbergh and Surviving R Kelly executive producer dream hampton. Soderbergh has promised the ceremony will look more like a movie, with presentations from Union Station and the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, along with international locations via satellite.
COVID-19 has also changed the Oscars game when it comes to the films and performers up for awards. With typical Hollywood blockbusters shelved, delayed or pushed onto streaming services, a wider diversity of films, directors and actors are in contention this year, including two women nominated for best director and performers of color comprising nearly half the nominees in acting categories (it’s even possible that non-white performers could win every major acting award this year).
But the shutdown of movie theaters nationwide and the dominance of smaller films also means that many potential Oscar viewers may not have seen or know much about major contenders like Minari, Nomadland and Mank. Given how viewership for both the Grammy and Golden Globes awards dropped by at least half this year, there is concern an Oscars ceremony centered on smaller films during a pandemic won’t draw many eyeballs.
Still, with so many new faces and increasing diversity among the nominees, this year’s Academy Awards promises a show filled with historic firsts, resolving questions film fans have been debating for long months in a pandemic. That ought to be worth a few viewers, at least.
The 93rd Academy Awards air at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC, streamed on ABC.com or the ABC app (with TV provider verification), Hulu + Live TV and YouTube.
After years marked by the hashtags #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale, industry observers are crowing over this year’s topline numbers. For the first time in Academy Awards history, almost half the nominees in the acting categories (9 of 20) are performers of color, and more women (70) are nominated throughout the 23 categories than in any previous year.
Less noted is that this expanded diversity walks hand-in-hand with social consciousness in the year’s most nominated films. There are the stories of FBI malfeasance in the martyrdom of Black Panther Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, and the tragic downfall of singer “Lady Day” in The United States vs. Billie Holliday; portraits of ’60s social activists in One Night in Miami and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Also stories of women standing up to systemic abuse — from a racist music industry in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and from a misogynist culture in Promising Young Woman.
Stories of social marginalizing can be found in Nomadland, about a community of economically dislocated drifters, Minari, the chronicle of an immigrant Korean family that moves to Arkansas, and Sound of Metal, about a heavy metal drummer who finds himself in unfamiliar territory when he suffers severe hearing loss.
That’s a potent litany of social issues, arriving at a time of social turmoil in the world outside cineplexes. A litany that might well have been diffused had COVID-19 not shattered film studio release schedules and altered the awards landscape.
Prior to the pandemic, the films regarded as likely Oscar contenders included more anodyne offerings: a new version of the musical West Side Story (script by Pulitzer winner Tony Kushner, directed by Oscar winner Steven Spielberg), the star-studded costume epic The Last Duel from Gladiator director Ridley Scott, and The French Dispatch, the latest weirdness from Wes Anderson, director of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Given the talent and clout behind them, all would have been heavily promoted by their studios, and might well have shoved aside some of the more socially conscious titles that have dominated this awards season.
Oscar’s box-office bounce this year is a resounding thud.
Most awards seasons find film fans seeking out Best Picture nominees in the run-up to the Academy Awards telecast, with the eventual winner reaping millions of additional dollars post-telecast.
Last year, the literary classic Little Women, the single-shot World War I epic 1917, and the World War II satire Jojo Rabbit all saw big bounces at the box office prior to the telecast. And Parasite, the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, expanded its theatrical run five-fold after the nominations.
Altogether, that year’s Best Picture nominees earned more than $750 million at North American box offices, and another $1.3 billion overseas, much of it after the nominations were announced.
This year, with cinemas mostly closed, and audiences skittish about crowds, there’s been hardly any business, let alone a bounce. Front-runner Nomadland has taken in a snappy $2.1 million in the U.S. The year’s prestige “blockbuster,” Promising Young Woman, has earned only three times that.
In fact, if you take all eight of the Best Picture nominees and combine their worldwide earnings, the total comes to barely $35 million. That would be an unimpressive figure for one nominee in a normal year.
The concern for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is that low box office numbers generally translate into low telecast ratings. Viewers of awards shows like to have a rooting interest in the outcome, but audiences haven’t seen this year’s nominees, and the AMPAS worries they simply won’t tune in.
There are reasons for that concern: Oscar ratings have hit all-time lows in recent years. After hovering for a decade between 32 million and 44 million viewers, the last three years dipped below 30 million for the first time in the telecast’s history, reaching a nadir last year as just 23.6 million viewers saw Parasite become the first film not in English to win Best Picture.
Viewership this year, will almost certainly be lower. By the time of its win, Parasite had already taken in $37 million in just the U.S. — more than the combined totals of all of this year’s nominees worldwide.
There are always two big questions as we approach the Oscars: Who will win, and who should win. We’re diving into both, so you can win your Oscar pool and see some fine movies at the same time.
- Listen to our Spotify playlist showcasing our coverage of the best picture nominees.
- What’s making Glen happy: Staged, streaming on Hulu
- What’s making Aisha happy: Concrete Cowboy, on Netflix
- What’s making Stephen happy: Disenchantment, on Netflix
- What’s making Linda happy: Tom Holland’s appearance on Lip Sync Battle
The audio was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy.