The McNeil Minute | The 2021 Oscar Winners

An Oddly Fitting End to a Strange Year in Film

What a wild ride! And yes, I'm referring to 2020 as a whole year in film, as well as the 2021 Oscars. In case you missed it, the Academy Awards this year were held at Union Station in LA on Sunday, April 25th, and boy was it anything but what we expected. Yes, there were plenty of unsurprising wins, but we'll get to the shockers and the snubs later on. First, I just wanted to point out that they did a fine job of putting this on largely without hiccups and it is truly amazing they were even able to put this on in the first place, given the circumstances I need not mention. All that aside, the Oscars did not disappoint in handing out golden statues to deserving winners, albeit a couple headscratchers. In any case, I was entertained and left quite satisfied. Without further delay...

Let's get to it.

Best Original Screenplay

I'm gonna try to go in the order in which they presented the awards, based on my memory (which doesn't always serve me well). So, bear with me. They opened the ceremony in quite unconventional fashion, which will be a common theme of this particular awards show. It's been said that Steven Soderbergh was the main producer on the show and has been known to mix things up, artistically. And not just in his films, evidently. To avoid further rambling, I'll just jump right in.

Original Screenplay was long believed to have a clear frontrunner in Aaron Sorkin for quite some time. After a surge in hype and momentum, Emerald Fennell took the lead with her writing of the Promising Young Woman screenplay. She ended up taking home the golden statue in this category, which was a win for female writers and filmmakers everywhere. The female writing community as a whole seemed to be reinvigorated with the hope and passion for the craft and for their prospects in the industry after this huge victory. I was glad to see her take this win home as I felt it was well deserved. Many have been saying that the film's weakest aspect was indeed its writing, so some were left butthurt as a result. I, for one, couldn't disagree more and hope that they can find something else to whine about instead. I was also glad to see that mediocrity was not rewarded, as well.

Best Adapted Screenplay

This is another category in which we had a clear frontrunner throughout the entirety of awards season in Chloe Zhao's adaptation of Nomadland. I expected this to easily take home the Oscar, but we were met with a different fate at this year's ceremony. I also felt that One Night in Miami could sneak in here as well, given that I didn't want it to get skunked as it had been snubbed in several other categories, including Picture. In any case, neither outcome involved these films. I was quite happy when Florian Zeller's The Father won this category. His adaptation of his own stageplay was more than deserving of the victory and I could not be happier for him. His speech was warm and grateful, just as I had expected. This was a nice surprise to finally see something not dominate the category across the whole season of awards shows and that something truly deserving of the award brought home the bacon.

Best Production Design

Okay, so I gave up on the whole "going in order" thing. I couldn't remember after both screenplay awards, so here we go. Now I'm just going in a random order. I'm sure you care a lot. Anyway, Production Design did happen to be an award which did have a clear frontrunner so it was a little boring that the frontrunner ended up winning. So, if you had been following awards season religiously like I have, you would then know that Mank had basically been winning nearly everything. If not literally everything. So, Mank brought home this award, and rightfully so. Part of me wished that maybe The Father would instead, as I was quite impressed with how they had designed the Flat, decorated it, and then created something towards the end which resembled it (spoiler territory). Regardless of my thoughts there, Mank did indeed win and I felt that it was well deserved. The production design in that film did fit the time period quite well and it was very pleasing to the eye.

Best Visual Effects

For those of you who followed the other awards shows like I had, you could get the feeling that either Tenet or The Midnight Sky had this in the bag. The other films simply just didn't stand a chance, but it's an honor just to be nominated, right? I had the sinking feeling that maybe The Midnight Sky could pull this one off, as it had won the Visual Effects Society award which is a fairly solid indicator of what might win the Oscar. Not this time. Tenet did in fact go home with this award, and quite frankly, that's where it belongs if you ask me. And I'm guessing you are asking me since you're reading this. Tenet, in my humble opinion, did have the best visual effects of the year. So I was quite happy to see this win, and it would have been a travesty to see Tenet slink home empty handed. Alas, it did not. All is right with the world, in this regard.

