‘Mank’ leads Oscar nominations in a year of record diversity

Jake Coyle

NEW YORK (AP) — After a pandemic year that shuttered movie theatres and upended the movie business, Academy Awards nominations on Monday went to two female filmmakers for the first time, to a historically diverse slate of actors and to David Fincher’s lead-nominee Mank, a traditional kind of Oscar contender — an old Hollywood homage — in very untraditional year.

Fincher’s Mank, a black-and-white, period drama about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, easily topped nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards — delayed two months by the coronavirus pandemic — with 10 nominations, including best picture, best director, acting nods for Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and a host of others for its lavish craft.

Nominations were spread among a wide variety of contenders. Six films, all of them also up for best picture, score six nods: Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland, Minari, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and The Father. Also nominated for best picture was Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman.

History was made in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated before. For the first time, two were this year. Chloé Zhao got a nod for her elegiac road-trip drama Nomadland alongside first-time feature filmmaker Fennell for her pitch black #MeToo revenge comedy. “Never going to stop crying,” Fennell, also nominated for best screenplay, said on Twitter.

Zhao, the first woman of colour nominated for Best Director, is the most nominated woman in a single year in Oscar history. She was also tipped for the film’s adapted screenplay, editing and as a producer in the best picture category. The other directing nominees were Lee Isaac Chung for the tender family drama Minari, Fincher for Mank and Thomas Vinterberg for his Danish tragicomedy Another Round.

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies and Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in ‘Mank’. PHOTOS: AP
ABOVE & BELOW: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’; and Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

For performers, it’s the most diverse group of nominees ever — and a far cry from the all-white acting nods that spawned the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag five years ago. Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of colour, including a posthumous Best-Actor nomination for Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), as well as nods for Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Steven Yeun (Minari), Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Andra Day (The People vs Billie Holiday) and supporting nominations for Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah), Leslie Odom Jr (One Night in Miami) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari).

“We have to recognise how hard these people have worked,” said Day, nominated for her performance as Billie Holiday. “We have to recognise their talent.”

“When you hear your own name it’s a weird feeling,” said Ahmed, the first Muslim nominated for Best Actor. “I just quietly gave thanks and felt some gratitude.”

Davis, who won for her performance in 2016’s Fences, landed her fourth Oscar nomination, making her the most nominated Black actress ever. Yeun is the first Asian American ever nominated for Best Actor. Judas and the Black Messiah, Shaka King’s powerful Black Panther drama, is the first best-picture nominee with an all-Black producing team (King along with Ryan Coogler and Charles D King). Overall, a record 70 women were nominated for 76 Oscars, the academy said.

The other nominees for Best Actress are: Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman); Frances McDormand (Nomadland); and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman). The remaining nominee for Best Actor is Anthony Hopkins for the dementia drama The Father.

With moviegoing nearly snuffed out by the coronavirus, the best-picture nominees had hardly any box office to speak of: USD14.1 million in United States (US) and Canada ticket sales. For the first time, Hollywood’s biggest and most sough-after awards belong to movies that were almost entirely seen at home.

“We learned a lot of hard lessons last year, but a nice one was that people will find a way to go to the movies, even if they can only go as far as their living rooms,” said Aaron Sorkin, writer-director of The Trial of the Chicago 7, in a statement.

Netflix, as expected, led all studios with 35 nominations. The streaming service is still hunting its first Best-Picture winner, and this year has two shots in Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7 — a movie Paramount Pictures sold off during the pandemic. Netflix led last year, too, with 24 nominations, but came away with just two wins.

Other streamers were in the mix. Amazon Studios, in particular, was well represented with Sound of Metal, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and One Night in Miami — leading to 12 nominations overall. Both Apple TV+ (Wolfwalkers, Greyhound) and Disney+ (Soul, Onward) landed their first nominations. The film that tried to lead a box-office revival — Christopher Nolan’s Tenet — walked away with nominations for Production Design and Visual Effects.

The nominations were announced from London by presenters Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The Academy Awards would typically have happened by now but this year will be telecast April 25. The film academy said on Monday that the show will be held at both its usual home, the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, and the city’s railway hub, Union Station.

This year’s awards season has been entirely virtual, taking much of the buzz and predictability out of the Oscars. Eligibility was extended to early 2021 releases and to movies that bypassed theatres.

“In our industry there is nothing more traditional than the Academy Awards, which hopefully sends a sign of hope that we will get out of this,” said Oldman in a statement. “The Oscars are such a sign that normalcy still exists.”

Among the films that had hoped for a better result Monday was Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods — which was nominated only for its score. Just eight out of a possible 10 movies were nominated for best picture, leaving out Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Regina King’s One Night in Miami and Golden Globe winner Borat  Subsequent Moviefilm.

Despite the best-picture snub for Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen, who created the title character, was still a nominee for his supporting role as activist Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Borat star Maria Bakalova was nominated for best supporting actress. Also nominated in the category: Glenn Close for Hillbilly Elegy and Olivia Colman for The Father.

The most competitive category might have been documentary, where Collective, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, The Mole Agent, My Octopus Teacher and Time ultimately landed nominations. Collective, the Romanian documentary about investigative journalism and government corruption, became just the second film nominated for both Best Documentary and Best International Film. The other international film nominees were Quo Vadis, Aida?, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Another Round, Denmark; Better Days, Hong Kong; and The Man Who Sold His Skin, Tunisia.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature: Onward; Over the Moon; A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon; Soul; and Wolfwalkers.

The film academy and ABC will hope that the nominees can drum up more excitement than they have elsewhere. Interest in little golden statuettes has nosedived during the pandemic. Ratings for a largely virtual Golden Globes plunged to 6.9 million viewers — a 64 per cent drop from 2020 — last month. Though on Sunday the Grammys managed to break through the Zoom trap.

With the notable exception of fueling streaming subscriber growth, the pandemic has been punishing for the movie industry. Production slowed to a crawl, blockbusters were postponed or detoured to streaming and thousands have been laid off or furloughed.

But the outlook for Hollywood has recently brightened as coronavirus cases have slid and vaccines have ramped up. Movie theatres are re-opening in the US’s two largest markets, New York and Los Angeles. And several larger movies — including the Walt Disney Co’s Black Widow — are scheduled for May and beyond.