93rd Academy Awards: The Telecast

If the past few years are anything to go by, the adage “Consistency is Key” appears to have been lost on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, with the organisation either providing just recognition to artists who most deserve it, or missing the mark completely. In 2021 though, the Oscars did the unprecedented: it managed to do both simultaneously.

An example of a change that’s proven beneficial is the switch in venue, with the Union Station in downtown Los Angeles substituting for the Oscars’ traditional home of the Dolby Theatre. Lacking in size but oozing with charm, the Union Station proved the ideal location for the low-key ceremony, with presenters and winners able to briskly make their way toward a makeshift stage that was simple yet tasteful – a far cry from the Dolby Theatre’s enormous stage and gaudy backdrops.

A lack of space in Union Station meant there was no room for a live orchestra, nor the expertly-choreographed musical sequences that past ceremonies have utilised; but their absence was no issue thanks to the contributions of actor and musician Questlove, who undertook the role of Disc Jockey for the evening. Questlove’s mixing of compositions, choice of songs and frequent record scratches proved a delightful accompaniment to the telecast, as did his collaboration with Lil Rel Howley, who engaged the attendees in a game of musical trivia – and elicited some twerking from Glenn Close in the process!

On the subject of attendees, it was pleasing to see a small, live audience of nominees (Close among them) seated at Union Station, though whether it was necessary to have them all convened in a single place remains debatable – with the pandemic still affecting parts of the world, asking a group of people from various countries to fly to Los Angeles seems like a counterintuitive move. Thankfully, concessions were made for some nominees, who were allowed to attend via a satellite link placed in a hub city like Paris, Rome or Sydney, something which the Academy should consider doing for all future ceremonies.

Regina King heralds the beginning of the 93rd Academy Awards telecast.

Prior to the 93rd Oscars, a suggestion was made by the producers – a group which included acclaimed film-maker Steven Soderbergh, himself an Oscar winner – that the telecast would be structured and presented much like a movie, and in many ways it was. Proceedings were captured with an anamorphic lens not unlike that used in a blockbuster, resulting in a wider frame; and the images shot by those same cameras were beamed to the world at 24 frames-per-second, rather than the usual 60 that is standard for live events. These touches may only be small, but they’re appreciated nonetheless.

Although the quality of production was higher than in other years, the change in venue and peculiar structure of the telecast meant that the significance of some moments was lost. Best Director, a category that is generally saved until the final hour of the telecast, was instead presented in the first hour, and very little acknowledgement was made of Chloe Zhao’s win despite her making history – she’s just the second female director, and the first woman of colour to be recognised in this field.

The category of Best Picture didn’t fare much better – what is usually the last prize to be awarded at the ceremony was brought forward to be presented before the Lead Actor and Actress categories. Again it was Zhao who got the short shrift, with her film Nomadland receiving the industry’s highest honour yet not being given the opportunity to properly acknowledge nor celebrate her win. What should have been a momentous occasion instead felt rather muted and underwhelming.

Frances McDormand (front) and Chloe Zhao accept Nomadland‘s Oscar for Best Picture

Yet by far the biggest downer of the night was the bestowing of Best Actor, which was the final Oscar to be recognised. What was primed to be a touching tribute to the late, great Chadwick Boseman – widely considered the favourite to win this category – was instead an uneventful recognition for Sir Anthony Hopkins’ efforts in The Father, a man who was not only absent from proceedings, but also not offered the opportunity to accept the award via a pre-recorded message, as is customary for other awards shows.

None of this is the fault of Hopkins, who in a social media post overnight said that he was as surprised as anybody to receive the accolade, and even paid tribute to Boseman. No, the fault lies squarely with the producers, who hedged their bets on an outcome that never eventuated and failed to account for an alternative scenario. It’s through their actions that everybody feels cheated, and as a result, neither Boseman nor Hopkins will get the celebration worthy of their achievements.

Thankfully, there were some awardees whose honours felt earned and properly recognised. Such examples include Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who dedicated his win in the Best International Feature Film category to his daughter in a heartfelt speech; the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Tyler Perry, who used his platform to eloquently advocate for a more compassionate worldview; and Korean thespian Youn Yuh-jung, whose earnest, witty acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress felt very much like an extension of her character in Minari.

Overall, the telecast of the 93rd Academy Awards proved to be an uneven affair, yet not an unforgettable one. The emotions elicited by this ceremony fall somewhere between the euphoric highs of Parasite’s triumph offered last year, and the bewilderment provided by Green Book’s victory the year before that, ensuring this will be another night that will be talked about for generations to come. Or at least, until we debate the merits of next year’s telecast.

Finally, here’s how yours truly fared in his Oscar predictions:

Best Picture: Nomadland

Best Director: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)

Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman (Anthony Hopkins, The Father)

Best Actress: Viola Davis (Frances McDormand, Nomadland)

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

Best Original Screenplay: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Promising Young Woman)

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Father

Best Animated Feature: Soul

Best International Feature: Another Round

Best Documentary Feature: Time (My Octopus Teacher)

Best Documentary Short Subject: A Love Song for Latasha (Colette)

Best Live Action Short Film: Feeling Through (Two Distant Strangers)

Best Animated Short: If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Original Score: Soul

Best Original Song: “Fight for You” (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Sound: Sound of Metal

Best Production Design: Mank

Best Cinematography: Nomadland (Mank)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Costume Design: Emma (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Best Film Editing: Nomadland (Sound of Metal)

Best Visual Effects: Tenet

Colman Domingo, the best-dressed man at the 93rd Academy Awards

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