The 93rd annual Academy Awards returned to our screens on Sunday as the capstone on a year of pandemic-adapted awards shows.
Oscars 2021 was a night of firsts and fashion, speeches and upsets, and definitely of change.
A different medium
“Oh, Jesus, I made it,” Regina King said at the top of the show. “It has been quite a year, and we are still smack dab in the middle of it.”
The director and actor’s words could have spoken for the industry itself. King was the first of the show’s cast of presenters, who took the stage instead of a traditional Oscar host. They included fellow stars Halle Berry, Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford.
The show’s cast wasn’t the only thing to look different. As the camera swung around to the audience, a sparse crowd seated at individual tables gave off the vibe of a comedy club — just without quite as many jokes.
Other changes weren’t so welcome. The new format unfortunately led to extra-long speeches, and a length well over its predicted three hours.
Despite that, a fair amount of the evening carried on the Oscar traditions of previous years. There was a red carpet, the friendly interaction between guests and, most surprisingly of all, an absence of masks, which left the show looking eerily pre-pandemic
The relaxed atmosphere also gave rise to a few unique moments — Glenn Close doing “Da Butt” dance as an answer to a trivia question, Daniel Kaluuya thanking his mother in the audience and then slipping an off-colour joke into his acceptance speech, (“It’s incredible! My mom met my dad, they had sex, it’s amazing! Like, I’m here!”) and Frances McDormand giving out a wolf howl after Nomadland won best picture.
The return of fashion
Almost unchanged from prior years was the night’s fashion. From Questlove’s gold crocs to Regina King’s stunning crystal Louis Vuitton gown, the red carpet didn’t disappoint.
Carey Mulligan stood out with her cutout Valentino gown and Zendaya’s yellow Valentino ensemble was paired with layers of Bulgari diamonds, worth a reported $6 million US. A number of stars sported gold. And pint-sized Minari star Alan S. Kim showed up in a designer tuxedo, which he apparently first wore to walk his dog.
One stark change came at the end of the show. Instead of finishing the night with the best picture award as is Oscar tradition, the best acting awards were instead moved to the end, amounting to an anti-climatic goodbye.
It was an abrupt, and bizarre, finale.
Of those acting awards, McDormand picked up best actress for her work on Nomadland, shutting out Viola Davis, who became the most nominated Black actress earlier this year.
By switching the best actor award to the tail end of the show, the producers may have wanted to close out the night with a posthumous award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom actor Chadwick Boseman.
WOW. Anthony Hopkins wins for The Father, best actor at the Oscars. Major upset over the widely predicted Chadwick Boseman. Still Hopkins put in a brave and vulnerable performance, no complaints here.
Boseman, who died in August 2020 from colon cancer, was heavily favoured to receive that trophy. Instead, the honour — surprisingly — went to Anthony Hopkins for his work in The Father.
It was Hopkins’s second-ever Academy Award, after his first in 1992 for playing Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
Also shut out was Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which went into the night with six nominations, but left with zero wins.
Chloé Zhao’s historic win
A less surprising, but extremely welcome moment was Chloé Zhao’s best director win. With it, she became only the second woman to claim the honour, and the first woman of colour ever to do so.
Zhao’s win rounded out the film’s three wins of the night — the film earned awards for best picture and best actress for McDormand. By night’s end, Nomandland’s haul was the biggest for any single film. But others (Soul, Mank, Sound of Metal, The Father and Judas and the Black Messiah) carried off two Oscars each.
Zhao wasn’t the only woman of colour to earn a historic win. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won best makeup and hairstyling for their work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, making them the first Black women to ever win the category. They gave a speech about how more work needed to be done to continue to fight for representation in the industry.
In her acceptance speech, Zhao talked about perseverance, something she said she learned from a game she played with her father as a child. They would memorize classic Chinese texts, and then repeat them back to one another.
“The first phrase goes ‘people at birth are inherently good.’ And those six words have had such an impact on me,” she said.
“So this is for anyone who has the courage or faith to see the goodness in the world. You inspire me to keep going.”
Chloé Zhao accepted the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oscar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Oscar</a> for Best Picture for her film ‘Nomadland!’ <a href=”https://t.co/btgI3DYdPz”>https://t.co/btgI3DYdPz</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oscars?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Oscars</a> <a href=”https://t.co/HmX4Kb9eYp”>pic.twitter.com/HmX4Kb9eYp</a>
Speaking of speeches and firsts, best supporting actress winner Youn Yuh-jung both became the first Korean woman to win the category, and stole the show with her acceptance speech.
After Brad Pitt presented her with the award, the Minari co-star proceeded to give a stunted — but endearing — shout-out.
“Mr. Brad Pitt, finally. Nice to meet you,” she joked. “Where were you while we were filming?”
Best Supporting Actress Winner Yuh-Jung Youn: “Mr. Brad Pitt, finally. Nice to meet you.” <a href=”https://t.co/sdgeoBK7lX”>https://t.co/sdgeoBK7lX</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Oscars?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Oscars</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Jn54277k50″>pic.twitter.com/Jn54277k50</a>
She also forgave American audiences for mispronouncing her name, and when a journalist backstage asked what Brad Pitt smelled like, gave another offhand answer.
“I didn’t smell him,” she said. “I’m not dog.”