We all know that COVID-19 has changed plenty, and we could fill a year’s worth of blogs on just what and how. But this year’s Oscars might’ve been exhibit A.
The last time the Oscars were held—way back on Feb. 9, 2020—the world was a relatively normal place. Guests filed into the Dolby Theater, as they had for every Oscars since 2002. People were treated to musical numbers and comedy bits, and the night’s final Academy Award presentation went to the Best Picture winner (Parasite, in case you’re wondering). That’s been the case since 1972!
But last night, from the opening monologue to the closing credits, the Oscars felt … different.
It was by design, at least in part: Oscars producer Steven Soderbergh (of Ocean’s 11 fame) wanted to make the telecast feel more like a movie than a TV awards show, so he moved the ceremony from the Dolby Theater and into Los Angeles’ comparatively cozy Union Station—which has been the set piece of many a film. While it didn’t feel like a movie to me, it did feel like a high-polish banquet.
The stars in attendance went maskless, as well—unusual to see in any large gathering. Regina King, the first star to appear on camera during the show, again framed it as a cinematic decision. “Think of this as a movie set,” she said. “An Oscars movie with a cast of over 200 nominees. People have been vaxxed, tested, retested, social distanced and we are following all of the rigorous protocols that got us back to work safely.”
Gone were the lavish dance numbers. Gone were most of the comedy bits (though one culminated in eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close showcasing her knowledge of Experience Unlimited’s song “Da Butt,” including a few bring-the-house-down dance moves.) And instead of ending with Best Picture (which went to Nomadland), the final Oscar went to the year’s Best Actor winner—Anthony Hopkins, for his devastating performance in The Father, rather than a posthumous win for the equally excellent Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Since Hopkins wasn’t even around to accept the award in person, the show’s conclusion felt as though viewers were being shooshed out the door at closing time.
Nomadland—the evening’s most decorated film with three trophies—was a different sort of winner, too. While the film was anchored by Francis McDormand (who won her third acting Oscar last night) and directed by Chloe Zhao (who became the second woman to ever win a Best Director Oscar last night, and the first woman of color), the film featured mostly non-actors in its “cast”—the rugged, free-spirited souls who truly live out of vans and travel the country. As if to punctuate the film’s unusual vibe, McDormand led the cast in a wolf call after accepting the Best Picture statuette.
Still, for all that changed, much stayed the same. Despite the lack of song-and-dance numbers, the Oscars still ran over its three-hour limit. Viewers were still treated to plenty of political messages (not surprising, considering how many nominees dealt with big hot-button issues). And as has been the case for several years, people were upset with who was omitted from the Oscars’ traditional “In Memoriam” segment (which honors those in the film industry who’ve died in the last year). Jessica Walter, Naya Rivera and Nick Rivera were all overlooked—perhaps because they were all perhaps more famous for their television and stage work than for their appearance in films.
For those who watched the Oscars with an eye toward faith, the winners and show included some notable moments.
Soul, which was completely predicated on spiritual (if not explicitly Christian) content, won for Best Animated Feature. Minari, which was filled with plenty of Christian references, got a nod, too—for the delightful Yuh-Jung Youn, who won for Best Supporting Actress. Sound of Metal and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also had a bit of faith content to them, as well, and both movies were honored: Sound of Metal for Best Film Editing, and Ma Rainey for Best Costume Design and Best Hair and Makeup. (By the way, we talk about some of the Oscar nominees, and their spiritual components, in a recent podcast.)
And Thomas Vinterberg, who directed the Best International Feature (Another Round), dedicated the award to her daughter, who died in a car accident four days before Vinterberg started filming—expressing hope that she was watching somewhere.
“We ended up making this movie for her, as her monument,” he said. “So, Ida, this is a miracle that just happened and you’re a part of this miracle. Maybe you’ve been pulling some strings somewhere, I don’t know. But this one is for you.”
It was one of the sweetest moments in one of the stranger Oscar telecasts in recent memory. And in a cinematic season like this, we can use all the sweetness we can get.