Breaking Down Which Films Are Eligible for the 2021 Oscars

The Academy is a tough nut to crack in a regular year — trying to crystal ball what unexpected movie will catch their eye and which critically lauded contenders will be left out in the cold, to say the least of predicting who will win their little gold man come the big night — but this year should prove especially interesting.

Last year’s Oscars ceremony was barely in the rearview mirror when COVID-19 descended on Hollywood and beyond, forcing the industry at large to temporarily grind to a halt and awards bodies to reconsider plans for their forthcoming awards season. Still, it will take more than a global pandemic to stop the Oscars.

To accommodate these unprecedented times, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences postponed its ceremony to April 25 and extended the eligibility deadline past the customary Dec. 31 cutoff. That is, any film released between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021 is eligible for this year’s Oscars. (Including films that premiered at drive-ins or via streaming when a theatrical release was not possible.)

So, what actually came out during that time? Certainly, fewer films than in previous years — as studios continue to redate their releases into 2021 and beyond — but plenty did come out (or will come out shortly). And the ones that did make for one of the more interesting Oscars pool in recent years, with a number of films in contention that may have been overlooked or otherwise passed up in a more crowded year.

Below, ET runs down the eligible films that are most likely to be among this year’s nominees (to be announced March 15), as well as how to watch them from the safety of your own home. After all, this year’s Best Picture winner may not have ever played on a big screen at all. That’s 2020 for you.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

If the first Borat movie’s legacy is a very specific pronunciation of “mah wiiiife,” the sequel might become best known for introducing a first-time Oscar nominee. (That, and the Rudy Giuliani scene.)

Look for it in:

Best Supporting Actress – Maria Bakalova

How to watch: Prime Video

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s hot streak with the Academy — he only just won his first-ever Oscar in 2019 — should continue here, with Lee and his cast landing in a number of top categories. (The late Chadwick Boseman could earn one of two nominations here.)

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Spike Lee
Best Actor – Delroy Lindo
Best Supporting Actor – Chadwick Boseman
Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards, National Board of Review

How to watch: Netflix

The Father

Following an acclaimed festival run, Sony Pictures Classics is holding off on releasing The Father until the last eligible weekend. Its stars are both Oscar winners doing career-high work, but will entering the race so late help or hurt?

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Florian Zeller
Best Actor – Anthony Hopkins
Best Supporting Actress – Olivia Colman
Best Adapted Screenplay

How to watch: In theaters Feb. 26

Hillbilly Elegy

Ron Howard’s adaptation of the popular opioidemic memoir squandered any Oscars buzz upon its release, save for in one race: Never underestimate the power of Glenn Close in a good wig.

Look for it in:

Best Supporting Actress – Glenn Close

How to watch: Netflix

Judas and the Black Messiah

This year’s extended eligibility window makes it possible for Judas, which stars Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, to premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and ride its buzz into nominations mere weeks later.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Shaka King
Best Actor – Lakeith Stanfield
Best Supporting Actor – Daniel Kaluuya
Best Supporting Actress – Dominique Fishback
Best Original Song – “Fight for You” by H.E.R.

Nominations: AFI Awards, National Board of Review

How to watch: In theaters and on HBO Max on Feb. 12

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Chadwick Boseman’s performance in his final film — an adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed play boasting plenty of Oscar pedigree — will likely win the actor his first Academy Award, posthumously.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – George C. Wolfe
Best Actor – Chadwick Boseman
Best Actress – Viola Davis
Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards, Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards

How to watch: Netflix

Malcolm & Marie

Sam Levinson’s made-in-quarantine chamber piece may be too polarizing for the Academy — even with all its monologuing about the art of filmmaking — but Zendaya’s star turn may still prove undeniable.

