The 2021 Oscars are in the books and I have some thoughts. I promise not to get into the muck and mire of thinkpieces or hot takes,
Before I get into what I think about what was presented on TV, I want to talk about what wasn’t. Eight categories (Live Action Short, Documentary Short, Animated Short, Production Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Editing, and Sound) were presented an hour before the ABC broadcast began. Despite the producers choppily editing the nominee announcements and winners into the broadcast, anyone with a Twitter account knew the winners beforehand.
The very idea that the world would accept this was asinine. No one was deceived by this. The only thing that happened was the robbing of a poignant speech. Of all the terrible decisions the Academy made, this is the one that was the worst. Despite relegating these categories to outside the broadcast window, the ceremony was 3 hours and 42 minutes, the longest since 2018.
On the actual broadcast, the furor of the Oscars Fan Favorite and the Oscars Cheer Moment were laughed off with the sincerity it deserved. While the Cheer Moment went to Zack Snyder’s Justice League (a film that was not Oscars eligible), the Oscars Fan Favorite went to another Zack Snyder film, Army Of The Dead. The decision to include these categories during the broadcast and the uninspired choices they wrought were exactly what the Academy deserved.
Hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall, and Wanda Sykes all did fine work. As much as the Oscars made a big deal out of having hosts again, they weren’t around very much. They had their three-way opening at the show’s onset and had their own little vignettes at various points as well. I wouldn’t call their work essential, but they didn’t embarrass themselves.
The four performances of the nominees for Best Original Song might have been the highlight of the broadcast, with each carving out their unique styles to fit their themes.
The In Memoriam segment included specific interludes for Sidney Poitier, Ivan Reitman, and Betty White. As much as I liked that little aspect, the segment was almost upbeat and distracting. That felt odd.
The presenters were generally bland or unforgettable. Kevin Costner might not have been the longest-winded presenter, but it definitely felt like he was. Reunions of Pulp Fiction, White Men Can’t Jump, Juno, and The Godfather fell incredibly flat. Far and away, the best presenter of the night was 2020 Supporting Actress winner Yuh-Jung Youn. Her delicate sweetness during her presentation of Best Supporting Actor was a welcome injection of preciousness into an otherwise uneven show.
Also, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.
CODA took home all three Oscars it was nominated for: Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. It is very much being viewed as an underdog story triumphing over Netflix, but it’s not like Apple TV+ is a upstart streaming service.
Regardless, it’s pretty cool back-to-back Best Picture winners were directed by women. Similarly, Jane Campion makes it back-to-back female Best Director winners. Troy Kotsur’s win is also the second time a man has won an Oscar for a performance directed by a woman (Alan Arkin was the first for Little Miss Sunshine, co-directed by Valerie Faris).
The Power of the Dog managed only a single win (Campion for Director) amongst its 12 nominations. The last time a film won only one Oscar for Directing was 1967’s The Graduate.
The big winner was actually Dune. The only real blockbuster of the Best Picture lineup won six of the eight “below-the-line” technical nominations, only missing Costume Design (to Cruella) and Makeup & Hairstyling (to The Eyes of Tammy Faye).
Speaking of Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain took home her first Best Actress trophy for her performance with a lovely speech to back it up. Ariana DeBose became the first out LGBTQ+ woman to win an acting Oscar after her Supporting Actress win for West Side Story. Will Smith predictably won Best Actor for King Richard.
Belfast and Kenneth Branagh were able to grab a surprise Original Screenplay trophy, while Drive My Car was awarded International Feature. Best Picture nominees Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, and Don’t Look Up all walked away empty-handed.
DeBose, Chastain, and Kotsur all has nice speeches, but my favorite speech of the night was Cruella costume designer Jenny Beavan. She seemed to be…enjoying herself, and that loose attitude was a welcome change of pace. I’m not a fan of pointing out bad speeches, but if I was to do that, Smith would be at the very top of that list.
The winners were fine, if uninspired.
A broadcast specifically designed to appeal to the largest possible audience ended up appealing to absolutely no one. Unenthusiastic reunions, uninterested presenters, and a lack of understanding of what the Oscars are.
The Oscars are their own thing, but every producer keeps trying to make them into something else. One day, they might figure this out, but probably not.
What a mess. See you next year.