Hollywood's biggest night finally made it to the stage on Sunday night, with "Nomadland" winning the industry's biggest prize along with two other little gold men along the way for Best Director and Best Actress. With just about every major nominated movie taking home an award (sorry, "Trial of the Chicago 7"), it was a night for sharing the love ... except maybe for the show itself, especially its ending which made the final moments of "The Sopranos" seem cathartic and dragged out.
The statues have all been doled out – but let's talk about who really won on the night, who really lost and who really is still waiting for the actual ending of the show? (But really, THAT was IT?!)
Loser: The final 15 minutes
Let's just jump right to it: The final 15 minutes of last night's Oscars were the greatest miscalculation in the show's history, on par with the infamous wrong Best Picture announcement at the 2017 awards show. But at least the "Moonlight"/"La La Land" snafu was a simply silly accident. The Oscars chose this debacle and went out of their way to create it. They assembled the ingredients for a pie, baked the pie, let the pie cool off and then slowly but surely proceeded to slam their face into the pie.
Let's hop metaphors and break down this incredible cake of bad decisions layer by layer, starting with moving Best Picture out of its usual spot at the end of the night's show, the evening's ultimate award. I understand the idea of ending the night on the more personal, star-studded and – in this year's case – hotly contested categories. But instead of highlighting those categories, the swap ended up just downgrading the night's ultimate prize of Best Picture, the apex of honoring the collective work that goes into making a movie. The win for "Nomadland" felt like a strangely ambivalent sidenote – and if I was "Nomadland," I'd be upset that our crowning achievement felt tossed aside. Plus, somebody's guaranteed to be there to gather Best Picture on stage – a producer, a performer, a key grip, somebody – whereas sometimes actors can't make it to an awards show. Sure hope that doesn't come into play later!
Worst of all, many viewers didn't know the order was mixed up, so when Best Picture was announced, they turned off the show assuming they must've just missed the lead performance awards amongst the chatty hubbub of the night.
For those who did stick around, they saw Frances McDormand nonchalantly pick up her third Best Actress Oscar with all the thrill and enthuasism of a trip through the drive-thru. But can you blame her? Her movie already won the major award of the night, the dream aspiration of so many productions. Nobody remembers or stays tuned for the Super Bowl MVP because the main trophy, the whole reason why we're here, has already been handed out. So that's one post-Best Picture dud of a moment.
But that's not why the show rearranged the nominees. The reason for the change was clearly to put Best Actor – and the assumed win for the late great Chadwick Boseman in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" – as the climactic finale. With his widow Taylor Simone Ledward likely giving a speech, it was going to be emotional. It was going to be stirring. It was going to be a fitting tribute to one of the few true movie stars of this era. It was going to be the kind of Kleenex-filled moment that people talk about the next day and remember forever.
Just one problem: It didn't happen. But hey, people are DEFINITELY talking about it the next day and going to remember it forever! For the wrong reasons, but still!
Indeed, the Oscars set the table for this big moment ... and the Academy flipped the table over, instead giving Best Actor to Anthony Hopkins. Who wasn't there. So rather than a big emotional climax, you got ... nothing. Worse than nothing, actually, because it was a nothing hosted by Captain Charisma Joaquin Phoenix, who couldn't even muster words to congratulate and applaud the five nominees beforehand like every other presenter on the night. Instead, he sleepily mumbled some rationale about not knowing how to describe the actors, then read the final name and literally called it a night for the Oscars.
So, in the end, we waited through the longest, most drawn-out Oscar season in history for the show to undercut the night's most prestigious award in the name of a moment that didn't arrive and a slap in the face of an empty ending, regardless of your feelings on who won. Sounds like exactly the Academy Awards 2020 deserves.
Winner: Glenn Close
The "Hillbilly Elegy" actress may have lost for the eighth time on Sunday, but while she lost the trophy, she won the night with ... well, let's get out of the way and let her do her magic:
Sure, it may have been a work, but it was a great work – and a much better Glenn Close performance than anything she did in "Hillbilly Elegy." She sounded far more natural perking up at knowing Da Butt than talking about good, bad and neutral terminators. (For the last time: What the heck is a neutral terminator? Are there terminators in that universe that don't kill or protect but instead just make toast or something?)
