An unusual year in film culminated in an inevitably unusual Oscar ceremony. There were surprise wins and hilarious speeches, but primarily this was a joyless slog. Recent years have proven that the Academy Awards can be speedy and efficient when it comes to pacing, so it was confusing that this was so dull.
Daniel Kaluuya, beacon of unstoppable charisma, provided much of the night’s laughter, along with a seemingly game-for-anything Glenn Close. It was also difficult to take issue with many of the wins – every major film seemed to get something or other, and Minari’s Yuh-Jung Youn got to deliver another salty acceptance speech after her show-stealing performance at the Baftas earlier this month.
Despite all of that, though, the show was generally interminable. Here are the six major talking points from tonight’s ceremony, and you can see the winners in full here.
Where were the jokes?
This was a curiously drab three and a bit hours, with few moments of levity. As much as we like to rib Oscar hosts like Ellen Degeneres and Jimmy Kimmel (or even the traumatic pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway), the Academy Awards need a bit of self-mockery to break up the stuffiness. Parading mostly humourless movie stars on stage to do all of the talking was a mistake.
Thank you, then, to Lil Rel Howery, Daniel Kaluuya and Glenn Close’s glutes
Yes, Questlove’s incredibly late-in-the-show move to play a musical guessing game with members of the audience felt like a desperate bit of improv to brighten things up. But watching Howery and Kaluuya riff on Get Out, in which the pair starred, and Close twerking to a track from Spike Lee’s School Daze was at least *something* to giggle at.
Steven Soderbergh was a big win… until he wasn’t
Roping in the director of Ocean’s Eleven to produce this year’s ceremony seemed like a masterstroke at first. Everything else is different this year, why not make it a different kind of show, too? The night’s opening, with Regina King striding through Los Angeles’s Union Station and on-screen credits introducing all of the night’s presenters, played like a lost Ocean’s movie. It was high-gloss glamour at its finest. And there was, at least in the ceremony’s early stages, an appealingly cinematic gloss to the show – particularly when Bong Joon-ho emerged from the shadows to present Best Director. But then things seemed to falter. The pacing lagged, the speeches went on too long, and the unique glitz of Soderbergh’s involvement seemed to completely dissipate. What happened?
These speeches were in desperate need of pruning
It’s a running joke that Oscar speeches are always being cut off by a man in the orchestra pit tasked with speeding the show along when it begins to lag. And it’s sometimes a bit mean, particularly when it always seems to be the non-famous winners getting abruptly shoved off-stage. But in light of some of tonight’s speeches, suddenly the man in the orchestra pit seems like a necessary evil. Congratulations to the directors of My Octopus Teacher – I’m sure you did a great job – but we did not need to hear four minutes of meandering thank-yous from a pair with about as much on-stage charm as a maths class supply teacher.
The Anthony Hopkins no-show made no sense
Presumably Oscar bosses knew in advance that Anthony Hopkins was going to scoop Best Actor, and that he had no intention of actually showing up to collect it. Therefore, why end the night on the Best Actor award at all? In a weird bit of scheduling, Best Picture – typically the night’s climactic award – was announced before both Best Actress and Best Actor, leaving the last award of the night to be accepted by presenter Joaquin Phoenix on Hopkins’s behalf. It was a baffling decision that closed the ceremony on a damp squib. That the late, great Chadwick Boseman had been widely tipped to win Best Actor only heightened the oddness of the show’s rushed final moments.
This was an intimate and warm Oscars – let’s keep it that way
Out of necessity, the number of attendees at this year’s Oscars was minute compared to regular years. It created a nice intimacy, though. We could see everyone’s faces, the seating arrangements provided some interesting double acts (Close and Kaluuya were an unexpected delight), and there were no stacks of agents crowing from the very back of the cavernous Dolby Theatre that the Oscars typically call home. It’s doubtful that the Oscars will maintain much of tonight’s particular quirks in the future, but they might be smart to downsize from here on out – pandemic or not.
Relive last night’s ceremony moment-by-moment via our Oscar live blog here.