By Eleanor Ringel Cater

The Academy Awards may be turning 93, but the prize has nonetheless managed to cough up a few firsts this time around.

It’s the first time two – count ‘em, two!!!!!!! – women have been nominated for Best Director in the same year. The total number of women ever nominated in the category is a rousing five and one – count her!!! – has won (Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2008).

If Chloe Zhao wins Best Director, it’ll be a first for a woman of color.

A scene from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman
A scene from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman

Viola Davis is the first Black woman to be nominated twice for Best Actress (She won Best Supporting Actress for 2016’s “Fences”).

For the first time, the Oscars will split the ceremony between L.A.’s Union Station and its usual venue, the Dolby Theater.

Because of the pandemic and its effect on movie theaters, for the first time, some films have been nominated that were seen on VOD, not the big screen.

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) would be the first Muslim to win Best Actor. Ditto Steven Yeun who’d be the first Asian-American.

A scene from “The Father” – a best picture nominee
A scene from “The Father” – a best picture nominee

But no matter how many “firsts” there are, the Oscars themselves still have their own sort of built-in déjà vu. The number of nominees is relatively rigid (No more than five, with the exception of the Best Picture category which allows up to ten). The ritual of opening the envelope hasn’t wavered (even in the wake of the “LaLa Land/Moonlight” debacle in which the former was announced when the latter was the actual winner; if you missed it, look it up – really a rare moment of complete Oscar chaos). And it looks as if some form of the Red Carpet Parade is still locked in, though I can’t help but wonder what role masks will play.

Anyway, I think many of the nominees are deserving this year, especially in the Best Picture group. But I’m supposed to make predictions, so…

The nominees for Best Picture: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal,” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
My Choice: “Promising Young Woman”
Oscar’s Choice: “Nomadland” (also deserving)
Should Be No One’s Choice: “Mank”
I’d be happy if either “Minari” or “The Trial of the Chicago 7” took it, too.

Best Director: Thomas Vinterberg for “Another Round,” David Fincher for “Mank,” Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari,” Chloe Zao for “Nomadland,” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman”
My Choice: Emerald Fennell or Chloe Zao
Oscar’s Choice: Chloe Zao
Should Be No One’s Choice: David Fincher

Best Actress: Viola Davis for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Andra Day for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” Vanessa Kirby for “Pieces of a Woman,” Frances McDormand for “Nomadland,” and Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman”
My Choice: Carey Mulligan
Oscar’s Choice: Viola Davis (though McDormand could pull an upset)
Should Be No One’s Choice: Andra Day (valiant work in a deeply flawed movie)

Best Actor: Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal,” Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Anthony Hopkins for “The Father,” Gary Oldman for “Mank,” and Steven Yeun for “Minari”
My Choice: Anthony Hopkins
Oscar’s Choice: Boseman (which is fine with me and as understandable as it is inescapable)
Should Be No One’s Choice: Gary Oldman

 Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn for “Minari,” Glenn Close for “Hillbilly Elegy,” Amanda Seyfried for “Mank,” Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and Olivia Colman for “The Father”
My Choice: Maria Bakalova
Oscar’s Choice: Yuh-Jung Youn
Should Be No One’s Choice: Glenn Close

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sacha Baron Cohen for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Leslie Odom, Jr. for “One Night in Miami,” Paul Raci for “Sound of Metal,” Lakeith Stanfield for “Judas and the Black Messiah”
My Choice: Sacha Baron Cohen
Oscar’s Choice: Daniel Kaluuya (again, fine with me)
Should Be No One’s Choice: They’re all deserving, though one has to question why neither Kaluuya nor Stanfield is in the Best Actor category.

A final fingers-crossed first? Maybe this year, for the first time, the Oscars will be a reasonable length. For that matter, anything under three hours would be a real breath of fresh air.

And just in case you’re wondering, the longest televised Oscar show ever was the 74th annual edition in 2002. It weighed in at a hefty four hours and twenty-three minutes. Lord help us all.

Note to readers: To make your own picks, here is a link to download and print your own ballot of 2021 Oscar nominees.  

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE...

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