My Top 15 Films of the Year and Everything to Know About the 94th Academy Awards

Tonight, the year in film officially closes with the granddaddy of them all—the 94th Academy Awards. And now, the time is apt for me to share my thoughts on the past year in movies. During awards season, I usually spend a month or so blogging every few days. However, with a busy work schedule and an even busier time raising a two-year-old son (who turns three in 12 days—Happy Early Birthday, Paxton), my film blog has reached a new point in its evolution over the years. Today is my first post of the awards season, but I’m coming in hot with as much information as you’d possible need heading into the Oscars. Therefore, in advance of tonight’s 94th Academy Awards (which will honor the films released last year between March 1st and December 31st), I present to you: (1) my Top 15 Films of the Year; (2) my predictions for the biggest awards of the night (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor), including a discussion of the current betting odds in each of those categories; (3) a list of Oscar acting snubs and other noteworthy performances from 2021; (4) my personal ballot for all categories in which I have seen each film/performance (15 of the 23 total categories, with a total of 95 of the 120 nominees and 90% of the non-short nominees); and (5) a complete ranking of every film I saw from this year’s Oscars eligibility period.

This year’s Oscars is set to look quite a bit different than usual. One thing we haven’t seen since 2018 is a traditional host, but this year, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes will emcee the event, marking the first time the show has featured multiple hosts since that disastrous tag-team of Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011. I fully expect this year’s trio of hilarious women to absolutely kill it! Additionally, the live telecast is set to feature far less award categories than usual, a decision about which I am personally disappointed. Buckling under pressure from ABC executives, the Academy announced only 15 categories will be awarded during the live telecast—the other 8 will be presented by Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa off the air. A night celebrating the best in film is much more than just the sexy categories (e.g., acting, writing, and cinematography)—it’s also about recognizing the immense talent within the industry in short-film production, as well as vital technical artistry, such as film editing, sound, and production design. I hope this new format does not become the standard in years to come because it shortchanges both fans of cinema and those who work so hard behind the scenes to bring movies to life.

With that said, check out this post in greater detail below, and make sure to tune into the 94th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. Enjoy the show, film fans!

My Top 15 Films of the Year

No. 1 – The Worst Person in the World

Did I come into this past year in film with the general idea that my favorite movie would likely be a dark, Norwegian-language romantic dramedy? Nope. Is that exactly what ended up happening, though? Yep. This masterpiece of a film (directed and co-written by Joachim Trier) is a coming-of-age story about Julie, a young woman in Oslo trying to find herself as she approaches 30. The movie begins with a prologue, closes with an epilogue, and features a central narrative divided into 12 chapters (including “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo” and “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus”—the latter of which features the film’s wildest and craziest scene involving psychedelic mushrooms). It’s simply that kind of movie. The romance is relatable. The comedy is continuous. And the heart of the story is brilliant. It’s an absolute travesty lead actress Renate Reinsve (who won for Best Actress at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival) missed out on an Oscar nomination. Further, if any international film was going to land a Best Picture nomination this year, it most definitely should have been The Worst Person in the World over Drive My Car. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 2 – Candyman

Over the last few years, Jordan Peele has transformed from sketch-show funnyman to master of horror films with distinctive social commentary. And although his 2018 film Get Out likely set the standard in this arena, his greatest work is bringing this sequel to the 1992 film of the same name to fruition as a writer and producer, not a director. This film, directed by up-and-comer Nia DaCosta, is nearly perfect in every way. The cinematography is stunning (the opening credits sequence quickly became one of my favorites of all time), the acting is superb (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers one of the most haunting performances of the year), and the storytelling is remarkable (the greatest use of shadow puppetry in film history?!). Magnificent filmmaking. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 3 – Swan Song

If you’re in the mood for science-fiction, romance, and hard drama, look no further than Swan Song, a beautiful, thought-provoking film written and directed by Benjamin Cleary. The movie is about a terminally ill husband and father who considers switching places with a clone in order to save his wife and son from facing the life-shattering pain of his impending death. Mahershala Ali is clearly one of the greatest actors working in film today (as evidenced by his two Oscar wins), and in Swan Song, he turns in a dual performance for the ages, deftly portraying both the lead, Cameron Turner, and his clone, Jack. A good drama will make you cry, and without a doubt, Swan Song did its job with me. Streaming for free for subscribers to Apple TV+.

