Oscars 2021: A breakdown of the nominated movies

Oscars 2021: A breakdown of the nominated movies

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With the Academy Awards just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at this year’s nominees.

In a year stranger than most for the film industry — due to the coronavirus pandemic stunting and jumbling release schedules — streaming services came out on top this season, earning a plethora of nominations. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV+ all walked away with at least one nod.

Furthermore, HBO Max was temporarily home to “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which earned multiple nominations, though it’s not considered an original to the streamer because of Warner Bros.’ theatrical-streaming hybrid release plan for 2021.

As opposed to the Golden Globes, this year’s Oscar nominations were relatively straightforward and predictable, but several awards are still considered anyone’s game at this point.

Here’s a look at the 2021 Academy Award-nominated films:


Netflix’s “Mank” earned 10 nominations, the most of this year’s movies. It was an early frontrunner for best picture seeing as to how it’s a Hollywood-centric story and came from heavyweights Jack and David Fincher. Six of the movie’s nods are in technical categories — including one of two nominations for Nine Inch Nails musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The other nominations came for the movie’s sound, production design, makeup and hairstyling, costume design and cinematography in addition to noms for best picture, best director and for Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried’s performances.

The movie followed famed screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz as he struggles on deadline to write “Citizen Kane” as his friendship with Marion Davies grows.

“The Father”

“The Father,” like “Mank,” was another film expected to pick up a lot of nominations — and it delivered. The movie received nods for performances from Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman and for best picture in addition to nominations for its screenplay, production design and film editing.

The movie follows a man struggling with dementia as he ages. His declining condition has deep effects on his family, especially his daughter, who he refuses help from.

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” was one of Warner Bros.’ films to hit HBO Max and theaters on the same day. While it’s no longer streaming, the movie picked up six nominations, including a surprise nod for star LaKeith Stanfield. Golden Globe winner Daniel Kaluuya was also nominated, and the picture earned recognition for its cinematography, screenplay and the original song “Fight For You.” The cherry on top of the cake: A nomination for best motion picture.

The movie tells the story of Bill O’Neal, a criminal who is all but forced by the FBI to infiltrate and inform on the Black Panther Party and become close with civil rights leader Fred Hampton.


“Minari” found itself at the center of controversy when the Golden Globes put the film in its foreign language category despite being an American film. This time around, the movie was nominated for best motion picture, with additional recognition for its screenplay, direction score and performances from Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung.

The movie follows a Korean family that relocates to Arkansas in the 1980s, facing the struggles of life as immigrants.


“Nomadland” won the Golden Globe for best motion picture – drama, giving it a head start on its nomination for best motion picture. Writer-director-editor Chloe Zhao made history with her nominations as a woman of Asian descent this year, while the film’s cinematography and Frances McDormand also earned nominations.

The story follows Fern as she faces life as a nomad, living in her van and relying on her community of fellow van-dwellers to help her get by.

“Promising Young Woman”

“Promising Young Woman” is arguably the most female-forward and empowering movie of the year, and helped make Oscars history with nominations for director Emerald Fennell, giving this year the most female director nominees ever. Fennel was also nominated for writing the flick and again for producing with a best picture nom. Star Carey Mulligan received a nod for her work, as did the film’s editor.

The movie follows Cassie, who has battled depression since the untimely death of her best friend. Cassie sets out on a mission for revenge against those who wronged her friend in the past.

“Sound of Metal”

“Sound of Metal” earned itself six nominations this year, including a first for stars Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci, whose nod came as a bit of a surprise. In addition to being nominated for best motion picture, the flick was recognized for its screenplay, sound and editing.

The movie follows Ruben, a metal drummer after he suddenly loses his hearing and must learn to live an entirely new life.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7″

Another one of Netflix’s entries, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” earned nominations for star Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance, the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, the original song “Hear My Voice,” and a few technical awards (film editing and cinematography) in addition to a nod for best motion picture.

The movie tells the true story of a group of men charged with inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ nabbed two Oscar nominations.
(Amazon Studios)

In a bit of a surprise move, Amazon Prime Video’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” earned two nominations: One for star Maria Bakalova and a second for Cohen’s screenplay.

The follow-up to 2006’s “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the movie follows the titular media personality as he embarks on a journey in modern America with his daughter.

“Hillbilly Elegy”

Though it was deemed one of 2020’s worst films, Netflix’s “Hillbilly Elegy” managed to pick up nominations. One came for star Glenn Close and another for the film’s hair and makeup team.

