39. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Best International Feature)
Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher on nomination morning was this entry for Best International Feature from Bhutan. Beating out better known titles like Compartment No. 6 and Playground, Lunana is a quiet, thoughtful film that rightfully deserves a place amongst the heavy-hitting nominees. In the vein of teaching-drama films like Lean on Me or Stand and Deliver, director Pawo Chonying Dorji explores Bhutan’s culture in interesting and personal ways. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the picturesque remote mountaintops as the setting of your film either. The film may not rise to the level of those American films in its genre, but it’s much better than its admittedly silly title implies.
38. House of Gucci (Best Makeup & Hairstyling)
There was perhaps no bigger disappointment for me in 2021 than House of Gucci. Caught somewhere between too much camp and not enough camp, Ridley Scott’s biopic has grand ambitions but struggles to focus on the real story at its center. Lady Gaga anchors the film with a magnetic performance, along with solid turns from Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Adam Driver. But Scott fails to identify whether Gaga’s Patrizia Regiani was a truly nefarious Lady Macbeth-type or if she simply wanted the best for the husband she’d eventually have killed. Gaga’s snub in Best Actress may have garnered the most headlines, but the omission in Best Costumes is easily the more baffling of all the nominations.
37. Raya and the Last Dragon (Best Animated Feature)
Of Disney/Pixar’s three animated offerings in 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon entered with perhaps the least fanfare and is perhaps the most disposable. The film explores some unique themes of inclusion and accepting other cultures, and features some fun action sequences and visuals, but doesn’t belong near the best of Disney’s films. I’m sure this is the case for most Disney films, but my ultimate takeaway from Raya was that the characters were designed solely to sell toys, with the plot thrown together afterwards.
36. The Long Goodbye (Best Live-Action Short)
Does Riz Ahmed need to appear in a short film about Islamophobia in England? Maybe not, but the film is all the better for it. This is another film amongst this year’s nominees that feels like an audition for a feature film, as details about Ahmed’s character, his family’s ultimate fate, and the circumstances about the world around him, are sparse or absent altogether. Most of the film takes place in the lead-up to a family gathering before a sudden, dark finale.
35. Cyrano (Best Costume Design)
There was an outside chance that Peter Dinklage could have slid into the fifth slot for Best Actor on nomination morning, who gives a career-best performance in the title role. But in a year that was crowded by musical and play adaptations, Cyrano premiered too late and had too little support behind it to get anything more than a Costume Design nomination. Songs from The National are among the highlights of this perfectly down-the-middle adaptation of the well-known play.
34. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Best Visual Effects)
I came away from my theatrical screening of Shang-Chi with a feeling of excitement and the feeling that its visual effects were some of the best of the entire MCU. (I also came away from it with a case of COVID, but I won’t let that aspect color my feelings for the film.) But after my kids became obsessed with the film and watched it countless times at home, I saw the flaws of the effects much clearer, especially in the standard-issue soupy CGI-fest finale. Were it not for Tony Leung and his better-than-it-needs-to-be performance, I would surely be less positive on the film overall, but the fight sequences, including a thrilling one on a bus, are still net positives. In spite of its flaws, I remain excited to see more of Shang-Chi’s adventures as the MCU trudges along.
33. Spider-Man: No Way Home (Best Visual Effects)
Look, we’re not going to dive into the increasingly stupid discourse around No Way Home and its lofty Oscar prospects. Though the category was incredibly stacked this year, I think it rightfully deserves its nomination for Best Visual Effects. The sequence with Peter Parker and Doctor Strange in the mirror dimension is one of the best visual sequences to come out of the MCU, plus the boilerplate CGI battle in the finale. The movie that surrounds those sequences left me feeling a little cold at the end of the day, but Disney and Marvel should be happy with the nomination it received. Were it not for Dune, No Way Home could have a real shot at netting the MCU its first win in this category.
32. Cruella (Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling)
Good on Disney for continuing to campaign Cruella, a film quickly forgotten after its release in May of 2021, for its costumes. Plenty of films can have elaborate, period-specific costumes, but it’s even more difficult to sell a film’s costumes when they’re supposed to be borne from a fashion genius. The film that surrounds Cruella‘s costumes may have been a decent, standard-issue villain origin story about a puppy killer with way too many needle drops, but a win for its costume design would perhaps make me the happiest on Oscar night.
31. Affairs of the Art (Best Animated Short)
One of my favorite things about the Animated Short category is getting to see different, unique styles of animation that go beyond the typical big-studio fare from Disney or Sony Animation. Affairs of the Art looks like a combination of colored pencil and watercolor pastiches, a sketchy style that fits its memoir structure. Beryl, a character who’s appeared in director Joanna Quinn’s previous work, details her own obsession with art and her dreams of being an artist, which often clash and mesh with her family’s own unique quirks. Quinn peppers the film with humor and love, even if the end result feels a little slight.
30. Robin Robin (Best Animated Short)
This is the animated short film most likely to win its category, and not just because it features voice work from talented stars like Gillian Anderson and Richard E. Grant. The animation is lovely, another stop-motion wonder from Aardman Studios, who also produce the Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep films. The film concerns a robin, raised by a family of mice, and is a kind of coming-of-age story peppered with some enjoyable songs. Though the film could be trimmed down a little, I found myself enraptured with the visuals during the moments when I was disengaged with the story.