No. 4 – Encanto

I distinctly remember the colossal hold Frozen’s “Let It Go” had on kids across the world nearly a decade ago, but that sensation has now likely been eclipsed by five words—“We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Encanto, the latest production from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is a magical (literally) tale of family set in Colombia, and the film, which operates as an infectious musical, is enchanting. Encanto is more than just its music, though (although Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original tunes are, collectively, the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae)—it is a deeply gripping story of love, loss, and familial resolve. Moreover, the film stands as a shining beacon of cultural diversity—representation matters, and Disney delivers a beautiful love letter to Colombia. But back to that music. Although “Bruno” gets all the attention (it’s incredible, so I’m not complaining), the film features a number of other wonderful compositions, including “Surface Pressure” (my personal favorite) and “Dos Oruguitas” (which serves thematically as the heart and soul of the movie). Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+.

No. 5 – Dune

Every so often, the battery of Best Picture nominees includes a blockbuster film amongst the more prototypical artsy movies. This year, that blockbuster is Dune (although many film fans wish Spider-Man: No Way Home received the same adulation). In the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s famed science-fiction novel of the same name, visionary filmmaker Denis Villeneuve delivers a visually stunning experience—in fact, Dune is my favorite of all this year’s Best Picture nominees. The movie is epic in scale (it only covers half the book, with the second half to be dealt with in Dune: Part Two, to be released on October 20, 2023), and Villeneuve was the perfect vessel for this story, having previously directed Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. In some sense, Dune reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road, my second-favorite film of all time. Both movies are epic tales and examples of the masterful filmmaking balance between high-brow art and mass-appeal blockbuster. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.

No. 6 – The Harder They Fall

One of my new favorite westerns of all time is The Harder They Fall, an exquisite piece of original filmmaking by writer-director Jeymes Samuel (along with co-writer Boaz Yakin). When I think of this film, the first thing that will always come to mind is the opening sequence, which felt inspired by the opening scene in Inglourious Basterds. Had the movie kept up the energy from that opening scene (a tall task indeed, as that scene is perfect), this movie very well may have been my favorite of 2021. Led by an all-Black principal cast, this film is loosely based on real-life people in the American West during the 1800s. The movie is chock-full of unique style, gunslinging action, hard-hitting music, and immense acting prowess, including excellent performances from Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Idris Elba, and Regina King. If you like westerns, this is a must-see. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

No. 7 – tick, tick…BOOM!

Although I’ve never personally watched Rent from start to finish, I know it is one of my wife’s favorite musical films. So, when I saw a new musical film was set to debut on Netflix about the life of the man behind Rent, I knew we had to watch. I am not really sure what I expected from this movie, but whatever those expectations were, this film exceeded them spectacularly. Tick, tick…BOOM!, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut, is based on the stage musical of the same name, which itself is an autobiographical story of budding Broadway composer Jonathan Larson’s life up to that point. The music is certainly Broadway, through and through, and the story (set in New York City in the early 1990s) pulls you in and emotionally wrecks you. I already can’t wait to watch (and sing along with) this one again. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

No. 8 – Spider-Man: No Way Home

I’m going to start with a bold (yet maybe not that bold) statement: Spider-Man: No Way Home is Marvel’s best film yet. Yeah, I said it. I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Endgame, but I’m not certain any of those films has hit the mark more precisely than the third Tom Holland-led Spidey installment. I especially love the film’s introduction of a multiverse, which opens up immeasurable opportunities for future films. At a time when theater attendance is vastly dwindling (the COVID-19 pandemic sure didn’t do anything to help that), Spider-Man: No Way Home reinvigorated the industry, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year and the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time—it has made nearly $2 billion! Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms.

