Virtual ceremonies, Zoom acceptance speeches and wince-inducing tech fails have dominated this pandemic awards season - and the organisers of this year’s Oscars saw all that and thought, ‘no thanks.’
The Academy Awards is always the biggest night in the awards calendar, but never more so than in 2021, when it marked a tentative return to normality in Hollywood, with the first in-person ceremony after months of lacklustre digital events.
That’s not to say, though, that the 93rd Academy Awards felt like business as usual. From the brand new venue to some major shake-ups to the schedule and an awkward ending to rival 2017’s envelopegate, these are the standout moments from an Oscars ceremony that will surely go down as one of the strangest in history.
An attention-grabbing - and yes, socially distanced - new venue
We’ll admit it. When the Academy announced that this year’s bash would be taking place in… wait for it… Los Angeles’ biggest transport hub, we had questions, imagining a bunch of A-listers perched awkwardly on fold-out seats in the American equivalent of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras. We needn’t have doubted their judgement. The Art Deco ticket hall at Union Station underwent an incredible Oscars night glow-up, decked out with spaced-out seating pods for nominees and guests, with two outdoor veranda areas bathing the show in natural light. It’s worth noting, though, that the venue decision was not without controversy: closed-off entrances made it difficult for transport users, especially those with access issues, to navigate the station on the night.
Regina King’s emotive opening speech
The organisers have spent the past few weeks describing the 2021 Oscars as a ‘cinematic event,’ and director Steven Soderbergh was one of this year’s producers, so it made sense that the ceremony kicked off with a low-key homage to the Ocean’s films, with the camera following presenter and previous winner Regina King as she made her way through Union Station (managing to navigate a slight tumble - “Live TV, here we go!” she noted - like a pro). When she arrived in the main hall to start the show, things took a powerful turn as she alluded to the result of the recent Derek Chauvin trial. “I know a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you,” she said. “But as the mother of a black son, I know the fear that so many live with. And no amount of fame or fortune changes that, OK?”
Daniel Kaluuya’s mum will be having words
Londoner Kaluuya was among the British stars to be recognised on the night, picking up the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his turn as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah (side note: he is also the first member of the cast of Skins to win an Oscar). Instead of opting for the usual winner’s speech template of ‘I’d like to thank my mum and dad…’ Kaluuya went a little off-piste, Kaluuya ended up ad-libbing about the importance of celebrating life, before unexpectedly telling the audience: “My mum, my dad, they had sex - it’s amazing!” The cameras instantly cut to Kaluuya’s family in London, with his mortified mum mouthing “What is he talking about?” as his sister threw her head into her hands.
The musical performances were MIA
From Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s scaled-back version of Shallow to Adele’s Bond moment to, erm, that random appearance from Eminem last year, the Oscars’ musical performances have provided some of the most memorable moments in recent awards show history. This time, though, despite boasting Best Original Song nominees like H.E.R. and original Hamilton cast member Leslie Odom Jr., the Academy hit a bum note with their strange decision to throw all the performances from this year’s contenders into a pre-show event, broadcast prior to the actual ceremony, rather than interspersing them throughout the night.
Yuh-Jung Youn shoots her shot with Brad Pitt
Minari star Yuh-Jung Youn has been having a truly heroic awards season - no mean feat when everything up until now has taken place over Zoom, where charisma goes to die. At the Baftas earlier this month, she used her acceptance speech to describe us Brits as “very snobbish people.” Then, as she received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night (becoming the first Korean actor to do so), she didn’t pass up the chance to properly introduce herself to Brad Pitt, whose production company Plan B worked on Minari. “Mr Brad Pitt, finally,” she said. “Nice to meet you. Where were you when we were filming in Tulsa?”
Oscar history was made
Her win wasn’t the only historic moment. Chloé Zhao became the first Asian woman - and the second woman - to be crowned Best Director for Nomadland, while 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins (more on him later) became the oldest actor to win an Oscar. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, who worked on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, became the first black women to receive the Oscar for Best Make-up and Hairstyling. “I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters, and our Latina sisters, and indigenous women, and I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal,” Neal said.
Glenn Close wins the award for most gracious loser
One woman who set a rather less enviable Oscar record was Glenn Close, who is now the most nominated actress never to win an Oscar. Close, though, didn’t let that get in the way of apparently having a much better time than everyone else at the ceremony. She arrived on the red carpet wearing a snazzy pair of purple gloves (fashion, but make it Covid-proof) but well and truly stole the show later in the evening, when she was called upon to explain the history of Da Butt, a go-go track used in the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze, and promptly starting twerking. Gold statuette or no gold statuette, this woman is an icon.
An anti-climactic ending
In a significant shake-up to the usual proceedings, Best Picture was announced as the penultimate category, leaving Best Actor as the final trophy to hand out. It’s clear that the organisers were counting on a posthumous win for Chadwick Boseman, who died last year at the age of 42, for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. However, their predictions didn’t play out. The Father’s Anthony Hopkins was announced as the winner - but the acting legend was not present at the ceremony, meaning that a black and white headshot (also Hopkins’ Twitter profile picture) was beamed onto the screen as presenter Joaquin Phoenix awkwardly accepted the trophy on his behalf. Talk about an anti-climax. There’s no doubt that it was a deserving win for Hopkins, but by gaming the schedule like this, the Academy ended up doing a disservice to both him and Boseman. The Moonlight - La La Land mix-up is no longer the strangest ceremony ending in Oscar history.