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Not too long ago it was pretty easy for indie, foreign, or streamed films to fly under the Oscar radar, but this past year has been, simply put, a weird one, causing major shifts in movie theater releases and a heavy focus on accessible movie streaming. And although this year hasn’t been the kindest, it’s nice to know that movies that historically could have been ignored by the Academy have rightfully earned their place as nominees for the 2021 Oscars.
To celebrate an odd but fruitful year of film, we’re pairing select Oscars nominees with some book recommendations. If you’ve already buzzed through these movies and are itching for something similar to hold you off until the winners are announced on April 25th, give one of these paired books a go!
East Goes West for Minari Fans
Finally. Finally Steven Yeun gets the recognition he deserves and lands one of the two Asian-American nominees for Best Actor this year (the other is the just as skilled Riz Ahmed...we’ll get to him). Directed and written by Lee Isaac Chung, A24’s Minari focuses on the Yi family, a Korean American family relocating from California to Arkansas farmland in an attempt to grow Korean crops for the Dallas market. This story is one of perseverance, familiar bonds, generational and cultural differences, and the Korean-American experience.
Similar to how the Academy often snubs Asian-Americans (and other POC creatives), the canon of American literature is sleeping on East Goes West. Originally published in 1937 and written by Younghill Kang, a man acquainted with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, East Goes West tells of a hopeful Chungpa Han as he arrives from a Japanese-occupied Korea to a promising New York. Although Chungpa’s experiences are drastically different from the Yi family’s, both stories show well-defined characters displaced, chasing the American dream, and attempting to balance assimilation with defining their individual identities.
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Score.
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Hearing Beethoven for Sound of Metal Fans
Yes, it’s Riz Ahmed’s well-deserved time to shine as he earns Amazon’s Sound of Metal one of the two Best Actor nominees for men of Asian descent in almost 20 years, and what a mesmerizing role he plays as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer in the duo Blackgammon. Ruben takes center stage of this movie, directed and co-written by Darius Marder with Abraham Marder, as he learns of his hearing loss and must come to terms with what that means for his music career and relationship with his girlfriend Lou, the other half of Blackgammon. There’s a lot to unpack in this story from its honest look into hearing loss, the relationship of hearing impairments with music, and the complicated, personal experience of what deafness means to the individual.
If you’re looking for both an intimate and historical look into those subjects, try Hearing Beethoven by Robin Wallace. A mix between biography and memoir, Wallace illustrates Beethoven’s hearing loss and musical career as less of a “heroic triumph” and more of a natural human reaction to losing one’s hearing. He does this through his late wife Barbara and her experiences of going deaf, showing how hearing loss can lead to amazing self discovery.
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Editing, and Sound.
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Y: The Last Man for Love and Monsters Fans
This one may surprise a few as it’s classified as a monster adventure film (not a typical one for the Oscars scene), but Paramount Pictures’ Love and Monsters definitely earned its nomination for Visual Effects. If you’re not one to typically jump into a monster adventure, know that this one is a delightful pick to start with from Dylan O’Brien’s ability to juggle infectious comedy, genuine fear, and shocking heart to director Michael Matthews and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson’s balance of paying homage to the genre and refreshing it all in less than 2 hours. There’s monsters, there’s a man on a mission for the one he loves, and there’s a dog that doesn’t die.
Another story that features a humorous, tender-hearted, and rather naive protagonist on a mission to reunite with the girl he loves is Y: The Last Man, written by the popular Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by the skillful Pia Guerra. The story begins with all male mammals with a Y chromosome dying from a sudden and brutal plague, all but Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. What follows is an apocalyptic adventure across America with colorful characters from cult-like bands to rivaling government agents, all trying to get their hands on Yorick. Oh, and Ampersand also doesn’t die a horrible monkey death, and they'll be an FX show adaptation later this year!
Nominations: Visual Effects.
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The Times We Had for Mank Fans
If you’re a Citizen Kane fan, a 1930s-40s film history fan, or simply a Gary Oldman or Amanda Seyfried fan, there’s a lot to enjoy in Netflix’s Mank. Directed by David Fincher and written in the 90s by his late father Jack Fincher, this movie follows screenwriter Herman “Mank” Makiewicz as director Orson Welles secludes him in a house with cigarettes, booze, and a typist in an attempt to receive the full script for the now famous Citizen Kane. The narrative jumps between the “now” (1940 secluded home) and “then” (Hollywood 1930s), where Mank met film star Marion Davies and influential publisher William Randolph Hearst.
This film’s a fascinating look into the politics and history of Hollywood and movie making in general, and if you’re looking for another take on the dominant and often tyrannical Hearst, give Marion Davies’ The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst a try. Davies’ accounts are collected and edited from tapes recorded before her death, the book is packed with over 150 time-capsule photos, and there’s even a foreword by Orson Welles.
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Production Design, Costume Design, Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound, and Score.
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Camper Girl for Nomadland Fans
Based on Jessica Bruder’s book by the same name, director, screenwriter, and editor Chloé Zhao's Nomadland highlights the life of Fern, a woman in her 60s whose husband has recently passed, who’s recently unemployed, and who’s decided to purchase a van and take to the road. Frances MacDormand easily deserves the nominee for Best Actress for her performance as Fern, and the meditative and honest character study that follows rings even truer through its supporting performances from real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells.
Other than the obvious recommendation of Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, there’s Glenn Erick Miller’s lesser known Camper Girl. Although the protagonist, Shannon, is just out of high school, she goes through a similar journey of self-discovery via camper and catalyzed by the death of her beloved Aunt Rebecca. Although this story is probably less realistic about life on the road and has more of a mystery in the form of a discovered glove compartment map, both stories show whether you’re under 20 or in your 60s, there’s always the potential for a bit of bravery to spark personal growth and change.
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Editing.
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This is only a tenth of this year’s nominees, so make sure to peruse the complete list. Other than the obvious recommendations (ie. picking up August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom play script if you liked George C. Wolfe’s adaptation or Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio if you saw Matteo Garrone’s recent Pinocchio film) what books would you recommend for fans of Judas and the Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, Over the Moon, or your favorite 93rd Academy Awards nominee?