Another year, another “cringeworthy” Oscars: predicting the 2021 “best picture” winner

By: Tyrone Barrozo, Columnist

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own. 

After a year lost to necessary confinement and quarantining, one thing is still certain: I still hate the Academy Awards. From its inane balloting process and the fact that voters are given DVD copies of the nominated films (I will admonish the sin just this once) to the internal politics which make me question the validity of such an institution to the cringeworthy award show antics and the audience’s prompted laughter … I loathe it all. You can bet that I’ll be tuning in just to be messy over Twitter when the Academy decides to make oopsies all for the name of sweet, sweet clout.

Now, you all may be wondering why I’m sharing all of this. It’s simple, I’m going to share my “hot takes” on which films in the “Best Picture” category are most likely to win as well as which films should win, but probably won’t.

Unlike the last time I did this, I’ve managed to see all of the films nominated on the list … it’s not like I didn’t have enough time at home to do so.

Betting Favorite: “Minari”

Do not be mistaken because some have forgotten: it is not the place that defines a person but the person which defines their land–that is the case that Lee Isaac Chung’s film makes given today’s context. 

For Chung’s personal picture which follows the life and times of a South Korean immigrant family vying for their piece of what some may call the “American Dream,” the movie’s no-nonsense approach with its storytelling and character performances reminds its audience of the importance of faith, hope, and, at times, pain in our lives. And for many Asian Americans like myself, “Minari” successfully takes me back to a confusing but formative time in my life; navigating through a foreign world, unknowingly moving between cultures and generations, and somehow finding time to grow up.

I have many reasons to believe why “Minari” will win the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of them are political, but I will choose to focus on why it surpasses its contemporaries albeit by the slimmest of margins. Steven Yeun, who stars as one of the film’s leads and is nominated for Best Actor, manages to deliver an amazing silent performance, one that accurately captures the character of a stoic father who has bet his life in hopes of providing his family with a better future. While I don’t believe that Yeun will secure the Best Actor award (that will most definitely go to Chadwick Boseman in an obligatory fashion), I do think that his performance along with the rest of the cast illustrates an intimate family setting familiar to old Americana tales which promised fortune and a life content. Add Youn Yuh-Jung’s (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) performance who juxtaposes Yi’s stoicism with her charming crassness and elderly youthfulness, and the film knocks it out of the park. If you haven’t seen the film already, it’s available online. I highly recommend checking it out, I guarantee that you’ll be singing “minari, minari, wonderful, wonderful,” and then you’ll realize why this film is such a betting favorite.

Peoples’ Favorite: “Judas and the Black Messiah

If “Minari” captures the quiet beginnings and struggles of making it in America, then “Judas and the Black Messiah” captures the loud and violent happenings of one of many low points in our nation’s history. The film follows the lives of former Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and William O’Neal, a FBI informant partially responsible for Hampton’s assassination.

There’s so much to be said about this film that’s already been echoed many times before. There’s not a weak performance in this film; Daniel Kaluuya’s performance is electrifying, successfully evoking the magnetic power and charisma of the late Hampton; LaKeith Stanfield makes the audience wriggle and wrestle with their emotions with his realistically human portrayal of O’Neal and the emotions that he navigates throughout the story; Jesse Plemons’ performance can summed up as “simply up to no good” and Dominique Fishback’s Deborah Johnson (now Akua Njeri) runs a bow across heartstrings when need be. 

The camera work of the film knows how to call for eyes when it wants to. The eclectic score is tense and accents the film’s visuals with a blend of noir-like jazz and biblical orchestra pieces. The writing is amazing, amazing in the way that someone can spoil the story before watching the film and still be affected as if going blind. Simply put, this movie is damn good and, quite frankly, easily makes some of its contemporaries in the “Best Picture” category look amateurish.

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