It’s been a weird year for movies. We had to watch them on couches or in bed instead of in the transportive silence of a movie theater. The screens we saw them on were smaller, the popcorn we ate with them didn’t taste quite the same, and we often watched and processed them alone instead of being surrounded by cheering, gasping, and crying fans and talking about them with friends as we made our way through a darkened parking lot, forever changed by what we experienced inside that movie theater.
It’s been a weird year—but that doesn’t mean it was a lost one.
It was different—but different doesn’t always have to be bad.
Even though I missed movie theaters more than most places during the last year, I still got to watch a lot of great movies. I still managed to watch all of this year’s Best Picture contenders, and I’m still excited for tonight’s Oscars ceremony.
The date may be different. The experience might not be the same. But the joy’s still there.
Today is still a day to celebrate movies. And movies still gave me a whole lot to celebrate in a long, hard, lonely year.
As I went through my Oscar ballot (with plenty of help from the wonderful folks at Collider FYC), I was struck by just how much movies—and a lot of these movies in particular—helped me work through the emotions that came along with this year. Whether it was the way Promising Young Woman helped me process my anger, the way Nomadland gave me language to talk about grief, the way Judas and the Black Messiah gave me the space to cry about injustice, the way Minari gave me a moment of peace and beauty while still acknowledging that life is hard, or the way Sound of Metal made me feel okay about grieving experiences and parts of myself, so many of these movies spoke to the common human experience of grief and how we work through it. And that was exactly what I needed to see this year—stories of heartbreak but also, in so many of these movies, stories of hope, of lights at the ends of long tunnels that we sometimes have to light ourselves.
So even though I picked my favorites below, I want this post to serve as a celebration of all the movies that made us feel exactly what we needed to feel in a year when we all needed catharsis perhaps more than ever.
Today is a good day. And no matter who wins any of these awards, tonight is going to be a good night.
It’s been a weird year—for movies and for everything else.
But there’s still joy to be found. There are still things to celebrate.
And today, I’m choosing joy.
My Pick: Nomadland
My Thoughts: Some years, the Best Picture race is tight up until the very end. This is not one of those years. With critics’ groups wins, film festival accolades, and plenty of other precursors all lined up, it seems Nomadland is a pretty sure thing to take home the biggest award of the night. And I can’t think of a more deserving frontrunner. This film is beautiful—what could have been a gritty look at a difficult lifestyle is instead a tribute to the beauty of the open road and the possibility and freedom it symbolizes. But it’s also a tribute to the power of community. From the outside, this looks like a film about one woman, but it’s actually about the fact that this one woman is part of a family she has found and made for herself—and how no one could survive a nomadic life without the support, love, and care their community provides for them. It’s a film about contrasts—the splendor of America’s landscape versus the brutality of America’s economic system; the darkness of grief versus the soft light of hope; isolation versus community; families you’re born into versus families you choose. And the way this movie weaves seamlessly between all those contrasts with empathy and a uniquely gentle touch made it unlike anything else I watched this year—in the best possible way.
My Pick: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)
My Thoughts: Nomadland works because of Chloé Zhao. Her empathy, humanity, and heart are woven into the fabric of this film. Not only is it stunning to look at, it means something—it has a definitive point of view, and what a beautiful one it is. The way she captured the spirit of the actual nomads featured in the film speaks to the respectful, open way she approached this subject and the care she took to tell this story through a human lens. This film had real soul, and it came from its director—a woman who deserves to take her place among the greats of the game today.
My Pick: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
My Thoughts: Even if we wouldn’t have lost him this year, this award belonged to Boseman from the minute he appeared onscreen in this role—all manic energy and wild-eyed charm. This was a true acting tour de force—he ran the gamut of emotions and left you exhausted and broken right along with him by the end. Giving him this award that he earned with every breath of this performance is a fitting tribute to his otherworldly talent, but it’s also such a painful reminder of his loss not just for us as movie fans but especially for all those who knew and loved the man behind the talent.
My Pick: Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)
My Thoughts: This is the toughest race to predict, with essentially a three-way, neck-and-neck race between Carey Mulligan, Viola Davis, and Frances McDormand. I still don’t feel 100% sure that my choice is how it’s going to play out tonight, but sometimes you have to go with your gut. And my gut says the subtle, masterful control in Mulligan’s performance deserves to be recognized. Female anger is such a hard thing to get right, and her rage was revolutionary to see onscreen. But Mulligan’s humanity made you never forget what all that rage was grounded in—and that’s grief. She makes this entire movie work—its tension, twists, and deeply upsetting finale land only because she fully inhabits this woman and makes us care about her. And while Davis has the SAG and McDormand has the pedigree, I just feel like voters are going to want to spread the love, and she is more than a worthy recipient.
My Pick: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
My Thoughts: And we’re back to another lock—and for good reason. Kaluuya’s big, soulful eyes made this film so much more than a story of a historical figure and his brutal murder. They gave this film a heartbeat; they made it a tragedy that broke me like no other movie I saw this year. The ease he brought to this role created the epitome of a “lived in” performance, showing all the facets of this complicated man—his passion, his humor, his kindness, his anger, and his heart. No performance I saw this year felt as vibrant and alive as this one—it was the rare performance that felt as big and all-consuming on my TV screen as I think it would have felt in a theater.
