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‘Minari’ writer-director Lee Isaac Chung, a University of Utah alumnus, earns two Oscar nominations

His movie, based on his childhood experiences, is up for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

(Joe Rushmore | courtesy A24) Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung on the set of his movie "Minari," talking to actors Steven Yeun, left, and Will Patton. "Minari" has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including two for Chung himself, for directing and original screenplay.

An alumnus of the University of Utah film program has been nominated for two Academy Awards.

Lee Isaac Chung, who earned his MFA from the U. of U. in 2004, received Oscar nominations for directing and writing his semi-autobiographical immigrant drama “Minari,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Monday morning.

“Minari” was nominated for Best Picture and in five other categories: directing, original screenplay, actor in a leading role for Steven Yeun, actress in a supporting role for Yuh-Jung Youn, and Emile Mosseri’s original score.

The movie follows a Korean immigrant family as they move to Arkansas to start a farm and a new life. Chung based the film on his family’s experiences. Yeun plays the family’s patriarch; Youn plays his salty mother-in-law.

“I couldn’t imagine this happening as we struggled on the journey to make this film, and now I understand why Oscar moments are filled with endless thank you’s,” Chung said in a statement released by the film’s distributor, A24.

“I feel incredibly grateful to the entire family of cast and crew behind ‘Minari’ who persevered to make this film,” Chung said. “I am especially thankful to my mom, dad, and sister, who filled that small trailer home in Arkansas where we started, and my wife and daughter who mean more to me than anything.”

Chung invoked his film’s title, a reference to a Korean plant that can thrive wherever it’s planted — a metaphor for the family’s new life in Arkansas. “I’m blessed that the minari my grandmother planted by the water continues to grow,” he said.

Youn, a veteran actor in South Korea who made her American film debut in “Minari,” thanked Chung for her nomination. “This is all because of you!,” Youn said in a statement. “Never in my dreams did I ever think a Korean actress would be nominated for an Oscar, and I can’t believe it’s me!”

“Minari” is one of eight movies up for Best Picture. The others are: The Alzheimer’s drama “The Father,” the Black Panthers drama “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the Hollywood biography “Mank,” the road drama “Nomadland,” the revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman,” the addiction tale “Sound of Metal,” and the courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

“Mank,” director David Fincher’s black-and-white Hollywood biography of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) as he struggled to collaborate with Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane,” led all films with 10 nominations.

In the directing category, Chung is one of two Asian-Americans nominated, along with Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland.” Also nominated for directing are: Thomas Vinterberg for the Danish drama “Another Round,” Fincher for “Mank,” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman.” (Zhao and Fennell are the first women to be nominated in this category in the same year.)

The competition for “Minari” in the original screenplay category is: Four writers for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Fennell for “Promising Young Woman,” three writers for “Sound of Metal,” and Aaron Sorkin for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

The 93rd annual Academy Awards will be given out Sunday, April 25, from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and Union Station in Los Angeles, Academy president David Rubin announced Monday. It will air live on ABC — KTVX-Ch. 4 in Utah — at 6 p.m. Mountain time.

The nominations and the ceremony were scheduled later than usual this year, after the Academy extended the Oscars’ eligibility period two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Minari” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it received both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition. Last month, it won the Golden Globe for Foreign-Language Film — though the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was criticized for slotting an American-made film in that category.

Chung has also been nominated for writing and directing by the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and the Directors Guild of America nominated him for its top theatrical honor.

In February, Chung told The Salt Lake Tribune he was honored and bewildered about the awards talk for his film.

“I still don’t trust the idea that we’re an Oscar contender, if that makes sense,” Chung said. “It’s such a hard thing to wrap your head around. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll be grateful that we’re even being talked about in this way.”

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