2021 Academy Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

“Nomadland” producers Peter Spears, Frances McDormand, Chloé Zhao, Mollye Asher and Dan Janvey at the 93rd annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

With three prizes, including Best Picture, “Nomadland” was the top winner for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which took place place at Union Station and at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on April 25, 2021. There was no host for the ceremony, which was telecast in the U.S. on ABC. Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” also won the awards for Best Director (for Chloé Zhao) and Best Actress (for Frances McDormand). In the movie, McDormand portrays a widow who lives out of her van and travels across different states in U.S. to find work.

With 10 nods, the Netflix drama “Mank” was the top nominee and ended up with two Academy Awards. Movies that won two Oscars each included:

  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros. Pictures): Best Supporting Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya), Best Original Song (“Fight for You”)
  • “Mank” (Netflix): Best Production Design, Best Cinematography
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix): Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design
  • “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios): Best Film Editing, Best Sound
  • “Soul” (Pixar Studios): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score

The awards are voted for by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the 2021 ceremony, eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and (due to the coronavirus pandemic) the eligibility period was extended to movies released in January and February 2021. Because of the pandemic, movies that were planned for a theatrical release but were released directly to home video or on streaming services were also eligible. Beginning with the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, there will be a required 10 movies nominated for Best Picture. From 2009 to 2021, the rule was that there could be five to 10 movies per year nominated for Best Picture.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were less people invited to the Oscar ceremony in 2021. The presenters included Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Yeun, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

The 2021 Oscar ceremony also marked big changes to the show in other ways. Performances of the year’s Oscar-nominated songs usually take place during the ceremony. Instead, the performances of the five nominated songs were pre-recorded and televised during the 90-minute pre-show telecast “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” which included live interviews from the Oscar red carpet. This pre-show telecast was hosted by actors Ariana DeBose and Lil Rel Howery.

Howery acted as an unofficial emcee during parts of the Oscar telecast, which included a segment where Howery played a trivia game where people in the audience had to guess if a song was an Oscar winner, an Oscar nominee or wasn’t nominated for an Oscar at all. The segment started out flat and awkward. Andra Day got her answer correct that Prince’s “Purple Rain” song wasn’t even nominated. (However, the “Purple Rain” soundtrack score did an Oscar.)Kaluuya incorrectly guessed that Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” didn’t win an Oscar. (It did.)

But the segment end up being saved by Glenn Close, who correctly guessed that E.U.’s “Da Butt” (from Spike Lee’s 1988 movie “School Daze”) wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and she proceeded to show her knowledge of ’80s hip-hop by getting up and doing “Da Butt” dance. This moment got a lot of laughs and cheers and will be sure to be remembered as the most unexpected comedic moment at the 2021 Academy Awards. This moment with Close could have been pre-planned and rehearsed since she seemed a little too prepared with an answer, but it didn’t take away from it being one of the show’s highlights that didn’t involve an acceptance speech.

Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins were the producers of the Academy Awards show. They also made some changes to the show’s format. Instead of presenting the prizes for Best Picture last, the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress were presented last. The award for Best Picture was the third-to-last award presented. The prize for Best Director was handed out in the middle of the ceremony, instead of following the tradition of being the second-to-last award handed out during the ceremony.

Another big change was that winners were not limited to a 90-second acceptance speech. Some acceptance speeches lasted longer than three minutes. In addition, there was no live orchestra at the ceremony. Instead, musician Questlove was a DJ at the award show. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the nominees were shown via satellite in various parts of the world, such as London, Paris and Sydney.

The Oscar ceremony made history in some diversity issues, as Zhao (a Chinese-born filmmaker) became the first woman of color to win Best Director. She is also the second woman in Oscar history to win this Best Director prize. (Kathryn Bigelow, director of the 2009 war film “The Hurt Locker,” was the first woman to win the Best Director award in 2010.) Zhao’s victory had been widely predicted, since Zhao won all of the year’s major Best Director awards for “Nomadland” prior to winning the Oscar.

Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” made Oscar history by being the first black people to be nominated for and to win the prize for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. This breakthrough was acknowledged during their acceptance speech for the award, which they share with Sergio Lopez-Rivera. Neal said in her acceptance speech: “I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, who were denied, but never gave up. I also stand here—as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling—with so much excitement for the future.”

Meanwhile, South Korean actress Yuh-jung Youn of “Minari” became the first Asian-born woman to win in the Best Supporting Actress category. In 1958, Japanese American actress Miyoshi Umeki of the 1957 movie “Sayonara” became the first Asian woman overall to win in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Although the late Chadwick Boseman was widely predicted to win the Best Actor award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which was his last film role, the prize went to Anthony Hopkins for “The Father.” (Hopkins did not attend the Oscar ceremony and was not available by video.) At 83 years old, Hopkins became the oldest person to win an Oscar in an actor/actress category, surpassing the record set by “Beginners” co-star Christopher Plummer, who won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2012, at the age of 82.

