93rd Oscars: Reflections

Our contributors have watched the Oscars, looked at the winners, and have decided to share with you their thoughts of Sunday night’s ceremony and results. Before we get to our contributors’ thoughts, let’s look at how they did at predicting this year’s Oscars.

In a very tight race, Tripp came out on top with 17 correct predictions and 4 runner-up predictions, for a solid 21 of 23 rate on picking winners and runners-up. Wesley was second with 16 correct predictions and 6 runner-up predictions, for a total of 22 of 23. Thomas was in third with 16 correct and 4 runners-up, or 20 total. Peter comes in fourth with 13 winner predictions and 5 runners-up for a total of 18 ball park predictions.

Strangely, we had only one category that no one correctly predicted, namely Best Actress where none of us picked Frances McDormand to win or place. Every other category saw at least one of us pick the winner or the runner-up. Of all of these, Best Original Song was the least correctly predict with Wesley being the only one to pull the runner-up selection for “Fight for You” form Judas and the Black Messiah

The four of us correctly predicted eleven categories. Picture, Animated Feature, Directing, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Production Design, Sound, Visual Effects, International Feature, Documentary Feature, and Animated Short. The only places where we agreed on the winner, but were ultimately wrong was in Best Actor, Original Song, and Cinematography.

Now that we’ve gone over the statistics, let’s hear what everyone had to say.

Wesley Lovell

Did the Academy know that they would have an under-watched awards telecast? Sure seems like they purposely sabotaged themselves by returning to a style that might have been more reminiscent of the earlier Oscars where there was no broadcast, radio or television, and everything was mostly just a formal gathering of industry types who wanted to celebrate each other. However, this is the 21st century and we’re at 93 ceremonies and counting. By now, they should have moved past their self-congratulatory claptrap, but old habits are hard to break. Rather than trying to do something unique and original, they did something staid and boring, a far cry from even the most awful whos of the recent past.

Stripping almost everything out of the show that made it worth watching, Stephen Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Jesse Collins produced an absolute snooze-fest. I normally love sitting down each year to watch the Oscars, catch the nominated songs, and watch a few montages about the movies. The Academy has tried their best in recent years to make this show about the movies in one way, shape, or form or another. This year, they even suggested that’s what was going to happen by announcing their “cast” of presenters, a broad array of longtime industry luminaries (Bard Pitt, Harrison Ford), and newer lights (Riz Ahmed, Regina King). Yet, apart from opening with the screenwriting awards, the show barely resembled a movie at all. There was virtually no excitement. The lone excitement came from some late-show surprises like H.E.R. winning Best Original Song for “Fight for You,” Frances McDormand coming from third place to the winner’s circle, and to a last-minute let-down with Anthony Hopkins not showing up to accept his awards.

Was there anything that worked? A handful of the speeches from Chloé Zhao who became the first Asian woman to win Best Directing, and only the second ever; Tyler Perry for his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award; and a handful of others with some nice moments. That said, the speeches were not cut-off at all. A great thing if the winner is going to say something brilliant or insightful or meaningful, but most of the winners droned on-and-on unnecessarily, oftentimes tarnishing the early moments of the speech that sparkled by going into the laundry list of names at the end. A tip for potential future winners. Get your boring lists out of the way in a creative way…or do them first and finish strong. The last thing you want to be remembered for is a speech thanking 67 people for 4 minutes while only talking for 1 minute about something important.

The winners were also quite boring. McDormand does not deserve three Oscars for acting. Putting her alongside the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, and Katharine Hepburn implies she’s a great actress when she’s mostly just a good one. Carey Mulligan was denied in spite of one of the most potent and important performances of the year. Hell, I wasn’t blown away by Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s, but making her the second Black woman to win Best Actress would have at least been a nice moment.

