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!

 

My Review of the 87th Academy Awards

 

A18

A15Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show. But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you. I really enjoyed the look of this year’s show. I could not get over the backdrop that the presenters walked out from to the stage. It looked like an old-school movie theater and included vintage-clothed ushers—it was awesome!! As I have stated in years past, the Academy Awards simply cannot continue lasting 3.5+ hours. By the time it finally gets to the final six awards or so (which are usually the ones people care about anyways), everyone in America is dead tired—yes, that includes me, the giant film fan! I did greatly enjoy Neil Patrick Harris as the host (as I suspected I would), and his vast experience as a showman paid large dividends to the quality of last night’s ceremony. However, his attempt at comedy did not live up to the “gold standard” that Ellen set last year (PLEASE BRING ELLEN BACK).

This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (Tie: The show’s opening number AND Julie Andrews)

A7As I predicted about a month ago, Neil Patrick Harris utilized his time during the traditional “monologue segment” to sing and dance—it did not disappoint. NPH performed a song called “Moving Pictures,” a fantastic ode to the movies over the years that spark an undeniable imagination in each of us as viewers of cinema (the song was penned by Robert Lopez and wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez—the couple took home the Oscar for Best Original Song last year for “Let It Go” from Frozen). The song poked some harmless fun at Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and included a fantastic cameo from Into the Woods star Anna Kendrick. One of the funniest parts of the musical number was Jack Black, rising from the crowd to the stage to perform hilariously cynical lyrics about the film industry, only to have Kendrick throw her Cinderella slipper at him for ruining the moment. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual joke-filled, completely oratory monologue.

A5Also, let’s give a round of applause for Julie Andrews. When it comes to musicals, Dame Julie Andrews is the best to ever do it! This year is the 50th Anniversary of the iconic film The Sound of Music, and Lady Gaga delivered one of the best musical performances of the night in her tribute to the film’s best songs. Julie Andrews (the star in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) long ago set the bar extremely high for what a musical performance on the silver screen should look and sound like. She is one of the greatest actresses in film history, and her presence (and validation of Gaga’s performance) was amazing.

Worst Moment: (Sean Penn’s “green card” comment)

A14Last night Sean Penn brought some actual racism to the show. When announcing the winner of the night’s biggest award (Best Picture), Penn preceded his reading of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name by stating, “Who gave this son-of-a-bitch his green card?” Although Penn and Iñárritu are friends (Penn acted in Iñárritu’s 2003 film 21 Grams) and Iñárritu later called the joke “hilarious,” it was a bit too much. Although some people knew of the two men’s history, most probably did not, and this makes for plenty of material for critics to blast the Oscars for racism.

Most Endearing Moment: (Tim McGraw’s performance)

A16Tim McGraw performed “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” the final song ever written by country-music legend Glen Campbell (the song was nominated for Best Original Song). Gwyneth Paltrow introduced McGraw by telling the story of Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell wrote the song to tell his family that the one silver lining to his bout with Alzheimer’s is that he will not be able to feel the pain of his loved ones. His family was in attendance, and McGraw delivered one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire night.

Most Boring Moment (Neil Patrick Harris’s Oscar-prediction gag)

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowAt the beginning of the show, NPH teased that he is amazing at predicting the Oscars. He then introduced a briefcase that had been locked and overlooked by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that tabulates the Oscar ballots. He picked out past Oscar winner Octavia Spencer from the crowd to “keep an eye” on the briefcase box during the show (which she awkwardly accepted to do), and every so often, NPH continued to discuss the locked box containing his predictions. At the end of the show, he had the box opened, revealed his predictions (which were 100% spot on about all of the night’s most memorable moments), and the crowd half-heartedly laughed along. Although it sort of had a funny ending, the gag went on way too long, and the ridiculously long ceremony should have cut that completely from the script—it was an utter waste of time.

The Most Awkward Moment: (The “Dress Covered in Balls” Lady and NPH’s subsequent, ill-timed joke)

A13When Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry were announced as winners in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category, I could not help but laugh. My amusement had nothing to do with the film but everything to do with Perry’s dress and star-struck demeanor. The two won for their documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, a film about a very serious, touchy subject. Perry, dressed in a black gown that was covered with giant black pom-poms, stood on stage gawking at the stars and awkwardly waving to them. I felt bad about my entertainment with her as she then announced that the film was special to her because her own son committed suicide. It then got noticeably serious in the room. That was until NPH returned to the stage and could not help but to poke fun at Perry, stating, “It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that.” Although Perry had just dropped the suicide bombshell on everyone, it was still ridiculously hilarious (which I admit I felt bad about, considering her revelation on stage). NPH’s double entendre was one of the best jokes of the night, but it sort of came at a less-than-opportune time.