Boseman won several Best Actor prizes (including a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award) for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” leading up to Oscar ceremony. However, there was a foreshadowing that Boseman might not win the Oscar when he was nominated for but didn’t win the prizes for Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards and Film Independent Spirit Awards, which were the two major award shows that took place closest to the Oscars. Boseman died of colon cancer in August 2020.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, with MPTF officials Bob Beitcher, Norma Carranza and Jennifer Jorge acceping the prize on stage. Tyler Perry received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a non-competitive prize. In his speech, he urged people to “stand up to hate” and to be more giving and compassionate with each other.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards:

*=winner

Best Picture

“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) 

“Mank” (Netflix) 

“Minari” (A24) 

“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)*

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

“Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)

David Fincher (“Mank”) 

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) 

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)*

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)*

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)*

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)*

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) 

Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) 

LaKeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”)*

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Nina Pedrad

“The Father,” Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller*

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers 

“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani 

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah.” Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas

“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung 

“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell*

“Sound of Metal.” Screenplay by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt 

“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt*

“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski 

“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael 

Best Film Editing

“The Father,” Yorgos Lamprinos

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“Promising Young Woman,” Frédéric Thoraval 

“Sound of Metal,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen*

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alan Baumgarten 

Best Sound

“Greyhound,” Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman

“Mank,” Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin

“News of the World,” Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett

“Soul,” Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker

“Sound of Metal,” Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh*

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard 

“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Minari,” Emile Mosseri 

“News of the World,” James Newton Howard 

“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste*

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”). Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas*

“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”). Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

Best Animated Feature Film

“Onward” (Pixar) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Pixar)*

“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV+/GKIDS) 

Best International Feature Film

“Another Round” (Denmark)*

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania) 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?”(Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

Best Documentary Feature

“Collective” (Magnolia Pictures and Participant) 

“Crip Camp” (Netflix) 

“The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures) 

“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)*

“Time” (Amazon Studios) 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Emma,” Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze

“Hillbilly Elegy,” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson*

“Mank,” Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff

“Pinocchio,” Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti

Best Costume Design

“Emma,” Alexandra Byrne 

“Mank,” Trish Summerville 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth*

“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler 

“Pinocchio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini

Best Production Design

“The Father.” Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton

“Mank.” Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale*

“News of the World.” Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan

“Tenet.” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters,” Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox 

“The Midnight Sky,” Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins

“Mulan,” Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

“The One and Only Ivan,” Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez

“Tenet,” Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher*

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Colette” (Time Travel Unlimited)*

“A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Breakwater Studios) 

“Do Not Split” (Field of Vision) 

“Hunger Ward” (MTV Documentary Films)

“A Love Song for Latasha” (Netflix) 

Best Animated Short Film

“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)

“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions) 

“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix)*

“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike) 

“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói) 

Best Live-Action Short Film

“Feeling Through” 

“The Letter Room” 

“The Present” 

“Two Distant Strangers”*

“White Eye” 

2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Frances McDormand in “Nomadland” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

With four prizes, including Best Feature, the Searchlight Pictures drama “Nomadland” was the top winner at the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards, which was hosted by actress Melissa Villaseñor. For the first time, the Spirit Awards show was not held the day before the Academy Awards. Instead, the Spirit Awards ceremony took place on April 22, with a live telecast at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on IFC and AMC+. The 2021 Academy Awards will take place on April 25. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both ceremonies are mostly virtual.

The other Spirit Awards for “Nomadland” were Best Director and Best Editing (both for Chloé Zhao) and Best Cinematography (for Joshua James Richards). Amazon Studios’ drama “Sound of Metal” (about a heavy-metal drummer who goes deaf) received three Spirit Awards: Best First Feature (for director Darius Marder and four producers), Best Male Lead (for Riz Ahmed) and Best Supporting Male (for Paul Raci). Focus Features’ #MeToo revenge film “Promising Young Woman” won the awards for Best Female Lead (for Carey Mulligan) and Best Screenplay (for Emerald Fennell).

The 2021 Spirit Awards also included the debut of television categories for the ceremony. The HBO limited drama series “I May Destroy You” and the Netflix limited drama series “Unorthodox” won two prizes each. “I May Destroy You” got the awards for Best New Scripted Series and Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series, which is a non-competitive category. “Unorthodox” garnered awards for Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Shira Haas) and Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series (for Amit Rahav).

With seven nods, the Focus Features abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was the top nominee of there ceremony but the movie ended up not winning any of the awards.

