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Maciej at the Movies: Recapping One of the Craziest Years in Film History (Part I)

| April 22nd, 2021

Maciej Kasperowicz is a special cinematic correspondent for DaBearsBlog. He’s also a good friend, a dedicated Bears fan/Josie Woods loyalist and the voice I trust most when it comes to all things movies. 


Hello again. Welcome to the Marc Colombo of DaBearsBlog posts: super long, shows up like once a year, don’t know why you’d really have any expectations of it by this point.

It was a weird year for movies, have you heard? But much like every regular year, about a million movies came out, and you could watch rather many of them at home. Two weeks after my second vaccine a few weeks ago I went to two different movie theaters, and then went to three more the following week, so I’m incredibly thrilled theaters are back. But I didn’t find it remotely hard to watch movies at home, and it’s one of the things that kept my brain even sorta centered in 2020. I watched 450 or so movies at home, new and old, in the year or so between theater trips.

What the fuck else did I have to do?

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The Oscars decided at some point last year to hope against hope that movie theaters would be open early this year and extended their eligibility period, though the open theaters never really came in significant numbers. That’s why movies like Minari, Judas and the Black Messiah, and The Father, which came out in 2021 for anybody that’s not a movie critic are represented here. All in all, it’s a pretty regular-seeming Oscar lineup, missing only a few embarrassing below the line nominations for a shitty Star Wars movie (Birds of Prey got robbed in costumes though).

Instead of shoehorning further Bears metaphors, this year I went with a little preview of the big categories to make your viewing of the Oscars (directed by Steven Soderbergh) slightly more informed.

But first…

A Note About Oscar Pools

I’m very far from an experienced gambler, and this is not a gambling advice article so the owner of this here site can probably correct me, but I think an Oscar pool works pretty similarly to a March Madness pool. If you’re in a small pool with like a dozen friends or co-workers (and they’re not Oscar obsessives), it’s probably smartest to just pick pretty close to chalk and trust that they’ll make picks for sillier reasons (like their perception of quality). There will be surprises for sure, but your average friend probably isn’t going to do that much better than the experts. Does that suck the fun out if it? Maybe. But winning is fun.

If you’re looking to win a pool with like 1000 ballots, you’re probably going to have to go bigger. One route could be picking longer shots in all categories that have less consensus, like the shorts, Best Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing.

Another could be betting on individual films over-performing. No one thought Ford vs. Ferrari was a Best Picture threat last year, but it beat 1917 for Sound Editing and all the heavy hitters for Editing. Maybe everyone likes The Father enough this year that it takes Best Editing and Adapted Screenplay? Maybe everyone’s wrong about the apathy towards Mank and it takes not only Production Design (where it’s favored), but also other below the line awards like Costumes, Makeup, and Cinematography. Don’t get too cute, take your free squares (Boseman for Best Actor, Chloe Zhao for Director, Soul for Animated, Sound of Metal for Sound, Another Round for International), but find a way to differentiate if the field is huge.

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Best Supporting Actor

If you pay a lot of attention to folks that write about the Oscars, you’ll often hear the phrase “category fraud” used to refer to actors in obvious leading roles pushed in the supporting categories where they’re more likely to win. This year we get both Judas (Lakeith Stanfield) and the Black Messiah (Daniel Kaluuya) from the film Judas and the Black Messiah as supporting actors, which is really funny. I think Kaluuya is the better of the two and a really great performance in general. Between this, Get Out, and Widows, Kaluuya’s firmly established himself as one of the best actors in the world, and I’ll be happy to see him get his Oscar here, despite it being a lead role.



The most obvious-seeming potential spoiler for Kaluuya (esp. after the vote-splitting possible after Stanfield’s surprise nomination) is Sacha Baron-Cohen in the Trial of the Chicago 7. The nicest thing I can say is that I don’t think he’s as terrible in that movie as Eddie Redmayne and Jeremy Strong. Or maybe it’s that I find it hard to separate his acting from how much I hate the screenplay. Regardless, this is SNL-level shit at best.

Paul Raci’s performance in Sound of Metal is the most old-fashioned Supporting Actor role: a tough but kind man whose role in the screenplay is to guide the main character’s journey. But he carves out a deep, memorable character in the screen time allotted to him. Leslie Odom Jr. rounds out the five, playing Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami with an engaging push and pull between bravado, understanding of self, and willingness to change.

Alternate Five: Glynn Turman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Matthew MacFayden (The Assistant), David Thewlis (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), Clarke Peters (Da 5 Bloods), Orion Lee (First Cow).

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Best Supporting Actress

Like a year ago, we knew that Glenn Close was going to play a tough but lovable grandma in a prestige adaptation of a very popular book and it seemed like there would be no stopping her finally getting an Oscar after eight fruitless nominations. Then, Hillbilly Elegy, Ron Howard’s movie based on the memoir by giant piece of shit JD Vance actually came out, and everybody hated it. It’s a testament to how much of a shoo-in Close seemed like that she still got the nomination, though she’s no longer a clear favorite. And I have to say, though I despise this movie, Close is actually kind of not bad in it. Maybe that’s just brought out in stark relief because every second that she’s not on screen is so dreadfully boring.

I think Close still has a chance to win, though Youn Yuh-jung has been racking up award after award and is, at the time of writing, the betting favorite for her much better performance in Minari. I am very biased towards a character that brings anchovies on an airplane and doesn’t want to be interrupted while watching pro-wrestling; the performance is really something though. I’ll get to Minari a lot more later, but in what easily could have been a one dimensional plucky grandma role like Close’s, it gives to Youn such a dynamic depth of emotions to play and shift between, and she does so brilliantly.

