Friday, April 23, 2021

Half-hearted Oscar predictions for 2021


   Oscar predictions usually are accompanied by speculation about why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences behaves as it does. It's nearly impossible to write these kinds of stories without generalizing about what might be called "Hollywood-think."
    An example: Nomadland will win best picture because it deals with social issues without proposing any  solution that might divide audiences. 
     I'm going to refrain from Oscar bloviation this year, mostly because it was such an odd year that no one will be surprised if there are real surprises, say Glenn Close — after seven previous nominations — finally winning an Oscar for playing an irascible grandma in Hillbilly Elegy. Perhaps Time, a terrific documentary about the injustices of unreasonably long prison sentences will win best documentary feature.
    But, for me, the truth is simpler: I don't much care who or what wins. 
    I'm encouraged to see a year of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity and women, but if Minari beats Nomadland or somehow The Father were to pull off the upset of upsets and win best-picture, I won't be gnashing my teeth or raising a drink in celebration.
    And, as I usually do, let me offer a reminder. Interest in the Oscars isn’t the same as interest in movies. Diversified or not, the Oscars are an industry affair. Movies remain an unclassifiable product of so many different talents and circumstances that they defy any kind of unified-theory thinking.
    Meanwhile, ask yourself this question: How many of the seven nominees for best picture — Minari, Nomadland, Judas and the Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal,  The Father, and Trial of the Chicago Seven  — have you seen?
     And of the ones that you have seen, which are you still thinking or talking about them — assuming you’re lucky enough to have someone with whom to talk during the pandemic. 
     Oscar can have career significance for performers and directors, business and status implications for distributors, and can, though not always, reflect something about the cultural environment from whence the winners sprang. 
      But, no, I'm not really looking forward to the Oscar telecast. I’ll watch more out of sense of duty than anything else, although it will be interesting to see whether the producer of this year’s show, director Steven Soderbergh, will be able to stem the tide of fleeing viewers and waning interest. 
     The 93rd edition of the Oscars, by the way, will be broadcast on ABC Sunday, April 25, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

So, sans commentary, here are my predictions:
Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Best Actress: Francis McDormand, Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-jung Youn, Minari
Best Director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Best Adapted Screenplay: Nomadland
Best Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Best cinematography: Nomadland
Best International Feature: Another Round
Best Documentary: My Octopus Teacher

A final note: 
Winners of The Independent Spirit Awards for 2021 were announced on April 22.
Best Picture: Nomadland
Best Director: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Best Female Performance: Carey Mulligan, A Promising Young Woman
Best Male Performance: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

    It’s entirely possible that Oscar will follow the same path. All of the above Independent Spirit winners also have been nominated for Oscars. 
    There are at least two ways to look at the closing gap between so-called “independent spirit” and Hollywood. One is to applaud the Academy’s increased tolerance for movies that break the formula mold. 
    Another (and the one toward which I lean) is to view the narrowing of the gap as alarming, a loss of vital tension between indie and mainstream filmmaking.
    If you’re old enough, you’ll remember a time when film festival programmers didn’t bask in the glow of their own perspicuity at being among the first to board the Oscar train.
    If you think of indie filmmakers as prophets standing outside the gates of the Hollywood palace, condemning the Hollywood kings for what they see as their corruption, you’ll begin to understand what I mean.
    Lines on cultural maps are never easy to draw.  No passports or inoculations are required to cross the borders that separate the counterculture from the mainstream and sometimes movies can live comfortably with dual citizenship, which is true of most of this year’s nominees for best picture.
   But let's remember that creative tension pushes both the X and Y components of the cultural equation, perhaps leading to different outcomes on the other side of the equal sign. 
    The indie world certainly helped increase pressure on the Hollywood establishment to diversify in terms of race, gender, and ethnicity. Without those pressures the so-called mainstream (if there still is such a thing) never would have moved.
    I admit to some fuzziness in my thinking here, so I offer this addendum to my Oscar predictions with no small amount of trepidation.
    Still, I wonder what it means for all of us when the terms culture and counterculture are drained of all meaning, when “independent” and “mainstream” lose all distinction. 
    Who’s left to stand outside the palace gates, screaming that artistic borders must be stretched? What push of creative insistence keeps the whole enterprise from going down the drain? Have the murmuring rumbles of eclecticism replaced the invigorating shock of breakthrough
    And if we even had such a breakthrough who among us would recognize it?

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