Eligible movies were those released in 2020 that had a production budget of no more than $22.5 million. Therefore, several critically acclaimed 2020 movies with budgets higher than $22.5 million were not eligible, including the Netflix films “Da 5 Bloods,””Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

As for what defines an “independent” TV show for the Spirit Awards, Film Independent president John Welsh told Variety in a September 2020 interview that it would depend on a TV show’s “aesthetic, original provocative subject matter, unique voice and diversity. The types of work that we celebrate on the film side, and TV side, they’re going to look very similar. … Somehow these singular voices are finding their way into television and making a mark on the culture. We are remiss if we don’t celebrate that.”

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards:

*=winner

BEST FEATURE (Award given to the producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

First Cow

Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Producers: Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf

Minari

Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

 Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Producers: Sara Murphy, Adele Romanski

 Nomadland*

Producers: Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to director and producer)

I Carry You With Me

Director/Producer: Heidi Ewing

Producers: Edher Campos, Mynette Louie, Gabriela Maire

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Director/Producer: Radha Blank

Producers: Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jordan Fudge, Rishi Rajani, Jennifer Semler, Lena Waithe

Miss Juneteenth

Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples

Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Tim Headington, Jeanie Igoe, James M. Johnston, Theresa Steele Page, Neil Creque Williams

Nine Days

Director: Edson Oda

Producers: Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Linder, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner

Sound of Metal*

Director: Darius Marder

Producers: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Award given to the writer, director and producer. Executive Producers are not awarded.)

The Killing of Two Lovers

Writer/Director/Producer: Robert Machoian

Producers: Scott Christopherson, Clayne Crawford

La Leyenda Negra

Writer/Director: Patricia Vidal Delgado

Producers: Alicia Herder, Marcel Perez

Lingua Franca

Writer/Director/Producer: Isabel Sandoval

Producers: Darlene Catly Malimas, Jhett Tolentino, Carlo Velayo

Residue*

Writer/Director: Merawi Gerima

Saint Frances

Director/Producer: Alex Thompson

Writer: Kelly O’Sullivan

Producers: James Choi, Pierce Cravens, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Raphael Nash, Roger Welp

BEST DIRECTOR

Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Kelly ReichardtFirst Cow

Chloé ZhaoNomadland*

BEST SCREENPLAY

Lee Isaac ChungMinari

Emerald FennellPromising Young Woman*

Eliza HittmanNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Mike MakowskyBad Education

Alice WuThe Half of It

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

Kitty GreenThe Assistant

Noah HuttonLapsis

Channing Godfrey PeoplesMiss Juneteenth

Andy SiaraPalm Springs*

James SweeneyStraight Up

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Jay KeitelShe Dies Tomorrow

Shabier KirchnerBull

Michael LathamThe Assistant

Hélène LouvartNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Joshua James RichardsNomadland*

BEST EDITING

Andy CannyThe Invisible Man

Scott CummingsNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Merawi GerimaResidue

Enat SidiI Carry You With Me

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland*

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Nicole BeharieMiss Juneteenth

Viola DavisMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sidney FlaniganNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Julia GarnerThe Assistant

Frances McDormandNomadland

Carey MulliganPromising Young Woman*

BEST MALE LEAD

Riz AhmedSound of Metal*

Chadwick BosemanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Adarsh GouravThe White Tiger

Rob MorganBull

Steven YeunMinari

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

Alexis ChikaezeMiss Juneteenth

Yeri HanMinari

Valerie MahaffeyFrench Exit

Talia RyderNever Rarely Sometimes Always

Yuh-jung YounMinari*

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

Colman DomingoMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Orion LeeFirst Cow

Paul RaciSound of Metal*

Glynn TurmanMa Rainey’s Black Bottom

Benedict WongNine Days

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast

One Night in Miami…

Director: Regina King

Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin

Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

BEST DOCUMENTARY(Award given to the director and producer)

Collective

Director/Producer: Alexander Nanau

Producers: Hanka Kastelicová, Bernard Michaux, Bianca Oana

Crip Camp*

Directors/Producers: Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham

Producer: Sara Bolder

Dick Johnson is Dead

Director/Producer: Kirsten Johnson

Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness

The Mole Agent

Director: Maite Alberdi

Producer: Marcela Santibáñez

Time

Director/Producer: Garrett Bradley

Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)

Bacurau

Brazil

Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

The Disciple

India

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Night of the Kings

Ivory Coast

Director: Philippe Lacôte

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Hungary

Director: Lili Horvát

Quo Vadis, Aida?*

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

PRODUCERS AWARD – The Producers Award, now in its 24th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.

Kara Durrett

Lucas Joaquin

Gerry Kim*

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 27th year,  recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.

