Race for the Oscars

2 March 2021

Last year wreaked havoc on the film industry, as the forthcoming Academy Awards gala will show. We asked Polish film experts about their favourites in the race for the golden statuettes.

The Oscar ceremony has only ever been postponed three times in its history: in 1938 following extensive floods in Los Angeles, in 1968 in the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King, and in 1981 when plans were thwarted by the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Since its launch in 1929, the ceremony has never been cancelled – not even during the Second World War.

In 2021, the organisers want to prove that the era of the red carpet is far from over, and LA will host film stars whether the coronavirus wants it to or not. According to the latest information, the nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced on 15 March, with a ceremony planned for 25 April.

Due to the pandemic and the restrictions which have resulted in the cancellation of many premieres, for the first time the awards are open to films which have not been screened at cinemas, opening up the field to productions shown on VOD platforms. David Fincher’s Mank, produced by Netflix, is likely to cause quite a stir, especially in the technical categories. Many commentators are also confident that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, with Chadwick Boseman in his final role, will receive a nomination. Poland’s candidate is Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s Never Gonna Snow Again. So what other films should we be keeping an eye on?

Kaja Łuczyńska (Kino Pod Baranami)

One of my personal favourites which I hope will be nominated is a very different, traditionally-distributed Nomadland directed by Chloé Zhao. Awarded at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, this 21st-century take on a road movie, based on Jessica Bruder’s outstanding reportage, is a subtle tale of finding a place for oneself outside the system. It explores how circumstances force people into exile, reveals the lives of people whose autumn years are far from relaxing with the grandchildren, and paints a picture of a world in which something has clearly gone wrong.

Krzysztof Gierat (Krakow Film Festival)

The Krakow Film Festival is Poland’s only event whose winner can become an Oscar candidate for Best Feature (Documentary), so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the winner of this year’s Golden Horn: the Romanian production Acasa, My Home directed by Radu Ciorniciuc. It tells the story of nine siblings and their parents living in a shack in the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, with none of the comforts offered by civilisation. When the authorities decide to reclaim the land, they are forced to abandon their idyllic life and move to the city. The jury, led by Łukasz Żal, nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography for Ida and Cold War, praised the film for presenting an intimate portrayal of a family striving to maintain their dignity, independence and identity. The Oscars are mainly awarded to American films, so a nomination for this “Cracovian” candidate would count as a huge success!

Julia Smoleń (OFF Camera)

I think Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow is a serious candidate for this year’s Best Picture. The visually stunning film tells the story of a young housewife (portrayed by the excellent Haley Bennett); inspired by a guidebook for expectant mums encouraging spontaneity, one day she puts a marble in her mouth and decides to swallow it. Newly pregnant Hunter finds herself compelled to swallow more objects, many far less innocuous than the original marble. Swallow intertwines elements of body horror, grotesque and psychological drama, and it pulls no punches in its exploration of womanhood and motherhood. The narrative gradually shifts from an atmosphere drawing on experiences of 1960s housewives in suburban America and, leaving behind realism, it focuses on the protagonist’s growing fear and desire for emancipation.

Mateusz Góra (Against Gravity)

If I were to choose a favourite for this year’s Oscars, it would have to be I Am Greta. The documentary was made (fortunately!) not in Hollywood, but by Nathan Grossman from the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. He met the young activist when she first started her school strike and before anyone had heard of her. By the time he’d raised the funds to finish his film, Greta had become a household name the world over. He finished his documentary with support from the VOD service Hulu. I Am Greta takes us on a journey in the young woman’s footsteps: from solitary street protest all the way to speaking at some of the most important political meetings around the globe. Is Greta simply a child being manipulated by adults? Or is she an inspired visionary showing us the right way forward? Grossman’s film is a sensitive, telling exploration of the cynicism of contemporary politicians and the ruthlessness with which the media seek out the latest sensation. I Am Greta will soon be available in Poland, distributed by Against Gravity.

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