Best Joke: (Poking fun at John Travolta’s infamous “Adele Dazeem” moment)

A17The best joke from the entire show was poking fun at John Travolta for his horribly memorable mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name (aka Elsa from Frozen) at last year’s ceremony. Neil Patrick Harris made a hilarious reference to Travolta’s mistake by stating that Benedict Cumberbatch is “the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.” I literally fell on the floor laughing. Then, as Idina Menzel came to the stage to announce the winner for Best Original Song, she brought out Travolta for a bit of playful revenge, introducing him as “Glom Gazingo.” Even though Travolta completely blew his chances for redemption (by weirdly stroking Menzel’s face and acting, well, like John Travolta), it was still the most hilarious moment of the night.

Worst Joke: (NPH’s A Million Ways to Die in the West reference)

A19While introducing Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as presenters, Neil Patrick Harris referred to the two actors’ film successes, while additionally stating his own: he mentioned that he is the guy that pooped in his hat in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Some people laughed, while others did not—I was a proud “did not” laugher. For me, the joke sucked because it forced me to remember that A Million Ways to Die in the West actual was a movie that was made and that I had personally wasted nearly two hours of my precious life watching it—terrible memories, for sure.

The Most Honest Dude in the Room: (Mat Kirkby—Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short)A11

During his acceptance speech for winning an Oscar for his live-action short The Phone Call, writer/director Mat Kirkby was hilariously honest about his giddiness for winning a coveted Academy Award. Kirkby, a native of Suffolk, UK, stated, “I’m particularly happy because this now means I can get a free doughnut at my local bakery, the Pump Street Bakery.” His funny, but honest speech is a reminder that not all of the Oscar winners are multimillionaire film stars—some of these “little guys” are simply happy to be there and revel in their victory in many ways. The name-drop, however, is sure to land Kirkby more donuts from his local bakery than even he expected. A12The owner of the British bakery was later quoted as saying, “I think an Oscar win deserves more than one free coffee or doughnut, so we’re definitely going to be giving him free doughnuts for good now, as a thank you for the mention.” Looks like Kirkby’s honesty earned him a deserved treat!

Best Acceptance Speech: (Paweł Pawlikowski—the director of Ida)

A4For the very first time in Academy Awards history, a Polish film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film; thus, writer and director Paweł Pawlikowski had plenty to be pumped about. He gave a heart-felt speech, that included genuine emotional sentiment and some comedy, and it was the product of a man that was sincerely appreciative of the award he was simultaneously hoisting on the big stage. It had all of the same elements that other great speeches over the course of the night contained, but for me, I was most impressed by Pawlikowski giving the greatest “F.U.” to the orchestra’s “play-off” music (although he did not do it whatsoever in a rude manner). I have long been a critic of the Academy’s direction to the orchestra to cut off speeches that it deems too long because in my opinion, these speeches are not the actual cause of the horrendous length of the ceremony—instead, it is the structure of the ceremony in general by the Academy. The orchestra tried to play Pawlikowski off of the stage, and after a while (when he had not stopped thanking people) they quit. Then, shortly after, the orchestra tried again, and it was only at that point that Pawlikowski finally wrapped up. Winners of these “not-so-significant” awards are never allotted much time anyways, and if the Academy is going to recognize these winners, it needs to show the same amount of respect for them that it does for winners of awards like Best Original Score and the like. Kudos, Pawlikowski.

Best Musical Performance: (The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome”)

A10You may not believe that The Lego Movie was the best movie of the year (and you would be correct). You also may not believe that it was the best animated feature of the year (which would be debatable, but that view is clearly warranted). But I will wholeheartedly disagree with anyone that believes The Lego Movie was not one of the five best animated movies from 2014—it absolutely was. Despite the snub, “Everything Is Awesome” was still nominated for Best Original Song, and the performance that accompanied this nomination was by far the highlight musical moment from the night. Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island both brought their respective A-games, and their performance brought an amazing “fun factor” to the traditionally buttoned-up Oscars ceremony. A6The performance included Questlove on the drums and a cameo by Will Arnett as Batman (his character in the film), and the Lego Oscars that were simultaneously handed out to various stars in the crowd added a perfect childlike flare. It was, pun clearly intended, AWESOME!

Worst Musical Performance: (Maroon 5 performing Begin Again’s “Lost Stars”)

A3I have seen Maroon 5 live in concert, so I have firsthand knowledge that lead singer Adam Levine is an impeccable performer outside of the studio. With that said, last night he sounded terrible. Now let’s be honest, I am not Simon Cowell—I simply do not know the technical intricacies of “singing.” But like most laypeople, I know when something sounds blatantly off-pitch and horrendous; unfortunately, that was Adam Levine last night. The performance was restrained and boring to start off with, and the dreadful vocal performance did not help its cause whatsoever. With amazing musical performances from the “Everything Is Awesome” collective, Jennifer Hudson, and Lady Gaga, Levine’s performance stands out—and NOT in a good way!