At a cozy and snappy 217 minutes (two minutes longer than last year’s), the 93rd Academy Awards went hostless for its third straight year in its very special pandemic edition co-produced by director Steven Soderbergh. A maximum of 170 guests were allowed into an auditorium furnished like a company Christmas party inside L.A.’s Union Station, while all the European nominees who cared to participate holed up in a rented UK theater, and someone let Bryan Cranston have the Kodak Theater all to himself. In pre-show interviews Soderbergh insisted strict COVID-19 protocols were in place, same as they’re using for current Hollywood productions, and AMPAS president David Rubin swore from the red carpet that everyone was “100% safe”. Here’s hoping all the scaled-down glitz and glamour wasn’t for the sake of an awkward super-spreader event.
(Occasionally a mask could be seen in the crowd. At one point the camera lingered on a seated, masked Frances McDormand glowering in repose. She was among the few celebs I spotted taking measures for the public to see. In that one moment, at least.)
I’d seen 44 of the 51 nominated features and short films going into the ceremony, refused to write down any predictions, refused to believe anyone could possibly predict more than one-fourth of this year’s honorees in advance because 2020 was the weirdest cinematic hodgepodge ever, and was therefore surprised dozens of times throughout the night. And not just by the winners — we were also treated to the sights of Daniel Kaluuya embarrassing his mom, Glenn Close embarrassing Daniel Kaluuya, the grandma from Minari winning America’s hearts, a stranger walking the streets of France being handed an award in the middle of the night, and Harrison Ford wishing he were dead in front of an audience, which would not be a first for him. Also, with few exceptions there were almost no actual movie clips shown. During a show about movies.
There was also the unpleasant surprise of learning all five Best Original Song performances would be pre-taped and aired during the red carpet pre-show, which I never watch, rather than during the ceremony itself. I learned this around 7:25 Eastern and tuned in just in time to catch 2½ of of the five numbers. That’s still better treatment than some folks received – if there were any Sci/Tech awards handed out weeks ago at some conciliatory dinner per annual tradition, this time they didn’t even rate a brief mention.
Worst surprise of all: in a break from both tradition and basic principles of awards-show escalation, Best Picture was handed out before Best Actress and Best Actor. The best guess I’ve seen regarding this head-scratching choice was perhaps the producers assumed the late Chadwick Boseman (R.I.P.) was a shoo-in for Best Actor and someone thought it would be an unforgettable television milestone if they ended the proceedings with a tear-jerking posthumous acceptance speech from his widow. Leave it to Oscar voters to screw up that plan, as they instead used the power of democracy to re-anoint previous Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins…who was Sir Not Appearing In This Awards Show. Thus the evening ended with an in absentia still photo of the wizened star of Transformers: The Last Knight, a quick confirmation that he wasn’t there, and then we, The Viewers At Home, were shown to the nearest exits. Whether or not this is as poor an ending to an Oscar night as the La La Land/Moonlight debacle is still up for debate.
Before that anticlimax, the following works won all the awards, from most to any-at-all:
- Nomadland: 3 – Picture, Director, Actress (Frances McDormand)
- The Father: 2 – Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Adapted Screenplay
- Judas and the Black Messiah: 2 – Supporting Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Original Song (H.E.R.’S “Fight for You”)
- Mank: 2 – Cinematography, Production Design
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: 2 – Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling
- Soul: 2 – Animated Feature, Original Score
- Sound of Metal: 2 – Editing, Sound
- Another Round: International Feature
- Colette: Documentary Short Subject
- If Anything Happens I Love You: Animated Short Film
- Minari: Supporting Actress (Youn Yuh-jung)
- My Octopus Teacher: Documentary Feature
- Promising Young Woman: Original Screenplay
- Tenet: Visual Effects
- Two Distant Strangers: Live-Action Short Film
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards were also presented to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and to Tyler Perry, each for their significant charitable works throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Shutouts in the major categories: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Hillbilly Elegy; One Night in Miami…; Pieces of a Woman; The Trial of the Chicago 7; The United States vs. Billie Holliday; The White Tiger.
We pause here to present the only part my wife Anne ever cares to watch, the annual In Memoriam segment, edited into microsecond blips that barely give you the time to remember who each decedent is before the next one pops up. Count ten or more offensive omissions and win fabulous prizes!
For your entertainment and time code follow-along, rather than indulge in the 3000-word simulated live-blog summaries I used to compile for friends, enclosed instead are the results of my live-tweeting the entire ceremony for fun and future reminders to myself. I could explain some of the jokes that were spurred by very specific moment, but if you cared enough to visit this tiny hole-in-the-wall site for Oscars-adjacent entertainment, chances are you’ve already read five other professional recaps before coming here and know what I’m referring to anyway. If you don’t, feel free to ask! I’m always willing to explain myself, but no one ever asks. Enjoy!