Best Documentary Short

This is a category I was not at all familiar with. Now, this is not to say that I wasn't aware of the frontrunners. I was. And that's what made this category so surprising on Oscar night. The two, at least two, films that were expected to win were upset by a longshot. I am referring of course to A Concerto is a Conversation and A Love Song to Latasha both falling to Collette. Again, I had not really heard of these films, nor have I seen them or would see them. No offense to the films or filmmakers, but docs are typically just not my cup of tea. Anyway, congratulations to the filmmakers for Collette on your surprise win.

Best Animated Short Film

This is a category in which I only saw one of the films nominated. So I am once again pretty clueless. Still aware enough to know what should and could have won. I was rooting for Burrow since it was the only one I saw and I happened to think it was pretty cute. Alas, it did not win. It fell to the favorite in the category, If Anything Happens I Love You. I know absolutely nothing about the film, but congrats to those involved nonetheless.

Best Live Action Short

Once again, I am clueless. I knew nothing about these films, except that Oscar Isaac was in one of them, and that's the only reason why I wanted The Letter Room to win. It also happened to be the odds-on favorite to win the category, but it fell to the seemingly superior Two Distant Strangers. Based on what I've heard about the film, it sounds quite good and deserving of the win. I, however, was apparently out of the loop since I did not know that was the film to get behind. Alas, congratulations to the filmmakers, and I'm sorry Oscar Isaac for your loss. Can't wait for your next projects.

Best Sound

This was the first year they decided to combine the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories into just one Sound category. And I suppose it's for the better. I was quite happy with what they chose to give the first ever combined sound award to, Sound of Metal. It was nice to see a deserving victory in this category, although it may be a little bit boring that it was a dominant overdog, so to speak. In any case, I love the film and the sound design, so bravo.

Best Film Editing

This was another refreshing victory to see, as in the past they have awarded films completely undeserving of this award. Typically they go for whatever has the flashiest editing, or what might have the most cuts. That should not be the case. For what feels like the first time, it seems they've actually given the award to something that's well deserved and doesn't necessarily fit that mold. Sound of Metal won this category as well, and I could not have been happier about it. Ask my friends and family who were around me when this won, and they can confirm. I'm just glad that they didn't hand it to Trial of the Chicago 7 for the aforementioned reasons. And it would be back to square one. The status quo. The Bohemian Rhapsody's of the world do not need this Oscar. Please and thank you.

Best Costume Design

And here we go to the category where period pieces tend to reign superior. Ann Roth took home the win here in quite unsurprising fashion as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was awarded in this category. It was the clear frontrunner and was completely expected to run away with it, just as it had throughout the entirety of awards season. I had hoped for Emma since I felt that had the best costumes of the year, but I really cannot argue with the authenticity and the attention to detail that went into the costumes for Ma Rainey. 

Best Makeup and Hair

This marked another victory for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom as the work that went into Viola Davis' transformation was recognized here. I did feel that this was well earned also, so no complaints. But again, another boring win as what was completely expected to happen, happened. What can you do? You'll get no argument from me.

Best Cinematography

Finally, we have an upset! This category was pretty interesting to watch throughout the course of awards season. Albeit, a little boring to watch Nomadland nearly sweep the whole kit and caboodle. Regardless of that fact, it was more than deserved and I couldn't start a campaign against it if I tried. Now, this is where it gained some intrigue. Mank ended up winning ASC, just before the Oscars. This is not to say that it would win the Oscar just because of that victory, but it's a pretty decent indicator. Anyone who might have seen the signs started there. And that's exactly what ended up happening. Mank stole away the Oscar from Nomadland just at the last minute. I suppose the Academy simply could not resist giving the golden statue to the starkly beautiful black and white film. I love me a good underdog, even if it's at the expense of a gorgeously naturalistic cinematic experience. There can be beauty in simplicity, after all.

Best Original Song

This was a huge shocker. We had a maybe not so obvious frontrunner in this category, one that could easily win just behind it, and another one that could spoil. There was not a world that existed in which one of the other bottom two could win in my eyes, except for this world we actually live in, apparently. The frontrunner I'm talking about is, of course, Speak Now from One Night in Miami. Again, I did not want this film to be skunked, so I was rooting for it all the way. The close second just behind it was Lo Si (Seen, from The Life Ahead). And the one that I thought could play spoiler to these two was Husavik from Eurovision. What actually ended up winning was Fight For You from Judas and the Black Messiah. Now, I will never complain that this film actually won something, because if I had it my way, it would win everything it was up for. Of course it didn't, but I'm always glad that it received recognition. On the flip side of that coin, I was still sad to see the hard work from Leslie Odom Jr fall by the wayside. And that One Night in Miami was once again, snubbed.

