Chadwick Boseman and Chloé Zhao Are About to Make Oscars History
Our Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon break down who will—and should—win at the Oscars on Sunday night, from ‘Minari’ to ‘Mank.’
Marlow: Well, KFal, the day is finally here. We’ve discussed the terrible optics of this year’s mask-less pandemic Oscars, the performers and films that the Academy foolishly overlooked (cue feverish Mads Mikkelsen dance), and how to fix the limp ceremony given its cratering ratings and deep lack of interest this year.
Kevin: We’ve been doing this all week, and yet I still forgot the Oscars are on Sunday.
Marlow: I don’t blame you! But unlike much of the general public, I believe that we are still emotionally invested in these Academy Awards, so it’s time to debate who we think will win and should win. I’ll start with Youn Yuh-jung, the eccentric grandmother of Minari. As someone who also had an opinionated, charismatic, and adoring Korean grandma, and who used to play hwatu with her (as little Alan Kim does in the film), I felt deep gratitude for Soonja, whose love wafts through this entire household. She should—and probably will—win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, although I’m worried that it might be some sort of consolation prize for Minari being shut out in most of the other major categories, even though it is, in this writer’s opinion, the best film up for Best Picture this year.
Kevin: For all the jokes about how disinterested the world is in this year’s ceremony, it’s actually a rare case where the races are exciting! We’re so used to the same four actors, director, and film being rubberstamped through awards season, as if voters are moonlighting as DMV employees, that this is genuinely fun. Those previous two sentences are just a tease, however, as there are two categories that I think are sewn up. Youn is definitely going to win, and, thank God, because she should. What a beautiful, vibrant performance she gave. I’d like to think voters are smart enough not to insult Glenn Close by giving her the long-overdue trophy for the red-hat-and-wig massacre that was Hillbilly Elegy.
Marlow: You can maybe thank J.D. Vance for that! Poor Mamaw… I mean, Glenn Close.
Kevin: And, while certainly responsible for helping define the year in cinema, a viral Rudy Giuliani moment should not net newcomer Maria Bakalova an Oscar. But the other race that I feel is already a done deal is Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya’s Judas and the Black Messiah performance. It’s the kind of booming acting that echoes with you long after you’ve seen the film. He’s won every award thus far, and while Lakeith Stanfield’s surprise arrival in this category could take away a few votes, aside from Sound of Metal’s brilliant Paul Raci, I can’t imagine anyone else being close enough for that to matter.
Marlow: I also feel Kaluuya has this thing sewn up—and frankly, he should have won Best Actor for Get Out. While his accent is all over the place in Judas and the Black Messiah (seriously, where is it supposed to be from?) he brought to thrilling life two sides of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton—the fiery orator and softhearted partner. Few actors can portray vulnerability like Kaluuya, and even though I felt Stanfield gave the superior performance in the film (clearly a lead performance, by the way), Kaluuya is the sort of once-in-a-generation talent that should be reaping awards. How wasn’t he even nominated for Widows?
Kevin: How wasn’t everyone nominated for Widows? Should we just pivot this conversation to a a #JusticeForWidows Change.org petition?
Marlow: I’m game. In the lead actor categories, since Another Round’s Mads Mikkelsen isn’t nominated (OK, I’ll shut up about it now), my choice to win Best Actor would be Steven Yeun, whose turn as the stubborn, dedicated father of Minari is a glowing tribute to the sacrifices made by immigrant dads all across America. But I think the late Chadwick Boseman has this one in the bag for his volatile trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Kevin: I’m so used to not caring about the Best Actor category. (Men? Acting? How boring.) But this year, outside of my nemesis—Gary Oldman’s Mank performance—it’s such a stellar lineup.
Marlow: All the Mank praise… did we learn nothing from The Artist?
Kevin: I have already gone to Costco to purchase my jumbo pack of tissues for when Boseman wins, and it will be wholly deserved. That is a PERFORMANCE. And you know it’s a stacked year when not just Yeun, but Anthony Hopkins’ The Father performance—the kind that puts a capstone on the legacy of one of the industry’s finest actors ever—and Riz Ahmed’s devastating work in Sound of Metal are also-rans. As the awards season has gone on, The Father is the Best Picture nominee I keep thinking about. The way they use editing and production design to tell this shattering story about a man in the throes of dementia confronting his unsettling loss of reality is so inventive and clever, the kind of unexpected cinematic thrill I typically reserve for cutting-edge visual effects or CGI. All of that is rooted in Hopkins’ performance.
Marlow: Anthony Hopkins should get an Oscar for his soothing, deliciously quirky Instagram account, in my humble opinion.
Kevin: But if I consider Hopkins a potential spoiler in the race, I don’t know what to make of the Best Actress category at all. And what a treat! I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if any of them win. At the moment, I have Frances McDormand in my Oscar pool that I always lose. She’s the star of what I figure will be the Best Picture winner, Nomadland, which I think gives her the edge. But then again, no Best Actress winner has starred in the corresponding Best Picture since Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby 17 years ago. So, I am fully prepared to be something I never admit to: Wrong.
Marlow: Million Dollar Baby reminds me of two things, neither of which has much to do with the film itself: the Always Sunny parody episode where Charlie and Dee do steroids, and this bit from The Office. I think Frances McDormand will win for shitting in a bucket and have no objection to it—though Viola Davis is an absolute powerhouse in Ma Rainey’s and would be just as deserving, even though it’s technically more of a supporting turn (and as you’ve pointed out to me, was treated as such during its Broadway run). If McDormand wins, it’ll be her third Best Actress Oscar, the second-most ever to Katherine Hepburn’s four (and she’ll probably be in the running next year for Joel Coen’s Macbeth adaptation, which I hear is phenomenal).
Kevin: It’s a crazy year. There’s nothing we can use as a guide to predict who will win: McDormand won the BAFTA, Davis won the SAG, Carey Mulligan won Critics Choice and Indie Spirits, Andra Day won the Golden Globe, and Vanessa Kirby won the Venice prize. Any of them could take it!
Marlow: A crapshoot! But I’m not sure that Nomadland will win Best Picture! This may be me being too hopeful, but I think it’ll be a Best Picture/Best Director split, with Minari winning Best Picture and Chloé Zhao making history as only the second woman—and first Asian woman—to win Best Director.
Kevin: I’ve been stretching for weeks so that I can spring up off my couch to deliver a standing ovation for Zhao when she makes history. The directing of Nomadland, even with the slight Amazon controversy, is sensational. She steered the right story with the right aesthetic directly to our hearts at the right moment.
Marlow: Those magic-hour shots! That tracking shot! She should’ve at least been nominated for The Rider as well.
Kevin: A split would be exciting, and I can’t imagine anyone begrudging Minari winning Best Picture. I do think that Nomadland has been barreling toward the Big Prize like an RV speeding down a hill with no brakes. If any other film is going to win—and I almost don’t even want to put this into the universe—I think it’s going to be The Trial of Chicago 7. It’s probably the most-watched nominee (power of Netflix), it makes voters feel woke, it’s Sorkin—and they love Sorkin. But that would be outrageous in a year that has both Nomadland and Minari, so I’m sticking with my Nomadland pick.
Marlow: That film is a poorly directed, disastrous caricature and I hope it doesn’t happen!