Also: Maybe it's an unpopular opinion, but I liked this whole bit with Lil Rel Howery quizzing random celebs in the crowd about whether or not a popular song was nominated for an Oscar. Sure, it could've used some tightening, and it came at a terrible time, late in the night when audiences were gearing up for the final major awards and in no mood for filler. But Howery had funny banter with the stars, making fun the awards themselves is always amusing and it brought some unpredictability to an otherwise drably on-the-rails show. We want moments of celebs being real and shooting the ish on Oscar night. And getting around to doing Da Butt, if at all possible.
Loser: The whole dang show
Considering this year's Oscars will be a ratings disaster – and while they're not out yet as of writing, I assure you they will be a disaster, for a multitude of reasons – it makes sense that producer Steven Soderbergh would take this down year as a chance to experiment with the show and even mold it to his particular whims and desires. (Literally.) Unfortunately, all of the experiments were failures.
Obviously the rearranging of the final categories is taking the most brutal beating on Monday morning – and deservedly so – but the rest of the choices made throughout the night were mostly miscalculations as well. The decision to film the show in widescreen and 24 frames per second made the Oscars look more cinematic as Soderbergh hoped, but also sucked the night of its live electricity and "this is now" unpredictability. When the night's first host Regina King tripped up the stage and joked, "Live TV!" the quip didn't track at home because it didn't look live. The rest of the night played the same, a layer of artifice and distance over a night meant to bring us closer to the stars.
The most egregious misstep, though, was one that keeps breaking my heart awards show after awards show: no clips. Why, in the name of "Mank," do these awards shows hate showing us the very movies they're trying to honor? You can't bring performers on stage like the Grammys or Tonys to recreate the work, so do the next best thing: show the product. Show what makes these films and this productions special – especially this year, one that's been dogged for months about a lack of awareness around the nominated titles even from voters themselves. A lot of people missed these movies; give them a taste of what they missed and a reason to be intrigued by these films and these performances. The Oscars are, if nothing else, a three-hour advertisement for what the industry thinks are its best work of the year, the stuff it's most proud of. Why not sell the movies?
Instead, the Oscars seemed embarrassed to show clips and showcase the work, resulting in moments like presenting Best Score in utter silence and having a presenter describe what the cinematography nominees were trying to capture on screen. You know what'd be an even better way to show what these cinematographers were trying to capture on screen? SHOWING WHAT THEY CAPTURED ON SCREEN! I appreciate the idea of presenters humanizing the workers in Hollywood by talking about when they found their love of cinema. But you know what's a great argument for the love of movies? THE ACTUAL MOVIES!
Not only did the approach fail to represent the nominated films, but it made the awards themselves fade into a wall of blabbing. I almost completely missed the first trophy of the night because I didn't realize we were giving away the award, casually introducing the nominees blended within a monologue of not-so-fun facts. Clips don't just help engage the audience with the nominees; they provide much-needed punctuation that Sunday night needed.
In the end, I'm stuck here explaining one of the basic tenets of visual storytelling to the night dedicated to visual storytelling: show, don't tell.
Winner: Worthy winners
The saddest part of Sunday night's miserable execution and misguided experimentation was that it distracted everyone from the fact that – can you believe it? – the Oscars mostly gave away totally deserving awards.
Normally Monday would be for grumbling about how the Oscars totally got it wrong, but save for Best Documentary (it's a nice film, but we can do better than the ock doc), the night's winners were totally worthy. While the movie is flawed, Kaluuya is great in "Judas and the Black Messiah"; McDormand's putting in quietly next-level work in "Nomadland"; Yuh-jung Youn is lovely and charming in "Minari"; and even with all the controversy, Hopkins' shocking win isn't at all undeserved. Even the below-the-line categories all chose wisely, with "Sound of Metal," "Promising Young Woman," "Soul" and more winning worthy trophies. I can't even be that mad about the two wins for "Mank!" If you have to give that movie flowers anywhere, production design and cinematography are as good as any.
