Well, that was a thing, I guess. An Oscar telecast that promised to be a “film” and not your typical telecast ceremony (a ludicrous concept from the beginning) was nothing of the sort. The 93rd Oscars was a slog filled with speeches that were often unmemorable and/or too long (mostly the latter) and not a moment of true fun until Glenn Close almost saved the show with just a half-hour left in the 3 hour and 15-minute telecast. Somehow, the Academy membership still found a way to reward historic winners including “Nomadland,” H.E.R.’s original song from “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Youn Yuh-jung from “Minari” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” and Daniel Kaluuya. But, the rest? Egad.
I should start by clarifying that if you are a fan of the movie business and, perhaps, spend a majority of your days as part of the awards season ecosystem, the last thing you’re doing is rooting for the Oscars to fail. As a 93-year-old institution (we’re only 7 years away from 100 years people) it has served as a gateway to inspiring filmmakers, actors, writers, and artisans all over the world. In fact, until you get knee-deep into the International Film race it’s almost impossible to truly understand how important Oscar recognition can be politically outside of the United States and the United Kingdom. So, when a show does falter to this extent, it’s almost horrifying.
The production design of the show at Union Station was pretty. You could argue, however, this easily could have been duplicated at a non-public venue such as a movie studio lot, the Beverly Hilton, or numerous other Los Angeles venues, but it served its purpose. It was also a joy to see a pretty real red carpet back even if with fewer members of the media on hand (not mad about that) and some almost post-COVID glamour returning beyond an Instagram post or photoshoot. But beyond that Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins were responsible for a ceremony that likely earned even worse ratings than ABC was expecting.
The biggest problem of the ceremony was a sincere lack of fun. Barely any of the presenters cracked a joke and comedic presenters (an awards show staple) were not even part of the ceremony’s “cast” (and don’t get us started on that). Unlike most Oscars and awards shows that cap acceptance speeches for two to three minutes, the producers decided that was the problem. Winners simply didn’t have enough time to speak. The result was long, rambling acceptance speeches that were rarely memorable (Kaluyaa, Yuh-jung, Zhao, and Frances McDormand aside) and had the show moving at an uterly glacial pace. The idea was to produce a “film” ceremony that was more intimate than previous Oscar ceremonies but instead created a quiet environment with almost no audience enthusiasm inside the venue itself. The only standing ovation was for Tyler Perry which we won’t argue with, but that’s probably a problem, right? Even the Grammy Awards, with a similarly sized outdoor in-person audience, gave more love to their winners.
Not only did the producing trio stupidly move the superb pre-taped musical performances to the pre-show (which faced competition from E!’s long-running pre-show), but for anyone concerned, there might be too many montage packages such fears turned out to be unwarranted. There was just one! One! A show that was trying to convince people to return to their local movie theater and promote the power of film left it to Matthew McConaughey to promote a studio balanced clip reel of summer releases. Hope it worked!
Original musical numbers? Ha. The only true comic bit featured pre-show host Lil Rey Howery. The audience quiz show felt like a last-minute addition intended to push the show to a proper 15 minute after the hour cut off. And did we mention the In Memoriam that wasn’t accompanied by a live performance for the first time in at least a decade? An In Memoriam that flew by remarkably fast in a year where Hollywood and the world’s losses were heartbreakingly monumental? But yes, we dropped all those fan-favorite staples for longer speeches. And a telecast that looked like…a typical awards telecast.
And then, disaster.
Whoever thought announcing Best Picture as the third to last category was a good idea should never come close to producing an award show again. This isn’t about being adverse to change. This isn’t about not trying to be different. All the other awards led up to Best Picture. That’s how it works and can often work spectacularly (see “Parasite” last year, “Birdman” or “Argo’s” wins as prime examples). Can you imagine the drama if Anthony Hopkins was announced as Best Actor in its traditional slot? That would have created the natural tension that maybe “The Father” could have taken the top award. Instead, the ceremony ended with Best Actor and the producers assuming it would provide a moment of Chadwick Boseman‘s wife delivering an emotional acceptance of his first Oscar posthumously (talk about emotionally manipulative). Hopkins’ win – not undeserved mind you – was even more of a worst-case scenario with him not able to appear in London to accept. The show just ended with a horrifying thud. At least the “La La Land”/”Moonlight” mixup created unexpected drama. This was just an epic fail for viewers around the globe (and bless those of you in Europe who stayed up all night to endure this).
Basically, if you see news stories over the next 24 hours detailing how happy The Academy and ABC executives are about the ceremony they are pretty much lying through their teeth. And any COVID excuse only goes so far. The Grammys, Emmys, shoot, even a completely virtual Independent Spirit Awards, were immensely more entertaining than this. The show needs a producing team next year who will bring fun and energy back to the proceedings. Someone call Bill Condon! I’d take Adam Shankman! Dear God, even Ryan Murphy! Tyler Perry! Reese Witherspoon! Laura Dern! Even Oprah would put together a more entertaining enterprise than this one.
Ceremony aside, the good news is that the Academy membership has wonderfully moved beyond the one-year fiasco of “Green Book” winning Best Picture. “Moonlight,” “The Shape of Water,” “Parasite” and now “Nomadland” have taken Oscar’s top prize over the course of five years. Assuming you start with 2020, two of those films will be staples on the end-of-decade lists in 2029 and another was near the top of a majority of the last decade’s best films. Chloe Zhao’s win and Emerald Fennell’s directing nomination were a massive step forward for female filmmakers in the director’s branch. H.E.R.’s unexpected win showed the Academy had serious taste by voting for “Fight for You” which was the best song in its category. An almost forgotten 2019 TIFF gem, “Sound of Metal,” scored key nominations and took home two Oscars. Fennell’s Original Screenplay win and “Promising Young Woman” proved Academy members are willing to expand the qualifications of a Best Picture nominee. The membership is on solid ground, the organization’s key telecast is certainly not. There is a lot of work to do in that regard.
We’ll leave you with H.E.R.’s fantastic performance of “Fight For You” which in another timeline would have been a top trending highlight of the ceremony. It’s an Oscar palate cleanser if there ever was one.