No. 9 – No Time to Die

No Time to Die is Daniel Craig’s final go-round as MI6 agent James Bond, and this iteration of 007 sure goes out in style. The previous four Craig-led installments in the Bond franchise haven’t necessarily been consistent—a couple were utterly incredible (Casino Royale and Skyfall), one was mehhh (Spectre), and one was downright dreadful (Quantum of Solace)—so I was a bit nervous about how this particular series would end. To my surprise, the Cary Joji Fukunaga-led movie was magnificent. For me, I now place No Time to Die right behind Skyfall for my favorite of the Craig films—it was that good! The film features a number of visually stunning set pieces (the trademark of any Bond movie), but it is the film’s emotional hook that truly drives No Time to Die to the finish line. Time to get out the gin and pour a Vesper in Daniel Craig’s honor. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 10 – The Green Knight

At the outset, I’ll say this about The Green Knight: It was definitely mismarketed. The publicity surrounding The Green Knight ahead of its summer 2021 release made it seem as though it was generally in the same vein as most summer action blockbusters. However, it was far from typical and definitely not action-packed, as the film’s pre-release promotion led on. All this means is that it is unsurprising that a lot of film audiences didn’t care for it. For me, it just means I had to adjust my expectations during the film. In the end, I still absolutely loved this adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a 14th century poem about a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. If you’ve seen A Ghost Story, you’ll know filmmaker David Lowery is far from conventional—this sentiment resonates in The Green Knight as well. The cinematography is exquisite and Lowery’s storytelling is distinctive and original. Not to mention, the acting is first-rate, led by Dev Patel in the lead role. Streaming for free for subscribers to Showtime.

No. 11 – The Suicide Squad

Let me set the scene…It is the summer of 2016. My most anticipated film of the year comes out. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its release for a year. Jared Leto as the Joker. Will Smith as Deadshot. And in the end…a steaming hot pile of garbage. I can’t possibly undersell just how awful and disappointing Suicide Squad turned out to be—it’s probably one of the most drastic examples from the past ten years of a film failing to meet expectations. And yet, I was still hyped for the sequel/re-brand, The Suicide Squad. Luckily, the newest version is downright amazing and one of the most fun movie-watching experiences I’ve had in recent years. Margot Robbie is the epitome of perfection once again as Harley Quinn (her third turn as the character), Idris Elba is lights out as Bloodsport, and John Cena nearly steals the show as Peacemaker, a role in which he also stars on HBO Max’s subsequent TV series, Peacemaker. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.

No. 12 – Zola

The setup for Zola is both simple and mesmerizing—the film is based in part on a viral 148-tweet thread posted on Twitter by Aziah “Zola” King in 2015, wherein she describes a wild and crazy road trip she took to Florida with a random stripper she met, featuring tales of murder, prostitution, and much more. Zola is a thrill ride from start to finish, and the film is held up by wonderful acting performances from Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, and Colman Domingo. Streaming for free for subscribers to Showtime.

No. 13 – A Quiet Place Part II

Despite my love for A Quiet Place, I admit I was initially skeptical about what new ground writer-director John Krasinski could cover in a sequel and whether a second installment could be as captivating as the original. By the time I finished the film, my concerns were firmly put to rest—Krasinski knocks this out of the park. Part II features immense levels of suspense, thrill, edge-of-your-seat nervousness, and it’s anchored by two stunning performances by Millicent Simmonds and Cillian Murphy. If you loved the first film, I assure you, the sequel lives up to every expectation. Streaming for free for subscribers to Paramount+.

No. 14 – Last Night in Soho

The latest film from Edgar Wright adds another eclectic installment to the English writer-director’s filmography. Wright has created comedic zombie and science-fiction films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End), a cult-classic romantic comedy (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and an ambitious action film (Baby Driver), and in Last Night in Soho, he gives us a psychological horror for the ages. Wright’s blend of 1960s and modern-day London is striking, and the wonderful performances by Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy certainly make the film worth the watch. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 15 – The Tragedy of Macbeth

Based on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this black-and-white film adaptation provides a breath of fresh air to its nearly 400-year-old source material, displaying a masterful mixture of style, minimalism, first-rate acting (Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles), and captivating photography. Oscar winner Joel Coen wrote and directed this movie, and it marks the first time one of the Coen brothers directed a film without any involvement by the other brother. It turns out, Joel kills it as a solo artist. Streaming for free for subscribers to Apple TV+.

