My Review of the 93rd Academy Awards

Well, I am surely not the only person to use this pun to describe last night’s Academy Awards, but for a ceremony that primarily took place at Los Angeles Union Station, it certainly went off the rails at the end. This ceremony was never going to be perfect or look the way we’ve grown accustomed to as an audience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I could never have imagined just how crazy this year’s Oscars, which was for the most part fairly uneventful throughout, would end up. The show still had some great moments, hilarious parts, and inspirational speeches, albeit along with some very miscalculated bits—here’s my review of the 93rd Academy Awards.

It’s probably necessary to get to the show’s twist ending first. At every Oscars since 1948 (with the 1971 ceremony being the lone deviation), the Best Picture award has been announced last. Clearly, if you dig into Oscars history, you’ll find that most early ceremonies didn’t utilize this setup, but nearly every film fan, for the most part, has grown up watching the biggest award in world cinema deservedly announced last. This year, things got weird when Rita Moreno stepped onto the stage and started reading off nominees for Best Picture—I was quite confused, wondering if I had somehow blacked out for the two lead acting categories, rewinding my TV a bit to make sure. The nominees also looked a bit stunned by the reorganization of the show’s homestretch. At that point, it felt like the Oscars producers (which this year included previous Best Director winner Steven Soderbergh) mixed things up to deliberately set up a massive emotional climax for the night—Chadwick Boseman becoming the third actor to win a posthumous acting award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. My goodness, was that a mistake. The Academy famously doesn’t know the results of any category until the envelopes are opened during the live broadcast, as its longtime accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the ballots and keeps the results entirely confidential—that couldn’t have been clearer in light of how this show ended up.

After Renée Zellweger presented the Best Actress award to Nomadland’s Frances McDormand (a win which made her only the second woman to win three career Best Actress Oscars, behind only Katharine Hepburn who won four) last year’s Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix strutted out and, in trademark fashion, stumbled through an intro about acting. Eventually, after reading the nominees, Phoenix opened the envelope and the rest is history. Instead of Boseman winning the Oscar, the award went to legendary actor Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father, who, at the age of 83, became the oldest actor to win an Oscar. However, Anthony Hopkins didn’t show up this year, either in Los Angeles or at any satellite location (including London). Via Phoenix, the Academy accepted the award on Hopkins’s behalf, and then the camera cut back to in-house DJ Questlove, who thanked everyone for watching and ended the show. It was mind-boggling—truly the epitome of the term anticlimactic.

This year, I personally (and I recognize that it’s all subjective) had Riz Ahmed, Anthony Hopkins, and Steven Yeun ahead of Chadwick Boseman on my Best Actor rankings. Ahmed gave such a powerful performance in my favorite movie of the year (Sound of Metal), Hopkins delivered arguably the best performance of his career in The Father, behind only his Oscar-winning role in Silence of the Lambs, and Yeun was beautifully poignant in the wonderful Minari—although Boseman was certainly stunning in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I personally felt other performers in far-better movies were more deserving of being declared the year’s best actor. With that said, I was certainly on board and excited for Boseman to win this year—in his final film performance, while in the final stages of his cancer, he gave an impassioned portrayal of Levee Green, and the Oscar here would have felt like a fitting tribute to an incredibly talented actor who impacted the world in so many incredible ways through films like Black Panther and whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The betting odds heavily favored Boseman at -1667 and other than the BAFTA (which went to Hopkins), Boseman swept the other major pre-Oscars awards. The world certainly expected to see Boseman winning this award.

If you ventured to Twitter after the show, it was full of Oscars slander for Boseman’s surprise loss. And understandably so, as literally everything pointed to Boseman’s posthumous win. The Academy built the entire close of the show around the possibility for a heartwarming emotional high point based on an expected Boseman victory, and instead, we ended the show on an award without its winner anywhere to be found to deliver an acceptance speech. Steven Soderbergh and the producers gambled big on that setup…and ultimately, they lost big.

Aside from the Oscars’ twist ending, there were a number of other noteworthy moments from this year’s ceremony. First, last night was a major step in the right direction for the Academy as it works to overcome the infamous #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years ago and be more inclusive. This year’s class of nominees was the most diverse in Oscars history, and a number of historic moments followed. Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao became only the second woman (and first woman of color) to win the coveted Best Director award. Both the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress winners (Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung, respectively) were people of color. Emerald Fennell won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the first woman to do so since Diablo Cody won for Juno in 2008). And for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black women to ever win for Makeup and Hairstyling. It was a great night for inclusion and diversity.

