Insider’s view on the 2021 Awards season

by Anthony Stadler

So, I have finally cast my votes for the first round of the 2021 BAFTAs, and it has been a very peculiar voting season for multiple reasons. It comes to no-one’s surprise that Covid-19 has had a massive negative effect on the film industry and hastened the meteoric rise of the streaming services. For example, Wonder Woman 1984, was held back for release as one of Warner Brothers tentpole movies, only to get a joint release in the empty cinemas and on Warner Brother’s HBO Max. I got to watch it beforehand on the Warner Brother’s online awards screener service; although it was hard to judge a film while it struggles to buffer, leading it to take almost 4 hours to watch the whole movie. Gal Gadot, as always looks amazing as Wonder Woman, but a few acting lessons would not go a miss as she is constantly outperformed by Kristen Wiig and Chris Pine; you may even notice her most powerful lines are playing in her co-star’s reaction shots.  So, her best performance of the year, possibly ended up being her tone-deaf rendition of “Imagine” on YouTube. It is a basic “Be careful what you wish for” story, that even references the monkey paw. Although the ending is less thought out, as you feel that character threads are left hanging, there is a CGI cat fight and a verbal battle with a sky beam (that I thought went out of fashion as film climax in 2016). This all feels disappointing as I really enjoyed Patty Jenkins’s previous instalment, so look forward to the third film where I hope lessons have been learnt from this one. All that aside, it is a fun superhero film for kids, where no-one gets hurt, and if you can turn your brain off, you are in for a fun ride. I did end up making it my only choice for the best VFX award, mainly as there was no other films that I had seen that qualified. Which is a shame as Birds of Prey was a superior film and absent as an option to vote for. 

Netflix has also been fighting in their corner, with straight to on-line movies that they are hoping to be contenders for awards. Which is still controversial after Roma won so many awards in 2019, causing a falling out with Cineworld and other cinema chains threatening to withdraw their support. This all seems like a moot point this year, and Netflix knows it. Normally I get sent an avalanche of DVDs and Blu-Rays through my door in award season, but this year over 90% of the disks I received were from Netflix, which I ironically have an account for.  

The first main contender from Netflix is The Trial of the Chicago Seven, and Aaron Sorkin did not disappoint in Netflix’s all-star court room drama that came out in September. With the quick-fire witty dialogue, you expect from Sorkin, and the laser accuracy of the performances, this true story is brought to life in a powerful way. The only irony is after the events in America on the 6th January, we are likely to see the Bizarro-land version of the movie playing out on the news. If you have not seen it yet, you should make time to watch it soon. For extra entertainment it is worth looking up the true story, and how crazy the real court case got. 

This is not the only fast witty poignant film Netflix has brought to the table. The Boys in the Band, also released in September on Netflix. Adapted for screen from the 1968, controversial Off-Broadway production that told the story of a gay group of friends having a birthday party, and the homophobic friend who crashes the party. The original lead, Cliff Gorman winning the Obie Award for his 1968 stage performance. When they made the film in 1970, Kenneth Nelson was nominated for a Golden Globe. So it comes as no surprise that the 2018 Broadway revival showcased the Whose-who of the gay acting scene, including Big Bang Theory’s, Jim Parsons and Star Trek’s, Zachary Quinto. This Netflix adaptation takes the 2018 cast straight from the stage and lovingly adapts it to you home screen. It may be a bottle movie, but you never feel constrained by the fact they never leave the location once the story starts. The dialogue is so sharp, it cuts as you laugh and is a reminder of how the world has changed in the last 50 years. If you are missing high quality theatre, this should be moved to the top of your viewing list. 

That is not the only bottle movie that Netflix is hoping to snatch awards. Coming out at the end of January 2021 is Malcolm and Marie. It also only takes place in only one location, but this time it is modern original script that was not a stage play first (which I was surprised by, as it really feels like a stage play). The story is about a pretentious film director and his girlfriend, coming home from his Hollywood premier into a feature length argument. And if you are a fan of pretentious, it’s beautifully shot in Black and White, because it’s “Art”. That said it is getting a lot of love, the performances are great, it is well shot, the editing is brave, and it does make a few good points. It is not an easy film to watch and is probably best left to fans of French New Wave. 

Not to outdo itself on pretentious Black and White films, Netflix also released David Fincher’s, Mank in late November. Mank is the story on how Citizen Kane was made and if you have not seen it, you may need to watch it first. As the film tries to capture the shooting feel for the time, and mimics the shots of Citizen Kane; but ultimately makes a dull result that makes you feel more sympathy for William Randolph Hearst than he probably deserves. But it does star Gary Oldman, and as far as I am concerned, is possibly the greatest actor alive and can play any part; but at 62 years old, playing a 42-year-old was a bit of a stretch. If you are a fan of Citizen Kane or the time period, check it out; but really feels like a waisted opportunity and best left to the viewing pleasure of pretentious film students; so expect it to get lots of nominations. 

As I said, this year has many reasons why voting for the BAFTAs is different. Besides the fall of Cinemas, which led to me have a Facebook argument with an Oscar winning Sound Mixer, who thinks that we should call off the awards, as we have not been able to watch all the films in the cinema. There are two other differences been made for fairness. Firstly, since the awards have been moved to a later date, we have been given more time to vote, and this has led to three rounds of voting. The first round ended on the 26th January when were we submitted up to fifteen films in preferential order, in each of our voting categories. Leading to the fifteen film short list, which must be watched within a month, before voting a preferential order list of nominations. Then the nominations come out, a month to watch them again, before voting for the best in each category. We used to have a similar system when I first joined, but the second round got dropped to speed up the voting in order to get in before the Oscars. It is great it see it back, as it gives some good underdogs a chance. 

