I’m gonna say it: this is the worst Oscar ceremony I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not just talking about the winners and nominees, which are so random and lopsided that a literal pandemic could not have made them worse if it tried. I’m talking about the ceremony itself, which was so poorly produced it felt more like we were watching the Golden Globes. Yes, I am actually comparing the Academy Awards to the Golden Globes. It more than deserves the comparison.
So many things were lacking in this year’s ceremony. For one thing, none of the categories had previews for the nominees that were being honored. That’s fine for the acting or directing categories if you want to save time (indeed, the Academy straight up skipped over them in the 2017 ceremony). But even the technical categories were overlooked. Visual Effects didn’t show any of layering effects, Sound didn’t show any snippets of their sound engineers working in the studio, Cinematography and Film Editing showed no sequences demonstrating their craft, and even Makeup and Costuming skipped over showing stills of the nominees’ phenomenal work. It’s frustrating that when the crew is constantly overshadowed by the actors headlining their craft, the Academy has the perfect opportunity to show them off, and then they just… don’t. I’m used to the Academy snubbing one or two films in the Best Picture category out of pure snobbery. I’m not as used to them snubbing filmmakers’ work outright just for the sake of saving time.
The telecast also screwed up with something they should especially never mess up at any Oscar ceremony: the In Memoriam segment. In previous years, the Academy may have had some slip-ups, from the choice of a musician to omitting people from the segment altogether. This year though, they did the most disrespectful thing they could have done: they quickly glossed through everyone in the montage, as if they were on a strict time limit and they couldn’t go past it. We lost a lot of amazing artists in 2020, not just with Chadwick Boseman, but also with Ennio Morricone, Kirk Douglas, Christopher Plummer, Sean Connery, Ian Holm, Max Von Sydow, Olivia de Havilland, and so, so many others. And how did the Academy choose to honor them? By timing their tributes to the music. This resulted in many artists being passed over briskly with every beat, while others were stayed on longer due to the swelling of the music.
I understand due to how late this year’s ceremony was held that more people were included in the segment. 2020 was a terrible year, after all, and we all lost much from the year. But you honor these artists the best by giving them the time they deserve on the screen: not by giving each one barely a second and moving on. It was a rude, pitiful, and disrespectful tribute to the artists, and quite frankly, the Academy would have been better off if they just cut it from the ceremony entirely and just release a YouTube video separately. At least then you could spend as much time on each person for however long as you want without interfering with the telecast. This presentation was just pathetic, and I can’t help but feel for the families that lost so much this year and deserved so much better of an effort from the Academy.
But as per usual, the worst part of the ceremony comes with the winners, and the Academy keeps up that tradition even with this year’s ceremony. With a year as bad as 2020, you think it would be impossible for the Academy to choose some of the least deserving winners imaginable. But you’ve gotta hand it to the Academy: even a pandemic couldn’t stop them from making some of the worst decisions imaginable for the 93rd Academy Awards.
Best Picture: Nomadland predictably won Best Picture this year, which officially makes it the most boring Best Picture winner this decade (I know, the decade has only started. Give the Academy time). It’s no shocker that Nomadland won Best Picture. After all, it was sweeping Best Picture awards left and right all season long, so it’s no surprise that it won the biggest award on Oscar night as well.
What is surprising is which order Best Picture was presented. In previous ceremonies, the Academy presents Best Picture last to cap off the evening and end the ceremony with a bang. This year Best Picture was presented third to last, right behind Best Actress and Best Actor. I can only assume the Academy did this because they predicted who was going to win in the remaining categories, which they were embarrassingly wrong about. Either way, it makes for a very weird placement and a very strange way to wrap up the ceremony.
For now, I’ll say congratulations to Nomadland for its Best Picture win. Nearly all of the Best Picture nominees were more deserving, but hey, who am I to rob Frances McDormand of yet another Oscar?
