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The Oscars 2021: The Good, the Bad and the Awkward

After such a turbulent year, the 93rd Academy Awards offered the promise of one glamorous night in the world of entertainment. For the past three years, I have recapped the Oscars (see my 2019 recap and my 2020 recap), highlighting exciting moments and sharing my predictions with the outcomes of each category. Once again, the Oscars went without a host, instead having a variety of celebrities present the awards. They also decided to air the pre-recorded performances of the Best Original Song nominees before the actual show, which I thought to be an odd choice as the musical performances often are a much-needed break in between the awards.

Regina King started the show with a fabulously dramatic entrance and went directly into announcing the nominees for Original Screenplay. This year, the presenters chose to introduce each nominee with a fun fact about them or something special about the film, making the awards a bit more personal. It did take the nominees a while to get used to this, though, and for a while, it looked like they were all scared and preparing to be roasted, like in a traditional comedian’s monologue.

An awkward mood carried on throughout the entire show, with many moments demonstrating just how much we have all lost of our social skills over the past year. Although there were some highlights, the show was overall a bit of a mess that not even the gorgeous space and production design could save. Most of the show felt very rushed despite it running just as long as it always does. That was until the last thirty minutes which felt like a turn towards silly and frankly insulting show decisions. Although the music game hosted by Questlove brought us an iconic moment of Glenn Close dancing Da Butt, following that directly with a rushed In Memoriam for one of the more grim years involving death was a very odd decision.

So, let’s dive into all of the awards from last night’s show! If I predicted the winner, it is noted with a star.

Original Screenplay: Promising Young Woman, Written by Emerald Fennell*

Writer and director Emerald Fennell emphasizes her love for her team who shot this film in 23 days. She becomes the first woman to win for either Best Original or Adapted Screenplay in 13 years, after Diablo Cody’s win for Juno.

Adapted Screenplay: The Father, Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller*

Zeller and Hampton adapted the screenplay of The Father from the French play, written by Zeller. This was Zeller’s first feature film, exploring the perspective of an aging man (Anthony Hopkins) who is losing his memory.

International Feature Film: Another Round, Denmark*

Director Thomas Vinterberg gave a heartwarming speech, joking that he has been preparing for this moment since he was young, practicing what he would say on the train. He says Another Round is a deeply personal movie that is a tribute to his late daughter.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah*

Kaluuya delivers a truly unforgettable speech for his first Oscar win. First, he emphasizes the importance of unity to cause change, saying that we all still have a lot of work to do. A triumphant Kaluuya concludes by exclaiming, “Let’s celebrate life, man. We’re breathing. We’re walking. It’s incredible. Life’s incredible! My mom met my dad. They had sex. It’s amazing!” The cameras on his mother and sister watching in the audience in London made the moment priceless.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson*

Mia Neal, wigmaker and hairstylist, created over 100 wigs for the entire cast in only three weeks to transform the actors into the world of the legendary Ma Rainey. Neal and Wilson are the first Black women to win in the category of makeup and hairstyling, noting, “I also stand here, as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling, with so much excitement for the future.”

Costume Design: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Ann Roth*

Roth wins her second Academy Award for the intricate costuming work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. She is now the oldest woman to ever win an Oscar, at 89 years old.

Directing: Nomadland, Chloé Zhao*

She is the first Asian-American woman to be nominated in the category and the second female director to win in the category, after Kathryn Bigelow’s win for The Hurt Locker in 2010. “I have always found goodness in the people I have met around the world,” says Zhao, “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other.”

Sound: Sound of Metal, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh*

I mean, it is in the title! In all seriousness, the way this film manipulates sound to create an immersive viewing experience, bringing the audience into Ruben’s world as he loses his hearing, is incredible. This year, the Academy combined the categories of Sound and Sound Editing to make it a bit more simplistic.

Short Film (Live Action): Two Distant Strangers, Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe*

Travon Free gives a moving speech about the importance of seeing the pain of the Black community and the importance of recognizing how common police violence is, which statistically takes the lives of about 1000 people each year.

Short Film (Animated): If Anything Happens I Love You, Will McCormack and Michael Govier*

“We deserve better,” says winner Will McCormack about the need for increased gun safety regulations, an important theme explored in the animated short film, If Anything Happens I Love You.