Leave it to the Academy to finally do right with its lineup of winners during a show that went all wrong. I appreciate them knowing that we've got to complain about SOMETHING the next day.
Loser: Anthony Hopkins and "The Father"
Who could've expected Anthony Hopkins would end up in a more iconic villain role than Hannibal Lector?
But seriously, poor Hopkins – whose only sin was being really terrific in "The Father" and keeping his 83-year-old self at home instead of traveling during a deadly global pandemic. It's not his fault the show decided to break with decades of history in order to orchestrate a climactic moment that didn't happen – and that somebody decided Joaquin Phoenix should be in charge of it all.
People will say it's a classic bad Oscars pick, choosing a stodgy old performance in some middlebrow awards bait over a more livewire turn. Those people haven't seen "The Father," a movie that's far more inventive, engaging and cinematic than it looks on paper and in clips. And Hopkins is great in the film, playing a pensioner battling confusion and memory loss in a way that brilliantly and unnervingly subverts our popular image of the actor, a man usually several steps ahead of his fellow characters and audience suddenly multiple steps behind. This isn't a case of a safe pick beating out a better choice; it's a case of one strong performance just edging out an equally strong performance – and in any other normal situation, it'd hopefully be seen as such.
But this wasn't a normal situation – and the Oscars knew it. They knew a Boseman win would be a megawatt emotional moment. But they didn't know Boseman would ACTUALLY win; they assumed, and you know what they say about making assumptions. And now Hopkins and his performance are seen as stealing a late great star's final tribute out from under him – to the degree that Hopkins' thank-you video posted the next morning looks less celebratory and more nervously apologetic.
Anthony Hopkins' #Oscars acceptance speech from Wales: "I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was taken from us far too early..." pic.twitter.com/XTakrEAq2w — Marlow Stern (@MarlowNYC) April 26, 2021
It's not Hopkins' fault the Oscars rearranged themselves to contrive a climactic moment that didn't end up happening. And it's not Hopkins' fault the Academy has an all-too-long history of ignoring and underappreciating Black performers and films – especially in lead categories and Best Picture. But it sure feels like Hopkins and "The Father" are now wrongly paying the price, with the performance and move now forever having to live in the shadow of the star the Academy scorned.
Winner: Daniel Kaluuya's victory speech
Imagine that you have a child. You raise that child. You nurture that child. The two of you watch that child grow and grow – and eventually that child grows up to become an accomplished and incredible actor, so excellent and so respected that he gets to the Oscars stage, winning an award for his impressive work. He thanks everyone, giving a speech both thoughtful and charmingly gobsmacked, talking with joyful amazement about being alive. What a moment for you parents.
And then, on the world's stage, he shouts out you parents for doing the nasty.
They spent all that time Sunday night trying to humanize nominees with dull scripted talk about where they saw their first movie and where they found their love of film, yet no moment was truly more human and charming than Daniel Kaluuya loving life so much that he spontaneously thanked his parents for being horny.
Loser: Movie theaters
Remember how the Grammys took time during its broadcast to recognize and shine a light on the stages and venues across the country that were battered financially by the COVID-19 pandemic? How it addressed the lifeblood of their industry, showing how they've struggled but also why they're important and beloved to music and to communities? Yeah ... the Oscars didn't do that.
In addition to failing to capture the magic of the movies, Sunday's show also completely ignored the magic of GOING to the movies. Save for a late, post-Best Picture shoutout from Frances McDormand during her acceptance speech, the existence of movie theaters was not invited to the Oscars in the main show. There was no tribute to theaters or going to the movies. There was no plea or fundraising nod to help save movie-going. There was no acknowledgement that they're clinging to life – or dying off, as you'd think an Los Angeles event would know all too well considering several theaters in the area, including the beloved Cinerama dome, just closed for good.