Best Director: Chloe Zhao won Best Director for Nomadland, making her the second woman to win in this category and the first woman of color to win the Oscar ever. That’s about the biggest accomplishment to come out of this movie, because as I already said, it is a snooze fest from start to finish. Regardless, the movie does have some sweet, sincere moments in it, and I especially liked how she brought in real-life nomads into the film’s narrative. As far as uniqueness goes, that’s about everything that makes Nomadland special though, and I would have much rather the Oscar have gone to Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman or Lee Isaac Chung for Minari. Either way, congratulations to Mrs. Zhao. I look forward to watching Eternals later this year. Aaron Sorkin was still snubbed in this category for The Trial of the Chicago 7 regardless.
Best Actor: This is the biggest upset of the night and it easily ruined the whole ceremony for me, especially since this category concluded the telecast. Despite giving a career-best performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and winning over the hearts of fans and critics alike, the late Chadwick Boseman lost Best Actor to Anthony Hopkins for his role as an elderly man battling Alzheimer’s in The Father.
I have so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, with Chadwick sweeping the majority of awards season from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards, it seemed like Chadwick pretty much had this win in the bag. And why wouldn’t he? He gave a great performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and outshined even the titular character on that project. His character was crass, headstrong, confident, cocky, smooth, sassy, pained, and tragic all at the same time. Few actors possess all of those characteristics, let alone in one performance. He was very much the driving force of that film and deserved all of the praise that he received.
Compare that to Anthony Hopkins in The Father, which barely generated much conversation or impact until it was nominated for awards. I have not seen The Father thanks to its overpriced rental of $20, but judging from what I have seen, the film tackles heavy themes regarding losing your memory, your grip with reality, and in a way, a part of yourself. It’s for sure a challenging topic and performance to take on, but no more challenging than say, a metal drummer losing his hearing, a drunken screenwriter taking on the media moguls of Hollywood, and a struggling immigrant trying to provide for his family.
What I’m saying is that amongst all of the nominees, Chadwick’s performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom felt unique and stood out amongst his fellow nominees. Hopkins in The Father, in comparison, felt like an honorary mention that rarely elevated to the influence of his peers. The fact he couldn’t even tune in to accept his Oscar remotely makes his win even more awkward.
I’ve heard some commentators remark that fans are more motivated by Chadwick’s tragic passing than they are the merits of his performance for the award, but I genuinely don’t think that’s the case. Before Ma Rainey, I thought Riz Ahmed was the clear standout for Sound of Metal and thought that Chadwick was getting the sympathy vote. Then I watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and was completely blown away. He immediately sold himself as this overly ambitious musician with dreams of reaching the top, only to be roadblocked by white America around every corner. He made the movie, and after watching it, Chadwick became my only favorite to win the Oscar.
Consider also, that Hopkins has already won a Best Acting Oscar in 1992 for Silence of the Lambs. Meanwhile, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was Chadwick’s first and only nomination. It feels like he deserved stronger consideration for the award, especially since this was his last performance before he died. And before some of you come at me with “bUt tHaT wAs hIS FIrSt nOminAtiOnnn,” Anthony Hopkins’ first Oscar win also came with his first nomination for Silence of the Lambs. It isn’t unprecedented for that to happen, and a stronger case definitely should have been made for Chadwick.
I could be wrong, of course, and I very well may feel differently after I watch The Father later this year. Until then, this snub feels like if Heath Ledger’s Oscar for playing the Joker in The Dark Knight went to someone else: and that really, really stings.
Best Actress: I got this one wrong as well, but I was already on uncertain grounds with a four-way deadlock between Carey Mulligan, Frances McDormand, Viola Davis, and Andra Day. McDormand ended up securing the win for Nomadland, made an awkward remark about including karaoke machines in the ceremony, and then left the stage right after howling like a wolf. Again, I feel like her performance in Nomadland was more muted and less expressive than some of her more memorable performances, especially in comparison with her 2018 Oscar win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Compared to her fellow nominees that crafted a very vivid presence in their respective films, her performance in Nomadland feels more transparent, like a surrogate for audiences to channel themselves into.