Who Could, Should, and Will Take Home Film’s Biggest Awards

Best Picture

Who Could WinCODA or The Power of the Dog

This year’s award for Best Picture is truly a toss-up between two clear frontrunners (-120 odds for each)—the more feel-good, formulaic CODA and the more daring, artistic The Power of the Dog.

Who Should WinDune

As discussed above, my favorite of this year’s Best Picture nominees is Denis Villeneuve’s bold and adventurous adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel.

Who Will WinThe Power of the Dog

I am truthfully clueless as to which film’s name will be in the final envelope tonight, but my gut says it is legendary filmmaker Jane Campion’s cerebral drama set in Montana during the 1920s. The film is certainly the more audacious of the two frontrunners, and I hope the voters reward that cinematic bravery.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Who Could Win: Penélope Cruz

In recent days, the odds have steadily shortened for Penélope Cruz to strike an upset in the Best Actress category—she now sits at +300, the second-best odds among the nominees. The four-time Oscar nominee delivered a beautiful, heartbreaking performance in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers (Cruz’s seventh cinematic collaboration with the renowned Spanish filmmaker), and if she shocks the world by receiving her second Oscar tonight, it will have been much deserved.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain

As much as I loved the performances from Cruz and Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) this year, from the moment I watched The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it has always been Jessica Chastain for me. If you’ve followed this blog since its inception, you’ll know Chastain is one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood, and for me, an Academy Award for Chastain is beyond overdue. If I had a vote, Chastain would get it for her awe-inspiring turn as the late televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.

Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Despite the surge of attention Cruz is receiving ahead of the Academy Awards, I still think in the end, Chastain (a -150 favorite) comes out victorious. Cruz has yet to win a single major award for her performance in Parallel Mothers, while Chastain took home the hardware at both the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Who Could Win: Benedict Cumberbatch

Based on current success this awards cycle, nobody in this category appears to stand a chance against Will Smith. However, if any underdog is going to do it, it’ll be Benedict Cumberbatch for his performance as Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog. Presently, Cumberbatch is receiving odds of +500.

Who Should Win: Will Smith

So far this awards season, Will Smith has secured wins at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTAs for his performance as the real-life father of Venus and Serena Williams, Richard Williams, in King Richard. His trophy cabinet is full, but if I had a vote, he’d need to make room for one more.

Who Will Win: Will Smith

Will Smith has swept awards season with a vengeance. This performance in King Richard garnered Smith his third Academy Awards nomination in an acting category (he’s also nominated for Best Picture this year for his role as a producer for King Richard), and with frontrunner odds of -900, the Fresh Prince looks set to hoist the gold on film’s biggest night.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Could Win: Kirsten Dunst

Like the Best Actor category, the odds here do not favor a challenge to the favorite for the Oscar. However, in a universe where an upset takes place, my money would be on Kirsten Dunst to make that happen for her performance in The Power of the Dog—she is currently pulling odds of +600.

Who Should Win: Jessie Buckley

Although she likely stands no chance to actually win this year, my vote in this category would land undoubtedly on Jessie Buckley for her emotionally charged performance in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut, The Lost Daughter. As a whole, I didn’t find this film particularly captivating. Olivia Colman was stellar, per usual. But the story just didn’t make its mark with me. With that said, all of the film’s standout moments came courtesy of Buckley. It doesn’t matter that the film wasn’t one of the year’s best—her performance sure was.

Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose

After sweeping the season’s major awards in this category, Ariana DeBose is nearly certain to win the Oscar for her performance as Anita (a role made famous by co-star Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for the original 1961 film adaptation) in West Side Story—her odds currently sit at -1500. DeBose’s dominance in this category is not a fluke. Her performance is equal parts boisterous and crushing. A beautiful piece of acting.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Could Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee

As if The Power of the Dog didn’t have enough acting prowess with the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, the Best Supporting Actor category features nominations for both Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee for their respective roles in Jane Campion’s film. Of the two, Smit-McPhee was certainly the more impressive—if there is a surprise in this category (Smit-McPhee is currently getting the second-best odds at +450), it will be to the benefit of the 25-year-old Australian.

Who Should Win: Ciarán Hinds

He’s not going home with an Oscar tonight (+1600 odds for a win), but that doesn’t do anything to change how I feel about Ciarán Hinds’s performance in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a film set in Northern Ireland during the early days of The Troubles. For me, the 69-year-old Irish actor is the heartbeat of this movie—an utter masterclass in nuance.

Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur

As is the case in nearly every acting category (except Best Actress), the winner here appears to be a foregone conclusion, as deaf actor Troy Kotsur is currently getting -1000 odds to win the award. A Kotsur win is understandable, as he turned in a magnum opus of a performance in CODA, anchoring the film’s funniest and most heartbreaking scenes.

Snubs and Other Performances

If you think the nominees in the acting categories at the Academy Awards are always the five best from the previous year, you’re greatly mistaken. Each year, the Academy voters overlook a number of impressive performances. Here are my thoughts on some of the year’s best:

Lead Actress: The biggest snub in this category is Renate Reinsve, who delivered a revelatory performance as the lead in my favorite movie of the year, The Worst Person in the World—she absolutely deserved an Oscar nod this year. My other favorite lead actress performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza, Emilia Jones in CODA, Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho, Taylour Paige in Zola, Agathe Rousselle in Titane, and Millicent Simmonds in A Quiet Place Part II.

Lead Actor: One of the lasting memories I will have from 2021 in film is how in the world Mahershala Ali (a two-time Oscar nominee and winner) missed out on another nomination for his flawless dual performance in Swan Song—Ali proved again why he is one of the very best actors working today. My other favorite lead actor performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman, Nicolas Cage in Pig, Don Cheadle in No Sudden Move, Winston Duke in Nine Days, Frankie Faison in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Andrew Garfield in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jake Gyllenhaal in The Guilty, Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall, Dev Patel in The Green Knight, and Simon Rex in Red Rocket.

Supporting Actress: Aside from Mahershala Ali’s brilliance, Swan Song also features a beautiful performance from Naomie Harris (Ali’s Moonlight co-star), who depicts Poppy Turner (the wife of Ali’s Cameron Turner) with deft emotional skill. My other favorite supporting actress performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Caitríona Balfe in Belfast, Kathryn Hunter in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Riley Keough in Zola, Regina King in The Harder They Fall, and Milena Smit in Parallel Mothers.

Supporting Actor: Zola was one of my favorite films of 2021, and although Taylour Paige and Riley Keough were phenomenal, Colman Domingo stole the show—his depiction of the mysterious X was ruthlessly menacing. Domingo’s dynamite performance certainly deserved more love from the Academy voters. My other favorite supporting actor performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Anders Danielsen Lie in The Worst Person in the World, Robin de Jesús in tick, tick…BOOM!, Mike Faist in West Side Story, Vincent Lindon in Titane, Cillian Murphy in A Quiet Place Part II, and Benedict Wong in Nine Days.

