The Oscars Pt.2: Reviewing the Nominees


Press Kit by Krislam Chin.

Promotional Art for the 2021 Academy Awards.

Tomorrow’s the 93rd annual Oscars, where Hollywood’s most prestigious names will come together under two, socially distanced roofs to see which flick will win big. As always, the biggest prize is Best Picture, the grandest of the golden statues. 

This year, eight contenders have entered the ring, and it’s one of the most diverse and innovative line-ups the academy has had. With only three already covered, it’s time to review some more before the winner’s revealed and this all becomes old news. 

Film #1: Sound Of Metal 

One theme among the nominees, especially after 2020, is the desire to just mellow out. Examples include “Nomadland” and “Minari,” but if you’re looking for something a little rougher yet with no less heart, you should watch “Sound Of Metal.” 

Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone in “Sound Of Metal”, Directed by Darius Marder. Caviar, Ward Four & Flat 7 Productions (2020). (Photo Courtesy Of Amazon Studios.) (Screenshot from “Sound of Metal.”)

The film depicts the journey of Rubin Stone, a drummer who learns to live with his deafness, via a master class of visual storytelling. We see this when, by contrasting similar shots over the course of two different days, we experience the little moments of joy that Rubin’s losing as his hearing deteriorates. It’s a heartbreaking sequence of events; all within the first ten minutes. 

When portraying the deaf community, a lack of dialogue can be a hurdle. Where others would see a hindrance, director Darius Marder sees a key tool. In some of the film’s most poignant moments, of both hope and sadness, nobody says a word. Regardless of who takes home what awards, “Sound Of Metal’s” ability to find beauty in silence is a remarkable achievement. 

Film #2: Judas And The Black Messiah 

If there’s a constant with the Academy, it’s with period pieces. Voters seem to adore dramas that tap into history. This year, it’s all about the 1960’s. There’s the anti-war movement seen in “The Trial Of The Chicago 7,” but there’s also another perspective at play; one that centers around a charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton.

In many ways, “Judas & The Black Messiah” has the foundation of a basic biopic. We get to know the famous individual, witness their glorious rise to the top, then their inevitable downfall. There’s just one twist. This film isn’t through Fred Hampton’s eyes. Instead, we follow Bill O’Neil, his betrayer.

This is the film’s special edge. The writers know the audience is expecting to see Fred’s death, so rather than just tell it as is they introduce an outlook that adds new layers of emotional weight to a familiar tragedy. The fates of these two men are intertwined so perfectly, they amplify each other’s stories. Same goes for the performances.

Daniel Kaluuya as Chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas & The Black Messiah”, Directed by Shaka King, MACRO & Participant (2021). (Photo Courtesy Of Warner Media.)

While most understandably talk about Daniel Kaluuya’s depiction of the chairman, arguably his counterpart, Lakeith Stanfield, gives the stronger performance. As O’Neil, Lakeith perfectly encapsulates the roller coaster of pain he’s manipulated into: from fear and anger, to sorrowful grief. The ending relies solely on him and, though he expresses little, the overwhelming regret Bill feels over his actions is palpable. It’s a bone-chilling end to an undeniably impactful film. 

Film #3: Mank

What does the academy love more than period pieces? Why, a story about Hollywood itself, of course! There’s nothing more appealing to voters than a film that strokes their collective ego. With Mank, Netflix brazenly attempts to fill this role, tasking David Fincher to adapt his father’s script about the making of Citizen Kane which, to put bluntly, is no easy task.

(L-R) Amanda Seyfried & Gary Oldman in “Mank”, Directed by David Fincher. Netflix International, Blue Light, Flying Studio & Panic Pictures (2020). (Photo Courtesy Of Netflix.)

Does he succeed? No. That’s not to say Mank is bad, however. The film’s vintage 30’s look can be stunning. The dialogue is sharp and the side characters, like actress Marion Davies and executive Louis B. Mayer, can be a lot of fun. 

The problem exists with Mank himself. His moral conflict is the heart of the film, and the foundation is there for a relevant story about standing up to power and reclaiming your personal beliefs. The problem is, the unfocused first hour is spent watching Mank bumble around Hollywood, encountering B-plots that aren’t always necessary. Sometimes it’s just filler, like when someone dies off-screen and Mank attends the funeral. 

It’s strange that an expert director like Fincher made something so scattershot, especially since Mank does have its fair share of wasted potential. All that’s for certain? This is no Citizen Kane. 

Tune into the Oscar’s Sunday at 5 p.m. to see which films win big.