David Midell

Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

Ekwa Msangi*

Director of Farewell Amor

Annie Silverstein

Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 26th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.

Cecilia Aldarondo

Director of Landfall

Elegance Bratton

Director of Pier Kids*

Elizabeth Lo

Director of Stray

TV CATEGORIES

BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children

Executive Producers: Jeff Dupre, Joshua Bennett, Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius

City So Real

Produced by: Zak Piper, Steve James

Executive Producers: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Jolene Pinder

Immigration Nation*

Executive Producers: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Brandon Hill, Christian Thompson

Co-Executive Producers: Andrey Alistratov, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg, Lauren Haber

Love Fraud

Executive Producers: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Amy Goodman Kass, Vinnie Malhotra, Jihan Robinson, Michael Bloom, Maria Zuckerman

We’re Here

Creators/Executive Producers: Stephen Warren, Johnnie Ingram

Executive Producers: Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Peter LoGreco

Co-Executive Producers: Erin Haglund, Sabrina Mar

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES (Award given to the Creator, Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer)

I May Destroy You*

Creator/Executive Producer: Michaela Coel

Executive Producers: Phil Clarke, Roberto Troni

Little America

Executive Producers: Lee Eisenberg, Joshuah Bearman, Joshua Davis, Arthur Spector, Alan Yang, Siân Heder, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon

Small Axe

Executive Producers: Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Steve McQueen

A Teacher

Creator/Executive Producer: Hanna Fidell

Executive Producers: Michael Costigan, Kate Mara, Louise Shore, Jason Bateman, Danny Brocklehurst

Co-Executive Producer: Daniel Pipski

Unorthodox

Creator/Executive Producer: Anna Winger

Creator: Alexa Karolinski

Executive Producer: Henning Kamm

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

Elle FanningThe Great

Shira HaasUnorthodox*

Abby McEnanyWork in Progress

Maitreyi RamakrishnanNever Have I Ever

Jordan Kristine SeamónWe Are Who We Are

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

ConphidanceLittle America

Adam AliLittle America

Nicco AnnanP-Valley

Amit RahavUnorthodox*

Harold TorresZero, Zero, Zero

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES

I May Destroy You

Ensemble Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia, Stephen Wight

2021 Academy Awards: ‘Mank’ is the top nominee

March 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in “Mank” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

With 10 nods, the Netflix drama “Mank” is the top nominee for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which will take place at Union Station and at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on April 25, 2021. There will be no host for the ceremony, which will be telecast in the U.S. on ABC. The nominations were announced on March 15, 2021, by spouses Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

The nominations for “Mank” include Best Picture, Best Actor (for Gary Oldman), Best Director (for David Fincher) and Best Supporting Actress (for Amanda Seyfried). The movie is about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, nicknamed Mank, and his experiences while writing the Oscar-winning screenplay to the 1941 film “Citizen Kane, including his clashes with “Citizen Kane” director/co-writer Orson Welles.

The other contenders for Best Picture are Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Father,” Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Judas and the Black Messiah,” A24’s “Minari,” Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland,” Focus Features’ “Promising Young Woman,” Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal” and Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” All of these movies except for “Promising Young Woman” have six Oscar nominations each, which is the second-highest number of nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards ceremony. (Click here to read Culture Mix’s reviews of all these movies that are nominated for Best Picture.)

The awards are voted for by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the 2021 ceremony, eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and (due to the coronavirus pandemic) the eligibility period was extended to movies released in January and February 2021. Because of the pandemic, movies that were planned for a theatrical release but were released directly to home video or on streaming services were also eligible. Beginning with the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, there will be a required 10 movies nominated for Best Picture. From 2009 to 2021, the rule was that there could be five to 10 movies per year nominated for Best Picture.

Snubs and Surprises

“Da 5 Bloods” director Spike Lee (pictured at far left) with cast members Isiah Whitlock Jr., Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis on the set of “Da 5 Bloods.” (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

The Netflix drama “Da 5 Bloods,” which has been getting nominations at other major award shows, only managed to garner one Oscar nod: Best Original Score (for Terence Blanchard). Some pundits had predicted that “Da 5 Bloods” would get Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (for Spike Lee) and Best Actor (for Delroy Lindo). Other highly acclaimed movies that were shut out of the Best Picture race include the Amazon Studios drama “One Night in Miami…” and the Netflix drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” although “One Night in Miami…” got three Oscar nods in other categories, while “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” received five Oscar nominations.

Meanwhile, movies that have been getting awards and nominations elsewhere were completely snubbed by the Academy Awards. They include the Focus Features drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” the STX drama “The Mauritanian,” the Netflix comedy “The Forty-Year-Old Version” and the A24 drama “First Cow.” 

