After more than two years of the film industry adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic with deserted movie theaters, countless postponed releases and scaled-back awards shows, the Academy Awards will finally return in all its glory.
Last year’s awards show proved to be a monumental one, with Chloé Zhao making history as the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for “Best Director” for her work on Nomadland. With Oscar nominations announced earlier this month, this year’s show looks to be a promising one with plenty of nominees featuring Asian and Asian American representation both in front and behind the camera.
As you tune in to watch this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, we at CAAM have rounded up some of the projects you should have on your radar.
Drive My Car
Teruhisa Yamamoto, Producer
Other Nominations: Directing, International Feature Film, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Drive My Car has already made history as the first Japanese film ever to be nominated for the coveted “Best Picture” title. Directed by Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the film has received widespread praise since its theatrical release in November 2021 and recently won “Best Picture – Non-English Language” at the 79th Golden Globe Awards earlier this year.
The critically acclaimed movie is primarily based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami from his 2014 short story collection titled Men Without Women. The film follows a middle-aged stage actor and director named Yūsuke Kafuku, who experiences a profound tragedy when his wife dies suddenly. Two years later, Kafuku receives an offer to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya” in Hiroshima. His theater company requires Kafuku to be driven in his own car, and a special relationship blossoms between Kafuku and his young female chauffeur.
The film is among four titles this year that have received nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie
Other Nominations: Documentary (Feature), International Feature Film
Written and directed by filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee tells the deeply personal and true story of an Afghan refugee dubbed “Amin,” who Rasmussen met and befriended when he was a teenager. In Flee, Amin opens up for the first time about his personal journey as a child refugee – from abruptly leaving his hometown up until settling in Denmark, where he now lives with his partner, Kaspar.
Flee is presented to viewers mostly through animation in order to protect Amin’s true identity, for reasons that gradually become clear by watching the film. This powerful, heart breaking documentary is a must watch for 2022, providing a powerful look into the harsh and complex realities of the refugee experience.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho
Raya and the Last Dragon is another film vying for the top prize in the “Animated Feature Film” category. Co-written by Vietnamese-American screenwriter Qui Nguyen and Malaysian screenwriter Adele Lim, the Walt Disney Animation Studios film draws inspiration from several cultures of Southeast Asia. The movie follows a warrior princess named Raya who must track down the fabled last dragon in order to save her father and unite her people.
Jessica Kingdon, Kira Simon-Kennedy and Nathan Truesdell
This may be Jessica Kingdon’s first Oscars nomination but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a fierce contender. In Ascension, Kingdon and her team deftly capture some of the everyday lives of Chinese workers – from factory workers all the way up to wealthy Chinese elites. Piecing together vignettes from dozens of locations throughout China, this eye-opening documentary pulls back the curtain on contemporary China and the endless pursuit of the “Chinese dream.”
Ascension takes a unique approach as an observational documentary; rather than piecing together interviews and establishing a clear narrative, Ascension relies on the power of its subjects and the images it presents. Ultimately, this allows viewers to come away with their own interpretations and thoughts from the film.
Writing With Fire
Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh
Writing With Fire follows the story of India’s all-female Khabar Lahariya newspaper whose journalists risk their lives in their pursuit of the truth. In a media landscape dominated by men, these journalists are shown investigating local authorities, amplifying the stories of caste and gender violence and challenging the injustices and damaging practices found in their own backyards. Writing With Fire is the first Indian feature documentary to be nominated in the “Documentary (Feature)” category. The film will be broadcast on Independent Lens on March 28, 2022.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is the filmmaking debut for Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer and co-founder of the hip-hop band The Roots. The project was produced by David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent and Indian American producer Joseph Patel. The critically acclaimed documentary examines the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival through a mixture of live footage and a series of thought-provoking interviews. Summer of Soul has been described as “part music film, part historical record,” shining a light on a historic event that celebrated Black history and culture.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is the second film ever to be submitted for Oscars consideration by Bhutan, a landlocked country located in the Eastern Himalayas between China and India. It is also the first Bhutanese film to receive a nomination. Directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji in his feature directorial debut, the film follows a schoolteacher named Ugyen who is assigned to teach in the remote mountain village of Lunana.
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
The Long Goodbye
Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed
The Long Goodbye began as a collaboration between actor-rapper Riz Ahmed and filmmaker Aneil Karia. After a mutual friend connected the two artists, Ahmed and Karia immediately developed a bond over their British-Asian identities and shared life experiences. After several in-depth conversations, the two landed on the idea for The Long Goodbye, a haunting 12-minute short film that follows a British Pakistani family who are violently swarmed by a group of armed guards.
The Long Goodbye is a powerful yet disturbing film to watch – seemingly dystopian in nature while also grounded in very real present-day realities. In the last part of the film, Ahmed (who also plays the lead role) speaks directly to the camera while delivering an emotional rap that is sure to stick with you, even after the credits roll. If The Long Goodbye takes home the award, Riz Ahmed will be the first Muslim to win the “Short Film (Live Action)” category.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
House of Gucci
Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras
Frederic Aspiras will continue to make history if House of Gucci is awarded the “Makeup and Hairstyling” Oscar this year. Aspiras, who is of Vietnamese-Filipino descent, is the second Asian American to be nominated in the category. The first was Tazuhiro Tsuji, a Japanese-born American who was nominated and won for his work on The Darkest Hour (2017) and Bombshell (2019).
Aspiras has been Lady Gaga’s personal hairstylist for over a decade and his work can be seen in the pop sensation’s music videos, movies, photos and beyond. In House of Gucci, Lady Gaga plays the role of Patrizia Reggiani, a young woman who marries Maurizio Gucci and fights for control of the Italian fashion brand Gucci. Through extensive research involving interviewing locals and watching older films for reference, Aspiras ultimately created the 10 wigs that helped bring the character of Patrizia to life onscreen.
Jointly hosted by comedians Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes, the 94th Academy Awards ceremony will air on Sunday, March 27 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. PT at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.