My Response to the Winners & Telecast
Um... That was something?!
What started off as a lovely, intimate, special Oscars slowly morphed into a tedious, monotone train wreck.
I loved the more banquet style setup with really only the nominees & their plus-ones. Obviously that was a choice foisted upon them by COVID, but it worked beautifully, at least for this year. And at first I loved the personal touch brought to the award presentations - with Regina King regaling us viewers with details about each of the nominees, and what drew them to the industry.
Unfortunately, over time, that approach grew tired - there are only so many "fun facts" I can learn about the nominees before my brain starts to go into sensory overload. And when you combine that with the fact that they let each speech go as long as the speaker wanted, with no music to play them off... it was too much language and not enough VISUALS.
Right: can we talk for a second about the fact that they didn't play ANY clips at ALL until Best Picture?!?! They've done this before with the acting categories - the 2008 & 2009 Oscars I believe it was, when they banquet-styled it up and had past winners toast & roast each nominee. That was a) a nice change of pace, that I think we learned was less good than showing clips; and b) was tempered by the fact that at least we saw slices of those performances through clips for other categories.
But this year... I want to SEE the Best Costumes, I want to SEE the Best Production Design, I want to HEAR slices of the words from the screenplays. And I've SEEN all the movies, some of them twice - I can't imagine how much I'd crave that window into the work if I HADN'T seen them.
For many viewers, they tune into the Oscars in order to help them decide what recent movies are most worth checking out, which allows for the Oscars to serve as a big advertisement for many movies at once. Hollywood fumbled this prime opportunity.
Although, how prime was it? Last year's Oscars was an all-time low, and this year viewership was down by 56% below THAT!!! Zoinks. As a film-lover, that is sad to see. Part of me thinks that's understandable: theaters have been mostly closed for over a year, excitement & engagement over the movies is low, and the awards are later than ever before, so many have moved on from the 2020 (to early '21) slate of films and are onto enjoying warmer-weather spring. On the other hand, I'm surprised that there wasn't a greater engagement with this year's slate of movies given that everyone was home and they were all available via streaming at some point and in some format. You'd think that that, combined with people being quarantined this past Sunday, would have led to a groundswell around the show. I think it really all comes down to: there are a million options of what to watch at home, and these movies were overall not as exciting as the best TV around. Moving stories, but not easy viewing, and nothing too daring & new (except Promising Young Woman, which was an expensive rental until recently). Read this article about how the Oscars are becoming less relevant - I mostly agree with its analysis.
Aaaaanyway, back to the ceremony: I also thought the opening was strong, with the tracking shot following Regina King walking into Union Station (where it all took place this year) while movie-like credits pumped us up for it, Soderbergh style. I thought Regina gave a quality welcome, and I was ok without some big opening number. They just needed more spice as the night went on, and we didn't get ANY until Lil Rel Howery ran a little Oscar song trivia with the crowd, ending with Glenn Close doing a bit pretending to know everything about the song "Da Butt" from Spike Lee's School Days, and shaking her booty on camera. That was the too-little-too-late (but still great) spice that almost saved the show right before it crashed and burned.
Mr. Soderbergh and his team decided to present Best Picture THIRD TO LAST instead of last. Why? I'd wager two reasons: 1) to be edgy & interesting, and 2) so that they could end the night with the beautiful and moving moment that Chadwick Boseman's widow would have been. Now, sure the odds were very much in his favor, but that is NOT a risk worth taking, AS THEY LEARNED THE HARD WAY. So instead, after a predictable but lovely Best Picture Nomadland win, they then went on to two unexpected wins by white actors who have already won rather than the black front-runners (which, if both had won, would have meant that all four acting categories went to actors of color for the first time). Either surprise would have felt ok, but in the context of each other, and placed as the last two of the night, it was a rather loud and uncomfortable botch.
First was an unexpected and very unnecessary third win for Frances McDormand (whose speech was short and awkward, and also been-there-done-that after her weird moment during the Best Picture acceptance), who was ranked 4th in the Gold Derby odds, after Viola Davis & Andra Day (either of whom would have been only the 2nd woman of color to win Best Actress, and who were both INCREDIBLE), and Carey Mulligan (who's never won, and whose watershed performance was the flagship for female empowerment in that stunning Best Picture contender). Why did we give it to Frances just three years after her Three Billboards win, for a very similar performance, in a movie she's already due to win a producing Oscar for, just a year before she plays Lady Macbeth? This is insane to me.
Then came Joaquin Phoenix presenting Best Actor to... Anthony Hopkins, who's 83 and asleep in Wales. #Awkward. Now look: Sir Anthony was terrific in that movie, and while he's won before, it was for a cannibal 28 years ago, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to reward this swan song work of his. But when the odds are saying Chadwick, who gave his all to this performance while secretly fighting through cancer, and loads of viewers are banking on that cathartic opportunity to watch his legacy recognized and cemented in Hollywood history through this award, especially after the year of George Floyd... to watch Anthony win doesn't sit easy. The producers should have known that this was certainly a reasonable possibility, and that to risk it coming last was NOT worth it. Without another award to move on to, we're left with Joaquin accepting Hopkins' Oscar "on behalf of the Academy", and Questlove saying goodnight. Nothing to cleanse the palate, and not even a speech!! Why not plan to end with Best Picture, so at least we can end with a CROWD of people who are certainly THERE!?
(By the way, in case you missed it, Hopkins posted a nice speech on his Instagram page the next day.)
HIGHLIGHT SPEECHES OF THE NIGHT: Yuh-jung Youn (sooo adorable and charming!), Chloe Zhao (just lovely), Thomas Vinterberg (who talked for TOO LONG after winning Best International Film, but then spoke about his daughter who died 4 days into the shoot, and wow was it moving), and Daniel Kaluuya (what a character).
So yeah anyway, strange Oscars. I look forward to next year's being... better? But also am curious to see if they hold on to some of the nice new elements they explored! We shall see...
Buuuuut despite any rollercoaster of the telecast itself, I did sure have a blast watching it with a fun lil gaggle of vaccinated friends in Oakland! (I'm up in SF for 2 months, to help my solo-mom sister get ready for her second kid, coming next week :o) It was my first indoor maskless hangout with this many friends in over a year! Gotta love spreading my Oscardiction to new places :)
(Edited in my friend Liz Allen there, cuz she took the picture and I didn't want to leave her out! Haha.)
Well, Happy Oscars to all, and to all a good... rest of your year until next Oscar season ;)