Animated Feature Film: Soul, Pete Docter and Dana Murray*

Docter and Murray thank music teachers everywhere and recognize the unique opportunity they were given to explore the meaning of life where it is often not seen: animation.

Documentary (Short Subject): Colette, Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard

Giacchino and Doyard emphasize how all of the nominees in this category especially explore very important topics, recognizing the memory of Latasha Harlins, Horace Bowers, the children of Yemen and the protesters in Hong Kong. “Today is Colette’s birthday. She was born just 22 days before the very first Oscars in 1929. When we got nominated, she reminded us that the power of documentary filmmaking ensured that her brother, Jean-Pierre, was, as she put it, no longer lost in the night and fog of the Nazi concentration camp system.”

Documentary (Feature): My Octopus Teacher, Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster*

My Octopus Teacher explores the friendship between a diver and an octopus in a kelp forest in South Africa. Netflix gets another nod for bringing some of these nominees to the platform, which allows more people to see these films that are often overlooked by the general public.

Visual Effects: Tenet, Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher*

Say what you want about this “confusing” movie, but the visual effects were truly fresh and exciting, manipulating time in a backwards and forwards manner, constantly subverting expectations for viewers.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari*

She began by saying what an honor it is to meet Brad Pitt who presented this award. “We became a family,” she says about the rest of the cast of Minari. She is the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award. In a later interview, she says, “I’ve had a long career built step by step. Nothing happened bam, like this, and this award is so very happy to get. In our field, we’re comparing different movies so I’m just lucky tonight. And maybe some American hospitality!”

Production Design: Mank, Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale*

Mank explores the world of 1930s Hollywood from the perspective of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he works on Citizen Kane. The production design was integral to the film, transporting the audience back in time.

Cinematography: Mank, Erik Messerschmidt

This was a surprising win to me, as I believed that Nomadland’s Joshua James Richards would take this one home. However, Messerschmidt’s precise and crisp black-and-white cinematography for Mank dazzled the Academy.

Film Editing: Sound of Metal, Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

A pleasantly surprising win for me, Sound of Metal incorporates film and sound editing to create a unique and groundbreaking viewing experience for the audience. Nielsen says, “It’s been like following a rainbow for me, and today I feel like we found the gold.”

Original Score: Soul, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste*

Notice that Reznor and Ross were both double nominated in this category (for Soul and Mank)! Jon Batiste, the bandleader and musical director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, added the unique edge to this score needed to secure this win.

Original Song: "Fight For You" from Judas and the Black Messiah; Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas

Can we just talk about H.E.R.’s gorgeous sparkly look?! “Music is power. Knowledge is power.”

Best Picture: Nomadland, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey and Chloé Zhao, Producers*

Placing the Best Picture winner not at the very end of the show was an odd decision, setting up what many anticipated to be a tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman to conclude the show. Zhao thanks the entire nomad community for teaching “the power of resilience and hope and for reminding us what true kindness looks like.” Frances McDormand shares her excitement to get back to the movie theaters and to see all of the nominated films on as large of a screen as possible. “We give this one to our wolf,” McDormand exclaims before going into a wolf cry to end the speech.

Actress in a Leading Role: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Frances McDormand wins her third Oscar in this category, after winning in 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and in 1997 for Fargo.

Actor in a Leading Role: Anthony Hopkins, The Father

A truly shocking end to this year’s show, after an awards season full of anticipation for the late Chadwick Boseman to receive his well-deserved award. Anthony Hopkin’s stellar performance is also well-deserved of this recognition, but as he was not in attendance to accept his award and potentially pay tribute to Boseman, the show came to an abrupt end and credits began to roll before they could even show the reactions of anyone in the room. As Richard Newby put it well in this tweet, “Anthony Hopkins is without fault. Class-act and brilliant performance in The Father. Truly, he, Boseman, and Ahmed were all neck and neck for me. Fault is on the Oscar producers who, for ratings, needlessly made the loss of an icon even harder on those anticipating his honor.”

My predictions: 17/23 correct

Overall, this year’s Academy Awards worked almost seamlessly around the pandemic restrictions but faltered when it came to unnecessary structure changes and an overarching awkward mood.

Lainey is a senior at Kent State University studying Fashion Design with a minor in Costume Design & Technology. She is so excited to be the Editor-in-Chief for Her Campus Kent State this year and to start her career in costume design for film and television. Read on for the latest on film, fashion, music and much more!
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