It’s only right that a year as strange as this gets a strange Oscar ceremony. Though perhaps it wasn’t so strange and we’re just unaccustomed to a pared-down Academy Awards. All nominees and guests took two COVID-19 tests, and were mask-less but seated in a distanced fashion. Familiar beats were hit – previous winners presenting awards, the ‘In Memorium’ reel (rather hurried this time) – but the show was intimate and a little awkward. There were no Zoom attendees, just a socially distanced gathering of celebrities looking a little unsure of themselves.
According to form
The awards themselves went largely according to form. Nomadland was the odds-on favourite (which, confusingly, was announced not at the very end but before Best Actor and Actress) – and it won Best Picture and Best Director for Chloe Zhao. Anthony Hopkins beat off a strong field – including a terrific Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal – to win his second Best Actor trophy for The Father, while Frances McDormand won her third Best Actress for Nomadland.
Also read: ‘Nomadland’ review
Best Score only looked like going to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; they were nominated for Mank and Soul, and won for the latter (along with Jon Batiste). International Feature went the way of Another Round, a film many felt should have been in the running for the main awards as well. Tenet, as predicted, won for Visual Effects.
Also read: 'Another Round' review
With Nomadland, China's Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. She also became only the second woman to win the prize, and the first woman of colour to ever do so. After Bong Joon-ho’s win last year for Parasite, this makes two years in a row that Asian filmmakers have won best director and film at the Oscars.
Seventy-three-year-old Youn Yuh-jung also made history when she won Best Supporting Actress for her role as the irrepressible grandmother in Minari. She became the first Korean actor to win an Oscar. In her speech – the high point of the night – Youn thanked her “two boys who made me go out and work.” “This is the result, because Mommy worked so hard,” she said, brandishing her statue.
Also read: ‘Minari’ review
Perhaps the biggest upset of the night was Emerald Fennell winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Promising Young Woman, which she also directed. She beat the popular, quotable The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin) and the intricately constructed Minari (Lee Isaac Chung). And though My Octopus Teacher is a transfixing visual experience, the emotional heft and formal innovation of Garrett Bradley’s Time should perhaps have prevailed in the Best Documentary Feature category.
Also read: 'Time' and 'My Octopus Teacher' review