Look for it in:

Best Actor – John David Washington
Best Actress – Zendaya

How to watch: Netflix on Feb. 5

Mank

They say there’s nothing the Academy loves more than movies about movies. Enter two-time Oscar nominee David Fincher’s Old Hollywood opus about the screenwriter of Citizen Kane.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – David Fincher
Best Actor – Gary Oldman
Best Supporting Actress – Amanda Seyfried
Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards

How to watch: Netflix

Minari

This sweet family drama was riding high out of Sundance 2020 — where it won both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award — but recent controversy around the Golden Globes has only championed more supporters to it.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Lee Isaac Chung
Best Actor – Steven Yeun
Best Supporting Actress – Youn Yuh-jung
Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards, Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, Spirit Awards

How to watch: In select theaters Feb. 12 and on demand Feb. 26

We’ve gotten our hopes up for a critically beloved Sundance indie before, only to have them dashed by the Academy. Still, Eliza Hittman’s quiet drama is performing exceedingly well in a somewhat quiet awards season.

Look for it in:

Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, Spirit Awards

How to watch: HBO Max

News of the World

A Western starring Tom Hanks as a gunslinging Civil War soldier feels like the sort of “dad movie” the Academy tends to find room for. (Think, your Ford v Ferraris, your American Snipers.)

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Paul Greengrass
Best Actor – Tom Hanks

Nominations: National Board of Review

How to watch: Available on demand

Nomadland

Chloé Zhao’s road drama has been the one to beat since its premiere in Venice, where Nomadland won the Golden Lion, before making history by also winning TIFF’s coveted People’s Choice Award.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Chloé Zhao
Best Actress – Frances McDormand
Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards, Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, Spirit Awards

How to watch: In select IMAX theaters on Jan. 29 and Hulu on Feb. 19

One Night in Miami…

Regina King made history when her feature debut — a fictional night in the lives of Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali — screened at Venice, making her the first Black female director to do so. The same would be true come Oscars.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Regina King
Best Actor – Kingsley Ben-Adir
Best Supporting Actor – Leslie Odom Jr.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Song – “Speak Now” by Leslie Odom Jr and Sam Ashworth

Nominations: AFI Awards, Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards

How to watch: Prime Video

Onward

Disney and Pixar’s original offerings nearly always find their way into Best Animated Feature — those that don’t are the exception not the rule — with the occasional added nods for screenplay or original song.

Look for it in:

Best Animated Feature
Best Original Song – “Carried Me With You” by Brandi Carlile

How to watch: Disney+

Pieces of a Woman

With so many options to push this year, Netflix may not prioritize this taxing drama co-starring an actor facing abuse allegations. The actresses at the heart of the film, however, deliver performances that speak for themselves.

Look for it in:

Best Actress – Vanessa Kirby
Best Supporting Actress – Ellen Burstyn

How to watch: Netflix

Promising Young Woman

The Academy’s continued diversification and broadening of what is deemed a quote unquote Oscar movie directly benefits a dark, timely, wholly original film like Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Actress – Carey Mulligan
Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: National Board of Review, Spirit Awards

How to watch: Available on demand

Soul

Pixar’s latest is the animation frontrunner, though it remains to be seen whether Soul can do like Up and Toy Story 3 before it and break beyond the animated field into Best Picture.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Animated Feature

Nominations: AFI Awards, National Board of Review

How to watch: Disney+

Sound of Metal

Early armchair punditry pegged Riz Ahmed’s committed performance as the breakout here, but continued love from voting bodies for co-star Paul Raci and the film as a whole has made Sound of Metal an underdog to watch.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Actor – Riz Ahmed
Best Supporting Actor – Paul Raci

Nominations: AFI Awards, Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, Spirit Awards

How to watch: Prime Video

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin has yet to un-pigeonhole himself from the Academy’s writing fields, but The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems primed to do just that, presenting him as the worthy director of several equally worthy performances.

Look for it in:

Best Picture
Best Director – Aaron Sorkin
Best Supporting Actor – Sacha Baron Cohen
Best Original Screenplay

Nominations: AFI Awards

How to watch: Netflix

Wolfwalkers

Apple TV+’s best shot at the Oscars may be this inventive animated tale of two lupine young ladies from the filmmakers behind Oscar-nominated films The Breadwinner, Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

Look for it in:

Best Animated Feature

Nominations: Gotham Awards

How to watch: Apple TV+

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