The next big innovation this year, is we have all been put into groups where we are given about fifteen films we must watch. This means that all eligible films, get a share of eyeballs, and films I normally would overlook, I have been watching. Most notably in my group is 23 Walks. This is a sweet movie and is best described as a Geriatric Love Story, where it is not just the bed springs that creek. It tells the story of two elderly North Londoners, meeting up while walking their dogs. This turns from friendship to a relationship, which becomes complicated to add some drama and social awareness. It is terribly slow but classically shot; a perfect movie for the freshly vaccinated pensioners to fill the cinemas, came out in Spain on 15th January 2021.  Also, it is great if you want to have a tour around North London and its parks. 

There is also a diversity drive, that includes Conscious Voter Videos; which I found personally patronising but probably useful for the older voters. So mix that with the groupings and we should have in interesting selection on nominations this year. Most notable in my group was Miss Juneteenthwhich was a powerful mother and daughter movie centred around a black beauty pageant the celebrates Juneteenth. Which is important, as many people outside America do not realise that Juneteenth celebrates when the slaves in Texas discovered that they had all been legally freed, over two years earlier. Isn’t the American history of oppression delightful? But this is more than a movie about black issues and poverty. It is about a mother learning to listen to the individuality of her daughter, her daughter learning about the sacrifices her mother has made for her, and they both learn to grow together. Simply told and beautifully acted, this movie will hopefully get some much-needed exposure from award season, after it was quietly released on Video on demand services in June last year. 

This was not the only coming of age movie about mothers and daughters in my group. Saint Frances, is a big contender and hopes to be this is this year’s Little Miss Sunshine. It is a sweet movie about women’s issues and issues that tend to be avoided being discussed by addressing them head on, as the characters squirm. It follows the story of a dropout who gets a job as a nanny, for a mix-raced lesbian couple expecting their second child, while she tries to deal with her body’s reactions to an abortion. It has a strong female cast that I look forward to seeing in future movies. Most notably Kelly O’Sullivan who also wrote the movie and little Ramona Edith Williams who is a joy to watch. It is very funny and educational, that will hopefully become a beloved classic. But unfortunately, due to the pandemic it slid straight to video on demand as well, so desperately needs and deserves awards exposure.  

On the darker side on my grouping, was my favourite film this year I Care a lot, starring Rosamund Pike, who does an amazing job in this satirical crime thriller, about capitalistic exploitation of the guardianship system for the elderly. Peter Dinklage also does a great job as the menacing antagonist, in his most powerful performance since Season 5 of Game of Thrones. The only problem with the film is that it starts with the cliché monologue, that mirrors gangster films like Layer Cake, which sadly lets you know exactly how the film is going to end. However, if you can overlook this small error, you are in for a ride of a movie when it finally comes out in on 19th February on either Netflix or Prime (depending on region). This was not the only Rosamund Pike film this year hoping for awards, as she shines in the leading role of Marie Curie in Radioactive. This biopic came out just after last year’s award season, this should have been a warning, and the film falls down by its slow pace, disorienting dream sequences and flash backs. I see how it was trying to be a film about feminism and female empowerment, but I do not think it succeeded, which is a shame as I love Marjane Satrapi’s directorial debut Persepolis

Luckily for my father, there was at least one “Dad movie” in my group to watch in the form of The Last Full Measure. This film is a tour de force for everyone’s favourite veteran Hollywood actors to give a collection of potentially award-winning performances. Everyone shines in this well-crafted true story about a war hero, and the struggle to get him the medal of honour thirty years after his death. Expect this film to get at least a nod in the best supporting actors’ category. That all said, the film is very American centric, so avoids the complexities of the Vietnam war as it focusses on a group of US soldiers in one disastrous battle.  

I wish the groupings has been more selective, as I ended up watching two films that I regret watching to the end. Fanny Lye Deliver’d, a period drama based in post-civil war England, starring Maxine Peake and Charles Dance. It tries to come across as a weighty tale of female empowerment but comes across as 75% boring and then 25% exploitation trash. It is incredibly slowly paced at the start, with shoddy camera work that feels better placed in an 80s video nasty. It is a mix of long pretentious monologue, followed by gratuitous sex and violence. It literally feels like they rented a historical re-enactment tourist attraction and quickly shot there for a few days, hoping for the talent and start power of the leads to carry the movie. The next disappointment was Billie Piper’s directorial debut, Rare Beasts. It refers to itself as an anti rom-com and it succeeds; as it is neither funny or romantic. It falls into the classic British Film trap of having unlikeable characters in grim lives, and thinks that makes it cool. In reality, it is a depressing film about an abusive relationship and how they try to justify staying in it. The most interesting thing in the film is how you see random women in passing, displaying their anxieties through verbizing their inner-monologues; it almost feels like this is the concept the whole film was built around.  

So that is it for some of the English language Dramas in the first round. Next month I will have a look at some of the movies that slipped through the net, the foreign language films and animations. Until then, stay safe and happy viewing!