When doing the In Memoriam, don’t rush through the list so fast that no one can get an idea of who died. Lingering only on a handful and rushing past the rest is as disrespectful as leaving them out altogether. Also, bring the song performances back into the main ceremony. They were the highlight of the night and they were shunted into the pre-show, which was oddly more engaging and entertaining than the entirety of the 3 hour 19 minute broadcast. Sure, the pre-written bit with the Oscar song trivia game that came too late in the evening, but offered the funniest bit in the entirety of the show. Glenn Close is great and it was a hilarious moment, but it really felt too pat to feel genuine…like Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie moment. Neat, but too formal.

Finally, a tip to producers: if you want to subvert historical norms, there are better ways to do it than giving out Best Picture before Best Actor and Best Actress. Best Picture is meant to be the culmination of all that is great in Hollywood throughout the year. By shunting it to the position of third-most-important award of the only diminishes the achievement of all the technicians, creatives, and actors who made the Best Picture-winning film, in favor of actors who, as this show proved, aren’t always going to draw an audience. I doubt many viewers, at least the ones who didn’t tune out in the first hour, really know much about or care who McDormand is. Sure, they know Hopkins, but the attempt to put the glitzy, Chadwick Boseman tribute at the end of the night went off with a whimper.

Also, I know it’s tradition to bring back the winning actors to present the next year’s trophies, but can we get them to actually give a shit? Laura Dern sizzled in her presentation of Best Supporting Actor. She spoke directly to the nominees and felt like she was speaking from the heart. Brad Pitt was decent presenting Supporting Actress, but Renee Zellweger was lifeless in her reading of the prepared script while Joaquin Phoenix literally looked and spoke like he didn’t want to be there at all. More of Dern, less of Phoenix. Also, make Actor presenting Actress and Actress presenting Actor a thing again. Just because they aren’t nominated again doesn’t mean it feels right. One last thing to change. Put Directing back at the end of the night. Next to Picture, the director is the most important individual in terms of a film’s look and feel. Giving that prize out (and the writing awards for that matter) early in the night is a disservice to them and diminishes their importance, especially when it seems like you did it solely because you didn’t think she was going to be recognizable to audiences.

Fire them all and bring in some talented producers next year. We want the glitz and the glamor, which you could have done in a pandemic if you’d thought long and hard enough about it.

Peter J. Patrick

I found it a bit odd that the pre-show was more entertaining than the show itself, but I have no issue with any of the winners.

The two awards I cared most about this year were Sound for Sound of Metal and Supporting Actress for Yuh-jung Youn. Both won. Sound of Metal even won for Film Editing, which was not expected. My biggest disappointment was in seeing Pinocchio lose to Ma Rainey in both hair and makeup and costume design. Other than that, I thought all the winners were deserving even if they weren’t my picks.

The acceptance speeches rambled on a bit too long, but most were heartfelt. It was brave of all who showed up to even be there in the still raging pandemic. It would have been unkind to shut any of them off. Speaking of being unkind, however, the In Memoriam segment was not handled properly. A few of the big names like Sean Connery and Chadwick Boseman were given a proper pause, but many including Olivia de Havilland appeared and were gone in the blink of an eye before they had a chance to register. It would have been better if they had eliminated the silly song game that preceded it to provide proper time for the segment.

The way things are going, it may be another year before movie attendance returns to anything close to normal. Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long to return the Oscars to some sort of normalcy.

Tripp Burton

No commentary provided at this time.

