The prolonged 2021 Oscar season finally came to an end on April 25 with an unusual ceremony that maintained the energy of a business convention populated by exhausted and bored patrons with the occasional burst of sentimentality. Though most of the telecast was just dull, once the announcer notified viewers that Best Picture would be the third-to-last award of the night, it was as though a train crashed into Union Station.
To put it bluntly, the Oscars set themselves up to fail with the ceremony’s catastrophic closure. The producers made a clear, calculated effort to drum up anticipation and excitement for Chadwick Boseman to posthumously win the Best Actor award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by orchestrating the night so that Best Actor would be the climax of the ceremony. Clearly, the producers intended to draw on the sentiments of millions of film-lovers who hoped to see Boseman win as opposed to the traditional and, frankly, logical ending with Best Picture.
However, this emotional calculation was undermined when Joaquin Phoenix opened the envelope and announced that Anthony Hopkins won for “The Father,” only for Hopkins to not be present to give a speech. After that unanticipated announcement the show abruptly ended, reading like an awkward Irish exit. Though Hopkins’ performance would undoubtedly deserve a win any other year, the Oscars’ transparent structuring of categories to achieve the potential spectacle and emotional resonance of a Boseman win was a gross miscalculation. Not only did this structural change undermine Hopkins’ victory, but it also destroyed any of the Oscar producers’ credibility, especially given recent reports about the disrespectful Boseman NFT included in nominee goodie-bags.
The award show’s awkward organization affected both the pacing of the ceremony and the impact of particular wins. Chloe Zhao made history by winning Best Director for “Nomadland,” becoming not only the second woman but also the first woman of color ever to win the category. However, the placement of the directing category in the first third of the ceremony undercut the impact of this historic moment, making the award feel more commonplace.
The glaring absence of clips and nominee showcases contributed to the ceremony’s poor pacing. Every non-overall film category (i.e., Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, etc.) did not receive supplemental visual or audio cues to accompany its nominees and better showcase the celebrated aspects of the film. For example, the ceremony did not show costumes from films nominated for Best Costume Design. A significant selling point of the Oscars is that it gives lesser-known nominees a platform to spotlight their work and potentially gain exposure in the industry. The omission of clips for each category created an odd dynamic where the audience didn’t get to see why these films were nominated and as a result, failed to heighten audience interest in the nominated films. In turn, these omissions made the clip packages feel overly long and out of place, especially the clips for Best Picture, which felt like full, drawn-out scenes in contrast.
The ceremony’s producers promised that “this year’s Oscars will look like a movie, not like a television show.” Despite these claims, this shift toward a cinematic award show primarily consisted of a change in aspect ratio. The telecast was an average Oscars but with pretentious black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.
Though the ceremony was plagued by confounding production decisions throughout, its intimacy held a certain charm as the low-key pacing and lack of theatrical show-stoppers gave way to more personal moments. Though its delivery was inconsistent, occasionally veering dangerously close to cringe, the nominees’ introductions, accompanied by a short description about their love of the craft, were a strong display of this feeling of intimacy. These introductions created a personal connection through which the audience could identify with nominees in categories with a smaller spotlight. Additionally, this focus on intimacy resulted in the elimination of playing off winners’ speeches. Though in some instances, this change resulted in rambling speeches during which winners fumbled for profound last words, it also allowed for more personal reflections on winners’ paths to the prize. The night’s standout speech was from Thomas Vinterberg, director of Best International Film winner “Another Round,” who dedicated his award to his daughter, who tragically died four days into shooting the film.
Despite the bevy of production flaws, the slate of winners for the 93rd Oscars was an array of historic and deserving victors that made up for the anticlimactic ceremony. As expected, the big winner of the night was “Nomadland,” which took home Best Picture, Best Director for Zhao and Best Actress for Frances McDormand, her third win in that category. As previously mentioned, Hopkins unexpectedly won Best Actor for the dementia drama “The Father,” which also took home Best Adapted Screenplay. Emerald Fennell won Best Original Screenplay for her feature-film writing debut “Promising Young Woman,” making her the first woman since 2007 to prevail in a screenplay category. Daniel Kaluuya capped off his award season steamroll by winning Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” In the Best Supporting Actress category, Youn Yuh-jung made history by winning for “Minari,” becoming the first Korean actor to win an Oscar.
Though it boasted a solid set of historic winners and faced large challenges inherent to producing a live show in a pandemic, the 93rd Academy Awards were the weakest Oscars in years. With confounding production decisions that undercut the pacing and structure of the ceremony, even people who love indulging in the drama of award shows can’t help but feel that these Oscars were just as grueling as the sparse 2020 movie season these awards celebrated.