My Personal Ballot for the 94th Academy Awards

Best Picture

  1. Dune
  2. Belfast
  3. The Power of the Dog
  4. King Richard
  5. West Side Story
  6. Licorice Pizza
  7. CODA
  8. Don’t Look Up
  9. Nightmare Alley
  10. Drive My Car

Best Director

  1. Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
  2. Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
  3. Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
  4. Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
  5. Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  1. Will Smith – King Richard
  2. Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM!
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
  4. Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth
  5. Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  2. Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
  3. Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
  4. Kristen Stewart – Spencer
  5. Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  1. Ciarán Hinds – Belfast
  2. Troy Kotsur – CODA
  3. Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog
  4. Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog
  5. K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  1. Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter
  2. Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog
  3. Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
  4. Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
  5. Judi Dench – Belfast

Best Original Screenplay

  1. The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
  2. Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay (screenplay); McKay and David Sirota (story)
  3. Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
  4. King Richard – Zach Baylin
  5. Belfast – Kenneth Branagh

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion (based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage)
  2. Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth (based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert)
  3. CODA – Sian Heder (based on the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier)
  4. The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal (based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante)
  5. Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe (based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami)

Best Animated Feature

  1. Encanto
  2. Raya and the Last Dragon
  3. Flee
  4. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
  5. Luca

Best Original Score

  1. Dune – Hans Zimmer
  2. Encanto – Germaine Franco
  3. The Power of the Dog – Jonny Greenwood
  4. Parallel Mothers – Alberto Iglesias
  5. Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell

Best Sound

  1. Dune – Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, and Ron Bartlett
  2. No Time to Die – Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, and Mark Taylor
  3. West Side Story – Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy
  4. Belfast – Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
  5. The Power of the Dog – Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb

Best Production Design

  1. Dune – Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
  2. The Tragedy of Macbeth – Production Design: Stefan Dechant; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
  3. West Side Story – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo
  4. Nightmare Alley – Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
  5. The Power of the Dog – Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards

Best Cinematography

  1. Dune – Greig Fraser
  2. The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel
  3. West Side Story – Janusz Kaminski
  4. The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner
  5. Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen

Best Film Editing

  1. Dune – Joe Walker
  2. tick, tick…BOOM! – Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
  3. The Power of the Dog – Peter Sciberras
  4. Don’t Look Up – Hank Corwin
  5. King Richard – Pamela Martin

Best Visual Effects

  1. Dune – Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer
  2. Spider-Man: No Way Home – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, and Dan Sudick
  3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker, and Dan Oliver
  4. Free Guy – Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, and Dan Sudick
  5. No Time to Die – Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner, and Chris Corbould

Complete Ranking of All Films Seen from 2021

1 The Worst Person in the World
2 Candyman
3 Swan Song
4 Encanto
5 Dune
6 The Harder They Fall
7 tick, tick…BOOM!
8 Spider-Man: No Way Home
9 No Time to Die
10 The Green Knight
11 The Suicide Squad
12 Zola
13 A Quiet Place Part II
14 Last Night in Soho
15 The Tragedy of Macbeth
16 Belfast
17 The Power of the Dog
18 Shiva Baby
19 Raya and the Last Dragon
20 The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
21 Pig
22 Lamb
23 Attica
24 No Sudden Move
25 King Richard
26 Eternals
27 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
28 Black Widow
29 Nine Days
30 Red Rocket
31 West Side Story
32 Flee
33 The Guilty
34 Licorice Pizza
35 Four Hours at the Capitol
36 The Eyes of Tammy Faye
37 CODA
38 Don’t Look Up
39 Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
40 Parallel Mothers
41 Those Who Wish Me Dead
42 The Last Duel
43 Val
44 The Mitchells vs. the Machines
45 Nightmare Alley
46 Reminiscence
47 Boss Level
48 Titane
49 Free Guy
50 Being the Ricardos
51 Stillwater
52 The Lost Daughter
53 Malignant
54 Worth
55 Drive My Car
56 Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In
57 False Positive
58 The Many Saints of Newark
59 Venom: Let There Be Carnage
60 Army of the Dead
61 Luca
62 Werewolves Within
63 The Killing of Two Lovers
64 The French Dispatch
65 The Humans
66 Spencer
67 PAW Patrol: The Movie
68 Coming 2 America
69 Space Jam: A New Legacy
70 Clifford the Big Red Dog

 

The 93rd Oscars – Best Actress

In today’s post, I will review the Best Actress category, home of the most wide-open race at this year’s Academy Awards. Who will win is anybody’s guess, so let’s dive in for an analysis of the category.

