In many ways, The 93rd Academy Awards was exactly the awards ceremony that 2020 deserved.
It seems only fitting that the weirdest year in modern human history would lead to the strangest movie year in recent memory and an even odder Academy Awards Ceremony. Nothing about this year’s event seemed ordinary, from the decision to shoot this year’s ceremony as if it were a film, to the ordering of the awards, to the awards themselves that were given out.
Before I go any further, I do want to make something abundantly clear: I did not outright hate the ceremony. The general sentiment online is overwhelmingly negative (probably based around the last 20 minutes or so of the ceremony, which don’t worry I’ll get to that), but I thought that much like every Academy Awards presentation, there were good, bad, and truly head-scratching moments.
I’ll start with some of the positives: I absolutely loved the presentation and the format of this event. Much has been made about Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s production of the Awards and the decision from him and director Glen Weiss to choose to shoot the ceremony like a movie. From the choice to film in widescreen format, to the opening which included Regina King grabbing an Oscar statuette from the red carpet and walking through Union Station (reminiscent of something you would find in an “Ocean’s” movie), to the idea of spotlighting the presenters and nominees via a dynamic floating camera. Everything about the look of this year’s “Biggest Night in Hollywood” worked for me. There was one moment earlier on in the broadcast in which Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed presented the award for “Best Sound” and instead of saying the winner, Ahmed turned his body and the camera zoomed in to reveal that the winner was the film in which the presenter had starred in, “Sound of Metal”. Another interesting twist that Soderbergh and Co. brought to the ceremony was the decision to change the ordering of the awards, which at first (emphasis on the “at first”), I was a fan of. All too often, the ceremony begins to hit a real lull around the hour mark as we reach a slog of technical categories and shorts that most average people have no interest in whatsoever.
I’d even go so far as to say that, for the most part, the right people won. Every film that was nominated for Best Picture was honored in some way except for “Trial of the Chicago 7” which was easily the worst film out of the eight nominees. There was a real spreading of the love when it comes to the dolling out of awards which seems only befitting of a year in which there were no big tentpole movies and no true “10/10” masterpieces. Even the biggest winner of the night, “Nomadland” which won “Best Picture”, only won a total of three awards (the others being “Best Director” for Chloé Zhao and “Best Actress” for Frances McDormand).
Some other changes of note were the lack of performances from the nominees of “Best Original Song” as ABC elected to instead air those during the Oscar pre-show, and the decision to not play the eventual winners off the stage, allowing them to speak for as long as they wanted. I have always despised the “Best Original Song” category as it is often the same exact thing (a call to action of some sort or an “I Want” song), the songs are usually bad (when was the last time you threw “The Writing’s On the Wall” from “Spectre” or “I Need to Wake Up” from “An Inconvenient Truth” on a playlist), and 95% of the time, the nominees aren’t even featured in the movie and just work as a closing credits song (with the rare exception of a ”Shallow” or a “Let it Go”). I’m fine with completely axing the entire award, but I will accept at least moving the performances off the main telecast. As far as the speeches go, sure, there were some rough ones that I was pleading for Questlove to cue the music for (looking at you “My Octopus Teacher”), but it also led to some of the best moments of the night like Thomas Vinterberg’s tear-jerking speech about his daughter who passed away during the filming of “Another Round”, Yuh-Jung Youn’s incredibly charming thanks to Brad Pitt and Glenn Close, and Daniel Kaluuya’s all-timer speech in which he dedicates the award to Fred Hampton and then follows that up by thanking his parents for having sex and consummating him.
The Daniel Kaluuya victory speech is of particular note to me because it highlighted what makes him such a special performer. There is something about the way in which he talks that it feels as though he is directly addressing you even when he is talking to a room full of people. He has that special trait that the real Fred Hampton and only some of the greatest speakers and actors on this planet have. He creates an intimate connection with you immediately and always leaves you yearning for more.
I would run through a wall for that man.
One of the oddest changes to the ceremony was the lack of clips and montages that are normally synonymous with the Academy Awards. This year’s montages celebrating movies were instead replaced with a recurring Rolex commercial (because movies used to exist, and they exist now, so…. time???) and a walk-and-talk with Bryan Cranston celebrating frontline workers that looked like something out of “The West Wing”. I may be in the minority on this opinion, but I actually really love movie montages and I love when the Oscar ceremony contains several of them. The Academy Awards only happen once a year, let’s give it up for movies! The more peculiar exclusion from the ceremony was the lack of clips especially for the acting nominees. In a year in which so few people have seen the nominees, an inclusion of the “Oscar scene” seems absolutely crucial to the average audience member. Instead, what we got was people like Laura Dern applauding the work of the nominees in place of showing the performance itself. It did at least lead to one incredible moment of Dern directly addressing Kaluuya and praising his performance of Fred Hampton and how much it meant to her, which, same Laura. Same.