Best Original Score

Yet another victory for a heavy favorite. It's another one that I cannot argue with and that I'm happy with, but again, it was so expected and so anticlimactic. Although Soul might have dominated all of awards season and ultimately made it a boring race, I was still glad to see Reznor and Ross win, especially Batiste for his beautiful piano score in Soul as well. It was also so nice to see Batiste have such a wonderful and humble speech. It seemed as if the story of Soul was based around he and his journey, just based on the speech he gave and the similarities he has to the main character. Anyway, Soul remained superior throughout the entire awards season run and it carried through to the Oscars. And rightfully so. No complaints, I am content.

Best International Feature

This was actually earlier on in the ceremony, now that I think about it. In any case, Another Round won this category and you just love to see it. Thomas Vinterberg gave a great speech and I was so happy for him. It's a wonderful film and it's a shame it couldn't win more. It was the clear front-runner and I honestly didn't see it losing out to anything, except maybe Quo Vadis, Aida? Which had some acclaim behind it. Another Round received universal praise, so it's no surprise the academy took a liking to it, as well. Another win for Another Round, and another victory I can write home about.

Best Animated Feature

Speaking of Soul's dominance, no fool would ever bet against Soul in this category, either. Wolfwalkers early on had shown some promise with the critics, but ultimately Soul took over after a string of victories from the middle to the end of Awards Season, in practically everything imaginable. Soul most certainly deserved to win this category and I was glad to see it confirmed here. You'll hear no complaints on my end in this regard.

Best Director

This was another category with no surprises in store for us, unfortunately. However, it was so refreshing to see Chloe Zhao win here as typically we're inundated with white men carrying this golden statue for director year in and year out. What I was most happy about, aside from Chloe giving her terrific speech, was that Aaron Sorkin was nowhere to be seen in this category for his subpar direction. What I was sad about, on the other hand, was that Regina King was snubbed for her direction in One Night in Miami. Regardless, I was glad that it was given to a worthy director. And I was moved by her speech. Bravo Chloe, I look forward to seeing what you do next.

Best Supporting Actor

Now we get into acting, even though this was also quite early on in the night. Another win which did not garner any surprises or gasps. In any case, Daniel Kaluuya rightfully and deservedly won for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah. I could only feel for the other nominees who had really gotten used to losing to him by now. Enough of the sympathy for the losers, Kaluuya's powerful portrayal of Fred Hampton was truly one for the books and I could not be happier for him. He's finally earned his Oscar after grinding in tremendous roles and films over the years. Bravo, Daniel.

Best Supporting Actress

This one was tricky, but at the same time, kind of had a front-runner that was pretty much sealed up from the get-go. Still though, there were some doubts as each of the other candidates did have narratives tied to their campaigns. One could have made the case for Maria Bakalova easily winning, however, Yuh Jung Youn beautifully played her role and was easily the best part of that film. Okay, maybe not easily. I see you, Alan Kim. Anyway, it went as no surprise she won, despite the heavy competition. I'm noticing a trend here. She gave a heartfelt and funny speech which was one of the true highlights of the night. I was very happy with her win, and one could not help but smile when she clasped her award and initiated her speech.

Best Actress

Not the most confounding award of the night, but still had a huge surprise attached to it. This was a field, if you've been following my writing, that has been profoundly stacked for so long. I have said it before and I'll say it again, this was perhaps the most loaded field I have ever seen for this category. At least in my fading memory. In any case, one could make the argument for literally any female performance from this field of actors. Carey Mulligan had entered the ceremony as the proverbial favorite, but again, anyone could have snatched her supposed crown away. Viola Davis seemed to be the one who could take her down, if anyone. Frances McDormand is always one to look out for as she's an academy favorite and gave a low-key great performance. Andra Day has the Golden Globe to her name and gave one of the more dynamic performances of the field. Vanessa Kirby, although going home largely empty handed during awards season, still had a powerful and emotional performance to back up her credibility in being there. At the end of the night, the golden statue went home with Frances McDormand and remains to be one of the academy's favorite, best, and all time greats.

