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  • James Kunovski

2021 Oscars Ceremony: The Good & The Bad

Producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh touted the 93rd Academy Awards as a movie. If that was the case, this production fell off the rails in the third act. The ceremony, which started promisingly, has divided itself — the winners were good; the format was questionable. Grateful to be able to watch the Oscars given the global disruption to the industry but the result leaves plenty to unpack.

The Bad.

The Oscars have a tried and tested, albeit sometimes stale, format. The producers made it clear that they wanted to tear it all apart in the name of reinvention. The lacklustre event was not helped by overhyped marketing.

In 2009 reverting to “and the winner is…” was considered a bold move, but just like that presentation, the littlest amount of clips from nominated works were shown. They were replaced by trivia dedicated to the nominees — great for industry personnel, not so much for the average Joe at home. Variety reported that audience awareness for this year’s Best Picture nominees was at an all-time low (Mank scored 18%), so why not give consumers an incentive to watch them? Of course, they saved the actual montages for the Best Picture announcement but the choices were *interesting*. Your best indicator of “Promising Young Woman’s” plot? Bo Burnham drinks a spat-in coffee. Missed were chances to show lead Carey Mulligan’s duality or a standout scene from Emerald Fennell’s script.

The third act, where things lost the plot, was shaken by a sudden tonal shift from the ceremony’s only comedy skit to the In Memoriam. The latter sequence felt rushed and disrespectful. The iconic late Olivia de Havilland, a two time Oscar winner and Hollywood game-changer who fundamentally crippled the studio system was given a microsecond in her honour.

Re-arranging Best Picture, having Best Director so early and Best Actor last didn’t seem right. Everyone assumes they were going to segue into a tribute to Boseman but because the Academy instead decided to honour Anthony Hopkin’s transcendent performance in “The Father,” a deserving win became a Twitter battleground for bad Oscar planning and an awkward fade out.

Does anyone know what was implied by the ‘movie’ comparison? Did they slap on that aspect ratio and call it a day? I assumed that the production, even if it would be a logistical nightmare, would feel more like a moving set that utilised different spaces (akin to the Grammys) but it ended up feeling claustrophobic, with stars planted on top of each other. Having the nominated original songs performed intermittently would have helped. The lack of energy was so apparent, even when charismatic talent took to the stage like Best Supporting Actress Youn Yuh-Jung. Dare I say the ceremony could have benefited from a host?

The Good.

When one thinks about the winners, the strongest in recent years, there is a sigh of relief. It’s a good time for Oscar history — Kathryn Bigelow has company in the way of Chloe Zhao’s directing win and Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win in the makeup and hairstyling category.

What’s another refreshing voter angle? Spreading the wealth. Every Best Picture nominee (except poor “Trial of the Chicago 7”) was awarded at least one Oscar. The days of sweepers are out of the picture. The Academy has recently focused on diversifying its members. Are we now seeing their shifting tastes? Nomadland’s Best Picture win could signal changing attitudes. A decade ago, it seemed implausible that a restrained indie, led by a woman, directed by a woman, would even come near the top prize.

Joining “Nomadland” in the night’s most anticipated awards were the brilliant quartet of winning actors. Shame we won’t have a photo of them together. Frances McDormand won her third leading actress Oscar, cementing her worthy place in the season’s most unpredictable category.

Proceedings were kept fresh and entertaining because voters made room for upsets — “Colette” over “A Love Song for Latasha” in Documentary Short, “Fight for You” passes “Speak Now” in Original Song and “Mank’s” cinematography impresses viewers more than “Nomadland.” They can’t resist black-and-white.

The ever-changing game performs wonders for predicting, which (I find) becomes more exciting when tables flip. Along those lines, the BAFTAs curse is broken and as new company joins the ship, award season statistics write themselves anew.


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