The shining lights of the 93rd Academy Awards were a little dimmed last night, as a year of industry difficulties under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic came to a tired close.
Taking place in what looked like a trendy jazz bar, the ceremony swapped out its usual grand setting to welcome only the Hollywood elite to its exclusive awards night. It would make for one of the most unusual events in the history of the Academy Awards.
Though, despite the drab exterior, the 2021 Oscars proved to be a landmark victory for diversity in the industry, particularly after such a tumultuous decade for such issues. Chloé Zhao became only the second woman ever to win the award for best director, after Kathryn Bigelow’s win for The Hurt Locker in 2010, and crucially the first from an ethnic background to take home the prize.
What’s more, in the highly undervalued technical awards, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
From the big winners, to the small, strange viral moments, let’s take a look at the main talking points of this year’s ceremony:
Nomadland wins Best Picture
“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible and one day soon take everyone you know, shoulder-to-shoulder, in that dark space and watch every film that’s represented here tonight,” Francis McDormand, producer of the film and winner of Best Actress spoke in the films’ victory lap.
It’s no wonder Chloé Zhao’s incredible meandering road movie, Nomadland, took home the night’s most converted award, representing the portrait of an American nation in flux, away from its traditional past and toward an uncertain future.
Accessing the very essence of the country it depicts, Nomadland will be long-remembered as an icon of contemporary cinema, particularly with a Best Picture triumph and a milestone win for Chloé Zhao.
Chadwick Boseman snubbed for Best Actor
The final note of the Oscars ceremony was a particularly strange one. Traditionally ending the ceremony with the celebratory award of Best Picture, this year, in an artistic endeavour from awards producer Steven Soderbergh, the night instead capped off with Best Actor.
Following the tragic death of nominee Chadwick Boseman in August 2020, his posthumous win of the category was all-but-guaranteed for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, perhaps bookending the ceremony with his win would end the night on a poignant note?
Though when Joaquin Phoenix read out Anthony Hopkins’ name, and the British thespian wasn’t even in attendance to collect his award, the ceremony was forced to end on a strange, slightly awkward anti-climax.
Hopkins’ performance as the titular character in The Father is certainly one of the best of his celebrated career and undoubtedly deserving of praise. However, the staging and timing of the whole snub for Boseman was a simply bizarre move from Soderbergh and the Academy.
Daniel Kaluuya’s show-stopping speech
Born in London to Ugandan parents, Daniel Kaluuya became the loveable icon of contemporary cinema during last night’s ceremony when he became the first black British winner of the Best Supporting Actor award. His leading role, in which he strangely only won a supporting award, sees him portray Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas And The Black Messiah, an explosive biography about the injustice of 1960s race relations.
After praising the life of Fred Hampton and his efforts for racial equality in the Black community, Kaluuya highlighted just how much more needs to be done before stating that: “I’m going to get back to work Tuesday morning because tonight I’m going out.”. Following this, in perhaps a dizzy delight of his own success, Kaluuya addressed the audience and said, “My mum met my dad, they had sex, it’s amazing…I’m here. I’m so happy to be alive, so I’m going to celebrate that tonight.”
Panning to his bewildered mother in the crowd, she mouthed “what is he talking about?” echoing the thoughts of people worldwide.
Glenn Close’s ‘viral moment’
One day Glenn Close’s time in the Oscars limelight will come, having been nominated for eight Oscars without ever winning a single one. Her most recent nomination in Ron Howard’s disastrous Hillbilly Elegy was beaten out by the performance of legendary South Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn’s in Minari. Her acceptance speech mentioning that she only pipped Glenn Close to the post with “a little bit of luck”.
Instead, the Hillbilly Elegy star will be remembered for the ceremonies ‘viral moment’ in which she twerked to the tune of “Da Butt” from Spike Lee’s School Daze. It was a necessary bit of levity that the ceremony benefitted from, and a welcome, if shocking surprise from the iconic American actor.
Without the grandiose bright lights and orchestra of the traditional Academy Awards, the magic of the movies forgot to show up, with the 93rd iteration feeling a little like a low-budget after-show.
This strange muted version of the usually bedazzling annual show perhaps fitted the oddity of 2020, with the remnants of social distancing measures still visible even at its most prestigious event, the ghost at the industry feast.
Glenn Close, Daniel Kaluuya and Yuh-Jung Youn tried to wake the ceremony into excitable life, but the environment didn’t allow enthusiasm to flourish. Purposefully scaled-back, there wasn’t even any music to play each award-winner off stage, making the whole thing seem stiff and sterile.
For a celebration of the tenacity of cinema throughout its most difficult challenge, the 93rd Academy Awards felt like more of an industry tick-box than a dynamic carnival of its greatest talent.