Additionally, per usual, there were some great speeches, ranging from inspirational to hilarious. In particular, I enjoyed watching Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor for my favorite acting performance of the year in Judas and the Black Messiah, deliver a wonderful tribute to Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. (He also referenced his parents having sex, which turned out to be particularly hysterical as the camera then cut to a live shot of his mother, who was watching from the British Film Institute in London.) I was also nearly brought to tears listening to Thomas Vinterberg, who won Best International Film for his brilliant Another Round, dedicate the Oscar to his late daughter, Ida, who was supposed to appear in the film but died in a tragic traffic accident just days into production. On the lighter side, it was a joy to watch Youn Yuh-jung give her acceptance speech after winning Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing performance in Minari. Youn was just as adorably funny in real life as she was in Minari, especially as she gushed over her presenter, Brad Pitt.

Lastly, I couldn’t do a proper review of the show last night without mentioning the funniest moment of the evening. During the middle of the show, there was a musical bit where actor/comedian Lil Rel Howery picked actors in the audience to listen to past movie songs (played by Questlove) and guess whether those songs won an Oscar for Best Original Song, were just nominated in the category, or none of the above. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy this bit almost in its entirety—it was a bit choppy and didn’t land the way the producers probably thought it would. However, this “game” provided us with the night’s most gif-worthy moment—acting legend Glenn Close dancing to “Da Butt,” the song featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. I sure didn’t see that one coming, but it was very, very funny!

 

The 93rd Oscars – Best Actor

In today’s post, I will review the Best Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)

Filmmaker Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band with his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke), who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Ruben’s hearing loss is set up in the first act of Sound of Metal, and thus, the bulk of the film is substantively focused on Ruben’s experience learning to live with his new circumstances. As I will get to in greater detail when I reveal my Top 10 Films of the Year this Saturday, Sound of Metalis an incredible cinematic experience, and Riz Ahmed is stunning as the movie’s protagonist. Ruben quickly becomes overwhelmed by the sudden and incessant silence associated with his deafness, which ultimately causes him to engage in addictive behaviors that Joe feels threaten Ruben’s sobriety—Ahmed skillfully plunges deep into this portrayal of Ruben’s complex journey to realizing deafness is not a handicap. It is a moving performance that at times will bring you to tears, and although the film as a whole is superb, Ahmed’s depiction of Ruben is the most vital ingredient—a truly impressive display of acting bravura.

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

In his final film role before his death just 8 months ago, Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play of the same name. In the movie, which tells the story of a turbulent studio recording session with Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) and her band in 1920s Chicago, Levee is an ambitious, yet cocky and erratic, trumpet player who ultimately experiences an emotional collapse—Boseman is utterly exceptional, depicting this hot-tempered character with mesmerizing style and fiery flair. This is just the ninth time a performer has received an Academy Award nomination posthumously in an acting category, and only Peter Finch and Heath Ledger have previously won in those circumstances—based on the results at the other major film awards this season, Boseman is sure to become the third such winner.

Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

In Florian Zeller’s film The Father, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father (whose name is actually Anthony in the movie), an elderly man battling against the degeneration of his own mind at the hands of dementia. It goes without question that Anthony Hopkins is one the greatest actors of all time. This year’s Oscar nomination is the sixth of his career (and second consecutive nomination following his inclusion in the Best Supporting Actor category last year for The Two Popes), and in The Father, Hopkins delivers what is arguably his greatest acting performance, behind only his Academy Award-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins’s character in the film is snappy and petulant throughout, clearly struggling to come to grips with his condition. He quickly oscillates between moods, engages in unkind outbursts, and hurls a number of cutting comments at his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), and yet, he’s also such a sympathetic character. It’s understandable why Anthony is who he is, and Hopkins embodies this character masterfully, giving us a peek into the man’s heartbreaking circumstances. I got choked up a number of times during this movie, but never more so than when Hopkins brought the performance home with a crushing final scene. Anthony Hopkins epitomizes dramatic acting, and even in his early 80s, he’s still showing the industry how it’s done.

Gary Oldman (Mank)

David Fincher’s black-and-white biopic Mank (written by Fincher’s late father Jack, who passed away in 2003) tells the story of famed Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and his role in developing the screenplay for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, often credited as the greatest film in cinematic history. Mank is definitely a love letter to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and I had incredibly high hopes for it since Fincher directed it. Unfortunately, for me, the film underwhelmed altogether. Gary Oldman, a master of his craft, was obviously great in his role of the titular Mank, but I never felt while watching it like this was worthy of a surefire Oscar nod—certainly, I expected it to get a nomination, as the film is the prototypical Oscar bait, but I never felt blown away by his performance. Oldman’s spot among the nominees should have gone to more deserving actors this year.

Steven Yeun (Minari)

Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica Yi (played by Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. South-Korean born Steven Yeun, who is best known to audiences as Glenn from the AMC television series The Walking Dead, is stellar as the Yi family’s patriarch in this film, and I was incredibly excited to see him become the first Asian-American of Korean descent nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars. Despite Jacob’s painstaking commitment to achieving his piece of the “American dream,” the bullheaded character is also marred by stubborn imprudence. Yeun’s portrait of this complex character is first-rate and exquisitely captures the enduring spirit of an immigrant’s inspirational journey to achieve success for his family in America.

