Alright folks, it’s Oscar time, and I’m tired. Why, you may ask? Honestly, I find the Oscars exhausting.
On one hand, I enjoy ‘Best Of’ lists as much as the next Gen-Z’er, and I like to see what the Academy (i.e. ‘the establishment’ in Hollywood) nominates because said nominations tend to say something about the current state of the industry in regards to diversity, taste in genre, and so forth.
On the other hand, though, the Oscars have pretty much always been a marketing tactic to convince people that, one, they should spend money watching the movies because movies are cool and Hollywood is the ‘place to be,’ and, two, that Hollywood itself, not critics outside the system or the general public who see the movies, should be the major authority in regards to deciding which movies are the best of the year.
I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with that second point so much as I wish that the Academy would stop collecting voters who are both older than time and whiter than a bag of marshmallows. Both of those facts generally lead to most nominated films being strikingly non-diverse, with a tendency for blockbusters and genre-film to be overlooked when nominations are decided due to a perception amongst the voter-population that said films are ‘childish’ or ‘immature.’ That’s not to say that such films are never nominated or even win (both Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King have won, for example), but there seems to be a general distaste for genre-film in general when the Academy decides what films should be included in their ceremony.
Now, as many of you will likely be aware of, the 93rd Academy Awards was hosted a few days ago, and, while all of what I just said has applied in previous years, things were a bit different this time around because of some weird ‘virus’ that everyone seems to be talking about nowadays.
We won’t be recapping every category here, and we won’t be going over every beat of the show — just the major bits that are either entertaining or important regarding the show’s actual quality. With that being said, let’s get the major stuff done right off the bat: Nomadland, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao, won three awards this year, including Best Picture. Nomadland was generally considered a fairly safe bet as far as predictions went regarding what film would get Best Picture. It was a drama set in a contemporary rural American location (re: the American midwest) about an aging woman dealing with the struggles of modern industrialization and the effects it can have on the lower-middle class.
Many argued that the film Mank, which was nominated for 10 Oscars (and won two), was Nomadland‘s primary competition, since that film also falls within the general film-palette that Academy voters seem to have (Mank is about a middle-aged filmmaker being screwed over by the powers that be while he fights during a fight for his artistic vision. Projecting much?) Nomadland winning, though, was significant for a few reasons — the main of which was the fact that its director, Chloé Zhao, was the first woman of color to win Best Director and second woman in general to win the award. It’s a big deal, certainly, for both women filmmakers around the world and minority groups in the U.S., who haven’t gotten to see something like this happen pretty much ever. Yes, other categories have been awarded to non-White actors, but Best Picture is often the main award that people come to see, so it being awarded to a Chinese woman offers a great deal of visibility to a population that historically hasn’t been given a lot of mainstream credit in the entertainment industry. The Chinese government isn’t happy, of course, but when are they ever? Nomadland also won for Best Director and Best Actress.
Best Original Screenplay went to Promising Young Woman and Best Animated feature to Soul, while Best Documentary Feature went to My Octopus Teacher. It was an odd year for the Oscars; the COVID-19 pandemic led to a lot of films being pushed back to avoid being released during a time in which ticket sales would be at an all-time low, so many of the nominees lacked the same sort of competition that they might have seen on a year where studios were willing to release more films. That isn’t to say that the winners didn’t deserve the awards, just that the lack of strong competition in certain areas was an odd facet of this year’s show.
The ceremony itself was held at both Union Station and the Dolby Theatre in L.A., smaller venues that had a significant effect on the general atmosphere of the proceedings. The Oscars felt more like a fancy work party rather than a celebration of an entire industry; formalwear and fashion offered a spiffy image of Hollywood, but a lack of attendance made the film industry seem smaller and more intimate than it actually is. That’s neither a good nor a bad thing necessarily, just another abnormality that made this year feel different. That being said, there were plenty of legitimate problems that were almost certainly a result of the pandemic: first and foremost, the ‘In Memoriam’ segment of the show felt rushed and awkward. There were a larger than average number of deaths in the entertainment industry this past year, but, despite that (or, perhaps, because of it), each person featured in the segment was only given a second or two before they were cycled out for the next, as if Oscar himself wanted to get past ‘the sad part’ of the show to excite people again with more awards. Considering the many significant deaths that occurred in 2020, it was extremely odd how rushed the whole thing was.