Although “Mank” leads with the most Oscar nominations this year, the movie failed to get a nod for Best Original Screenplay. (The movie was written by David Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher.) This lack of a screenplay Oscar nomination doesn’t bode well for “Mank’s” chances to win Best Picture. It’s very rare for a movie not to win Best Picture without getting a screenplay nomination.

And shut out of the race for Best Director is Aaron Sorkin of “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” even though he has been getting Best Director nominations at almost every major award show where he’s eligible for this movie. However, as the screenwriter for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Sorkin did score an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay. 

Some of the biggest surprise nominations came from international films. Thomas Vinterberg of the Samuel Goldwyn Films drama “Another Round” (a movie from Denmark) received a nomination for Best Director. Gravitas Ventures’ Chilean film “The Mole Agent” got a nomination for Best Documentary Feature, after being largely ignored for nominations at other movie award shows.

And “Judas and the Black Messiah” co-star LaKeith Stanfield got a surprise nod for Best Supporting Actor, a category that also includes “Judas and the Black Messiah” co-star Daniel Kaluuya. Stanfield was shut of of getting nominated for this movie at most other award shows, while Kaluuya has been winning Best Supporting Actor prizes for the movie, thereby making Kaluuya a frontrunner in the category this year.

Diversity and Inclusion

Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han and Noel Cho in “Minari” (Photo by Josh Ethan Johnson/A24) 

For the first time in Academy Awards history, two women have been nominated in the same year for Best Director: Chloé Zhao of “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell of “Promising Young Woman.” Zhao (who is the first women of color to get an Oscar nod for Best Director) is a quadruple Oscar nominee this year for “Nomadland,” since she’s also nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Fennell is a triple nominee, since her other Oscar nominations this year are for Best Picture and for Best Original Screenplay.

Racial diversity is in every actor/actress category at 2021 Academy Awards, since there is at least one person of color nominated in each category. Black people are represented the most with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which made Oscar history for being the first movie from an all-black team of producers (Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler) to be nominated for Best Picture. The movie also earned nominations for the aforementioned co-stars Kaluuya and Stanfield; songwriter H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas, whose song “Fight for You” is up for Best Original Song’; and “Judas and the Black Messiah” director Shaka King, who co-wrote the screenplay, is a double Oscar nominee this year, since he’s also up for Best Original Screenplay.

Leslie Odom Jr. is a double nominee for “One Night in Miami…,” since he received nods for Best Supporting Actor and for co-writing the song “Speak Now,” which is one of the contenders for Best Original Song. Kemp Powers received his first Oscar nomination (Best Adapted Screenplay), for “One Night in Miami…,” which is based on the play that he wrote of the same title. Powers is a co-director of the Oscar-nominated animated film “Soul,” but he was not nominated for this movie, since the nomination for Best Animated Feature goes to a film’s director(s) and producer(s). However, composer Jon Batiste of “Soul” is nominated for Best Original Score, along with lead composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” got expected nominations for the late Chadwick Boseman (Best Actor) and Viola Davis (Best Actress). With this nomination, Davis is the black actress with the most Oscar nods. She has four so far, including one win for Best Supporting Actress for the 2016 drama “Fences.” Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” made Oscar history by being the first black people nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. 

Also nominated for Best Actress at the 2021 Academy Awards is Andra Day of Hulu’s “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Ironically, the only other time that two black actresses were nominated in the same year for Best Actress was in 1973, when Diana Ross was nominated for her role as Billie Holiday in 1972’s “Lady Sings the Blues” and Cicely Tyson was nominated for 1972’s “Sounder.” As of this writing, Halle Berry is the only black person who has won an Oscar for Best Actress. She did so for 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.”

Real-life singers Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday also represent the only LGBTQ characters in the actor/actress categories. In real life, Rainey was a lesbian and Holiday was bisexual. Their sexualities are each portrayed in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

Asians were represented in more Oscar categories than ever before, mostly because of “Minari,” a drama about a Korean American family that moves to rural Arkansas so that the family patriarch can become a farmer. “Minari” earned nods for producer Christina Oh (Best Picture); Lee Isaac Chung (Best Director and Best Original Screenplay); Steven Yeun (Best Actor); and Yuh-jung Youn (Best Supporting Actor). Yeun is the first Asian American to get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

As previously mentioned, Chinese filmmaker Zhao has four Oscar nominations for “Nomadland” this year. And the Hong Kong drama “Better Days” garnered a Best International Feature nomination for director Derek Tsang. And the Netflix drama “The White Tiger” earned a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Indian filmmaker Ramin Bahrani.