The movie tells the story of a young Yale student who comes home to face family drama in lower-class middle-America.

“One Night in Miami…”

One of this year’s nominees based on a play, “One Night in Miami…” earned nominations for Leslie Odom Jr.’s portrayal of Sam Cooke as well as his original song, “Speak Now.” Additionally, the Prime original was recognized for its screenplay.

The semi-fictional story follows Black icons Cooke, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) when they come together to celebrate a victory of Clay’s before he famously changes his name.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

Though not adored by critics and ignored by the Golden Globes, Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” managed to get on the board with one nomination for the original song “Husavik.”

The movie follows a musical duo who aspires to make it big by competing in the world-renowned Eurovision Song Contest, which has given rise to acts like ABBA and Celine Dion.

“The White Tiger”

Netflix’s “The White Tiger,” based on the book of the same name, earned a single nod this year for best adapted screenplay.

The story follows Balram, a lower-class driver who works for and befriends people in India’s elite until one reckless night reminds him of the vast divide between rich and poor.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ was nominated for five Oscars.

The late Chadwick Boseman was nominated for an Oscar for his work in Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” his last live-action role. Co-star Viola Davis was also nominated, while the movie also picked up three nominations in technical categories including best production design, makeup and hairstyling and costume design.

The movie focuses on Levee, a cocky horn player for blues icon Ma Rainey. Throughout the story, Levee’s confidence boils higher and higher as he tries to insert himself into the music and woo a woman.

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”

Andra Day was nominated for an Academy Award for playing Billie Holiday in ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday.’ (Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures via AP, File)

“Rise Up” singer Andra Day was nominated for her portrayal of jazz legend Billie Holiday in Hulu’s “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” She won a Golden Globe for the role, indicating she’s a strong contender to win the film’s only nomination.

The movie chronicles Holiday’s fight to perform the racially charged song “Strange Fruit” and how its provocative lyrics kept her under the watchful eye of the government and routinely found her being targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics.

“Pieces of a Woman”

Though somewhat controversial now due to Shia LaBeouf’s involvement, Netflix’s “Pieces of a Woman” managed to secure a nomination for Vanessa Kirby’s lead performance.

The movie follows Kirby and LaBeouf’s characters, a married couple who loses their child during childbirth, as they attempt to recover and move on.

“News of the World”

Tom Hanks-vehicle “News of the World” was nominated in four technical categories: best sound, production design, score and cinematography.

“News of the world sees Hanks play Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran who agrees to deliver a young girl to her family against her will.


“Tenet” was an important movie for 2020, as it was supposed to mark a return to normalcy at the movie theaters — until it tanked. Regardless of box office performance, the movie walked away with Oscar nominations for its visual effects and production design.

The movie follows a man on a mission of international espionage involving twisting time back and forth.


“Emma.” was a big role for one of the year’s breakout stars, Anya Taylor-Joy. The star wasn’t nominated for her performance, but the film did achieve recognition for its makeup and hairstyling, as well as its costume design.

Based on the Jane Austen novel and a remake of the 1996 film of the same name, “Emma.” follows a young woman in 1800s England who serves as a matchmaker for her friends.


“Mulan” was in a sore spot for most of 2020, as it was supposed to be released in the spring until the pandemic hit. After debuting on Disney+ for an additional fee, the movie picked up nominations for its visual effects and costume design.


A remake of the animated classic, “Mulan” follows the titular young woman who takes the place of her elderly father when he’s called to war.


Though it flew largely under the radar, this live-action retelling of the famous story received favorable reviews and was nominated for two Oscars. The movie was recognized in technical categories for its costume design and makeup and hairstyling.

As with the classic tale, “Pinocchio” tells the story of a young puppet come-to-life who is led astray during his quest to prove himself worthy of becoming a real boy.


Apple TV+’s single entry into the Oscars race this year is “Greyhound,” which was nominated for best sound.

The movie, set shortly after the U.S. joined World War II, follows an inexperienced Navy commander who is tasked with leading a convoy of ships.

“Da 5 Bloods”

“Da 5 Bloods” is another film starring the late Boseman, though he received no nomination for this particular movie. Instead, the Spike Lee-directed Netflix flick earned recognition for its score.

The movie follows a group of Vietnam veterans who return to their old battlegrounds to dig up a treasure in memory of their deceased leader.

“Love and Monsters”

Another one of the year’s lesser-known pictures, “Love and Monsters” earned a single nomination for its visual effects.

