Frances McDormand stars in writer-director-editor-co-producer ChloĆ© Zhao’s contemporary western drama, ‘
Credit: Joshua Nomadland.’
Credit: Joshua Richardson/Searchlight Pictures

Triumphantly overcoming adversity during the most serious times of peril is a major theme that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has always celebrated since it formed, and began honoring the best in cinema with their Oscar trophies, since it launched in 1927. This past year has undoubtedly proven that the Beverly Hills-based movie organization will not only celebrate characters who conquer their biggest challenges on screen, but also the filmmakers who have determinedly fought to keep their productions in development since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year.

While the film industry has been forced to contend with unprecedented challenges since America began its national quarantine last March, which forced movies to stop production and theaters to close for several months, Hollywood has been slowly but surely figuring out how to revitalize itself since the summer. Under strict protocols, movies have been able to resume filming, and theaters have begun to reopen. But the forced-but equally necessary-halt in production hasn’t stopped AMPAS from proceeding with its planned 93rd edition of the Academy Awards later this year.

This year’s Oscar presentation was originally scheduled to air on February 28, but was postponed by two months due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the movie industry. While in past years, AMPAS has required that all films that wish to be considered for nominations play in theaters for at least one week, the organization has modified its eligibility criteria this year; it’s allowing movies that initially intended to have a theatrical release but were instead ultimately released directly to digital platforms to also be considered.

The 93rd Academy Award show, which is now set to air live on Sunday, April 25 on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, will recognize excellence in cinematic achievement in films that were distributed between January 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021. There are several movies that critics are already buzzing about this Oscar season, which are leading the odds for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. Film fans can continuously track the 2021 Oscar odds here.

While the 2021 Academy Award ceremony is still three-and-a-half months away, the Best Picture category is already a tight competition. The highly critically acclaimed contemporary western, ‘Nomadland,’ which is scheduled to begin its theatrical release on February 19, is currently leading the odds to win the top honor at the Oscars. The drama’s odds at winning the Best Picture accolade at this year’s Academy Awards has drastically improved since it won the coveted Golden Lion award this past September, after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

‘Nomadland’ is being praised in large part for its production value from writer-direct-editor-co-producer, ChloĆ© Zhao, who based the script on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book of the same name. The screen adaption is also being recognized for its standout and heartfelt lead performance from two-time Oscar winning actress, Frances McDormand, who portrays a woman who leaves her small town to travel around the American West.

Currently trailing far behind ‘Nomadland’ in the Best Picture category is the biopic, ‘Mank,’ which was directed by David Fincher, and is based on a screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher. The movie chronicles screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s development of the script for the highly regarded drama, ‘Citizen Kane.’ Academy Award-winning actor, Gary Oldman portrays Mankiewicz in the drama, which has already received accolades from several film critics groups since it received a limited theatrical release on November 13, before beginning to stream on Netflix on December 4.

In addition to Best Picture, the Best Director category has also become a highly discussed topic. Chao has recently been pushed to the top of the odds of winning the Oscar statue, as the odds for early favorite Fincher shifted in the wrong direction from +113 to +265.

The Best Director race is garnering a lot of attention because if either filmmaker wins in the trophy, they’ll both make history. The ‘Nomadland’ helmer would be the second woman to ever win in the category, after Kathryn Bigelow previously took home the prize in the category in 2009 for her war thriller, ‘The Hurt Locker.’ The esteemed ‘Mank’ director was previously nominated in the same category in 2009 and 2011 for his previous dramas, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ and ‘The Social Network.’

The Best Actor Academy Award race is also heating up, as Oscar-winning performer, Anthony Hopkins has emerged as the leading favorite for his turn as Anthony in the drama, ‘The Father.’ The actor, who was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category last year for his role as Pope Benedict XVI in ‘The Two Popes,’ has seen his odds remain steady at +150 in his latest movie. ‘The Father’ was co-written and directed by Florian Zeller, and is scheduled to be released on February 26.

Hopkins is receiving the most competition from the late Chadwick Boseman for his turn as Levee Green in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ The ‘Black Panther’ star’s final film performance has garnered posthumous critical acclaim since the feature was unveiled in a limited theatrical release on November 25, before it began to stream on Netflix on December 18. Boseman’s odds for winning the Oscar for his last drama, which was directed by George C. Wolfe, written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and based on the play of the same name by August Wilson, currently stand at +300.

In the Best Actress category for this year’s Oscar ceremony, Boseman’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ co-star, Viola Davis remains the favorite with average odds of +130. If the performer, who played the title character in the movie, wins the film industry’s top accolade for actresses, it will mark her second Academy Award win; she previously was honored in the Best Supporting Actress category in 2016 for the period drama, ‘Fences,’ which is also based on a play by Wilson.

Andra Day has also emerged as one of the favorites to win in the Best Actress category, with +500 odds for her portrayal of the title character in the upcoming biopic, ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday.’ The movie was directed by Lee Daniels and written by Suzan-Lori Parks, who based the script on Johann Hari’s 2015 book, ‘Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.’ The Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter is garnering praise for her live action feature film acting performance debut in the drama. Hulu announced yesterday that it has acquired the U.S. rights to the biographical feature, which it will premiere as a Hulu original film on February 26.

With 2020 being a challenging year for the movie industry as a whole, AMPAS will undoubtedly not only celebrate characters who conquer their biggest challenges on screen this year, but also the filmmakers who have determinedly fought to keep their productions in development since the outbreak of COVID-19. While the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony has been pushed back two months to accommodate the unprecedented change in distribution for many films, several breakout directors, performers and overall movies have already become clear frontrunners; ‘Nomadland’ and its helmer, as well as Hopkins and Davis, seem the most likely to hear their names called as the winners on the Dolby Theatre stage during this spring’s Oscar ceremony.

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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