by Amanda Landwehr / Arts Editor
We get it, Hollywood. Movie theaters were shuttered for upwards of a year, productions were put on hold, and not even Christopher Nolan’s “Tenant” could save the entertainment industry from near-demise.
But really, what was the deal with the 93rd annual Academy Awards Ceremony?
For starters, the event was reduced in capacity, with the main portion of the event taking place in Los Angeles’ Union Station. Nominees joined live via video call from across the world, and other segments were either pre-recorded or filmed in a mostly empty Dolby Theatre. Ever since the Academy eliminated their classic single host telecast, watching the Oscars live on TV has become a lot more unpredictable. This year’s presenters included the likes of Regina King (who opened the show with a runway-style strut to the stage and a political statement — this is Hollywood, after all), Bryan Cranston, Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett and Zendaya.
With an all-star cast of presenters and nominees, some truly great films and the sheer excitement about returning to anything close to normalcy, the 2021 Oscars were bound to succeed. Right?
Wrong. It sort of felt like a scrambled attempt to fix a broken car, but instead of replacing the brake pads, they poured windshield washer over the engine, ripped out the gear shift, and lit the whole thing on fire.
The greater portion of the ceremony was fine. As always with live TV, there was bound to be some awkward moments — tedious small talk between celebrities and journalists, rambling speeches from winners. But I was happy to see Emerald Fennell, writer and director of “Promising Young Woman,” take home the award for Best Original Screenplay. It was nothing less than delightful to see Brad Pitt give the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to “Minari” star Yuh-jung Youn, and watch as Chloé Zhao won Best Director for “Nomadland,” an amazing step forward in progress for the film industry. Other good picks included Best Sound Editing for “Sound of Metal,” Best Cinematography for “Mank” and Daniel Kaluuya for his incredible portrayal of Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
But then, things got bad. Really bad.
If watching 74-year-old Glenn Close dance to “Da Butt” wasn’t enough, something felt off when the three-hour ceremony finally came to its tail-end. To keep viewers on-edge, the show’s producers decided to announce Best Picture before Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role. Best Picture is typically the last award announced, as it’s so highly anticipated. But apparently, if the Oscars Ceremony was going to embrace change due to COVID-19, they were going to make sure that everyone felt it.
“Nomadland” won for Best Picture. Great! Its lead actress, the one-of-a-kind Frances McDormand, accepted the award and gave an…interesting speech. Fine, whatever — actors can be weird. But where were the Best Actor and Actress awards?
Finally, Renée Zellweger, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Judy Garland in “Judy” last year, presented the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role. After keeping an eye on nearly every Oscars predictions list, I was sold on the idea that Carey Mulligan would win for her bold performance as protagonist Cassie Thomas in “Promising Young Woman.” Honestly, I think she was expecting to take home an Oscar too, dressed in a show-stopping couture gown. But then the strangest thing happened. Zellweger read a name that sounded nothing like “Mulligan” and much more like “McDormand.”
For those who don’t know, Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1997 for her role in “Fargo,” and won again in 2018 for her portrayal of Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Her role as Fern in 2020’s “Nomadland” was yet another incredible performance — I just truly wasn’t expecting it.
McDormand gave a short speech before then darting off the stage. I’m a big fan of McDormand’s work, so I was hardly devastated by her win.
Then, Joaquin Phoenix, rocking his glorious “troubled artist” look, walked on to the stage to announce the nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Now this was a tricky category for predictions: a hell of a performance from Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal,” Steven Yeun’s role in the understated “Minari,” Gary Oldman’s elegant performance in “Mank.” But the real showdown was between two very different actors: 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins and the late Chadwick Boseman.
Boseman’s nearly prophetic role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” as an overeager jazz trumpeter and Hopkins’ haunting role as a dementia patient in “The Father” were both incredible. But Boseman’s untimely death in August 2020 mixed with a show-stealing performance in the film meant there was a lot of pressure for the late actor to win, posthumously.
Once again, the words coming out of Phoenix’s mouth came as a surprise to me. “The Academy Award for Actor goes to…Anthony Hopkins.”
Wow. Okay. I was not expecting that. But if I didn’t think Hopkins would win the Academy Award, there was someone else who really didn’t think he would win the Academy Award: Hopkins himself. According to Hopkins, he was “in bed sleeping” during the ceremony, but was nonetheless appreciative — and shocked — by his win.
Obviously, people were upset over Boseman’s apparent snub. But the actor’s brother, Derrick, in an interview with TMZ, said that there were “no hard feelings” in regards to Hopkins’ win, and that the award was well-deserved. Unfortunately, Twitter disagreed.
The Oscars continues to be, well, the Oscars — a tradition as widely loved as it is hated. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year as a movie lover, but the following day is even better. For social media users, it’s a great chance for the internet to unite, complain and reflect on how horrible and outdated the ceremony can be.
But hey, I’d be lying if I said this year’s ceremony wasn’t on par with the rest of 2020. Here’s to next year, folks.