Pakistani British actor Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal” received his first nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed plays a heavy-metal drummer who goes deaf in the film. Paul Raci, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “Sound of Metal,” also portrays a deaf person in the film. The disability community is also represented in Anthony Hopkins’ role as a man with dementia in “The Father,” whose six nominations include Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Meanwhile, “Crip Camp” co-director Jim LeBrecht, who is paraplegic, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature for this Netflix movie, which is about the civil rights movement for the disability community.

The Hispanic/Latino people nominated for Oscars this year were all people who work in behind-the-camera roles. Sergio Lopez-Rivera is one of three people nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” And as previously mentioned, the Chilean film “The Mole Agent” (directed by Maite Alberdi) is nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

Also in the Best International Feature category is director Kaouther Ben Hania, who is nominated for the Tunisian film “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” making it the first time that a movie from Tunisia has gotten an Oscar nomination in this category. 

Here is the complete list of nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards:

Best Picture

“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) 

“Mank” (Netflix) 

“Minari” (A24) 

“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) 

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

“Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)

David Fincher (“Mank”) 

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) 

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) 

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) 

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) 

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) 

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) 

Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) 

LaKeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”) 

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Nina Pedrad

“The Father,” Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers 

“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani 

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah.” Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas

“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung 

“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell 

“Sound of Metal.” Screenplay by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt 

“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt 

“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski 

“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael 

Best Film Editing

“The Father,” Yorgos Lamprinos

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“Promising Young Woman,” Frédéric Thoraval 

“Sound of Metal,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alan Baumgarten 

Best Sound

“Greyhound,” Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman

“Mank,” Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin

“News of the World,” Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett

“Soul,” Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker

“Sound of Metal,” Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard 

“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Minari,” Emile Mosseri 

“News of the World,” James Newton Howard 

“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste 

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”). Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas

“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”). Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

Best Animated Feature Film

“Onward” (Pixar) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Pixar) 

“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV+/GKIDS) 

Best International Feature Film

“Another Round” (Denmark) 

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania) 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?”(Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

Best Documentary Feature

“Collective” (Magnolia Pictures and Participant) 

“Crip Camp” (Netflix) 

“The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures) 

“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix) 

“Time” (Amazon Studios) 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Emma,” Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze

“Hillbilly Elegy,” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson

“Mank,” Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff

“Pinocchio,” Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti

Best Costume Design

“Emma,” Alexandra Byrne 

“Mank,” Trish Summerville 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth 

“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler 

“Pinocchio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini

Best Production Design

“The Father.” Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton

“Mank.” Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale

“News of the World.” Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan

“Tenet.” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters,” Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox 

“The Midnight Sky,” Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins

“Mulan,” Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

“The One and Only Ivan,” Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez

“Tenet,” Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Colette” (Time Travel Unlimited) 

“A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Breakwater Studios) 

“Do Not Split” (Field of Vision) 

“Hunger Ward” (MTV Documentary Films)

“A Love Song for Latasha” (Netflix) 

Best Animated Short Film

“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)

“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions) 

“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix) 

“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike) 

“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói) 

Best Live-Action Short Film

“Feeling Through” 

“The Letter Room” 

“The Present” 

“Two Distant Strangers” 

“White Eye” 

Review: ‘Sound of Metal,’ starring Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke

November 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Sound of Metal”

Directed by Darius Marder

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the various parts of United States, the dramatic film “Sound of Metal” features a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A drummer in an industrial rock band loses his hearing and reluctantly moves into a group home for deaf people while secretly planning to break the home’s rules of getting surgery to try to regain his sense of hearing.

Culture Audience: “Sound of Metal” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted dramas about people dealing with physical and emotional challenges.

Pictured clockwise from left to right: Paul Raci, Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke in “Sound of Metal” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The absorbing and riveting drama “Sound of Metal” takes viewers on a topsy-turvy journey showing what it’s like to become deaf and how it completely alters the course of someone’s life. The movie’s outstanding sound editing and sound mixing completely immerse viewers into the experience of going between the world of people who have all of their hearing abilities and the world of people who are hearing-impaired. These two worlds are inhabited by the same person in “Sound of Metal,” which has superb acting from the cast members, who are from the hearing and deaf communities. It’s the type of movie that will have an impact on anyone who watches it.

Directed by Darius Marder, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Abraham Marder, “Sound of Metal” has frequent captions that appear on screen to describe background noises, as if the filmmakers were aware that many hearing-impaired people would be watching this movie. According to “The Sound of Metal” production notes, Darius Marder conceived the movie’s sound, while sound designer Nicolas Becker carried out what Darius Marder had in mind. There is no other movie released in 2020 that has more memorable, Oscar-worthy sound techniques than “Sound of Metal.”

