2021 Oscars: A Mid-Year Report

We have somehow reached the midpoint of 2021 and that means it is time to take stock in the Oscar contenders that have been released or screened so far. In short, we are talking about fairly slim pickings.

That is not rare. The bulk of the Best Picture nominees are typically unveiled between September-December of a given year (or in the case of 2020 – January or February of 2021 as well). For the previous Academy Awards, not one of the 8 BP contenders were distributed in the first half of the year. However, 3 of them (The Father, Sound of Metal, Promising Young Woman) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. Another (Sound of Metal) was screened all the way back in September 2019 during Toronto’s festival.

As a reminder, Oscar rules were altered moving forward starting with next year’s ceremony. There will be a fixed number of 10 BP nominees (thank goodness). As I see it, the 2021 Sundance Fest gave us three potential hopefuls in the big race: Sian Heder’s Coda, Rebecca Hall’s Passing, and Fran Kranz’s Mass. 

Coda and Mass, in particular, seem like real possibilities. The former, in addition to a Picture nod, could see itself as a contender for Emilia Jones in Actress and Marlee Matlin in Supporting Actress. The latter sports a quarter of performers (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney) that could find themselves in the mix. Passing, while more of a long shot for BP, features Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga and they will likely be campaigning.

How about movies that didn’t go the Sundance route? The obvious one is In the Heights from Jon M. Chu. The musical garnered glowing reviews when it premiered in theaters and on HBO Max last month. However, its surprisingly lackluster box office grosses may hinder its chances. Time will tell.

There are already three released animated features that could make the final five: The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Luca, and Raya and the Last Dragon. I think the first two have strong chances while Raya is more of a question mark. Flee, which screened at Sundance, was critically hailed and it could find itself competing here and in Documentary Feature.

As for other docs, keep an eye out for Summer of Saul (which actually releases tomorrow) and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

And when we look at below the line categories, there’s Cruella. Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling are two derbies where it could not only be nominated, but prevail. I also wouldn’t completely count out Coming 2 America for the same categories. The Sound race is open for A Quiet Place Part II. Godzilla vs. Kong is a hopeful in Visual Effects.

Bottom line: expect nearly all of 2021’s Best Picture players to see their release dates in the next six months. At least two could come from Sundance with Heights hoping its box office fall doesn’t sink its chances.

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