Reel Dad: Seven things Oscar could be thinking while the Academy votes

One year ago - before the world and the movies changed, perhaps forever - we celebrated what the victory of “Parasite” at the Academy Awards could mean. Suddenly, years too late, the movie community embraced a film that dared to challenge the cinema traditions that Oscar had nurtured since 1927.

Then it all changed. So, what can we expect when the Academy announces its nominees March 15 and its winners April 25? Here are seven things Oscar could be thinking as it starts to get ready.

Small movies got big

We didn’t see a lot of widescreen epics in 2020, mainly because so few big screen theaters were open. Instead we had to rely on what we could access at home, on our tablets, through our phones, thanks to on demand and streaming services. This change - prompted by COVID-19 - may forever alter our viewing preferences. And, in 2020, it opened the door for movie fans and the Academy to embrace small films that, during a “normal” year, may have struggled to be noticed.

Women made fabulous films

What a year for women behind the camera, with landmark films from Chloe Zhau (Nomadland), Regina King (One Night in Miami), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Garrett Bradley (the documentary Time) and Channing Godfrey Peoples (Miss Juneteenth). Since 1927, only five women have been nominated for the Best Director, with Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) the only winner. This year, the women can’t be overlooked.

Racial issues fueled meaningful movies

In a year filled with lessons about fairness and respect, remarkable stories took us inside the challenges of a divided people. From exploring a tense chapter in US history in “Judas and the Black Messiah” to imagining a milestone conversation in “One Night in Miami” to reliving the racial injustice of the 1920s in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” to reconciling the past in “Da 5 Bloods,” the movies arrived, just in time, to remind what we must do to ensure we can all live together.

Big stars showed up in unusual places

Whether or not Oscar paid attention, we noticed when Glenn Close disappeared into a complicated grandmother in “Hillbilly Elegy” or Bill Murray delivered lessons of fatherhood in “On the Rocks,” Meryl Streep delighted in “Prom” and “Let Them All Talk” and Viola Davis roared in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” She will likely be joined on Oscar night by Carey Mulligan, who reinvented herself in “Promising Young Woman,” and Frances McDormand who again ignited the screen in “Nomadland.”

Documentaries had things to say

Each year we look to non-fiction films to help us put moments in perspective. This year, the Oscars could be dominated by a meaningful look at a pig’s life in “Gunda” or a trip down the political lane in “Boys State.” At the same time, “All In” details the impact of voter suppression, “MLK/FBI” explores the racial issues that fueled federal suspicion and “Time” studies resilience. In a year filled with uncertain questions, the docs ground us in real life.

Politics wins at the movies

In a year filled with enough news to fill many a film, movies took us back to past moments that offer real lessons. Aaron Sorkin’s return to “The Trial of the Chicago 7” reminds us that free speech is not a freedom to take for granted, the video capture of “Hamilton” takes us back to Broadway to relive the aspirations and realities of our founding fathers, while the documentary “The Way I See It” offered an insider’s view of the perils of power.

Families fuel favorite films

No matter what we faced in 2020, we looked to each other for support. The year’s best films help us see, once again, how relying on others is a sign of strength, not weakness, as we try to traverse uncertain worlds. The formal family in “Minari” and the informal one in “Nomadland” celebrate the joy of togetherness, while the challenges faced in News of the World and the relationships explored in “The Father” help us appreciate who we hold close. Hopefully, Oscar will agree.