Maria Bakalova currently seems the second most likely, and has picked up a good amount of critics prizes for, I mean, what do you even call her performance in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm? Comedy? Pranks? Espionage? I wouldn’t personally pick her over Youn, but I think you’d have to be a pretty stubborn traditionalist not to see why she’s in this spot.



Olivia Colman and Amanda Seyfried seem like less likely winners, though Colman winning over Close for the second time in two years would be a hell of a thing. She’s great in The Father, too (she’s great in everything). Seyfried continues her recent prestige run after First Reformed, and is the most fun person in Mank by far, but that’s not saying a lot.

Alternative Five: Toni Colette (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), Candice Bergen (Let Them All Talk), Mary Holland (Happiest Season), Sonia Braga (Bacurau), Jane Adams (She Dies Tomorrow).

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Best Actor

Last week Fandango sent out an engagement-bait tweet asking for readers’ favorite Best Actor winner of the last decade and it mostly led to people talking about how this category has been trash. This year, even though they’ve left out one of my favorite performances in recent times, the field is pretty great!

It’s led by Chadwick Boseman, who has the shortest odds of any actor in any of these categories and is almost assuredly going to win. While his tragic death surely has a lot to do with those odds, I’m thrilled to say that the performance is completely deserving, my favorite (presumed) winner since Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. Almost completely the opposite of Boseman’s stoic Black Panther performance, he rips into August Wilson’s words with raw emotion. It’s an intensely physical, bruising performance, and it rules. 

Steven Yeun in Minari is my second-favorite of these. Yeun’s recently popped up with scene-stealing swagger in Burning and Sorry to Bother You, but here his quiet emotion reminds me more of an everyman movie star like Henry Fonda.

Riz Ahmed is the other hot young actor nominated here (he’s 38, but the Oscars historically lean older for men than for women). Playing a person with a disability is a well-worn path towards a nomination, and far be it for me to speculate on how “authentic” his portrayal of a person losing his hearing is, but the vulnerability he shows in what, much like Boseman’s, is a very physical performance rings true to me.

The two considerably more established nominees are Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Gary Oldman (Mank). I’m not sure Hopkins exactly sticks the landing towards the end of The Father, but his mix of bravado and confusion as a man suffering from dementia is really great work. Oldman, cast in Mank as a man in his early 30s to early 40s, doesn’t fare as well, I don’t think. Swapping him out for Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods would make this a truly great field.

I’ve been obsessed with the Oscars for way too long to have any illusion that what I think is good and what the Oscars will nominate have anything to do with each other, but once in a while something comes along that I love dearly and also seems so clearly in the Oscar wheelhouse that I allow myself to be disappointed when it doesn’t hit with them, and that’s Delroy Lindo’s performance in Da 5 Bloods this year. 

It’s a well regarded but not previously nominated older actor with a big, emotional performance in a movie by a beloved director and a climactic speech that would make a great Oscar clip. It’s easily summed up as “Black Trump supporter.” And it also happens to be fucking ferociously acted, deep, layered, and dynamic – an easy sell that still way over-delivers. Maybe this’ll prime Lindo for a “we’re sorry” nomination down the line.

Alternative Five: Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods), Christopher Abbott (Possessor), Adam Brody (The Kid Detective), Shaun Parkes (Mangrove), Hugh Jackman (Bad Education).

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Best Actress

This category is entertainingly up for grabs this year, with Frances McDormand picking up the BAFTA, Andra Day the Golden Globe, Viola Davis the SAG, and Carey Mulligan the Critics Choice Award. That leaves Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman with the longest odds, and she’s really the only one I feel comfortable saying definitely won’t win. She’s good, though the movie, which asks a lot of her both physically and emotionally, otherwise kind of stinks. That’s also true of Andra Day, who makes an incredibly impressive debut in the US vs. Billie Holiday, a movie that tries a lot of things, like ⅕ of which really pan out.

Promising Young Woman has many critics, but I think Carey Mulligan’s performance is one of the main reasons it works for me. Trying, and mostly failing, to fake bravado through an overwhelming sadness, Mulligan’s performance seems more unique the more I think about it. 

Viola Davis is the odd Best Actress nominee who you could make an argument for belonging in Supporting. She plays the titular character, sure, but she’s off screen a good amount of the time. Regardless, she’s terrific. Sure, she’s great at delivering lines, but the physical stuff, the way she wraps herself around Taylour Paige like a boa constrictor, the way every chair she sits in seems like a throne, is unmatched. Every time I think Mulligan’s my fav of these performances I then think it’s because Davis is like in a Jordan/Lebron situation where giving them the MVP every year just became boring so you find someone else.

Finally, there’s Frances McDormand, who won the most recent precursor (the BAFTA) and is the star of the Best Picture frontrunner. I think McDormand is good in Nomadland; at the beginning of the movie I was slightly distracted by her movie star-ness in a film largely filled with non-professional actors, but I think as the movie goes on, especially as David Straitharn comes along, her performance fades into the movie nicely.

Mulligan or Davis would be my preference here, but I wouldn’t be mad at any of them (aside, I guess, from Kirby; I hope that movie is forgotten by history ASAP). As for who will win, the Critics Choice award that Mulligan has a weaker correlation to the winner than the other precursors (which are roughly equal), which sounds like a good reason to put your money on someone with longer odds, if you’re just putting down a bet. But in a pool, I think I’m still picking Mulligan, who really carries a movie (unlike Davis) that seems to be a pretty big hit (unlike the U.S. vs. Billie Holliday) and is both younger than McDormand (which Oscar likes because misogyny) and not already an Oscar winner.

Alternate Five: Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth), Isabel Sandoval (Lingua Franca), Julia Garner (The Assistant), Elizabeth Moss (The Invisible Man/Shirley), Kim Da-mi (The Witch Part 1: The Subversion).


Tomorrow, Best Picture and my thoughts on the rest of Film 2020.

 

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