by Jordan King
The 93rd Academy Awards was always going to be a strange affair. After two hostless years, a pandemic-stricken 2020 which forcibly isolated us all from one another and has had cinema as a bricks and mortar institution on the ropes, and the promise from cinematic director of proceedings Steven Soderbergh that this year’s edition would be like ‘a three hour film’, the stage was set for an unforgettable evening. And that it indeed was.
Broadcast live from multiple locations, with its central hub being Los Angeles’ main railway station, the Art Deco inspired Union Station, this year’s ceremony stripped back some of the ostentatiousness of the usual Dolby Theatre star-studded shenanigans to offer viewers at home a more intimate evening with the presenters and nominees.
Following an Ocean’s Eleven style tracking shot opening that saw Regina King lead us into the venue, where we had Questlove on the decks and stars huddled in a sparse array of intimate lamp-lit booths, the ceremony proper began in good spirits. The conversational tone wherein comic bits were substituted for insight into the personal backgrounds and inspirations of nominees was welcome, and whilst some have complained about the lack of clip packages outside of the big-hitter award categories, the “we’ve stumbled upon an Old Hollywood evocative lunch with the stars” tone was nothing if not refreshing.
Early highlights of the show included Florian Zeller taking home the gong for Adapted Screenplay for The Father, Emerald Fennell storming the Original Screenplay field for the incendiary Promising Young Woman, and Daniel Kaluuya following up his well-earned Supporting Actor win for his mercurial performance in Judas and the Black Messiah by segueing from thanking Black Panther Fred Hampton for existing to thanking his mum and dad for bonking and making him. His mum’s “What on Earth is he talking about?” reaction has already cemented its place in Oscars history.
As we journeyed on into the night, Another Round director Thomas Vinterberg paid heartfelt tribute to his tragically departed daughter upon winning International Feature, before we smoothly cut across to Bryan Cranston at the Dolby Theatre presenting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Bob Beitcher for the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s support with COVID-safe productions over the past year.
Bong Joon Ho made a supremely stylish appearance complete with whip-pans and neon lighting from a theatre in Seoul alongside last year’s awards circuit superstar, interpreter Sharon, as he announced Chloé Zhao’s historic Best Director win for her remarkable work on Nomadland. Only the second woman in Oscar history to win the award (The Hurt Locker;s Kathryn Bigelow being the first), Zhao is the first woman of colour and first woman of Asian descent to pick up a Director award.
Sound of Metal nabbed the award for Sound, Soul unsurprisingly walked animation (a deserved win given its status as Pixar’s best film in years, but a missed opportunity for sure to hail the genius work of Cartoon Saloon on underdog Wolfwalkers), and My Octopus Teacher’s Best Documentary award reminded us of the fact that voters really do be just watching the first doc to hit Netflix and voting that. Elsewhere, David Fincher’s Mank nabbed a couple of deserved technical awards, whilst Sound of Metal doubled up on golden statuettes with the Editing award as H.E.R pulled a minor surprise win in the Best Song category, beating out Leslie Odom Jr.’s bookies’ favourite ‘Speak Now’with ‘Fight For You’from Judas and the Black Messiah. In the Short Film categories, no complaints were to be had, with If Anything Happens I Love You and Two Distant Strangers’ wins in particular giving the winners a chance to highlight racial injustice and police brutality, recurring talking points on a night that also saw Asian hate crimes and trans discrimination addressed vocally and powerfully.
Yuh-Jung Youn won a brilliantly deserved Supporting Actress gong for her stunning work on Minari, offering up lashings of comedy gold in her acceptance speech as she fawned over presenter Brad Pitt and soaked in a real once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Whilst Glenn Close’s wait for an Academy Award continues, she did win ‘Bizarre Moment of the Night’ as she took part in essentially an all-star pub quiz with Lil’ Rey Howery, showing off her knowledge of EU’s ‘Da Butt’ from Spike Lee’s School Daze before twerking, much to the amusement of her peers and booth partner Daniel Kaluuya.
The straightforwardness of both the ceremony and the results to this point, with extended speeches, sparing dalliances into comic sidebars, and only an inappropriately upbeat ‘In Memoriam’ segment rocking the boat, looked set to mark a success all-round after a gruelling year for the film industry.
And then the mood changed.
