Oscars 2021: 19 geeky facts from Borat to Boseman

Steven McIntosh - Entertainment reporter
·11 min read
Chloe Zhao, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, Joe Gardner voiced by Jamie Foxx, and Carey Mulligan as Cassie Thomas
L-R: Nomadland director Chloé Zhao, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, Soul's Joe Gardner and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

After an awards season which has dragged on even longer than some of the nominated films, the Oscars finally take place this Sunday.

The 2021 race kicked off last September, when Nomadland became an early favourite at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.

The subsequent awards season has been prolonged due to the pandemic, with this weekend's Academy Awards taking place two months later than usual.

Get your favourite anorak out of the cupboard, because we've been studying the nominations and listening to a lot of awards season podcasts to come up with 19 seriously geeky facts about this year's contenders.

short presentational grey line
short presentational grey line

1. Borat has already broken an Oscars record.

Sacha Baron Cohen's double-nominated film has set a new Guinness World Record for the longest title of any nominated film in Academy history.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has an impressive 110 characters.

That overtook the previous record holder, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes, which was released in 1964 but only had a measly 85 characters in its title. Really guys, try harder.

Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Borat star Maria Bakalova is only the second nominee from a sequel to be up for best supporting actress

2. Chadwick Boseman's nomination is more unusual than you might think.

The Black Panther star, who died last August, is likely to win best actor for his performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

But it's actually not that common for actors to be nominated posthumously - Boseman is only the eighth in 93 years.

James Dean, Jeanne Eagels, Ralph Richardson, Massimo Troisi and Spencer Tracy were also nominated after their deaths (twice, in Dean's case), while Heath Ledger and Peter Finch are the only two actors to have won.

3. The best picture category has no Soul.

Quite literally. The hugely popular Pixar film, which features the voices of Tina Fey, Jamie Foxx and Graham Norton, isn't in the best picture race this year.

But then, what's new? The Academy hardly ever nominates animated films for its top category.

Joe Gardner in Soul
Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner in Soul

In fact, only three animated films have ever been nominated for best picture - Beauty and the Beast (1991), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010), none of which actually won.

Soul is at least nominated for best animated feature and stands a very good chance of winning, as long as it can hold off competition from the likes of Shaun the Sheep.

4. The last time the winners of best actress and best actor were from the same film was 1998.

Don't bet against that happening this year - Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman could both win for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson were the last pair to score the double, for As Good As It Gets.

5. The Golden Globe winner of best supporting actress has not missed an Oscar nomination since 1976.

That changed this year, however.

Jodie Foster in The Mauritanian
Jodie Foster: Adored by the Globes, but not nominated for the Oscars

Jodie Foster won the Globe for her performance in The Mauritanian, but she isn't even one of the five nominees at the Oscars.

That makes her the first snubbed Globe winner of this category since Katharine Ross, for Voyage of the Damned.

6. Glenn Close did the best (and worst) acting of 2020.

The 74-year-old currently holds the dubious honour of being the most Oscar-nominated actress in history never to have won.

She scored her eighth nomination this year for her performance in Hillbilly Elegy - a hugely divisive film. Rotten Tomatoes records a large gap between the viewers' score (84%) and the critics' score (26%).

As a result, Close has been nominated for best supporting actress at the Oscars... but also worst supporting actress at the alternative ceremony the Razzies.

She is only the third actor ever to score the dual Oscar-Razzie nomination for the same performance. The others were Amy Irving (for Yentl) and James Coco (Only When I Laugh).

Glenn Close
Hillbilly Elegy's Glenn Close is nominated for best supporting actress... and worst supporting actress

7. This is the first time in Oscars history that all five nominees for best original screenplay are up for best picture.

They are: Minari, Promising Young Woman, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Sound of Metal.

8. Eurovision is the odd one out in its category.

And given the bonkers nature of the annual song contest, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Husavik, which features in Will Ferrell's Eurovision movie, is the only nominee for best original song which doesn't feature over the end credits of its film.

That's because it's the only song that's actively integral to the plot of its movie, rather than some pleasant reflective closing music intended to accompany your walk out of the cinema (or living room).

The other odd one out in this category is Diane Warren, but for a different reason. While all the other songwriters are seeing their work nominated for the first time, Warren is on her 12th Oscar nomination (12th!), but has never won.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga is nominated in the best original song category for Husavik

9. Viola Davis doesn't hang around.

The best actress nominee's portrayal of Ma Rainey totals just 26 minutes and 41 seconds of the film.

That means she actually appears on screen for less time than two of the supporting actress nominees - Maria Bakalova and Olivia Colman, who clock up 40 and 35 minutes respectively in their films.

Davis has form on this - she got a best supporting actress nomination in 2009 for Doubt, despite only appearing in a single eight-minute scene.

10. The White Tiger's sole nomination keeps alive a 20-year tradition.

The film, which is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel, has just one nomination - best adapted screenplay.

Its nod in this category keeps the Academy's "sole screenplay nomination" streak going for the 20th year in a row.