The central character of the story is Ruben Stone, a heavily tattooed drummer for an alternative rock duo called Blackgammon, whose music is best described as post-industrial heavy metal. Blackgammon is self-financed and releases music independently. The music isn’t about melody but about conveying gloomy angst with loud, screeching guitar riffs and lots of amplifier feedback.

By any standard, Blackgammon’s music is hard on the ears. And it seems that Ruben has been playing this music without earplugs for years. Even when he starts to lose his hearing, he doesn’t wear earplugs. It’s later revealed in the story that Ruben is a recovering drug addict (heroin was his drug of choice) who’s been sober for the past four years.

Ruben’s live-in girlfriend Louise Berger (played by Olivia Cooke), nicknamed Lou and sometimes called Lulu by Ruben, is the lead singer/guitarist of Blackgammon. Lou is in her mid-to-late-20s and is about 10 years younger than Ruben. They live together in an Airstream RV, which also doubles as their tour bus. Ruben owns the RV and he does the driving. It’s unclear how long Ruben and Lou have been together as a couple or as band members. And it’s also not revealed how Lou and Ruben met, but it’s implied in the story that it’s been at least two years since they’ve been in each other’s lives.

Ruben and Lou have an easygoing relationship that suggests that they became friends first before they became lovers. He clearly adores her and dotes on her, because he’s the type of boyfriend who will make breakfast for her. Lou is more of the scheduler and planner in the relationship. She says later in the movie that she’s the band’s manager. And there are signs that Ruben is more of a “dreamer,” while Lou is more of a “realist.”

Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Lou comes from a wealthy family. Her decision to become the lead singer of a very non-commercial band that plays seedy bars and nightclubs has put a strain on her relationship with her divorced father Richard Berger (played by Mathieu Amalric), who lives in his native France. Lou’s parents divorced when she was a child, and she was raised by her mother in America. Tragically, Lou’s mother committed suicide, but it’s not made clear in the movie at what age Lou was when this tragedy happened. It seems to have occurred when Lou was under the age of 18.

As for Ruben’s family background, he was raised by a single mother too, but he never knew his father. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Ruben and Lou are in their bus, and he tells her that he used to imagine that Jeff Goldblum was his long-lost father, because Ruben thinks that he looks a lot like Goldbum. Ruben comments that he’s a fan of Goldblum, but if it were possible for Goldblum to be his father, it “explains a lot because the dude’s fucking weird.” Lou says that she used to think about her funeral in math class when she was in school.

This scene demonstrates that Ruben and Lou both have offbeat senses of humor, which is part of their attraction to each other. And based on their family histories and some of the things that happen later in the story, it’s also clear that there’s a “lost soul” aspect to their personalities. They want someone to fill a void, and they both found each other at the right moment to be that person for the other one in the relationship.

But their relationship is about to be tested in a big way, when Ruben discovers that he’s losing his hearing. At first, he seems to be in denial about it and he doesn’t tell Lou. However, Ruben seeks medical treatment and does hearing tests to find out what the problem is. The diagnosis isn’t good. His right ear has only 28% hearing capacity, while his left ear has only 24% hearing capacity.

The doctor tells Ruben that he must eliminate all exposure to loud noises. And when Ruben asks if there is any way to get his hearing back, the doctor says that cochlea implant surgery is possible, but it’s not covered by health insurance. And the cost of the surgery is about $40,000 to $80,000, which is money that Ruben does not have.

Ruben decides to continue life as he knows it and refuses to think about his career as a musician being over. He also decides he’s going to find a way to get enough money for the ear surgery. One night, while Blackgammon is performing at a nightclub, Ruben’s hearing problems become too difficult for him to bear. He walks off of the stage in the middle of the performance. Lou follows him outside, and that’s when Ruben tells her that he’s going deaf and about the ear surgery that he wants to have.

Lou’s immediate reaction is to help Ruben as much as possible. They had plans to do a tour and record an album, but Lou wants to cancel those plans and put Ruben’s health first. Ruben vehemently disagrees (perhaps because he’s still in denial about how serious his hearing problem is) and they argue about it. However, Ruben agrees to accompany Lou to a sober-living group home for deaf people to get information about the home and see if he would like to live there.

The group home’s manager is a tough-but-tender recovering alcoholic named Joe (played by Paul Raci), who’s a Vietnam War veteran who became deaf when a bomb went off near him during the war. Joe is welcoming to Ruben and Lou, but he is very clear that he will enforce the house’s strict rules for the residents, who are not allowed to have visitors or communicate with anyone outside the home. (Residents’ cell phones are confiscated when they check into this home.)

Ruben seems somewhat open to living in this home until he hears about the house rules. He thanks Joe for his time but says that the living arrangements aren’t acceptable and he won’t be staying there. However, Lou gives Ruben no choice but to stay in the group home when she suddenly makes plans to go away and tells Ruben that she will end their relationship if he doesn’t live in the group home and get the help that he needs.