Now time to discuss some of the lowlights of the ceremony.
I think it’s time that we all admit it, the Academy Awards needs a host. Even if most of the comedic bits that Kimmel and others who have hosted in the past do not work, they are still really important for the pacing of the show. The one comedic bit that we did get with the “Oscar Music Trivia” was a breath of fresh air at a point in the event where things were starting to feel a bit stagnant (shout out to the Queen, Glenn Close, for doing “Da Butt” with Lil Rel after losing out on an Academy Award for the eighth time). A host is also crucial for recognizing the historic nature of some of the winners. Why was it not acknowledged at all that Yuh-Jung Youn was only the second woman ever to win Best Supporting Actress in a foreign-speaking role or the first Korean woman to win Best Supporting Actress? Or why was there no recognition of Chloé Zhao for being the second woman ever to win Best Director and the first woman of color to win the award? Why did nobody articulate that by Frances McDormand winning for her performance in “Nomadland” she joined Katherine Hepburn and Daniel Day-Lewis as the only people in history to win three times as lead performer? The lack of emphasis put on the historical implications in the broadcast was just utterly baffling.
Ok, time to talk about the big one. I mentioned earlier that for the most part, I didn’t mind the reordering of the awards given out during the ceremony. There is one major caveat though, you don’t put something other than the top prize at the very end of the broadcast. Even if the winner is a bygone conclusion, that is like revealing the final score for the Super Bowl with five minutes left in the 4th Quarter. Even this colossal mistake though could have been forgiven, had the ceremony played out the way that it was predicted to. The ceremony could have ended with a celebration of life for Chadwick Boseman, one of the most powerful young stars that we had, who was taken from this world far too soon. I guarantee this is exactly the scenario that Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, Jesse Collins, and the rest of the production team envisioned when they made the decision to flip Best Picture with Best Actor for the final award of the night. However, Boseman was not posthumously recognized for his work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, and instead, Anthony Hopkins pulled off a shocking upset for his performance in “The Father”.
This may sound a bit hot take-y, but in theory, I am not upset with the pick. I spend far, far too much time watching and thinking about movies and Anthony Hopkins flat-out gave the best performance by any actor, male or female, that I saw all year. Hopkins’ tour de force execution of an elderly man with dementia is absolutely astonishing and, to be honest, really difficult to watch especially if you have or had family members who suffered from dementia. However, the quality of the performance is not entirely the point. The point is that this was set up to be Boseman’s night, and we were robbed of that. Hopkins was not even in-person to accept the final honor of the night, so instead we just lingered on a headshot of Hopkins and then cut to Questlove playing some somber chords and telling everyone to have a good night, while the audience (in Union Station and at home) were stuck looking around in bewilderment. It was exactly the kind of anti-climactic moment that the Oscars, who were already struggling for relevance, did not need. Add to it that the Academy has a long history of not honoring people of color while they are alive, and it’s the sort of thing that just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Maybe we would have been better off having Chadwick Boseman receive “Best Actor” only to litigate five years later that, no, actually Anthony Hopkins gave the best performance of the 2020.
Even if Chadwick Boseman was not meant to win Best Actor for his swan song performance, the Academy could’ve done any number of things to help alleviate the sting of that ending to the night. For one, you could have just ended the Awards on Best Picture as it had been done for the last 92 years. If “Nomadland” was destined to win, then you could’ve ended the night on a note of celebration for the ascent of a new directorial star. Even if any of the other seven nominees were to pull off the upset, there is still an overall sense of jubilation (at least from the cast and crew) that leaves the night on a more positive note. Taking the gamble to end the ceremony on an award you only think you know the outcome of, just seems grossly irresponsible to me. If there were any lingering theories that the awards were rigged and that the presenters knew the winners before they were announced post-”La La Land/Moonlight” fiasco, it seems pretty apparent that those can be put to bed.
It was tough for me to go back through and re-remember all of the earlier aspects of the night that I enjoyed so much, only to get back to the same disappointing place where the Academy Awards left us on Sunday night. I think that because of the way that the last hour played out, this year’s ceremony will be regarded as a failure or “one of the worst Oscars ever”, and I think that is a damn shame. In many ways the opening shot of Regina King gracefully walking through the halls of Union Station only to trip once she reached the stage ended up being the perfect metaphor for how the night played out. Maybe that was the true Soderbergh flourish the whole time and we didn’t even realize it as it was happening.
- Hunter Mobley