In other words, every Oscars ceremony for the last 19 years has seen at least one film nominated for its screenplay, but nothing else. Knives Out, Straight Outta Compton, In Bruges and Molly's Game are among the others.

Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke in One Night In Miami
Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke in One Night In Miami

11. Mary J. Blige is a trendsetter.

The queen of hip-hop soul was the first person ever to be nominated for both acting and songwriting in the same year, which was for Mudbound in 2018.

But since then, it's happened every year. Lady Gaga hit both bases in 2019, followed by Cynthia Erivo in 2020.

This year, One Night In Miami star Leslie Odom Jr continues the trend - with nominations in both the supporting actor and original song categories.

In addition to playing Sam Cooke in the movie, he also wrote and performed Speak Now for the film's soundtrack.

12. This year's oldest nominee is 89-year-old Ann Roth, the costume designer for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

That ties her with screenwriter James Ivory and the late French film director Agnès Varda, who were also nominated at 89.

But who was the oldest of these three? We got our calculators out and found that Varda holds the crown - at the time she was nominated, she was three months older than Roth, and eight days older than Ivory.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman (far left) and Viola Davis (centre) are both nominated for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

13. Judas and the Black Messiah doesn't have a lead character.

At least, not according to the Academy.

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are both nominated in the best supporting actor category for the film.

This left many Oscar-watchers puzzled. If the actors playing both Judas and the Black Messiah were supporting characters, then who on earth was the lead?

The explanation is, quite simply, that the Academy lets its voters choose which category to nominate somebody in.

Both stars may well have picked up nominations from members in the leading categories, but ever since Barry Fitzgerald was nominated twice for the same performance in 1944, it's been a rule that the performer can only be nominated in the category where they receive the most votes.

14. All the acting winners could be from ethnic minority groups.

The four winners at the Screen Actors Guild ceremony all were - and that's seen as a big Oscars indicator.

Yuh-Jung Youn, Daniel Kaluuya, Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman made up the winning SAG quad.

Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari
Yuh-Jung Youn plays an unconventional grandmother in Minari

This is a record-breaking year for racial diversity in general at the Oscars, with nine ethnic minority actors nominated out of 20 available slots.

And for the first time ever, the majority of nominees for best leading actor are not white. Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman are nominated alongside Boseman, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun.

15. This is the first year there have been two female nominees for best director.

Natalie Portman will have to leave her campaign cape in the wardrobe this year, because both Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) are up for best director.

It's the first time two women have been nominated in a single year. Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig was the last woman to be nominated, in 2018, while The Hurt Locker's director Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman ever to have won, in 2010.

Furthermore, Zhao and Fennell are also up for best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay respectively. If they both win, it will mark the first time in Oscars history that women have won both the screenwriting categories.

No woman has won either of the Oscars' writing categories since Juno's Diablo Cody in 2008.

Carey Mulligan and Emerald Fennell
Actress Carey Mulligan and director Emerald Fennell are nominated for Promising Young Woman

16. Borat is the new Godfather.

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are widely considered to be two of the greatest films of all time. But the gangster epic has two surprising parallels with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Firstly, Maria Bakalova is only the second nominee for best supporting actress from a sequel, after Talia Shire from The Godfather Part II.

Borat is also only the fourth film to have both its original and sequel nominated for best screenplay.

The others are The Thin Man and its sequel After The Thin Man, The Hustler and its sequel The Color of Money, and - that's right - The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.

17. The best sound editing and best sound mixing awards have been merged into one overarching category this year - best sound.

This is a huge relief to journalists everywhere, who previously had to try and explain the difference between the two - provided they could figure it out themselves.

The truth is, having two different categories was no longer necessary thanks to advances in technology.

"The Academy's two sound categories are a relic of a pre-digital age that fails to account for the evolution of post-production sound," explained Chris O'Falt in IndieWire. "Today, sound editing and mixing have overlapped to the point that even the most astute audiophile might have trouble distinguishing the contribution of each."

Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal is, appropriately, among the nominees for best sound

18. Frances McDormand is the first woman to receive an acting and producing nomination in a single year.

She is listed as a producer on best picture favourite Nomadland, which means she could end up on stage even if she doesn't win best actress.

The closest comparisons are Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey, who have both been nominated as actors and producers, but for different films and in different years.

19. Steven Soderbergh might be a good person to ask for next week's lottery numbers.

The legendary director of Ocean's Eleven and Erin Brockovich is producing this year's Oscars ceremony, which must be a logistical nightmare with its multiple locations, Covid-safe protocols and ban on nominees using Zoom.

But if there's any man who was prepared for this exact situation, it's Soderbergh.

In 2011, nearly a decade before the pandemic, he directed a film which featured social distancing, R-numbers and vaccines being introduced amid a deadly virus. The film in question? Contagion.

Steven, we're sorry about all the mean things we said about Ocean's Twelve and promise never to doubt you again.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland
Nomadland has six nominations, including best picture and best actress for Frances McDormand

The 93rd Academy Awards take place on Sunday.