My Pick: Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari)
My Thoughts: Yuh-Jung Youn is a legend, and it’s about time Americans caught on to that. She’s essentially the Meryl Streep of Korean cinema, and I’m so glad her performance in Minari has allowed us (myself included!) to learn more about her career and the path she took to this beautiful and heartbreaking role. The way she balanced the vibrancy, irreverent attitude, and playfulness that the best grandmas have before her stroke with the quiet, haunted demeanor she takes on after it gave this film real pathos. Even the changes in her physical presence—how much bigger and taller she seems before her stroke and how physically withdrawn she gets after—were incredible. Minari is such a beautiful movie, and it deserves to be recognized somewhere. I can’t think of a better place for it to make its mark.
My Pick: Nomadland
My Thoughts: Sometimes you pick a winner strictly based on the fact that it’s the best film in the bunch, and that’s what I’m doing here. The Father could pull an upset, but Nomadland is such a powerful story that uses words in such a magical, healing, and cathartic way. “I’ll see you down the road,” is the one piece of dialogue from a movie this year that’s etched itself onto my heart, and that kind of writing deserves to be given all the awards.
My Pick: Promising Young Woman
My Thoughts: If you’re looking for a screenplay that’s truly original, this is the one. It’s difficult and infuriating and deeply upsetting at times, but that’s the point. It’s not a nice movie or a movie where everything feels better in the end—because that wouldn’t be true. It’s a movie about the very real danger of being a woman in a world that will do anything to keep women from speaking their truth, and that’s not nice and things often don’t feel better in the end for women in this world. It’s a movie with a real point of view—an unapologetic thesis about female grief, female rage, and the patriarchal system that just wants grieving, angry women to shut up. This was my favorite movie of the last year, and it’s all because it didn’t play nice. It was brave and bold, and women who tell brave, bold stories deserve to be rewarded.
My Pick: Mank
My Thoughts: Do I want this to go Nomadland? Yes. No other movie looked better this year. But do I think the Academy is going to gravitate toward a black-and-white recreation of Old Hollywood? Yes. Mank leads the pack with the most nominations, so it clearly has a lot of support. I can’t see that ending in zero wins, so I think it’ll pick up a couple of technical trophies, starting with this one.
My Pick: Soul
My Thoughts: Time to share an unpopular opinion! I liked Onward better. But I can appreciate the beautiful animation, deep themes, and general craft behind Soul enough to understand why it’s the favorite and likely winner in this category.
My Pick: My Octopus Teacher
My Thoughts: This is one of those categories where I deferred to the brilliant minds at Collider FYC for help, and this was their pick. It seems to be building some buzz, so I think it’ll ride that wave to a win.
My Pick: Another Round
My Thoughts: When an International Feature nominee finds itself in other categories as well, it’s time to take notice. In this case, Another Round also showed up in Best Director. I think that shows a respect for its craft that will give it the edge. It’s also the foreign film voters were probably most likely to see (with a big-name star like Mads Mikkelsen as its lead), and that can only help its chances of securing a win.
My Pick: The Trial of the Chicago 7
My Thoughts: Like Mank, I think there’s no way The Trial of the Chicago 7 goes home empty-handed after securing a number of nominations. However, I don’t think it’s likely to win any of the big awards it’s up for. Instead, I think it’s intercutting timelines and points of view will give it a victory in the editing category. I found this film to have a very strong sense of pacing and how to use that to build and release tension, and that comes from an editor who knows what they’re doing.
My Pick: Tenet
My Thoughts: Tenet was known for its creative use of visual effects (and for its predictably difficult plot). In a category with other films that used more special effects in more traditional and typical ways, I think the creativity of the effects in this film will make it stand out.
My Pick: Sound of Metal
My Thoughts: I loved Sound of Metal and am pulling for it to take home at least one award, and I think this is its best chance. Sound is a true character in the film—its absence, its presence, its tone and pitch and quality all add important emotional layers to this story. This film doesn’t work without a perfect sound department, and the fact that it succeeds on every level is a true testament to the way they used sound to anchor the emotional arc of the whole movie.
My Pick: Emma
My Thoughts: Period pieces tend to get a lot of love here, and Emma was stunning to look at.
My Pick: Soul
My Thoughts: Like the use of sound in Sound of Metal, music was a character all on its own in Soul. It’s the heartbeat of the film, and not only does it serve the story perfectly, but it’s also just a really wonderful jazz score in its own right. I also shamelessly love Jon Batiste and am so excited for him to win an Oscar.
My Pick: “Speak Now” (One Night in Miami)
My Thoughts: It’s Leslie Odom Jr.. How can I pick against that? To be totally honest, this is the one song I actually remember from this crop, and I feel like this is a chance to honor a movie that I think should have gotten a lot more love from the Academy than it got.
Makeup and Hairstyling
My Pick: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
My Thoughts: Transformative makeup wins in this category every time, and what this team did to turn Viola Davis into Ma Rainey is the very definition of transformative. The look they created for her told an entire story with just one close-up on her face, and that’s what this category should always be about.
My Pick: Mank
My Thoughts: Hollywood loves Hollywood, and Mank did a beautiful job of recreating it in its heyday. One of the best things about this movie was its production design, so while I think The Father could take this for the way its set decoration created a very unsettling mood and ultimately propelled the plot forward, I think this is the other technical category that Mank will take home.
Documentary Short Subject
My Pick: A Love Song for Latasha
My Thoughts: The subject matter is timely, the format is creative, and it’s the Collider FYC pick. That’s good enough for me!
Animated Short Film
My Pick: If Anything Happens I Love You
My Thoughts: Just reading the description of this film broke my heart, so I think this painful look at the families left behind after school shootings will make voters sit up and pay attention as our country still grapples with gun violence.
Live Action Short Film
My Pick: Two Distant Strangers
My Thoughts: This is another example of me using Collider FYC to help with the bottom of my ballot. Their support of this film, coupled with its unique approach to the subject of police violence, made it hard for me to pick against.