The 2021 Oscars Foolishly Overlooked a Trump Supporter, an Abortion Drama, and Mads Mikkelsen
Our Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon break down the best films and performances that the Academy ignored this year.
Kevin: After the year we’ve had, it was positively unsettling to watch the Oscar nominations be announced and, for once, not be that unsettled. All things considered, the nominees were... fine. In the grand history of the show’s nonsense and tomfoolery, “fine” is akin to crying tears of joy and emotionally proclaiming in a soft whisper, “Perfection.”
Marlow: Antonio Banderas dot GIF.
Kevin: At the very least, they offered far less to tweet angrily about than usual, especially if you’re a pundit who followed the (endless) season’s trajectory and saw that things shook out pretty much as predicted. (The opportunity to be hyperbolically angry about award nominations: Yet another thing the pandemic took away from me.) To use my favorite two words in the English language—“that said”—that said, I have been of course pouring one out for the films and performances I think should have been nominated, as I will never understand why the Academy just doesn’t ask me what to do and save themselves the headache. At the very top of that list are two films that I didn’t just think were snubbed from the expanded Best Picture list but would have made my Top 5 in the old-school, more selective version of the category: Eliza Hittman’s harrowing, yet tender abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Spike Lee’s adrenaline-shot odyssey Da 5 Bloods. Not only that, Hittman and Lee should have found themselves in the director and screenplay categories, and, had they been nominated, I would have argued for respective leads Sidney Flanigan and Delroy Lindo to win Best Actress and Best Actor.
Marlow: I agree that Flanigan and Lindo deserved noms, and found Never Rarely to be a powerful indictment of the abortion debate in America—one that so often erases the desperate plight of the many young women affected by it.
Kevin: I left its Sundance premiere what seems like 84 years ago—it was January 2020—a wreck. And even though it’s the first film I saw that was up for consideration this awards season, that titular scene, in which a counselor asks Flanigan’s character the series of invasive screening questions, is the one that, more than any movie, still pulses most vividly in my mind.
Marlow: A haunting sequence. Da 5 Bloods is a messy, fascinating film bursting with ideas and lyrical/visual flourishes—as is Spike’s wont—but due to oversaturation, those ideas remain surface-level, never burrowing deeper (case in point: Lindo’s character’s Trump fandom). When you mentioned “pouring one out” I thought you were going to segue into Another Round, Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s highly entertaining study of midlife ennui, male friendships, and the joys and sorrows of drinking, because I firmly believe that Mads Mikkelsen gave the best male performance of the year in that film and should have at a minimum been nominated for Best Actor. There are so many scenes that stuck with me, from reconnecting with his wife in a tent on a camping trip to that incredible dance sequence-closer, the most perfect ending to a film in 2020. We tend to overlook reliably great “foreign” actors like Mads, who also should have been nominated for his bleeding-eye villain in Casino Royale and his embattled teacher in The Hunt, and it’s a damn shame.
Kevin: If Mikkelsen isn’t asked to recreate that dance sequence on stage Sunday night, I honestly don’t know why we’re having the Oscars at all.
Marlow: Make it happen, Soderbergh!
Kevin: If we’re singling out other performances that I can’t believe didn’t gain more traction, I’d like to hike to a mountain top and bellow from the peak: “Candice Bergen in Let Them All Talk!!!” I’m astonished that, outside of the LGBT Society of Entertainment Critics (it’s called taste, sweetie), Bergen was pretty much ignored all season for a towering performance. It’s a turn that makes you look at a veteran actor in a new light—one that veers on career-best—and in a Steven Soderbergh film that starred Meryl Streep. How is she not an Oscar nominee? Make it make sense!
Marlow: Let Them All Talk was an absolute delight—such a tonic at a time when we all needed a nice little pick-me-up—and Bergen was also cruelly overlooked for Book Club, where she stole every scene. Bergen delivered a master class in passive-aggression, and the stand-off sequence between Bergen and Meryl was a doozy, their long-simmering resentments bubbling to the surface. I also felt Lucas Hedges’ breezy turn was overlooked in Let Them All Talk. The breakfast scenes between him and Meryl—largely improvised, by the way—were so charming to watch.
Kevin: The other supporting performance I was bummed didn’t get a nod was Alan Kim’s precocious work in Minari, an all-time-great child performance and probably the most delightful acting on screen this year, but Minari got such a warm reception by the Academy it’s hard to be too disappointed. I would also go to bat for Dominique Fishback in Judas and the Black Messiah, who I wish could have rode the tidal wave of love for that movie. Then we get down to my more random favorites, two performances that I realize aren’t “Oscar performances,” and my hatred of that entire concept makes me just champion them more: Valerie Mahaffey’s quirky and peculiar work in the even quirkier and more peculiar French Exit, and Dan Stevens going full gonzo-goofy in Eurovision Song Contest.
Marlow: Those are all fun picks, and I agree with you on Alan Kim, the tiny beating heart of Minari, and Dominique Fishback, who gave voice to the all-important women behind the Black Panther Party who are rarely given the appreciation they deserve. A few other performances I would’ve loved to see nominated were Aubrey Plaza’s dual turn in Black Bear, Julia Garner as the abused underling in The Assistant—particularly relevant in light of the recent Scott Rudin revelations—Gina Rodriguez’s paragon of compassion in Kajillionaire, and Cristin Milioti, who elevated Palm Springs to high art. The Academy needs to get the fuck over their hatred of outstanding comedy performances already.
Kevin: Getting Cristin Milioti more awards attention for her underappreciated projects (Made for Love, now streaming!) is my most passionate crusade, and I have no room in my life for anyone who will not join the cause. At some point, even in Daily Beast stories for which the explicit purpose is to complain about things not getting award nominations, I have to be at peace with the fact that, dear God, not everything can be included. There are a bunch of movies that were shut out by the Academy that I really liked, like Let Them All Talk, Palm Springs, Miss Juneteenth, and First Cow, but you’ve got to throw your hands up some time.
Marlow: Ah, yes. Justice for First Cow and the criminally underpraised Kelly Reichardt, one of our finest living filmmakers!
Kevin: There are, however, exactly two more movies, the snubbing of which I am still working through with my therapist: Kristen Johnson’s remarkable documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead, the most inventive, poignant, and emotional affecting thing I’ve seen in ages—it is the rare film to actually change my life—and then, of course, the cinema classic Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. That’s not even a joke. Obviously, I’m the obnoxious gay who won’t stop exaggerating how much I loved it. But on a serious level, listen to any of the original songs that film and tell me, even outside of the delirious, dementedly funny lyrics, that they aren’t musically superior to any one of the Best Original Song nominees.
Marlow: With the exception of “Husavik” from Eurovision, of course! And I second your thoughts on Dick Johnson Is Dead—tied with Minari for my favorite film of the year, and one of the most profound examinations of mortality and fatherly love ever put to screen. Long may he live.