The 2021 Oscars: Reviewing The Hopefuls


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Promo Image from The 86th Annual Academy Awards.

Here’s a recap. Over the last three years, the Oscars have handed their highest honor to a Cold War romance involving a sea monster, a buddy-buddy road trip with a white savior narrative and a scathing social commentary from South Korea. During any other time in the show’s history, all of these winners would have been insane choices. 

Then again, we live in insane times and the academy awards reflect this. They reflect an identity crisis, as the Oscars are tugged between the prejudices of the past and the progressivism of the future. They’ve taken on tough changes, finding their footing in a world with one less host and a hundred streaming platforms.

It all seems a bit chaotic, but this could lead us to a brighter place. Not only will the nominees be more accessible than ever this year, but we’re also seeing more creatively fascinating films than ever before, with unique voices on both sides of the camera. The following trio of best picture hopefuls represents these changing tides and might take home a golden trophy or two. 

Film #1: The Trial Of The Chicago 7

(L-R) Sasha Baron Cohen & Jeremy Strong in “The Trial Of The Chicago 7”, Directed by Aaron Sorkin. Paramount, DreamWorks and CrossCreek Pictures. (2020). (Photo Courtesy of Netflix.)

Netflix has been a constant at the Oscars since 2019, often buying prestige films and even movie theaters to ensure its original content wins awards. This year, they’ve placed their bets on the latest flick from Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing and The Social Network. 

For anyone who knows Sorkin’s style, having him write a court drama is a match made in heaven. The Trial Of The Chicago 7 may not have as much emotional weight as other nominees, but it makes up for it with bucket-loads of sharp dialogue and brilliantly edited scenes performed by an ensemble that’s giving their all. It’s a historical spectacle that keeps you engaged at every twist and turn. 

Film #2: Promising Young Woman 

On the surface, what Emerald Farrell’s debut is attempting to achieve is clear. It has the look of an ultra-feminine revenge fantasy, a thriller attempting to be the Get Out for the #MeToo era. However, if you look past its technicolor facade, you discover a character study that behaves like a moral rollercoaster.

Carey Mulligan as Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas in “Promising Young Woman”, Directed by Emerald Ferrall, FilmNation Entertainment & LuckyChap Entertainment (2020). (Photo Courtesy of Focus Features.)

It’s impressive how morally ambiguous the film’s narrative can be. The nice guys have dark pasts, the jerks seek forgiveness and everyone else is fluctuating between right and wrong, leaving the viewer to question their morals. Even Cassie, the film’s “protagonist,” is willing to traumatize everyone, even those loosely involved with what brought her pain, for better or worse.

Nonetheless, it’s worth a watch. If not for its unique and captivating storytelling, then for some of the most emotionally intense moments of the year. 

Film #3: Minari 

Few movies have such a peaceful setting as the small slice of Arkansas where the Ki family lives. We travel from bright fields to lush forests as the sounds of wildlife chirps along in the background. Yet, as a viewer, there are very few opportunities to take in the surroundings’ mellowness.

Through a surprisingly intense sequence in the first act, Minari lets you know that at any moment, everything could crumble. Whether it’s the father’s failing farm or the son’s medical condition, there’s a feeling of danger that never really goes away. Yet the tension can be easy to swallow, thanks to the film’s relaxed pacing. 

(L-R) Steven Yeun, Alan Kim, Yuh-jung Youn, Yeri Han and Noel Kate Cho in “Minari”, Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, A24 & Plan B Entertainment (2021). (Photo courtesy of A24.)

Rather than continually moving, Minari makes sure to let the smaller moments breathe, granting what could have been a blase family a grand sense of character. You can see their unique quirks and tight-knit bonds grow in these moments, showing the little details that only a writer drawing from his own life can provide. The Yi’s are one of the most realistic families ever portrayed on film and like one’s own family; you’ll cherish the brighter moments you experienced with them. 

Will these three films have what it takes to bring home the big picture? We’ll just have to wait and see. The Academy Awards will take place on April 25, at 5:00 p.m.