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!

 

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 3 – The Hunt

The Hunt 1

The Hunt is a Danish film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, with a screenplay co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm.  The film tells the story of Lucas, a former teacher who is trying to get his life back on track after a divorce.  Lucas’s life is flipped upside down, though, when he is wrongfully accused of sexually molesting a child at the local kindergarten.  When this nasty rumor is started, it sends the entire village into mass hysteria, and Lucas rapidly becomes the subject of everyone’s disparagement.

After hearing about this movie from a weekly film podcast I listen to, I became fascinated with the subject matter of the film, and thus, I had to see it.  Thomas VinterbergUpon the first viewing, I was blown away.  From the moment the horrifying rumor is first started by a young schoolgirl, the film promptly shifts from festive and exultant to tense and shocking.  Vinterberg’s cinematic style is truly captivating, and he expounds upon this contentious subject matter through subtle nuances and forthright passion.  For the viewer, the story seems so utterly definite and concrete, but Vinterberg deliberately delineates this complex narrative with a remarkable sense of ambiguity—you will definitely be watching some scenes through your hands as the plot grows thicker and thicker with intensity.

Despite the impeccable script and alluring filmmaking, the film would not be the success that it is without extraordinary acting, and in The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen leads the way with a transfixing portrayal of the scorned Lucas.  Even though Mikkelsen is an established Danish actor, he is well known in the States as well, thanks to his role as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (2006) and his portrayal of the titular character in NBC’s Hannibal TV series.  The Hunt - ChurchThe performance Mikkelsen gives in The Hunt is truly spectacular, and I believe his gripping depiction of a man ostracized by his tight-knit community over a false rumor was clearly one of the year’s best.  Lucas’s life and his dignity are on the line with every move he makes, and Mikkelsen depicts this solitude in such a competent manner.  At times, Lucas is calm and relaxed because he knows that he has done nothing wrong, but at other moments, he lets his anger get the best of him as members of the community protest his existence.  Two scenes that most elucidate the tense social extradition of Lucas are his confrontation with a series of grocery store employees and his outburst at the Christmas Eve church service—as the latter scene commenced, my eyes opened wide with anticipation and fear.

If you have not seen this film yet, I cannot recommend it to you enough.  It will be one of the tensest movie-watching experiences you will ever have, that much I can guarantee.  I know a number of people do not enjoy watching films with subtitles, but honestly, this film is so incredibly well executed that you will forget all about the movie being in Danish by the time the plot starts to coagulate.  To put it simply, this is a film that you flat-out do not want to miss.  The Hunt is rated R for sexual content including a graphic image, violence, and language.

The Hunt trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK9cO7QN8Ak

Academy Award nominations for The Hunt:

Best Foreign Language Film (Denmark – The Hunt)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club