Ruben is stunned and heartsick about Lou’s decision, but he doesn’t want to lose her, so he agrees to the plan. (The scene where Ruben and Lou say goodbye before she leaves for the airport is one of the best scenes in the film.) Ruben immediately feels like an outsider in the group home because he’s the only one who doesn’t know sign language. He will eventually learn American Sign Language (ASL), but in the back of his mind he has three goals: (1) Graduate from the house program; (2) Reunite with Lou; and (3) Get enough money to pay for the ear surgery.

During his stay in the group home, Ruben learns a lot more than sign language. He learns that that he’s not the worthless human being that he believed he was for most of his life. Part of the house program includes interacting with deaf students who are about 7 to 9 years old. Ruben attends their sign-language classes, which are led by a pretty and friendly teacher named Diane (played by Lauren Ridloff), who is patient and kind when teaching all of her students. (Ridloff and the students in the movie are deaf in real life.)

Ruben eventually uses his skills as a musician to bond with the children. It should come as no surprise that he eventually leads a drumming class for the students, with Diane also participating. And in order for Ruben to get in touch with his feelings, Joe tells Ruben to write down as much as he can.

As for the other group residents, they and Ruben take a while to get to know each other. Ruben keeps mostly to himself, but he ends up developing a friendship of sorts with a young lesbian named Jenn (played by Chelsea Lee), who asks Ruben to tattoo a naked woman on one of her back shoulders. Lou secretly keeps tabs on what Lou is doing by using the computer in Joe’s office and looking at social media.

Ahmed gives a stunning performance in depicting Ruben’s emotional trials and tribulations. The movie goes back and forth in depicting the sounds of what people with full hearing capabilities can hear in contrast to the sounds (or lack thereof) that Ruben experiences as he gradually goes deaf. It’s a transformation that will give people with full hearing abilities a greater understanding of the terror and isolation that someone must feel over hearing loss.

There’s also an overwhelming sense of powerlessness from Ruben, who knows that what’s happening is beyond his control and will permanently change the way he experiences the world, how he can communicate with other people, and how other people communicate with him. And if you factor in that Ruben is struggling with addiction issues, the movie will leave viewers on edge in seeing if Ruben will relapse or not during this new health crisis in his life. And there’s also the question if Lou will want to stay in the relationship with Ruben.

What “Sound of Metal” thankfully does not do is present deafness as something that should warrant pity. And it’s a condition that does not doom people to being less than fully formed human beings. One of the best things about the movie is that it shows how that Ruben’s gradual hearing loss actually forces him to look deep inside of himself and come to terms with who he is and how much he wants this hearing loss to define or change him.

It’s not an easy process, and Ruben goes through a lot of turmoil during this emotional journey. And as difficult as it must be for anyone in the group home to be cut off from their loved ones and the outside world, it’s a rule that seems understandable in the sense that loved ones could intentionally or unintentionally bring distractions or other baggage in the self-healing process. However, Ruben has a rebellious streak and defies the rules by sneaking off to use Joe’s computer to maintain some kind of online connection with Lou.

Cooke’s portrayal of Lou is also admirable in the way she depicts how she is also deeply affected by Ruben’s hearing loss. Although Lou isn’t in most of the movie, her presence is felt throughout the story because she’s the catalyst and motivation for Ruben trying to find a positive and healthy way to adjust to his new life as a deaf person. The movie shows what happens to Ruben and Lou as a couple in their touching love story.

According to the production notes for “Sound of Metal,” the movie was inspired in part by director Darius Marder’s deaf paternal grandmother, as well his editing work on director Derek Cianfrance’s unfinished docudrama “Metalhead,” about a real-life husband-and-wife rock duo named Jucifer and the husband’s struggle with hearing loss. Darius Marder also consulted with numerous members of the deaf community (ASL instructor Jeremy Stone was a chief consultant) to ensure accuracy in the film. All of that authenticity and acute attention to detail shine through in the movie.

The sounds and the silence are almost like other characters in the film. Muffled or garbled sounds that signal Ruben’s aural deterioration can also weigh heavily on his emotions. The silence of deafness unforgivingly limits Ruben’s world with invisible barriers but also unexpectedly opens up his world to new possibilities. Ruben finds that he has to rely on other senses and pay more attention to his surroundings and his inner rhythms when he can no longer depend on his hearing. More than anything, “Sound of Metal” is a great example of how losing the ability to hear doesn’t make anyone less of a person. And sometimes the best thing to listen to is one’s own instinct and conscience.

Amazon Studios released “Sound of Metal” in select U.S. cinemas on November 20, 2020. The movie’s Prime Video premiere is on December 4, 2020.

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