Snubs and Other Performances

Despite the year’s many wonderful acting performances from male leads, it was always going to be difficult snagging an Oscar nomination, as the field was certainly crowded. Other than the nominees, here are a few other performances that caught my eye during the past year in film. First, one of the surprise hits of the film season was The White Tiger, a film set in India that examines the country’s caste system from the perspective of its lead character Balram (played by Adarsh Gourav), who cleverly escapes poverty. Gourav was remarkable in his breakout starring role, and I hope to see much more of him in the future, as he’s proven to the world just how capable of a performer he is. Second, in addition to his blockbuster role as Vision in Marvel’s Disney+ television series Wandavision, Paul Bettany was equally extraordinary in Uncle Frank, a film set in the 1970s, which tells the story of the titular Frank, played by Bettany, a gay man living in New York City who, following the death of his father, must grapple with his past and his South Carolina-based family. Bettany turned in a beautiful performance as Uncle Frank, and although he hasn’t been nominated for too many major acting awards in his career, it’s hard to think he didn’t deserve more attention for this fantastic role. Additionally, Ben Affleck was superb in The Way Back as a former high school basketball star and alcoholic seeking redemption as the coach of his former team. In light of Affleck’s real-life issues with alcoholism, it’s clear this perspective for the role allowed him to uniquely portray the heartbreaking struggles of the addiction—Affleck delivered a great performance.

This year, I believe the biggest snub in any category was Delroy Lindo missing out on a nomination for his stellar performance in Da 5 Bloods. Spike Lee’s latest film tells the story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War who reunite to travel back to the Southeast-Asian country to both locate the remains of “Stormin’” Norman (their former squad leader, played by Chadwick Boseman, who died during the war) and to find a massive treasure the group hid during their time in Vietnam. Like most Spike Lee films, Da 5 Bloods explores a number of important themes, including the horrors of war, race relations, and redemption. At the center of the story is Lindo’s emotionally complex character Paul, a cynical Trump supporter whose hostile demeanor is shaped by tragedy and oppression. Lindo, who previously collaborated with Spike Lee on three films in the 1990s, is spectacular in his depiction of Paul. The character is tragic in every sense of the word, and Lindo delivers his performance with heart, passion, and above all, masterful skill. My tweet on the day the Oscar nominations were announced says it all.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Anthony Hopkins

Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Father is clearly one of the best of his storied film career, and for that, if anyone is going to overcome Chadwick Boseman’s incredible frontrunner status to pull off an upset on Sunday night, it’ll like be Hopkins. Presently, Hopkins is getting +700 odds, the best of any challenger in the category.

Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed

My personal pick for Best Actor is probably the toughest call in any category, and despite my love for Anthony Hopkins in The Father, if I had a vote, it would go to Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed committed to his role in stunning fashion, spending a great deal of time learning American Sign Language and how to play the drums. His many hours of preparation were well worth it, as Ahmed turned in a perfect performance in a film that highlights a community not often depicted with regularity in film. Although Ahmed won’t win this year, he’d have my vote.

Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman

I simply cannot see anyone beating the late Chadwick Boseman at this year’s Oscars. The only major award Boseman hasn’t received for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the British Academy Film Award, which went to Anthony Hopkins, although it’s likely due to the fact The Father is a British film and Hopkins is one of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished performers. Currently getting frontrunner odds of -1600, Boseman is set to become just the third performer to posthumously win an Academy Award in an acting category.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actor

In today’s post, I will be analyzing the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards, the most decorated acting category at this year’s Oscars. (The five nominees combined account for 27 career Academy Award nominations in acting categories.) As I pointed out yesterday, the format for all of these post concerning the acting categories will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

So let’s go!

The Nominees

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic inspired by a real-life Esquire article about Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) by journalist Tom Junod titled, “Can You Say…Hero?” Although the film takes inspiration from the famous theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is merely a supporting character. Hanks is obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation, and in this film, he is great in his embodiment of the calm, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers—although not looking physically like Mr. Rogers, Hanks nails the voice and mannerisms. But although I enjoyed his performance, it didn’t feel incredible invigorating for me, especially since Hanks just played Walt Disney in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, which this film felt so eerily similar to. I like Tom Hanks, and I really enjoyed him here, but I couldn’t help but think name recognition played a major role in not only this nomination, but also its companions at the Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)

At first glance, I didn’t think Netflix’s The Two Popes was going to be a movie I’d enjoy, but in the end, I was thoroughly surprised by and taken with its charisma. The film is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. The plot is simple, and the film is executed through Sorkin-esque dialogue between the two main characters as they debate and discuss many topics, most importantly their vastly different religious ideologies. Pope Benedict is incredible conservative, while Cardinal Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce, who was nominated for Best Actor) is widely progressive. Both of the actors are exquisite and authentic in their portrayal of these real-life characters on the brink of a major shift for the Catholic Church, and per usual, the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is masterful.

