2021 Oscars preview: Best Picture contenders and more for Netflix movies

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020): (L to R)Glynn Turman as Toldeo, Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, and Colman Domingo as Cutler.Cr. David Lee / Netflix
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020): (L to R)Glynn Turman as Toldeo, Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, and Colman Domingo as Cutler.Cr. David Lee / Netflix /

Guys, the Academy Awards are…happening? Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, it’s easy to forget the monumental and worthy Oscars wins for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite were less than a year ago, in early February of 2020.

However, this year, the Academy swallowed their traditionalist pride and enacted some sweeping changes to accommodate for an Oscars season like no other. This includes allowing room for movies released on streaming and VOD sans a theatrical run, extending eligibility to February 28 in order to make space for films that haven’t been postponed, and postponing their own broadcast from early February to late February to April 25. They even recently opened up the shortlist for Best International Feature from 10 to 15 selections.

A few bullet points in the pros column might assuage fears for what’s going to be an Emmys-like extemporaneous ceremony: Good movies exist! And way more people can see them!

For the most part, studios have had to reach across the table and partner with streaming services just to get their films in front of eyes, now that theatrical distribution is so up in the air. But in the eyes of us contributors who adore a particular streaming service, we couldn’t be more pleased.

Netflix movies are contenders for the 2021 Oscars

With that said, let’s examine some of the Oscars horizons and try to fit Netflix into some expectant slots, shall we?

Film festivals (beyond Sundance in January/February) adapted to the COVID pandemic in varying ways, with the majority adopting a combination of delaying until this year, slimming down their lineups, and/or going virtual entirely.

A lot of festival films premiere later in the year during Oscar season anyway, and a few frontrunners have emerged already. I believe it makes sense to highlight some early Netflix predictions in each category, but I’ll also zoom out and focus on one non-Netflix film to keep eyes on.

2021 Best Picture contenders on Netflix

The Best Picture category has become outwardly reflective of globalist interests, especially after Roma was favored to win in 2019 and Parasite followed through big time last year. As it stands right now, there aren’t a ton of foreign frontrunners for Best Picture nor Best International Feature, and Netflix’s hopefuls for this category include a roster of movies telling distinctly American stories. Definitely pencil in The Trial of the Chicago 7Mankand Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, all of which are entrenched in American historical fiction. It would be cool to see Da 5 Bloods snag a nom here as well, but its headstrong and abrasive script give me hesitance in this category this early in the game. Netflix also has some other films coming out in the next month and a half that might glance at a nomination or two.

One non-Netflix movie that looks all but certain: Searchlight Pictures’ Nomadland. It’s coming to Hulu and theaters on February 19 this year. After winning the Golden Lion at Venice this year and garnering acclaim for Frances McDormand’s lead performance and Chloé Zhao’s direction, I’ve only heard praise from disparate corners of critic, audience, and Internet circles – I quite like it, too.

2021 Best Director contenders on Netflix

Best Director will be fascinating this year: it’s high time women get recognition in this category, and it’s looking more like those calls might actually take tangible shape. Best Picture contenders usually semi-align with Best Director, and Netflix is looking to promote David Fincher (Mank), Spike Lee (Da 5 Bloods), and Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) at the head of their pack. My long shot pick for Netflix here is Charlie Kaufman for i’m thinking of ending things – I’d love one of the more personal and nuanced Netflix movies to come along in a while to result in a reward for the voice from which it came.

Non-Netflix entry: beyond the aforementioned Zhao, I’d kill to see a directing nod go to Kitty Green for her The Assistant, released earlier last year in theaters by Bleecker Street and on Hulu now. Her patient, meditative, stark palette resulted in one of the most intense slow-burn films ever.

2021 Best Animated Feature contenders on Netflix

Netflix has found success in down-the-line categories, and next, I’ll focus on Best Animated Feature. Netflix typically comes behind in this category to Disney, a company fueled by multiple nominations and annual wins here. Netflix does have some cards in their favor: look out for noms for Over the Moon and The Willoughbys. If Netflix gets another, I’d bet on A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – the Oscars do love Aardman.

Non-Netflix entry: I’m going down the road less travelled here and intentionally not choosing anything by Disney (probably because it’ll have this category in the bag), so I’m gunning for Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers. The Irish fantasy film has flown relatively under the radar (no thanks to its late December release on Apple+), but it’s an empowering, breezy, emotional visual feast that will delight both fans of foreign animation and parents watching with their daughters.

2021 Best Documentary Feature contenders on Netflix

Finally in this installment, let’s look at Best Documentary FeatureNetflix won this category last year with their Obama-cosigned American Factory, which has helped the streaming service carve out a place in the ever-impressive documentary film landscape. This category tends to serve some upsets from the nominations list alone, as there are a plethora of worthy documentary films each year. As far as Netflix’s players, expect IDA winners Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and Dick Johnson is Dead to land nominations, but don’t count recent hard-cold-truth touchstone The Social Dilemma out, either. This category is, as expected, wide open – more on this category later.

Non-Netflix entry: my go-to recommendation of any movie of the entire year has been Amazon Prime’s Time. It’s simply a monumental feat of filmmaking, having won awards at critic’s associations and ceremonies like the Gothams. The shrewdly empathetic ways through which Garrett Bradley tells the story of the Fox family are at once grand and idiosyncratic. Check this one out immediately!

I’ll write back next month with updates regarding the most wonderful time of the year – hopefully with some more concrete predictions and clearer outlooks. In the meantime, watch some or all these movies on Netflix (and beyond) to prep for Oscar season!

Is there a specific movie that you hope brings home the gold in April? Let us know in the comments!

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