The big segment that had some scratching their heads and others yelling at their screens was the award for Best Actor. A lot of people thought that, since the award was going to break tradition and act as the final award of the night, (Best Picture has historically held that honor), the Oscar would be posthumously awarded to Chadwick Boseman, who tragically passed away this past year at the age of 43. It was to be a consolation, in some ways — a ‘we’re sorry we didn’t give you this when you were alive’ award that would hopefully ease the general backlash against Black Panther not winning a couple of years prior.
However, Boseman didn’t get the award. Instead, it went to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t even there to accept it due to him being at a high-risk for COVID-19 because of his age. Hopkins didn’t give a speech, either, not because he didn’t want to, but because the Academy made a rule that no Zoom calls would be allowed on the show. Rather than end the show by giving an award to a great actor who died young and was snubbed the award in previous years, the Academy gave it to someone who didn’t attend the show due to health concerns and prevented him from giving a live speech because of a tachy-rule made to keep the ‘grandeur’ of the Oscars still in full-swing.
For the record, that’s not to say that Hopkins didn’t deserve the Oscar, he’s great in The Father and it’s neat that he’s now the oldest winner in an acting category, but it was definitely a poor ending to the ceremony and an upsetting choice for a lot of people.
There were other, more general issues that plagued this year, too. The fact that the show was socially-distanced was indeed the right choice (or maybe the right choice would have been to just not do it), but it resulted in a weirder-than-average presentation of the event. Camera angles were odd and felt disjointed, attendees seemed confused as to where they should be looking, where certain things were, and so forth.
In addition, there was a surprising lack of clips this year. Usually, when the nominees are presented, clips from each film will be shown to demonstrate why, exactly, that film was nominated for that category. That didn’t really happen this year. Instead, the clips were basically replaced by the presenter of the award just talking about why they liked the nominees and thanking them for their work. That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t really demonstrate the craftsmanship that goes into each film, and kind of takes away from the already-thinning amount of magic that is draped over the Oscars. The clips are usually the main way in which the audience comes to understand the impressive work that professionals in Hollywood actually do, so their removal definitely took a lot out of each award’s impact.
The lack of a live orchestra made things feel a bit static too — though, with that being said, that lack of a live orchestra also meant that each person who gave a speech couldn’t be cued as to when they should finish. Instead, several of the speeches given this year had time to breathe, and, as a result, there were a good number of heartfelt, emotional thank-you’s given this year that were a real highlight amongst the general ‘weirdness’ that permeated throughout the rest of the show.
So, how did the Oscars turn out overall? Not great, to be honest. The show itself was lackluster, and, although a lot of the nominees and winners were a tad more diverse than in the show’s past, it’d be a stretch to call them legitimately ‘diverse’ and ‘progressive.’ I think it’s fair to say that the greater amount of minority group winners is a result of the Academy responding to past criticisms of prejudice, but they’ve still got a long way to go before they should be considered fair and progressive in their choices. Chloé Zhao winning was definitely the highlight of the night for a lot of people, and for good reason. It’s great that she won, but that shouldn’t hide the fact that this was a pretty lackluster year as far as the Oscars go. The ratings reflected this, too; only 9.85 million people tuned in, the lowest in the show’s history, which is probably an indicator that people are either starting to lose interest in the Oscars, or that most people were convinced that COVID-19 would have a serious detrimental effect on the proceedings. I’d tend to agree with those people, but I’d also be happy if the first point were true; the Oscars have been outdated for a long time. A non-progressive mindset in terms of race, gender, and entertainment has left the show feeling old-fashioned and plastic, fake and tacky in a way that isn’t nearly as endearing as the Academy might hope it is. I’d say this year was a fall from grace for the awards show, but I’d be lying if I said that; one can’t ‘fall from grace’ if all you’re doing is going from tiresome and pretentious to perplexing and awkward.
Featured Photo Courtesy of The New York Times