The Nominees

Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Based on August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom follows the real-life Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis), a highly influential African-American blues singer in the 1920s. The film focuses on a tumultuous studio recording session with Ma Rainey and her band in Chicago. Viola Davis is one of the best and most talented actors currently working, and with her turn this year as Ma Rainey, she further demonstrates her impressive range, taking on a distinct physical transformation to play the brash blues legend.  Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent Ma Rainey’s generally difficult demeanor with respect to her producers is shaped by her experience as an African-American woman in a world controlled by white men, and Davis depicts the character’s tough-nut-to-crack temperament with strident passion and exquisite flair.

Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday)

Set in the 1940s, Lee Daniels’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday follows the life and struggles of Billie Holiday, one of the most instrumental jazz singers in the history of music. In particular, the film focuses on the U.S. government’s racially motivated preoccupation with targeting and harassing Holiday. The government persecuted Holiday under the guise of drug-related offenses, but Daniels explores another motivation—stopping Holiday from performing “Strange Fruit,” her anti-lynching song, which became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Three-time Grammy Award-nominated singer Andra Day’s performance in this film’s leading role is absolutely stunning, made all the more startling by the fact it is only the third film credit of her career. (She previously played the role of “Minton’s Singer” in Marshall and voiced the character “Sweet Tea” in Cars 3.) Although the film as a whole had a number of flaws, Day’s take on Billie Holiday was surely not one of them—she was singularly the film’s dazzling high point. Day transformed into Holiday, delivering striking moments of passion and restrained moments of intimacy, and it deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination this year.

Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)

The setup for Pieces of a Woman is simple—a young couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), lose their baby during a home birth gone wrong, and they are left to grapple with the emotional toll of this tragic event, while also dealing with the stress of a legal case being pursued against the midwife who delivered the child. For me, it was impossible to watch Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman and not come away thinking, “Wow, that is what acting is all about.” The film’s storyline is, at its very core, crushing and heartbreaking, and Kirby delivers every single one of her character’s raw and painful emotions with devastating exactitude. It is a shame Kirby hasn’t been shown more love this awards season in what has turned out to be a wide-open Best Actress race. (She’s been nominated at a number of noteworthy award shows, but her only significant win was the Volpi Cup for Best Actress, the award given out at the Venice Film Festival.) The portrayal of Martha required Kirby to embody the essence of a shattered woman, consumed by inconceivable grief, while also to methodically demonstrate the character’s ultimate revival and enduring spirit to press on—Kirby checked these boxes off with apparent ease. It was an outstanding expression of pure acting prowess.

Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

In Nomadland, following the death of her husband and the closing down of the manufacturing plant in her hometown (at which she worked), Fern (played by Frances McDormand) makes the decision to sell most of her personal possessions, purchase a van, and essentially live a “nomad” life without any fixed residence, driving from city to city in search of odd jobs here and there to make enough money to survive. Make no mistake, the legendary Frances McDormand is, in accordance with every other role she’s ever played, wonderful in Nomadland. However, for me, if I was going to sneak in another performer who was snubbed this year (see discussion of such snubs below), McDormand would probably be the one to make way. Nomadland is definitely one of the best films this year (when I reveal my rankings in a few days, you will definitely hear more about it), but considering its beautiful story, cinematography, collective supporting performances, and near-documentary style of filmmaking, it’s a film where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts, including McDormand.

Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)

Although Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is full of unique and intriguing twists and turns, the setup is fairly straightforward: Cassie (played by Carey Mulligan), motivated by the rape of her best friend Nina, spends her nights pretending to be drunk at bars in an effort to attract morally corrupt men (who pass themselves off to her as “nice guys”) in order to ultimately confront those guys about their skeezy behavior and hold them accountable—Cassie is most definitely a modern-day femme fatale. Eventually, Cassie directs her mission to everybody connected to Nina’s rape, which is where the story takes off. Carey Mulligan is nothing short of amazing in this darkly comedic thriller, a bona fide departure from her trademark appearances in period pieces and hard dramas. Cassie is ice cold and vastly different than any character I’ve ever seen Mulligan depict, and if her entrancingly exceptional performance in Promising Young Woman is any indication, I hope we see Mulligan again in the near future taking on another complex modern figure—Mulligan is a first-rate pro!

