History making wins are overshadowed by a trainwreck at Union Station.
In the lead up to the 93rd Academy Awards, producer Steven Soderbergh – the director behind such movies as Ocean’s Eleven and Contagion – promised that this year’s Oscars would “feel like a movie”. He then used this as an excuse for his irresponsible choice to hold an in-person, maskless ceremony during a global pandemic – which of course would serve the “narrative” vision of the night.
As the show began, Academy Award winning actress Regina King walked through the halls of L.A.’s Union Station as colourful, cinematic opening credits played, the whole thing shot in glorious, high-definition widescreen. The world tuned in excitedly to see what an Oscars for 2020 would be like. Finally, King took the stage and addressed the crowd, delivering a horribly patronizing speech, paying lip service to the horrible racial injustice that exists in the United States – letting everyone know she totally would be marching for justice if the opportunity arose, she swears – while simultaneously trying to explain the show’s disinterest in social distancing or masks.
It was the first sign of a disastrous Oscars that raises the question of whether we need to give Hollywood a platform to pat itself on the back every year.
There were many nominal changes from the usual ceremony. Gone were performances of original songs, as well as clips from nominated movies. For the first time in recent memory, last year’s Best Actor and Best Actress winners presented the awards they won, instead of each other’s. For the third year in a row, there was no host, but musical director Questlove took over as de-facto host, unjustly forced to carry the show. Despite the cuts, the show still went over three hours, due to the excellent choice not to cut off winners’ acceptance speeches, as well as the less-than-excellent addition of bizarre and unfunny skits.
As for this year’s winners, most were predictable. Best Original Screenplay earned Promising Young Woman its only award of the night, while Mank, a black and white movie about old Hollywood, walked away with three technical awards. Sound of Metal, an inspiring, emotional movie with some of the best performances of the year, took the other two technical awards. Best Supporting Actor and Actress went deservedly to Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-Jung, respectively, both of whom we highlighted in our own series of Oscars articles. Kaluuya and Youn’s acceptance speeches were highlights of the night, the only can’t-miss parts of an otherwise abysmal show.
The biggest surprise of the night was the decision to present Best Picture before the night’s big acting awards. 2021 marks the first time since 1972 that the Oscars have not ended with Best Picture, and the first time ever in which Best Picture was not the final competitive award given. Though it was an interesting idea on paper, it ultimately had the effect of cheapening Nomadland’s history-making win. Nomadland, directed by the second female and first female POC director ever to win a Directing Oscar, is a deeply personal movie made with a small budget and only two professional actors, one of whom now has more Oscar wins than any other Best Actress winner except for Katherine Hepburn.
Instead of properly highlighting this, the Academy chose to end on Best Actor. While it’s not entirely certain why they did this, there’s a good chance it was to end the night on a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Boseman tragically passed away last year from colon cancer, a fact the Academy viciously exploited for sympathy points. When the In Memoriam played, they chose to speed through it to get to Boseman’s likeness at the end – the only face given more than a few seconds in the whole segment. In anticipation of the awards, the Oscars sold Boseman’s likeness as an NFT, a choice certainly made out of appreciation for his body of work, and not because NFTs are hip with the kids.
But counter to Soderbergh’s “narrative”, the night ended with Anthony Hopkins being declared Best Actor for his transformative performance in The Father. In one final bit of hilarious irony, Hopkins was not in attendance.