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2021 Oscars Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Who doesn’t love predicting the outcomes of and settling in to watch the annual Academy Awards show? Of course, Hollywood has seldom endured a year as challenging as 2020. This year, the highly anticipated ceremony will look a little different than in years past.

A History of the Oscars

Presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy Awards – known widely as the Oscars – were first held in 1929 at a private dinner party. The ceremony was broadcasted by radio the following year and, in 1953, the Academy Awards aired on television for the first time. Since then, the Oscars has become one of the most prestigious award shows, celebrating artistic and technical merit in the film industry.

In its nearly 100 year history, the Academy Awards have never been canceled. While the occasional natural disaster or historic event has postponed the ceremony, the show has always gone on. 2020, however, brought an entirely new and unique set of circumstances for the world of entertainment. With the onset of a global pandemic, relatively few new films were produced and even fewer were able to be screened in public theaters. While the pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of daily life, it has crippled the film industry in an unprecedented manner.

An Unprecedented Year

In 2021, the Academy Awards will contend for the first time with the effects of COVID-19. With so many film productions halted or postponed and the closure of so many theaters and venues, the usual pool of contenders has been dramatically reduced. Some major festivals – such as the annual Cannes Film Festival – have been cancelled outright, while others have undergone significant changes to accommodate the realities of the present situation. The Oscars, although postponed, have done their best to adapt.

In response to this unfamiliar set of challenges, the Academy has delayed the ceremony, extending the eligibility period for films while simultaneously relaxing some of the traditional requirements. In the past, for instance, a film must screen for seven consecutive days in a Los Angeles theater to qualify for consideration. This year, films that premiered at drive-ins theaters or via streaming are eligible as well. For the first time in history, most of this year’s contenders will have been viewed on streaming services – such as Netflix – rather than the silver screen.

Who Votes

Administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Oscars are voted upon by hundreds of members with credits within the industry. Voting members include actors, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, producers, sound and visual effects artists, editors, costume designers, hair and makeup artists, composers, production designers, and animation artists. An online voting system was implemented in 2013. This year, more than 800 individuals will vote between March 5th and March 10th, 2021.

A 2012 analysis by the Los Angeles Times concluded that the great majority of voters are actors. Furthermore, the majority of voters are male, Caucasian, and over the age of 60. The apparent lack of meaningful diversity among voters, nominees, and winners has been highlighted by critics in recent years.

Where and When

According to The Academy’s official website, the 93rd annual Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021. The ceremony will be televised live on ABC and in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide. While it remains unclear exactly what the ceremony will look like, director Steven Soderbergh has been hired to produce and re-envision the award show. In a statement with co-producers Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher, Soderbergh shared an excitement for the new possibilities this year’s Oscars.

“We’re thrilled and terrified in equal measure. Because of the extraordinary situation we’re all in, there’s an opportunity to focus on the movies and the people who make them in a new way, and we hope to create a show that really FEELS like the movies we all love.”

Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher, and Stephen Soderbergh, on producing the 2021 Academy Awards

For now, we expect some vaccinated and masked attendees to appear in person at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Other guests may appear remotely or from satellite locations around the country.

2021 Oscar Nominees

The Academy Awards shortlist was released in mid-February, with official nominees announced in March by Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. From the list, we can start to gain a sense of the 2021 Oscar predictions. Interestingly, with the unique circumstances brought on by COVID-19, we may see a leveling of the playing field amongst contenders. This year, big-budget campaigns to influence voting have been largely sidelined. Films will sink or swim based solely on their merits. That said, no one can be sure how the results will pan out until the ceremony is underway. As with every year, there are sure to be at least a few surprises.

A full list of the 2021 nominees, and all past nominees and winners, can be found on the Oscars website. Below, we’ve compiled the top predicted contenders – and some interesting snubs – from a few select categories.

Documentary Feature

Among Documentary Feature contenders, My Octopus Teacher – a 2020 original Netflix documentary – is looking like a favorite. The film captures a year spent by filmmaker Craig Foster forging a relationship with a wild octopus in a South African kelp forest.

Other top contenders include The Mole Agent, which follows an undercover agent as he investigates alleged elder abuse at a retirement home, and Collective, which documents a group of boys in Texas who attempt to build a functioning government from scratch.

76 Days – a documentary tracking the race to contain COVID-19 in Wuhan, China – was shortlisted for the category but ultimately failed to nab a nomination. Regardless, critical reception for the film has been overwhelmingly positive. 76 Days’ Rotten Tomatoes score currently stands at an incredible 100%.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Although less anticipated than others, this category celebrates the irreplaceable talents of the industry’s hair and makeup artists. As predicted, Emma, Hillbilly Elegy, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Mank have all secured nominations.

Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier, and Francesco Pegoretti have also received a nomination for their work in Pinocchio. While not posed to win, Pinocchio has accomplished an impressive feat. Most of its characters – Pinocchio included – were created using prosthetic make-up rather than CGI effects.

Music (Original Score)

The official nominees for Best Original Score are Da 5 Bloods, Mank, Minari, News of the World, and Soul. Currently, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste are favored to win for Soul, having taken home the award at both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards.

In a surprising twist, Best Original Score marks the singular nomination for Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Critically praised and featuring standout performances by Delroy Lindo and the late Chaswick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods missed out on nominations in all other categories.

Visual Effects

With four prior nominations and three wins between them, Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher are currently poised to win for for Tenet. Overall, Tenet has received mixed reviews and has been criticized for its convoluted plot. Nevertheless, the film’s appearance has secured nominations for both Visual Effects and Production Design.

A possible surprise contender in the VFX category, The Midnight Sky does feature some impressive sequences in space. The Netflix sci-fi film stars George Clooney as a scientist in the Arctic who must race to warn a crew of astronauts not to return to Earth following a global nuclear catastrophe.

Best Picture

One of the most highly anticipated and heavily speculated categories, Best Picture is always an exciting moment at the Oscars. This year’s nominees are as follows:

  • The Father
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Nomadland
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of Chicago 7

As of now, Nomadland is an obvious frontrunner and sits comfortably as the predicted winner. The film follows a woman in her sixties who embarks on a nomadic journey through the American West after losing everything in the Great Recession. Written, edited, produced, and directed by Chloé Zhao, Nomadland has earned six total nominations at this year’s Oscars.

Other debated favorites include Minari, directed by Lee Issac Chung about a Korean American family that moves to Arkansas in search of the American dream, and Aaron Sorkin’s latest film The Trial of the Chicago 7, following the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy. Tune in on April 25th for what promises to be one of the most unusual – and hopefully memorable – Oscar ceremonies in history.