The movie follows a young man embarking on a long journey to see his girlfriend in a world infested with monsters.

“The Midnight Sky”

“Midnight Sky” was Clooney’s return to film in several years. Despite mediocre reviews, the movie earned an Academy Award nomination for its visual effects.

The movie saw Clooney play a scientist living in near-isolation who must warn his colleagues in outer space not to return to the dystopian Earth.

“The One and Only Ivan”

Another entry for Disney+, “The One and Only Ivan” earned a nomination for its visual effects.

The movie follows a gorilla who tries to piece together his past as he hatches a plan to escape captivity with an elephant.

“The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)”

Sophia Loren in ‘The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se).’

“The Life Ahead” saw Hollywood legend Sophia Loren return to the screen for the Netflix film. The picture’s sole nomination came for the original song “Io sì (Seen).” The song, co-written by the often-nominated-but-never-winning Diane Warren, won a Golden Globe, indicating Warren may finally get her first win after 12 nominations.

The movie itself saw Loren play a Holocaust survivor who struggles to take care of several young children and forms a close bond with a young boy who unsuccessfully tried to steal from her.

Best animated feature:

  • “Onward” stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland as two elves who go on a journey to spend one last day with their father.
  • “Over the Moon,” a Netflix musical, follows a young girl who builds a rocket in an attempt to meet a moon goddess.
  • “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” sees the titular sheep help an alien return home before it can be snatched up by an evil organization.
  • “Soul” tells the story of a man who learns the meaning of life after nearly dying. The movie was also nominated for best score and best sound.
  • “Wolfwalkers” sees a young girl journey to Ireland to help her father wipe out a wolf pack until a mysterious friend helps her to change her way of thinking.

Best international feature film:

Mads Mikkelsen, star of ‘Another Round.’ (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

  • “Another Round”  (Denmark) tells the story of four high school teachers who chose to drink their problems away. The movie also received a surprise nomination for best director.
  • “Better Days” (Hong King) follows a young girl as she faces bullying and final exams — luckily she has a friend to protect her.
  • “Collective” (Romania) is a documentary that investigates health care fraud and corruption. It was also nominated for best documentary feature.
  • “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia) follows a Syrian refugee who is turned into a living piece of art and put on display in a museum.
  • “Qu Vadis, Aida?” (Bosnia and Herzegovina) is about a UN translator whose family is among those seeking refuge when a Serbian army takes over her town.

Best documentary short subject:

  • “Colette” features a World War II survivor recounting her ghosts 75 years after resisting the Nazis in France.
  • “A Concerto Is a Conversation” follows a jazz pianist who traces his family linage.
  • “Do Not Split” examines the historic 2019 protests in Hong Kong.
  • “Hunger Ward” follows two healthcare workers fighting starvation tirelessly in Yemen.
  • “A Love Song For Latasha” tells the story of how the shooting death of Latasha Harlins sparked a civil uprising in Los Angeles in 1992.

Best documentary feature:

  • “Collective” was also nominated for best international feature film.
  • “Crip Camp” examines the movement sparked by a camp for disabled children near Woodstock.
  • “The Mole Agent” sees a private eye hire a mole in a retirement home that is suspected of elder abuse.
  • “My Octopus Teacher” follows a filmmaker’s strange relationship with an octopus near South Africa.
  • “Time” follows Fox Rich’s fight to free her husband, Rob Rich, from a 60-year prison sentence.

Best animated short film:

  • “Burrow” follows a young rabbit who accidentally burrows into her neighbors’ homes.
  • “Genius Loci” centers on Renee, who finds mythical oneness in urban chaos one night.
  • “If Anything Happens I Love You” sees two parents struggling to move past a tragic event that alters their family.
  • “Opera” examines religion, class, racism, war and more on a loop.
  • “Yes-People” a group of people see their relationships tested as they attempt to cope with everyday life.

Best live action short film:

  • “Feeling Through” sees a friendship develop between a man that is deaf and blind and a disadvantaged teen.
  • “The Letter Room” follows a corrections officer who becomes involved in a prison’s personal affairs when he’s transferred to the letter room.
  • “The Present” portrays the surprisingly difficult journey that a man and his daughter must undergo to purchase an anniversary present.
  • “Two Distant Strangers” follows a cartoonist that has to re-live the same terrible day over and over again.
  • “White Eye” sees a man struggle to maintain humanity when he finds his stolen bike now belongs to a complete stranger.

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