Best Actor

This was a tough one. A gut punch, even. One might say that this was quite possibly the biggest slam dunk in history for this award, or so we thought. The awards show was even set up differently, as far as the order of events or award presentations. It just felt like we were building to a memorial for Chadwick, until it was ripped away from us. Now, this is no disrespect to Anthony Hopkins. I want to make that clear. He is a living legend and is bar none one of the greatest we've ever had and ever will have. However, I just felt as though we were robbed of the send-off that Chadwick Boseman deserved. The man toiled for his Oscar, and he deserved it. And, so did Anthony Hopkins. Which is what makes this exceedingly difficult. It's so profoundly hard to even put into words how I'm feeling about it. Regardless of my thoughts, Anthony Hopkins won for his outstanding performance in The Father. But one can't help but lament what could have been for the late, great Chadwick Boseman. And we will look back on this Oscar in particular and continue to debate it for years. Can we give Chadwick an Honorary Oscar? It seems only right and fair that he's given his due, posthumously. I feel for his family who had to wait just to be let down. It's not all about the awards, but something about this one just doesn't feel totally right. Despite these words, I do want to genuinely congratulate Anthony Hopkins for his well earned Oscar.

Best Picture

Although this was presented before the actor awards in peculiar fashion, I wanted to put this at the end regardless. Just as it's always been. Anyway, was there ever any doubt? If you had been following awards season as closely as I had, you would have seen that Nomadland just pretty much did sweep the whole of awards season. The only thing it didn't come away with was the Best Ensemble Award at SAG, which is, of course, its top prize. Now, it simply could not have as it wasn't even nominated. The Trial of the Chicago 7 won that award and that is precisely why so many people, including myself, thought that maybe Trial could come away with the upset, giving Netflix its first and ever coveted Best Picture Oscar. The others I thought had an ever so slight chance at stealing this one away from the juggernaut that was Nomadland, were Minari, Promising Young Woman, and perhaps Judas and the Black Messiah. Judas having the longest shot, I felt that it could since it had such universal praise surrounding it. With Minari, we had the same sort of deal plus A24 behind the campaign, and we know they are capable of pulling off an upset of that caliber, given the Moonlight upset over La La Land just a few years ago. Promising Young Woman also felt like that kind of film that is of its time and could have jumped in there as that prescient film the academy loves to reward. But alas, no dice. Nomadland came away with the win, but it was no easy feat. The #2 in line film had won the past several years at the Oscars, as far as odds and favorites go. The most recent Parasite upset win being most present in the consciousness right now, Green Book, The Shape of Water, and Spotlight back in 2016. So, Nomadland breaks that trend of a second in line film winning best picture for the past few ceremonies and begins its own trend of a dominant behemoth destroying everything in its path and not being denied. Disney owns the distribution rights to this film as they purchased Searchlight Pictures back when it was under Fox rule. The film is available on Hulu and is now becoming more readily available on Disney plus. It seems Netflix as a streaming giant has just been dethroned by Disney, at least for the time being. It's no mystery that they've been after that elusive prize for quite some time, and I have no doubt they'll be back soon. But for now, we have to live with Disney dominating our lives not just in the superhero, animated and blockbuster worlds, but also in the prestige drama world now too. What a time to be alive.
All in all, I felt this year's Oscar ceremony was solid and I am pretty content with the winners. I have very few complaints and my anger and/or sadness is at a minimum. My only wish was that Judas and the Black Messiah had reigned superior and that Carey Mulligan could have added some hardware to her trophy case at home. Other than that, I don't think I could have asked for a much better Oscars, all things considered. I don't want to be too demanding. That's when things like Trial or Bohemian Rhapsody win. And who wants that? Actually, Don't answer that question. But, you can answer these:

What are your thoughts on this year's Oscar winners? Do you agree with the academy's picks? Disagree? Happy? Angry? Sad? Meh?

Sound off in the comments below!

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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