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to the nominees, this year supplied movie watchers with a number of other incredible acting performances from female leads who easily could have gotten Oscar nominations themselves—this category is just so unbelievably stacked. First, Jessie Buckley was hauntingly superb in Charlie Kaufman’s enigmatic psychological thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, nimbly navigating a cinematic maze of strange, surrealist ideas. Second, in a movie chock-full of first-rate acting performances, Han Ye-ri wonderfully delivered a quiet, yet poignant, depiction of a wife struggling to balance her own happiness against the dreams of her ambitious husband in Minari. Third, Rosamund Pike is enthralling in the Netflix dark comedy I Care A Lot as Marla Grayson, a charismatic (yet brash) con artist who preys on elders in assisted living communities to steal their money and valuables. I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities in this character to Amy Dunne (the character Pike played in 2014’s Gone Girl, which earned Pike her lone Oscar nomination), so it’s no wonder Pike knocked the performance out of the park. Additionally, one of my favorite acting performances this year came courtesy of breakout actress Bukky Bakray, who starred in Rocks, a British film about a teenage girl who must take care of not only herself, but also her little brother, after her mother abandons the family. Bakray, just a teenager herself, gave a beautiful, gut-wrenching portrayal of the film’s lead, which earned her a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress and a win for the BAFTA Rising Star Award.

Although these performances above were certainly stellar, there was one this year that stood out to me as a performance that absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination (and yet got snubbed): Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist, Cecilia Kass, in Leigh Whannell’s rendition of The Invisible Man. Whannell’s version of this classic tale focuses heavily on abuse and the effects it can have on victims, and Moss was nothing short of astounding in her portrayal of this character. Her performance is incredibly intense at moments, while also meticulously subtle at others. With every apprehensive glance, with every hurried breath, Moss skillfully portrays her character’s fear and emotional exhaustion with fastidiousness. Ultimately, Cecilia gets her revenge, in the most badass way possible, and Moss executes the whole operation to perfection. For years, dating back to Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss has been a critically acclaimed staple of television—this year, Moss deserved an Academy Award nod for her silver-screen talents.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Viola Davis or Frances McDormand

This year, the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards is by far the most competitive of any other acting category. So far, a different woman has won the Golden Globe Award (Andra Day), Critics’ Choice Movie Award (Carey Mulligan), Screen Actors Guild Award (Viola Davis), and British Academy Film Award (Frances McDormand) for Best Actress. Carey Mulligan is getting slightly better odds than the rest of the field, and of the three other Best Actress award winners this season, Viola Davis and Frances McDormand stand the best chance to pull off an “upset.” (In light of how tight this race is, nothing will actually be an upset this year.) McDormand is currently getting +400 odds, while Davis is getting a stunning +200 odds, which is insanely close to what Mulligan is receiving. I wouldn’t be surprised if either Davis or McDormand took home the Oscar on Sunday.

Who Should Win: Vanessa Kirby

I truly enjoyed each performance nominated in this category, but for me, the most emotionally affecting of the year—Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman—deserves the Oscar. It is a beautifully soul-crushing portrayal of a first-time mother struck by tragedy, and Kirby would have my vote, full stop, if I had one to give.

Who Will Win: Carey Mulligan

As I alluded to above, this category is going to come down to the wire. Carey Mulligan, this year’s winner at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, is currently getting the best betting odds to take home the gold at +125. Although not really a frontrunner due to the razor-thin margin between the nominees, my educated guess is Mulligan takes home the Oscar. Promising Young Woman is a vital, timely piece of cinema, and Mulligan is its standpoint star. Prior to this year’s nominations, Davis and McDormand accounted for a combined 8 Oscar nominations and 3 wins—this is only Mulligan’s second nomination ever, and I think the Academy will welcome her into the winner’s circle.