'And the winner is…': The 2021 Columbus Film Critics Association Awards

Brad Keefe

Last night, during a regal black-tie, er, Zoom meeting, the Columbus Film Critics Association announced the winners of our annual awards.

I’ve been a voting member of this association for years, but I just want to say how proud I am year after year of this collection of friends and colleagues. We consistently choose films that make me really proud to be a part of this. Honestly, I think we do better than a lot of critics groups from much larger cities. Flyover, what?

Since I’ve just finished watching a bunch of great movies I didn’t get a chance to properly review this year, here are the winners and some commentary, presented in reverse order for a little Oscar drama.

Best Overlooked Film

“The Vast of Night”

Runner-up: “Palm Springs”

I guess this one lives up to its name, because it’s one of several nominees I didn’t get a chance to screen in time (though I trust my colleagues so much it’s now top on my list). I’m a bit more surprised to see my No. 1 movie in my highly subjective, very much COVID-filtered Top 10 list as the runner-up. I did my best to make sure it wasn’t overlooked.

Best Animated Film


Runner-up: “Soul”

Tomm Moore’s animated fantasy pulls off a bit of an upset, given this association has historically been as Pixar-centric as the Academy Awards (“WALL-E” was named our Best Film overall in 2008, animated or not).

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 Best Foreign Language Film


Runner-up: “Martin Eden”

Yes, much like the Academy, it’s usually an easy win when one of the Best Film nominees is also a foreign-language film, but “Minari” is truly special. A multi-generational story of Korean immigrants trying to make a living farming in Arkansas in the 1980s, “Minari” would have cracked my Top 10 if my deadline hadn’t been early. (Editor's note: Sorry.)

Best Documentary 

“Dick Johnson is Dead”

Runner-up: “Boys State”

Kirsten Johnson’s innovative blending of fiction and nonfiction in this touching tribute to her father wins, although I’d consider this one a surprise. Maybe it’s my old journalism roots, but I truly thought “Collective” was the frontrunner, and it didn’t place. Womp.

Best Score

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Soul”

Runner-up: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Mank”

Here’s where I admit that I’m the biggest Nine Inch Nails fan you will likely ever meet. Reznor’s partnership with Ross has reinvigorated NIN, as the two have also have become an epic partnership in film scoring. “The Social Network” and other scores they’ve done have sounded like what you’d expect, but these two films show they’ve branched out in ways I never expected.

Best Original Screenplay

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

Runner-up: Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Spoiler alert: You’re going to be seeing a lot more about the winning movie (and I’ll do a full review next week when it finally drops on VOD). So instead, I’ll comment on how this slightly different but familiar flavor of Aaron Sorkin was also a gem of screenwriting and storytelling, even if the categorization of “original” vs. “adapted” is often sticky.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Runner-up: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Case in point, and I don’t know the exact final vote, but I have to assume this one was close. Both of these films are incredible. “Ma Rainey’s” is a perfect acting showcase that feels right for the stage. “Nomadland” is, well, you’ll have to wait and see, because pretty much only critics have seen it.

Best Film Editing

Alan Baumgarten, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Runner-up: Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, “Sound of Metal”

Editing is always a tough category to vote in, because when it’s at it’s best, you don’t notice it. But “Chicago 7” does a fantastic job, if a bit more obvious, in making the time jumps and flashbacks feel coherent and seamless. “Sound of Metal,” on the other hand, is more linear but emotionally devastating. The editing is quieter, but I’m glad we acknowledged it.

Best Cinematography

Joshua James Richards, “Nomadland”

Runner-up: Eric Messerschmidt, “Mank”

“Mank” was more of a technical achievement than an engrossing film, but it was a masterclass of technique. “Nomadland” mixed the intimate with the sweeping, and I’d probably watch an entire documentary around the golden hour shoot at the Badlands.

Breakthrough Film Artist 

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) – for producing, directing, and screenwriting

Runner-up: Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”) – for producing, directing, screenwriting, and acting

This is a wonderful catch-all category that the Columbus Film Critics Association reserves for … whatever. It can be an acting performance or what you see above. It’s just who broke the scene in ways that were unexpected. There’s also a theme forming here.

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)

Chadwick Boseman (“Da 5 Bloods” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)

Runner-up: Elisabeth Moss (“The Invisible Man” and “Shirley”)

This is another unique “body of work” category that takes an actor’s whole year of releases into account, and if you’ve seen these films, you know this isn’t just a tribute. Boseman’s final films showed him owning his moments and supporting ensembles. His death is only more tragic when you think of what was to come for the rest of his career.

Best Ensemble 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Runner-up: “Promising Young Woman”

It’s going to be an interesting awards season, because honestly there is no lead actor in “Ma Rainey’s” and pretty much everyone is impeccable. Boseman or Viola Davis would be contenders for best actor or supporting actor. There’s not a flaw in that cast.

Best Supporting Actor 

Paul Raci, “Sound of Metal”

Runners-up (tie): Chadwick Boseman, “Da 5 Bloods” and Mark Rylance, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Not gonna lie, “Sound of Metal” (available on Prime) absolutely gutted me. The story of a drummer from a metal two-piece who loses his hearing was made all the more powerful by Raci, playing the operator of a rural community for deaf people. That runner-up tie shows how stacked this category was.

Best Supporting Actress 

Youn Yuh-jung, “Minari”

Runner-up: Olivia Colman, “The Father”

Yuh-jung added a generational layer to “Minari” that made the immigrant story sing. She made every moment on screen count. This is what supporting acting is about: taking limited screen time and making every moment integral to the whole film.

Best Actor 

Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”

Runner-up: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

This is a tough call when Boseman (in the best of his two great performances) isn’t necessarily a lead in “Ma Rainey’s.” But also, wow, Ahmed is the reason that “Sound of Metal” is devastating, and it’s one of the best performances you’ll see from an actor.

Best Actress

Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman”

Runner-up: Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

I’m shocked, but I’m not mad. Both of these actresses are so talented and so selective in the projects they choose, that you take note every time. Both of them absolutely owned the movie they were in. I’d call this one a tie.

Best Director 

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Runner-up: Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

Two women, two very distinct approaches to directing, two reasons we need more female directors. Zhao took an understated story and delivered it almost perfectly. Fennell made something glossier and somehow subversive. Follow whatever both do next.

Best Film

1. “Promising Young Woman”

2. “Nomadland”

3. “Sound of Metal”

4. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

5. “Minari”

6. “Soul”

7. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”

8. “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

9. “First Cow”

10. “Mank”

Well, this one is a shocker, and it’s again not one I’m mad about. Honestly, I’m just one voting member, but there are only a couple of things about this ranking I’d change (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” would be higher). Full review of our pick for best film of the year coming next week when it drops on streaming.

"Sound of Metal"