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The race to the Oscars

Photo credit: oscar.go.com
Photo credit: oscar.go.com

A reel-down on the best film contenders to watch out for in 2021.

By Rajeev Kheror

Published: Fri 22 Jan 2021, 10:36 AM

Not matter how difficult the time has been for feature films, great cinema was created and will be honoured as always. With theatrical unavailability, limited streaming and upcoming releases, the viewing destinations for these Oscars 2021 contenders may vary. Some are already available on demand and others are coming right up, so keep an eye out as they battle each other for best picture nomination.

Leading the pack is Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao and already being acclaimed as a masterpiece. Academy winner Frances McDormand, as the lead, plays a victim of recession who takes the road to look for work and explores modern nomads and makeshift communities. Through her loneliness we traverse the great American landscape, making this a poetic journey of an amazingly complex woman. Top scores in acting, music and direction makes this a favourite front runner.

Another American countryside favourite is First Cow, a mid-19th century western drama directed by Kelly Reichardt. It is a big-hearted film about brotherhood in the most unusual places, where two travellers on the run start making savoury muffins, with stolen goods and the help of the landlord's cow. The pace and the period enactment are immaculate. Streaming on Hulu.

From foreign shores we have Martin Eden, an Italian period drama that portrays the life of an aspiring writer who works to rise in stature, to marry his love; but ends up fighting alone against the world. Already being acclaimed as a brilliant piece of modern cinema by director Pietro Marcell.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is the most challenging mind twister from Charlie Kaufman yet. On the surface it is a simple story of girl going to meet her boyfriend's parents, but then the disorienting film techniques come to play. The film demands full attention and you can watch it on Netflix.

While on the topic of simple stories, being a teenage girl in America can be very dangerous. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is tale of a 17-year-old pregnant girl, who travels to New York with her best friend-cousin for an abortion. This powerful drama of two young women has stellar performances by the young leads and Eliza Hittman scores high in directing them. Available on HBO Max.

Another film about two young girls is Beanpole, a Russian post-world war II drama set in 1945 Leningrad when the city is licking its wounds after its siege. A nurse and her friend try to find mutual peace in this achingly beautiful film. Director Kantemir Balagov has already won accolades and praise for his brilliant execution.

Another remarkable period film is News of the World, set in post-American civil war. A captain (played by Tom Hanks) finds a 10-year-old girl and is forced to return her to her aunt and uncle. Things turn into a fight for survival in the treacherous lands of Texas, where they face danger from all sides. Paul Greengrass co-wrote and directed this true-to-life western. Available on VOD.

Minari is a classic immigrant dream story about a Korean family setting up their farm in the American heartland of Arkansas. Inspired by his own upbringing, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung delivers beautiful American dream story fused with characters from Korean melodrama. The grandmother is the best. Releasing on February 12.

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman deliver marvelous performances as father and daughter in The Father. A great account of how a dementia patient and their family live with blurred borders of reality. Florian Zeller's direction tightens the heart and mind. Releasing on February 26.

An autobiographical story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz who wrote Citizen Kane, Mank is a great film about a great writer. It is also a great account of the eccentricities of the talented writer and the society intellectuals who wooed him, bringing their own jest. David Fincher directs this screenplay written by his father Jack Fincher. It does get more Hollywood blue blooded than this. The jury will surely be gunning for this. Available on Netflix.

The best musical is by far Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, set in 1927 in Chicago about a recording of the legendary blues singer, this film creates the mood and the magic of the blues. Late Chadwick Bosman's last performance will surely bring an award as he seers through Voila Davis amazing portrayal of Ma Rainey. Director George C. Wolfe takes you a sweaty and smoke-filled musical theatre. Not to be missed, available on Netflix.

Another Chadwick Bosman film is Da 5 Bloods, where four African-American veteran soldiers go back to Vietnam to find the remains of their squadron leader and the gold they hid. Everything turns against them in this pursuit. Spike Lee's direction style makes great momentum. Streaming on Netflix.

A definitive African-American political film is One Night in Miami. An inspired account of a one-night meeting in 1964 between Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Same Cooke and Malcom X, where they voice their individual; and shared responsibilities in the civil rights movement as successful African-Americans. Regina King's direction is the Tour de force here. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Based on true events is the masterful film The Trial of Chicago 7. Following the trial of seven countercultural protestors charged by the US federal government on conspiracy in the Democratic National Convention in 1968. At the heart it is as gripping as a court room drama can get, only that its real. Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed it. Enjoy it on Netflix.

More on the Oscars 2021 coming up.

Rajeev Kheror

A Dubaian, now living in Los Angeles. He has produced movies and series globally and contributes regularly to the international entertainment community.

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