With theatres closed throughout the world, and studios like Disney, Universal, and Warner Brothers postponing nearly all releases, one would think that 2020 was not a big year for movies. Quite to the contrary, the global pandemic brought streaming services even more into the spotlight and gave independent movies that might otherwise have floundered a fighting chance. Against all odds, the early 2021 awards season has already been one of the most competitive and least predictable in recent memory, and the nominations for this year’s Oscars only reinforce that.

Streaming services are the biggest winners at the nominations this year, with Netflix original films scoring a whopping 33 Oscar nods, including two for Best Picture. Amazon Studios films Sound of Metal, One Night in Miami, Time, and Borat: Seubsequent Moviefilm collectively scored 12 nominations. Even Disney is getting into streaming, with Disney Plus movies Onward, Mulan, and Soul picking up 1, 2, and 3 nominations respectively.

2021 also includes some notable records in terms of inclusivity. For the first time ever, two women are up for Best Director, with rising indie star Chloé Zhao likely to win for Nomadland. Additionally, Steven Yeun, star of Korean-American film Minari, won the distinction of being the first ever Asian American to be nominated for Best Actor. Within documentary categories, two black women directors were nominated for the films Time and A Love Song for Latasha.

With an acting nomination for his role in The Father, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins is now the oldest person ever nominated for Best Actor, beating a record Richard Farnsworth set in 1999 at age 79. Frances McDormand, lead actor and producer for Nomadland, could also make history as the first person to win both Best Actress and Best Picture in the same year.

Best Supporting Actress is the most exciting race to watch this year. Not only did Maria Bakalova make the shortlist for her performance in Borat – the first purely comedic performance nominated for an acting Oscar since Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids – but Youn Yuh-jung makes history as the first Korean actress ever nominated. This category also contains the eighth-ever acting nomination for Glenn Close for Hillbilly Elegy – a performance that has also put her in contention for the infamous Razzie Award for Worst Actress. The last time Close was nominated was as Lead Actress in 2019 for her role in The Wife, though she lost to Olivia Colman in The Favourite.
Also in Supporting Actress this year: Olivia Colman for The Father.

As usual, there are plenty of films thought to be favourites that the Academy completely ignored. Chilling topical documentaries 76 Days and Welcome to Chechnya are nowhere to be seen. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom missed a Best Picture nomination, despite picking up two acting nominations for its leads, Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis. The Animated Feature category is woefully overpopulated by Disney, and completely devoid of Eastern animation, despite possible contenders from Japan, China, and India.

This year’s Academy Awards are pleasantly diverse, and just unpredictable enough. Though the Oscars nominations aren’t as out-there as this year’s BAFTAs or Independent Spirits, there are still no clear winners in any category. Though 2020 initially looked like a slow year for cinema, the 93rd Academy Awards promise an unusually exciting finish.