Regardless she now has three acting Oscars under her belt, tying her with Meryl Streep herself. She should feel honored just for that comparison. Hopefully the Academy doesn’t decide to nominate her even further into the future, otherwise good ol’ Meryl might get jealous.
Best Supporting Actor: Even though he was literally the lead in the movie, Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor for playing Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Again, I have no idea how he won Best Supporting Actor for a role that was very much non-supporting when Chadwick literally went home with nothing. Was the Academy somehow convinced that Levee Green was a supporting character and should have been nominated in this category instead? If that was the case, why wasn’t Kaluuya nominated for Best Actor? Would he have lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Father anyway? Does anyone even care enough to examine the Academy’s weird justifications anymore?
Either way, congrats to Kaluuya for his much-deserved Oscar win. It was nice to see him on stage accepting the award, as well as interacting with his old Get Out co-star Lil Rel Howery. And his message of unity in his acceptance speech was especially uplifting and powerful. He deserved an Oscar for that speech alone.
Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn has been called the Meryl Streep of South Korea, so is it really that surprising that she won Best Supporting Actress for Minari? She was just as playful and endearing as her character was in that movie, and her fun little poke at presenter Brad Pitt was especially amusing.
Best Animated Feature: As expected, Soul won Best Animated Feature, marking it as Pete Docter’s third Oscar win and 11th Oscar win for the Pixar team as a whole. Much congratulations for everyone involved with that phenomenal film. Personally I felt Onward was just a bit better, but it’s a win for Pixar either way. At this point, the Academy should just preemptively award the Pixar nominee every year before the ceremony and call it a day.
Best Documentary Feature: In a particularly tight race, My Octopus Teacher beat out its competition to win the Best Documentary Oscar this year. I personally feel for the Collective team since they’ve lost twice this year in both the documentary and international film category, but My Octopus Teacher has a very interesting subject and a unique way that it approaches it. I look forward to watching it in a few weeks, right after trying to understand why Time has so many viewers riled up.
Best International Feature: Thomas Vinterberg won for Another Round, and he gave a very powerful tribute to his late daughter during his acceptance speech. Congratulations to him for his much-deserved win. I’m glad he got to experience this honor in her memory, and I hope he continues to make movies that inspire him as much as this film has.
Best Original Screenplay: As expected, Emerald Fennell won Best Original Screenplay for her wickedly clever and smart portrayal of a woman fighting sexism in Promising Young Woman. I still feel a stronger pull for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and would not have been upset at all if he had won this award instead of her. Regardless I am glad both of the nominated female directors this year got to walk home with a prize, especially since women are very often overlooked in the writing categories. So much congratulations to Mrs. Fennell. She very much deserved to win this one over her male peers.
Best Adapted Screenplay: In the night’s first surprise twist, The Father beat out Nomadland for Best Adapted Screenplay. I was fine with this win because 1) The Father seems centered on a very strong emotional foundation, and 2) The awards circuit seemed annoyingly obsessed with Nomadland, so any opportunity where it can be overlooked I’m mostly fine with it. I’m just glad the Oscar didn’t go to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Can you imagine how annoying it would have been circumventing nine screenwriters onto that blasted stage? I barely have the patience for even two of them, so thank God we didn’t have to suffer through that social distancing nightmare.
Best Film Editing: The underdog Sound of Metal prevailed over the likes of its stronger nominees in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Promising Young Woman. While I preferred those titles over the winner, Sound of Metal does have a solid assembly of its shots and paints a vivid and somber picture of a man losing a big piece of his life. That’s a hard thing to capture and tell, and Mikkel Nielsen does a great job getting us to sympathize with this character. Plus, he took away this Oscar from the likes of Nomadland and The Father. That’s good enough for me.
On another note, Harrison Ford presented this category with a very funny story about how critics initially reacted to a screening of Blade Runner. I could take Harrison’s annoyed scowl hosting the entire ceremony and that would be enough to keep me tuned in for the whole night.
