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Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, featuring (from left) Steven Yeun, Alan Kim, Yuh-jung Youn, Yeri Han and Noel Cho, has six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Photo: TNS

7 Oscars 2021 lessons: Minari is the real winner, women directors rule, diversity isn’t quite there yet and more

  • Ahead of the Oscars on April 25, here are seven things we’ve learned from the strangest awards season in cinema’s history
  • Minari might not repeat the success of last year’s Parasite, but the Korean/American drama has lit up every awards it has competed in so far

There can be no doubt this has been the strangest awards season in the history of cinema (as well as the longest, thanks to the Oscars being forced to move to April because of the pandemic).

Ordinarily, the idea of a couple of extra months’ worth of actors “campaigning” is enough to make even the most dedicated film fan weep into their copy of Vanity Fair. But this season has seen some real moments for celebration and contemplation, despite cinemas being shut all over the world for much of the past 12 months.

Here – ahead of the Oscars on April 25 – are seven things we’ve learned from this year’s awards season:

1. Minari is the real winner

Whatever happens at the Oscars next week, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari has been the film that charmed us all the way through the awards season.

The Korean/American drama about a family in 1980s Arkansas may not repeat the success of last year’s South Korean dark horse Parasite, which surprised everyone by taking Best Picture at the Oscars.

But Chung’s semi-autobiographical tale has lit up every ceremony it has competed in – like when eight-year-old Alan Kim, one of the stars, picked up the Young Performer gong at the Critic’s Choice Awards, then promptly burst into tears before pinching his face to make sure it was all real.

‘If it moves me I’m into it’: Steven Yeun on Minari

Or when Chung’s daughter shouted “I prayed! I prayed!” on Zoom when her father’s film won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Even better, veteran actress Youn Yuh-Jung called the British people “very snobbish” when she won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA.

With six Oscar nominations – including Best Picture – Minari deserves an award for keeping our spirits up.

Youn Yuh-jung receives the Best Supporting Actress Bafta for Minari via video during the 74th British Academy Film Awards on April 11, 2021 in London. Photo: Reuters


2. Zoom ceremonies can’t replace the real thing

Like everything else over the past 12 months, the Covid-19 pandemic has entirely upended awards shows. How can you have the usual congratulatory backslapping when you’re supposed to keep a safe two metres apart?

The Golden Globes tried to do it all remotely, with presenters Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting from opposite coasts in the US. The problem was it emulated exactly what we’ve all been going through in the last year, as people have adjusted to working from home.

The ceremony was beset with technical difficulties, from time lags to Daniel Kaluuya accidentally muting himself for his acceptance speech when he won Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah.

Chloe Zhao accepts the Best Director award via video at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards on February 28, 2021 in New York. Photo: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The likes of actors Sarah Paulson and Emma Corrin brought their pets onscreen when their category came up for consideration.

And if it wasn’t pets, then celebrities’ kids gatecrashed video calls. OK, so it may look cute – these famous people are just like us! – but the point of awards shows is stargazing, not being reminded of our own lives. 

3. Being red-carpet ready is a whole new deal

This year at home has seen celebrities going rogue. Although the A-list stars have still been getting dressed up in designer gear and posing for their Instagram followers, the lack of a proper red carpet at many of these events has made it all feel rather hollow. Or, to be precise, more hollow than it already was.

Some took home the fashionista prize, however – notably Jodie Foster, who was super-relaxed wearing Prada pyjamas in her living room when she won her Golden Globe for The Mauritanian.

Others, like Cynthia Erivo, in a lime-green dress that resembled a Cluedo character, looked like their stylist needed to break all social distancing rules immediately and re-dress them. 

Why Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao is an inspiration to women filmmakers

4. Women directors rule

This is the first time ever that two women directors have been nominated in the same year. Chloé Zhao (for road movie Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (for rape-revenge tale Promising Young Woman) will compete for the prize, along with David Fincher, Thomas Vinterberg and Lee Isaac Chung.

To put it into context, in the previous 92 Oscar ceremonies, only five women have ever been nominated and only one – Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker – has won.

Zhao, who became the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe and Bafta for Best Director, is now the front-runner to take the prize. But Fennell is more than just making up the numbers.

At the Baftas, she won Best Original Screenplay – a prize she may well repeat at the Oscars – and Promising Young Woman claimed the prize for Outstanding British Film.

Finally, it seems like women directors are breaking through. 

5. The streamers are here to stay

No question, this was the year of the streaming platforms. Netflix, Amazon Studios, Disney+ and Apple TV+ all scored big in the Academy Award nominations, reflecting a seismic shift in the movie business.

Gary Oldman portrays Herman Mankiewicz in a scene from Netflix’s Mank. Photo: AP

Much of this was pandemic-related, with the studios forced to shuffle their releases with so many cinemas closed and the Academy allowing films to be considered for awards that only played via streaming. Nevertheless, the streamers are making very good movies by courting A-list directors.

Netflix scored 35 nominations – including 10 for David Fincher’s Mank. Amazon Studios claimed 12 nods, with Sound of Metal and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm among the nominees.

Apple TV+ saw its animation Wolfwalkers and Tom Hanks-starring Greyhound nominated. Disney+ film The One and Only Ivan is also up for Best Visual Effects.

The studios, if they weren’t already, should be worried. 

6. Diversity isn’t quite there yet

Ever since the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag went viral in 2015, the Academy Awards have rightly been under pressure to diversify its list of nominees.

The Oscar nominees for Best Actor: (from left) Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal, Chadwick Boseman in Ma Raineys Black Bottom, Anthony Hopkins in The Father, Gary Oldman in Mank, and Steven Yeun in Minari. Photo: AP

This year – on the surface at least – looks good. Minari’s Steven Yeun is the first Asian-American to be nominated for Best Actor.

In the same category, Britain’s Riz Ahmed is the first actor of Pakistani descent to be nominated for an Academy acting award. And Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black Oscar nominees in the make-up and hairstyling category (for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

So far, so good. But it’s been noted that in the Best Director category, several black filmmakers went unrecognised – including Spike Lee (for Da Five Bloods), Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah) and George C. Wolfe (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

Perhaps the Academy needs to consider expanding the director category beyond five nominees in the way it did the Best Picture selection.

Tenet cast on how Christopher Nolan upends spy film genre

7. The blockbusters are blown away

Take a scan through this year’s Oscar nominations and the one thing you won’t find are many blockbusters. That’s understandable, given the studios pulled nearly all their releases.

But still, it feels strange for the Academy Awards to be without a Titanic, an Avatar or a Black Panther competing at the top table.

And spare a thought for Christopher Nolan. His sci-fi thriller film Tenet – the one movie that braved the pandemic – has been left out in the cold in the main categories, with its nominations coming just in production design and visual effects. This really is the year of the indie.

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