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Surprisingly, The Irishman was Pacino’s very first collaboration with Scorsese, and it definitely left me wishing the two worked together more. In his portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino returns to his peak acting prowess. Over the years, some believe Pacino has become a caricature of himself, resorting to the loud and boisterous delivery made famous in his Oscar-winning role in A Scent of a Woman far too often. In The Irishman, Pacino taps into those infamous rowdy and ostentatious traits, but he does so in a way that is extraordinarily reinvigorating—it is the Pacino we’ve grown to know, but it never feels like old hat. This is Pacino’s 9th Oscar nomination, but it’s his first since his lone win 27 years ago. As Hoffa, Pacino was back to his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him back at the Oscars as a nominee.

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

In The Irishman, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a mobster and crime boss of the Bufalino crime family. Pesci came out of an extended retirement to play his role in The Irishman, and some reports indicate he actually turned down the role over 50 times before finally agreeing to do it. We should all count ourselves lucky for his decision to jump in. In this film, Pesci is as we’ve never seen him before, especially in the mob genre. A frequent collaborator of Scorsese, we’ve learned to expect Pesci to embody the smack-talking, loud-mouth, larger-than-life, over-the-top character traits from Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. (And oh, how I love Pesci when he’s in that zone.) But here, Pesci is distinctively restrained, exemplifying a strange sense of calmness. It is this aspect of Pesci’s performance that not only steals the show but also makes the character eerily more sinister than past Pesci characters—the guy plays a caring father figure to De Niro’s character with a great deal of compassion, all the while being someone who can call in a hit like it’s nothing. This will go down as one of Pesci’s greatest performances of all time.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I am admittedly a huge fan of Tarantino and his work (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time), and when I describe my love of Once Upon a Time to people, I tell them that it’s just a movie that was made for me. (Tarantino’s exquisite storytelling set against the backdrop of a glorious era of cinematic and cultural history is a recipe for success.) And from an acting standpoint, DiCaprio and Pitt are an amazing duo and are truly simpatico. And this film marks an outstanding return to the Tarantino set for Pitt, who dazzled in his memorable role as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds. Here, Tarantino gets the absolute best out of Pitt once more. Cliff Booth is just cool, and Tarantino couldn’t have chosen a better performer to embody that swagger. Highlights for Pitt in this movie include his fight with Bruce Lee, fending off hippies in the Manson cult at Spawn Ranch, and that hilariously unrestrained ending involving Pitt high on an acid-dipped cigarette. In this movie, Brad Pitt is in his element, and oh, what a wonderful element it is.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, although The Lighthouse did not necessarily work for me (which was a surprise, as I generally love everything A24 Films puts out), there is no denying that Willem Dafoe’s gruff portrayal of lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake is superbly deranged as one half of the film’s two-man show. Second, Dolemite Is My Name was one of my favorite out-and-out comedies of the year. And not only was it the vehicle for Eddie Murphy’s spectacular R-rated renaissance, but it also provided a humorous return for Wesley Snipes, who portrayed the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin. Additionally, I really enjoyed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (shout out to A24 again), and although Jimmie Fails was great as the lead, I was most impressed with Jonathan Majors as Jimmie’s sidekick “Mont”—the character is eccentric, artistic, and caring, and Majors was absolutely brilliant in his execution.

One of the single best supporting performances of the year, though, came courtesy of legendary South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a darkly comedic exploration of class inequalities, and Song is extraordinary as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a poor Korean family who uses ingenuity and deception to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employees. The entire acting ensemble in Parasite is collectively magnificent. (In fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.) However, Song is definitely the film’s brightest star, and he was thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination this year.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci is currently getting odds of +1200 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees by quite a bit. (For instance, Al Pacino is next best, but his odds currently sit at +2800.) I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor, but if the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.

Who Should Win: Brad Pitt

I love Tarantino’s characters, and I love the actors and actresses he chooses to portray them. Cliff Booth is a fun and charismatic character, and I wholeheartedly believe no other actor but Brad Pitt could have breathed that energetic life into Booth. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage performances from Pacino and Pesci, I find Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a better film than The Irishman. (Pacino and Pesci also cancel each other out a bit in this category.) So Pitt gets the nod here for me.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt

Just like Laura Dern, Brad Pitt has executed a clean sweep this awards season, taking home this award at the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes. Currently, Pitt’s odds to win the Oscar are an astounding -3335. So just like Laura Dern, it looks nearly certain that Pitt will be taking home the first Academy Award of his career in an acting category.