Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Jared Herr ’22 (he/him), Multimedia Editor

Even though movie theaters have been closed for the past year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of films have released through different means, and the Academy Award nominees for 2021 are no different. In fact, in part credited to the rise of streaming services entering the awards circuit, the Oscar-nominated films for this year are more accessible than ever. Nomadland is streaming on Hulu, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank are on Netflix, Sound of Metal can be found on Prime Video, and The Father, Judah and the Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, and Minari all are available for digital rental. However, in case you do not have enough time to watch all of these films before the awards ceremony on Sunday, here is a quick look into how some of the top races are currently shaping up:

Best Actor:

Riz Ahmed made history as the first Muslim nominee for best actor this year for Sound of Metal, and Anthony Hopkins has received high praise for his performance in The Father, but Chadwick Boseman remains the heavy favorite for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman, who rose to prominence with such performances as Jackie Robinson in 42 and T’Challa in Black Panther, tragically passed away last year at age 43. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom serves as his final on-screen performance. Only two other actors have won an Oscar posthumously: Peter Finch in 1977 for Network and Heath Ledger in 2009 for The Dark Knight, and all signs point to Boseman becoming the third actor to receive this distinction.

Best Actress:

Unlike the best actor race, the best actress category remains far more uncertain. Frances McDormand took home the award for best actress just a few years ago for her performance in the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (as well as in 1997 for her performance in the Coen Brothers movie Fargo). With Nomadlands popularity on the awards circuit, and with McDormand being given high praise for her performance, she enters the big night as the favorite to win her third Academy Award. However, Carey Mulligan, a relative newcomer to the awards scene (she has one nomination for An Education in 2010) gave a highly lauded performance in Promising Young Woman. Additionally, Viola Davis’ performance as Ma Rainey opposite Chadwick Boseman has received high critical acclaim as well. Ultimately, the award will almost certainly go to one of these three women.  

Best Director:

Chloé Zhao received her first Oscar nominations this year, with the director receiving nods in the directing, editing, adapted screenplay, and best picture categories with Nomadland; Zhao seems poised to be only the second woman to win best director, following Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009. Zhao also became the first woman of color to receive a directing nod. Zhao and Emerald Fennell, director of Promising Young Woman, set a historic mark by becoming the first two women to be nominated for best director in the same year. Later this year, Zhao will direct the Marvel Cinematic Universe film The Eternals, which will hit theaters in late 2021.

Best Picture:

Nomadland tells the story of a woman leaving traditional society behind and traveling the country without a permanent home. The film has stayed at the top of the best picture discussion, and took home the best dramatic picture award at the Golden Globes this year (though those awards are not necessarily the best indicator for the Oscars). Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, about the trial following counterculture protests in the late-1960s, poses the greatest possible threat to Nomadland. While plenty of worthy films debuted in 2020, eyes will be on Nomadland come Sunday night.

The 93rd Academy Awards will air Sunday on ABC with live coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Jared Herr ‘22 (he/him) is a film and media studies major from Gettysburg, PA. He can be reached for comment at jaherr@davidson.edu.