If you’re going to hire a director like Steven Soderbergh to handle the Oscars … expect the unexpected. And why not after the year the industry just experienced? Movie theaters shuttered for months (some forever) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Productions were canceled, postponed, and scaled-down with new protocols allowing Tom Cruise to scream at people and somehow be the “good guy” in the exchange. And the deadline to qualify for the ceremony shifted from December 31, 2020 to February 28, 2021. Chaos was baked into this show’s DNA.
It was only right then that I would fire up ABC.com on my television—a direct connection, mind you, wherein the TV serves as the computer’s monitor—to find it streaming at a resolution that made captions almost illegible with no settings button available to manually bump things up. So don’t ask me if the image quality was an Erin Brockovich or an Unsane since signing directly into Zoom probably would have been a step up for me. I didn’t really care, though, since it meant I could scroll Twitter to compile the below tweets without worrying about what I’d miss on-screen.
And let’s be honest: you didn’t need to watch to catch the zaniest bits anyway. A refusal to show clips for any category but International Feature, Animated Feature, Documentary Feature and Best Feature? The decision to have presenters shower nominees with effusive praise or introduce them through inane factoids instead? Giving out Best Director before the technical categories? Going through the In Memoriam section at 3x speed and then including the only comedy bit of the night two hours and forty minutes in because things were running short? How about hinging your big finale on Chadwick Boseman winning his first Oscar posthumously by throwing the curveball that was announcing Best Picture before Lead Actress and Actor only to have him not win?
It wasn’t all bad. Winners were given carte blanche on acceptance speeches (for the most part since groups were generally relegated to one speaker either by choice or force) and the lack of filler (besides the Oscars Trivia bit) really let things be about the craft. Except, of course, the fact we saw almost nothing of the films themselves and thus little of that craft. There’s no better way to honor costumes and music than not showing or playing either respectively.
And how can I not mention the parity? Every Best Picture nominee won at least one Oscar besides The Trial of the Chicago 7 (sorry, Aaron Sorkin). That means the Nomadland sweep ended early (adapted screenplay) so the room for some upsets could cause a bit of drama. Not that the winners will be what we remember most (aside from Chloé Zhao being only the second (!) woman and first (!!) woman of color to take Best Director).
No that would be Daniel Kaluuya thanking his parents for having sex and Glenn Close doing “Da Butt”—was it a coincidence they were seated at the same table? And while Film Twitter united in their disdain for My Octopus Teacher winning over the likes of Time, Collective, and Crip Camp, they may have been even more vocal about the most unforgettable moment of all: ending with a winner who wasn’t present and thus an inability to have any final speech at all. Who knew something so anticlimactic could prove as shocking a climax as La La Land snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2017?
Only a movie year like 2020+ could make it so.