After Close finished clapping her cheeks, the surprise early announcement of Best Picture had the attendees clapping their hands as viewers and Film Twitter scratched their heads at the impromptu order change in ceremonies. Whilst Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland was a more than worthy recipient of the award, bringing us a film that champions humanity, goodness, and resilience whilst creating an audiovisual experience that makes the descriptor ‘elemental’ more than just a critic’s crutch term for anything with nice magic hour photography, the time-honoured tradition of saving Best Film til last being disrupted set audiences up to believe we were in for a Lead Actor and Lead Actress double-whammy of deserving awards for Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, whose work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom made a solid film an extraordinary viewing experience.
Unfortunately, this expected celebration never came to pass. Frances McDormand took home the award for Lead Actress for her transformative, humbling turn as Fern in Nomadland, a win that whilst not perhaps wholly expected didn’t meet with controversy amongst the viewers at home. Her short, eccentric speech was classic McDormand, with a touching wolf-howl tribute paid to Nomadland’s Sound Mixer Michael Wolf Snyder, who died last month aged just 35. Had the Lead Actor race panned out as expected, the event still on the whole would have been a job well done.
As it went however, after the Academy had besmirched Chadwick Boseman’s legacy already by turning his likeness into a lucrative golden NFT in the attendees’ goodie bags in a pre-emptive act of self-congratulation for ending racism with a posthumous Lead Actor win, the show ended on a sour note. A visibly uncomfortable Joaquin Phoenix unceremoniously read out the Actor nominees before announcing that Sir Anthony Hopkins had won the award for his performance in The Father. With Hopkins not in attendance, likely directly correlating with the fact it was 4am here in the UK at the time, the man is 83 years old, and he almost certainly wouldn’t be wanting to attend a maskless ceremony following a nomination for an award that he genuinely didn’t believe he stood a chance of winning, a picture of the Welsh acting legend was projected on a big screen as the ceremony swiftly, abruptly was brought to a close.
Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Father, don’t get me wrong, is an award-worthy one. To my mind, it is the greatest performance he has produced in a career laden with great performances, and the acting titan’s humility and sincerity is as endearing as his talent is humbling. There is nobody with a genuine love of cinema that would suggest Hopkins wasn’t a deserving Lead Actor award winner. However, Chadwick Boseman’s time will not come again, and forgetting the nonsensical suggestion that we should somehow have ignored the fact the man was battling aggressive Stage Four Colon Cancer whilst shooting Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Academy and the ceremony’s directors did the man’s legacy a great disservice with their shenanigans at last night’s Oscars. What could have been an epochal moment of celebration became at the last moment another classic cock-up engendered by the Academy’s own hubris, leaving Nomadland’s Best Picture win undermined, Hopkins’ historic second Best Actor win mired in controversy, and Chadwick Boseman’s night to be meaningfully honoured cruelly twisted into something that shows AMPAS still have a hell of a way to go yet in meeting their own lofty ideals.
Overall, the 93rd Annual Academy Awards offered much to celebrate and applaud, demonstrating the potential of a format that harkens back to the earliest days of the Oscars whilst for the most part offering a celebration of cinema that had us hankering for a return to the dimmed lights and leather seats of the local multiplex to return. However, whilst we were given much to praise, it is frustrating to find another ceremony overshadowed by catastrophic management and iffy approaches to progressivism.
All of the above having been said, we here at Movies on Weekends would like to close out our Oscars Round-Up by congratulating all of the deserving award winners from last night, and by remembering Chadwick Boseman. Wakanda Forever.
Here is the 93rd Academy Award Winners List in full:
Best original screenplay – Promising Young Woman
Best adapted screenplay – The Father
Best international feature film – Another Round
Best actor in a supporting role – Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Best makeup and hairstyling – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best costume design – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Jean Hersholt humanitarian award – MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund)
Best director – Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Best sound – Sound of Metal
Best live-action short film – Two Distant Strangers
Best animated short film – If Anything Happens I Love You
Best animated feature film – Soul
Best documentary short – Colette
Best documentary – My Octopus Teacher
Best visual effects – Tenet
Best actress in a supporting role – Youn Yuh-Jung, Minari
Best production design – Mank
Best cinematography – Mank
Best film editing – Sound of Metal
Jean Hersholt humanitarian award – Tyler Perry
Best original score – Soul
Best original song – Fight For You, Judas and the Black Messiah
Best picture – Nomadland
Best actress in a leading role – Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Best actor in a leading role – Anthony Hopkins, The Father