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EMA'S PICKS: Oscar race heats up with historic nominations

The moment we (maybe just me) have all been waiting for has arrived: We finally know this year's Oscar nominees. There is still plenty of time before the 93rd Academy Awards — they air April 25 — but this great slate of nominees will carry me over until then. 

Similar to the Golden Globes, a lot of the nominees this year are ones I've written about in previous columns. If you've kept up with my recommendations, congratulations, you've seen a good chunk of the nominated films! If you haven't, this next month is your time to catch up. 

A lot of Oscar nomination history was made Monday. For the first time ever, two female filmmakers, Chloe Zhao ("Nomadland") and Emerald Fennell ("Promising Young Woman"), are nominated in the best director category. Zhao is also the first woman of color to be nominated in the category. Additionally, Zhao and Lee Issac Chung ("Minari") are the first Asian directors to compete against each other.

"Minari," one of my favorite films of last year, received a lot of deserved love. Steven Yeun, who plays the patriarch in the film, became the first Asian American to be nominated in the best actor category. Yeun and his co-star Yuh-Jung Youn (nominated for best supporting actress) also became the first Korean performers to ever receive Oscar nominations. (Despite South Korean film "Parasite" taking home the best picture prize last year, none of the stellar actors were recognized for their work.) The academy's track record of nominating Asian actors is abysmal, but I'm glad these two got the recognition they deserved. 

"Sound of Metal" lead Riz Ahmed's nomination was also of note as he is the first performer of Pakistani descent to land an acting nomination. He is also the first Muslim to be in the best actor category. If he wins, he'll be the second Muslim actor to win an Oscar, behind Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor in 2017 and 2019 for his roles in "Moonlight" and "Green Book," respectively. 

Rounding out the actors is Viola Davis, who is now the most nominated Black actress in the history of the Academy Awards with her best actress nomination for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." If she wins, she will be the only Black woman with multiple Oscars, and the second Black woman to win best actress (Halle Berry took the prize in 2002 for "Monster's Ball"). 

Seeing this much representation is a beautiful thing. Calling out the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a few years ago for #OscarsSoWhite when it failed to nominate diverse actors and filmmakers was so needed. There are so many fantastic filmmakers out there who absolutely deserve to be honored, and I'm so happy to see changes being made.

Of course, I'm disappointed about some snubs. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," despite having nominations in the best actor (the late Chadwick Boseman) and best actress categories, missed out in the best picture race, along with "Da 5 Bloods" and "One Night in Miami." Delroy Lindo from “Da 5 Bloods,” one of this year's best performances, missed out in the best actor category, and Regina King did not make the best director cut for "One Night in Miami," despite gaining a lot of traction this award season. You win some and lose some when it comes to nominees.

Since I've covered so many of this year's English language films, I'll bring your attention to two fantastic international films that secured nominations.

"Quo Vadis, Aida?" is a Bosnian war drama written, produced and directed by Jasmila Žbanić. Anything that comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina is on my watchlist, and this movie is so moving that it made me break down a few times. 

The film focuses on Aida (played by Jasna Đuričić), once a schoolteacher who is now tasked with translating for Dutch peacekeeping troops assigned by the United Nations to protect the town of Srebrenica. Thousands of individuals are stationed inside a camp, and thousands more are waiting outside. 

In July 1995, when this film is set, Srebrenica is where more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslims, most of them men and boys, were killed by the Bosnian Serb Army. Aida knows tensions are rising and people are not safe. Throughout the film she tries to find protection for her husband and two sons, knowing what's waiting for them if she doesn't.

The film is important to me because this war is what my family and the people of my country lived through. They experienced much death and destruction around them, and to this day they can't forget everything they saw and heard. The genocide of Srebrenica is also one that hasn't been covered much, so I'm glad that this is being put out there for people to learn about.

"Quo Vadis, Aida?" is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

A lighter international nominee is Denmark's "Another Round" ("Druk") starring Mads Mikkelsen. Four male teachers struggle to find motivation and joy in their work, and their students can sense it as well. One night, as they're celebrating a birthday, they discuss psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, who theorized that having a blood alcohol content of 0.05 makes people more creative and relaxed.

The group decides to give it a shot (ha!) and sets a list of rules: Their BAC should never be below 0.05 and they should not drink after 8 p.m. Soon, they see they're more passionate about their work and they're actually having fun. As they up up the shenanigans, real-life consequences arise that put a strain on this experiment.

The whole cast is phenomenal, and you can tell they all had a blast doing this movie. Director Thomas Vinterberg captures this film brilliantly, despite dealing with so much personal tragedy in his life (his daughter was killed in a car accident), so I was pleased to see him in the best director lineup.

"Another Round" is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu with a premium subscription.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.