Best Cinematography: Of all of the nominees for Best Cinematography, the biggest contenders were also the two most boring nominees out of the whole pack: and Mank cliched it from Nomadland, barely.
As much as I love Nomadland getting overlooked in one category after another, cinematography is one I will disagree with and am actually very frustrated about it losing. For one thing, the best thing about Nomadland was easily its cinematography, capturing life on the road and these vast, wide, open shots of the landscapes the nomads get to see and experience. As dull, long, and overbearing as that film is, it is also visually beautiful and does a great job capturing the nomads’ perspectives. It was amazing camerawork, and Joshua James Richards easily outshined his fellow nominees.
Compare that to Erik Messerschmidt, who won the Oscar for essentially copying Gregg Toland’s canted cinematography from Citizen Kane in Mank. I find so many issues with his win, especially since his cinematography is 1) Redundant 2) Plagiarized 3) Contrived and 4) very underwhelming. His work on Mank was nowhere near as striking or memorable as The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, News of the World, and especially not as much as Nomadland. At the very least, Erik Messerschmidt does not deserve the Best Cinematography Oscar over David Fincher’s frequent collaborator Jeff Cronenweth, who has been nominated for Best Cinematography on Fincher’s last three projects and has not won once. A pity that creative and captivating cinematographers are getting egged to the side while Orson Welles knock offs are going home with the gold. But that’s Hollywood for you, I guess.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Hey, if Chadwick wasn’t going to win the Oscar, Ma Rainey deserved to win something, right?
Best Costume Design: Again, Ma Rainey won. I have a tough time deciding whether she or Emma. deserved to win. Either way, it’s funny to see Pinocchio trending in these categories after people realized a live-action remake came out last year. Was the pandemic really that bad, to where viewers genuinely did not realize a Pinocchio movie came out in 2020? Or is that just the result of bad marketing? Either way, congrats to Ma Rainey for the costume win, though I much would have preferred the Oscar gone to Chadwick.
Best Production Design: As previously expected, Mank won for production design, and it was the only Oscar it deserved to win out of the whole night. Next.
Best Musical Score: I was genuinely nervous for a minute when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ names were read, as I was worried that Mank was going to win yet another very undeserved Oscar. Then the Academy read Jon Batiste’s name too, and I was instantly relieved when I realized Soul won instead. Congrats to all three of these amazing composers. They definitely deserved it for the amazing, refreshing sounds they provided not just for the film, but for our hearts.
Best Original Song: In yet another tight category, H.E.R.’s “Fight For You” won against One Night In Miami’s Leslie Odom Jr. for Judas and the Black Messiah. I was split 50/50 under this category and preferred “Speak Now’s” quietly soulful vibe, but if it wasn’t going to win, “Fight For You” was definitely my second favorite pick. Congrats to her either way. With her recent wins at the Grammys, H.E.R. has been having a great, great year.
Best Sound: Sound of Metal won the newly-named Best Sound Award. Duh. It was kind of a given it was going to win since the word “sound” is literally in its title. Either way, congrats to the amazing sound design team. They did a brilliant job capturing what the deaf experience was like for Ruben Stone.
Best Visual Effects: As already expected, Tenet won Best Visual Effects. Congratulations to Christopher Nolan’s visual effects team for the much-deserved win. Good luck explaining the plot to anybody though.
And as per usual, I lost in all of the short categories this year save for If Anything Happens I Love You’s win for Best Animated Short. That leaves my final tally for 16 out of 23 categories predicted correctly this year. Good for me I guess, but it doesn’t take away from the pain of Chadwick’s Best Actor loss. I will never let the Academy live that one down, ever. I cannot imagine what snub could possibly be worse this decade, but the Academy has outdone me before. Let’s give them time to see how else they can infuriate me for 2022.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going back to watching Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Some of us appreciate icons when we see them.
– David Dunn