If there's one thing I learned during the pandemic, it's how to make sourdough – but if I learned TWO things, it's how to bake sourdough and that streaming fully sucks compared to allowing yourself to immerse into the big screen and fall into a movie. You just care more and watch things more engaged at a theater. But the sad reality is that – between streaming, shortening theatrical windows, people's behavior at the cinema, the financial blow of the pandemic and more – the big screen is closer to dying off than ever. And judging by the Oscars on Sunday, Hollywood doesn't seem to care all that much.
Winner: "Ma Rainey" making history
The Academy denied "Ma Rainey" history at the end of the night – Viola Davis would've been only the second Black Best Actress winner, Chadwick Boseman would've been only the fifth Black Best Actor winner, and with Daniel Kaluuya and Yuh-jung Youn, it would've been the Oscars first entirely non-white group of acting winners – but the stage-to-screen adaptation still made its mark on the books Sunday night. When the Netflix film won Best Makeup/Hair, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to ever win the award – an achievement all too long in the making.
"But wait," I can hear you say to your computer, "I thought Netflix won the most Oscars of any studio on the night?" Sure, seven Oscars is an impressive haul – but the Big Red Streaming Monolith isn't spending billions of dollars on A-list talent like Aaron Sorkin, George Clooney, Amy Adams, Glenn Close, David Fincher and Viola Davis to win Best Production Design. You don't overthrow the Hollywood status quo by winning Best Live Action Short Film.
Netflix desperately wants to win Best Picture and cement its place as the new king of the industry – and with every other studio crippled by the pandemic and nudging most of their significant releases to a later date, the streaming service seemingly had its breakthrough in the bag. There was just one problem: Most of their movies weren't good. "Hillbilly Elegy" was worse than feared, people thought "Mank" was a joke and "Trial of the Chicago 7" was flagrantly unhip. And while Netflix's "screw it; all irons in the fire" approach to Oscar campaigning may score them a lot of nominations, the scattered approach has yet to win them a top prize – even this year with every other studio in a freeze.
Well, don't worry, Big Red Streaming Monolith; at least your subscriber numbers are probably still good OOOH NOOO!
Winner: The "Minari" cast
"Minari" may not have won Best Picture, but they certainly won Most Charming Picture by the end of the night. First, we have precious co-star and awards season delight Alan Kim arriving at the Oscars with the exact correct distracted enthusiasm a nine-year-old should.
Then there was Yuh-jung Youn, the movie's lone trophy success Sunday night, winning Best Supporting Actress and winning the night with her amusingly aloof speech and adorable answer to the world's worst post-Oscar media question.
Best Supporting Actress Winner Yuh-Jung Youn's acceptance speech was hysterical. Watch the full thing: https://t.co/LsffGKAhao #Oscars pic.twitter.com/a23mys9amE — Good Morning America (@GMA) April 26, 2021
#Minari star and Academy Award winner Yuh-Jung Youn responds to a question backstage at the #Oscars about what Brad Pitt smells like: "I didn't smell him, I'm not dog." pic.twitter.com/eZs6YGq60V — Film Updates (@TheFilmUpdates) April 26, 2021
And here's star and Best Actor nominee Steven Yeun, because he's tremendous in "Minari" – and also because it's Monday, and you deserve it.
Again, the Oscars are – first and foremost – an opportunity for the movie industry to point people in the direction of their favorite works of the past year. Hopefully, Kim and Yeun's red carpet presence and Youn's delightful banter on stage and off convinced some viewers the small indie "Minari" is worth checking out. It's not like the show itself tried.
Loser: The In Memoriam segment
The In Memoriam segment is typically an automatic win for any awards show, giving the audience an emotional moment to reflect on the those we've lost (and those we've forgotten we lost) and paying tribute to their incredible lives and work. No matter how engaged you are in the show or how upset you are about winners and losers, you stop, think and cry a bit during the In Memoriam.
But somehow, the Oscars botched it.