Thomas La Tourrette

After an interesting, if not totally successful Oscar ceremony, I am still trying to put my feelings together on the show and the awards. I was not sure how they were going to stage the Oscars, though the intimacy of the railroad station proved spectacular. The tiered rows of tables with individual lamps on them proved to be intimate and decorous. Having some of the presenters walk through the crowd gave it more of a human scale, which was appreciated. Having some not able to be in Los Angeles be filmed in London, Paris, Sydney, and other parts of the world was a nice touch. Those parts worked well. Unfortunately, not all did. I missed having more of a splashy opening number, or something to get the crowd excited. Having the presenters not use clips of performances, but talking about personal details of the nominees at first felt refreshing. However, as the night wore on and the personal anecdotes were left out, it just felt rushed. I think they should go back to clips of the performances, costumes, visual effects and the like. And the In Memoriam segment was a disgrace. Hardly any time was given to anyone, and the photos were shown so briefly for most people that one could not even read what they had done. They had talked about all the nominated songs being performed for the show, but it turns out they were in the pre-show when not many people were paying attention. If they were going to do that, I wish they had made it clearer that they would not be sung live. The use of a DJ surprisingly worked most of the night, though sometimes I did miss having an orchestra to play off some of the speeches that went on too long. Though if that had been happening, we would have missed some of the best parts of Yuh-Jung Youn’s delightful acceptance speech for best supporting actress in which she was luckier than the others. Moving best actor and actress to after best picture was an odd choice, but more on that later.

At the start of the evening, when I only had missed adapted screenplay, I thought I was doing well for the night. Well that changed by the second half of the show. I really did not expect The Father to win for its screenplay, though I think it was probably the most deserving nominee. Crafting the different realities for the lead character (and the audience) would not have been easy, but it worked so well. Nomadland would not have been an easy adaptation either, and I absolutely thought it would win. With The Father winning for screenplay, it did start to make me wonder if Anthony Hopkins might win as best actor. I had read an article in Variety where they interviewed a number of Academy members who were voting for Hopkins. They all assumed the late Chadwick Boseman would win, so I think they were voting for the person they thought most deserved it. This probably is what happened when Juliette Binoche won over the expected Lauren Bacall back in 1997. I still did not expect it to happen, but it made me question how firm Boseman’s hold on the Oscar was.

I guessed incorrectly on cinematography and film editing, going with my gut on the first and the guild on the second. Turns out I should have predicted the other way round. I was also wrong on documentary short, with Colette surprising many with its win. One should never underestimate the power of a Holocaust-related film to win. I was correct on the other shorts, but those had films that I absolutely felt should win those awards. Song was anyone’s guess, though I imagine most of us guessed wrong. Most of the other tech awards went as expected. Sound of Metal so absolutely deserved its win for sound. And I was most pleased that Promising Young Woman took home original screenplay, a deserving win for a twisty thriller. Chloé Zhao won the expected directing prize, no surprise there. Daniel Kaluuya also was a deserving supporting actor winner. I may not have gotten everything correct, but was okay with how it was going.

Then suddenly they were announcing best picture, before lead actor and actress. It felt odd to do it that way, though maybe they thought that picture was wrapped up but actress was still up in the air and wanted some excitement at the end. But then wrapping the evening with best actor nullified that premise. Nomadland won for best picture, again not a surprise. Then Frances McDormand won her third acting Oscar in a bit of an upset. She had won the BAFTA, but I was so hoping that Carey Mulligan would win for Promising Young Woman. I really did not expect the Academy to give McDormand a third best actress trophy at age 63, and only three years after her last win. I know she is well respected, and she was good, but I still did not expect it. She has a perfect track record of winning when she is nominated for best actress and not winning when she has been up for supporting actress. Then Joaquin Phoenix was giving out best actor, and it did not go as expected. I think the producers thought they would end with a glowing tribute to Chadwick Boseman, a sweet way to end the evening. The award had seemed destined to go that way, but no award is guaranteed as we all found out. Anthony Hopkins won for his riveting performance as a dementia patient. It would have been interesting to hear the gasp of surprise from a larger audience. But we simply had Phoenix accept on Hopkins’ behalf. It was a very anticlimactic ending to the evening. With upsets in the last two awards, there should have been more a feeling of excitement, but it just was lacking. Hopefully, they will return to having best picture round up the evening. It just makes more sense.

It was not a perfect evening, but the look they chose for the pandemic worked. I really did like the intimate setting. It might not work for another time, but this year it made sense. Some of the other choices they made for the night not so much. So hopefully they will tweak some things again for next year. And so the longest Oscar season of my lifetime has drawn to a close. Now I suppose we have to get ready for the shortest season to happen.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.