Breaking down the 2021 Best Picture nominees

The most prestigious award at the Oscars is the Best Picture trophy, and every year, between five and 10 movies compete for the prize. What makes the contest interesting is that there aren’t any set rules about what constitutes a “best” picture. It’s just the movie (for better or worse, depending on the year) that Hollywood designates as its standard-bearer.

The film that wins represents the American movie industry’s view of its accomplishments in the present and its aspirations for the future.

In this strange, strange year — with a pandemic wreaking havoc on the film industry and big questions looming about the future of theaters and streaming — it is perhaps surprising that the eight 2021 Best Picture nominees, on the whole, are pretty great.

The most-nominated film overall is about the politics, business, and history of Hollywood — no surprise, since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the professional organization that gives out the Oscars) tends to love movies about movies. Two films center on characters who are struggling to retain part of themselves in the midst of memory loss and hearing loss, respectively.

Two more films explore the politics and activism of the late 1960s, one focusing on a court case and one on a state-sanctioned assassination. There’s a biting and satirical revenge thriller in the mix. And finally, two films explore the promise and peril of the American Dream: one about a family of Korean-Americans in 1980s Missouri, and one set in the contemporary West.

In the run-up to the delayed-by-two-months Oscars on April 25, the Vox staff is looking at each of the Best Picture nominees in turn. What makes this film appealing to Academy voters? What makes it emblematic of the year? And should it win? We’ll publish a roundtable discussion for each of the nominees as we approach these most unusual Oscars, in a most unusual year.

— Alissa Wilkinson, Vox film critic


The Trial of the Chicago 7: Our mixed feelings about the movie and its director Aaron Sorkin, explained

The historical courtroom drama seems like a classic Oscar film. And for better or worse, it’s peak Sorkin. Will it win?

Two white men in a courtroom in suits and ties, one standing, one sitting.

Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Niko Tavernise / Netflix


Mank: Should the most-nominated film at the Oscars win Best Picture?

David Fincher’s complicated movie about Hollywood and the making of Citizen Kane may be the least “popular” of the Best Picture nominees — whatever that means in this weird year — but it’s also the most-nominated film by a long shot.

A black and white image of Amanda Seyfried playing Marion Davies, in a circus-inspired costume with a big hat.

Amanda Seyfried in Mank.
Netflix


Promising Young Woman’s explosive ending and Best Picture chances, explained

Our critics have wildly differing opinions about Emerald Fennell’s much-discussed darkly comedic revenge thriller starring Carey Mulligan. Will the Oscars?

A young white woman with rainbow-striped hair in a nurse’s costume stares grimly forward.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman.
Focus Features


The Father

Check back on April 19 for our conversation.

A middle-aged white woman and her father sit in a living room, talking to one another.

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in The Father.
Sony Pictures Classics


Nomadland

Check back on April 20 for our conversation.

A white woman stands against the backdrop of the Badlands, with a small smile on her face.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland.
Searchlight Pictures


Sound of Metal

Check back on April 21 for our conversation.

A man wearing headphones.

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal.
Amazon Studios


Judas and the Black Messiah

Check back on April 22 for our conversation.

A Black man stands in a beret.

Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah.
Warner Bros.


Minari

Check back on April 23 for our conversation.

A Korean man and a woman stand in an embrace.

Yeri Han and Steven Yeun in Minari.
Josh Ethan Johnson/A24

The 2021 Oscars will air live on Sunday, April 25, on ABC.

Alissa Wilkinson Alissa Wilkinson https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/52517/voxv.png Read More