Seemingly inspired by the song "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies, the Oscars' In Memoriam ridiculously steamrolled through its list of names instead bogging itself down with all that pesky thoughtfulness and respect. Even the most TikTok-addled Gen-Xer couldn't keep up with the hurried barrage of names, seemingly played on double speed, and when I'm comparing the editing of your tribute to the dead to the pace of "Mad Max: Fury Road," you've made a grave and disrespectful error.
But at least, by going fast through the names of those we've lost, the Oscars were able to give everyone their recognition – no matter how briefly – instead of having to leave anyone off, right?
Adam Schlesinger was nominated for an Oscar for writing "That Thing You Do!" in 1997. I don't know why he wasn't in the official In Memoriam segment tonight (especially because he wrote one of the greatest film songs of all time) so I'm honoring him here. #AdamSchlesinger — Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) April 26, 2021
Winner: Best Original Song
The Best Original Song category was seemingly doomed to be a loser Sunday night. The category is always a thorn in film fans' side, regularly ignoring great, meaningful and just plain fun songs while nominating bland tunes that have no real role in their movies besides background noise while exiting the theater. And, lest we forget, they gave "The Writing's On the Wall" from "Spectre" an Oscar, which should've resulted in the entire show getting abolished altogether. But Sunday night was poised to be the nadir of the category, with the live performances of the songs relegated to the night's preshow rather than the show proper – a sign that maybe even the Oscars themselves weren't too impressed with their choices.
As it turned out, though, their demotion out of the main show was a promotion as instead of having to blaze through shortened versions, the five nominees got to luxuriate and perform their entire songs without getting the stink eye from time-conscious producers. It also resulted in this outstandingly bombastic version of "Husavik," complete with a children's choir in comfy sweaters, lovely Icelandic scenery and fireworks.
Now THAT'S how you sell an Oscar song! Sure, the category couldn't stick the landing as the Academy still gave their award to "Fight for You" from "Judas and the Black Messiah" – aka exactly the forgettably inspirational end-credits filler we just ragged on before. But at least "Husavik" had its moment – plus everyone knows the true winner was "Ja Ja Ding Dong" anyways.
Loser: Awards shows
After the Oscars wrapped up Sunday night, I was angry. Now, for any film snob, this isn't that unusual after the Academy Awards – but this wasn't the usual subjective grumpiness about what won and what lost. (Again, the winners were pretty deserving down the whole ballot.) No, I was angry at the concept of the Oscars – and how brutally they'd failed their movies, their industry and their existence.
After the year we've had, many people are reexamining what they need in their lives – and even for fans, awards shows are far down at the bottom of the list. So these awards this year weren't just about escapism and distraction; on some level, they were about proving why they have worth and showing why they exist. While the Grammys passed that test, throwing a great celebration of music across the board, the Oscars and Golden Globes (the latter which may not even exist next year at this point) failed. Instead of paying tribute to the best movies and performances of the year, the show hid them away, refusing to show clips. Instead of showing the power and history of film, they gabbed about random resume factoids. Instead of throwing a glamorous party, the Oscars felt more like a nice casual brunch. The concept of the Oscars as a Soderbergh-esque relaxed hangout movie could be really enjoyable – and I get the idea of not wanting an ostentatious extravaganza after so many have lost so much – but is now really the time to make the Oscars feel less special and less important?
I like the Academy Awards. I like the pomp, prestige and history. I like that it's a silly conversation starter. I like that it gives studios an excuse to buy, produce and promote movies that they otherwise wouldn't even blink at in this now billions-or-bust industry. The movies are more fun with the Oscars around – and unlike the Golden Globes, I don't think they're truly at risk of going away. (Bad ratings for the Oscars would be good ratings for just about any other show or event.) But for all the good this year's edition could've done – reinvigorated theater-going, renkindled movie love, promoted its small but excellent nominees, brought light to dark times – the Oscars didn't really do much good at all. Like the end of the show, it promised a lot, only to build up to nothing.
Tasked with reminding us why we love movies and the Oscars, Sunday night instead gave me one more thing from 2020 I can't wait to forget.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.