In the weeks leading up the Oscars, we were promised that the show would feel like a film, on live television, with the actors playing themselves. And that was part of the intrigue – what would that look like, and how would they pull it off?
I mean… I think they might have oversold it. The opening sequence? For sure, that looked and felt like a movie, pure Soderbergh. And it was GREAT (we’ll get to it later), but the problem is that they couldn’t sustain it past the first ten minutes after Regina King did the heavy lifting. It stopped feeling like a movie the minute they had to stay in the ballroom. Apart from the first scene, then, it ended up being an award show; it was an award show under extraordinary circumstances, but an award show nonetheless – and, no, not a movie.
That’s not to say there weren’t some highlights. For instance, I really did like how the winners seemed to be speaking to a room full of their peers during their acceptance speeches. They weren’t looking out into a theatre full of mostly strangers. They were talking to each other. There was an earnest collegiality to it that had its charm and I read somewhere a couple of weeks ago someone compared the vibe to the nominees’ luncheon, which didn’t happen this year, and that they were kinda hoping the show would have that feel …and it seemed to; so for the audience, that was an approximation of what that might be like to be a part of. I also really, really love Marlee Matlin, Oscar winner, loved her in Children of a Lesser God, and appreciate that she returned to the Oscars as a presenter, still the only deaf Oscar winner in history, and the youngest Best Actress winner ever.
For the most part, having actors deliver extended introductions also worked well, especially if they felt comfortable enough to go off-script (Regina King for the win again). These are people in the know appreciating people they know and you could tell that it really meant something to them to hear their peers acknowledge their work.
Questlove and Lil Rel Howery were also really great for the energy. There was a club groove to it that the Academy should consider more often to help loosen people up. That Oscar Trivia bit, to me, was way better than Jimmy Kimmel giving people food.
That said, despite Questlove and Lil Rel’s best efforts, the show did feel at times like an annual corporate retreat. It was the shade of blue on that small stage, and the open wings on either side leading to some confusion as to where to exit – like it was super obvious that this wasn’t a proper theatre so some of the people who won in categories that weren’t so high profile seemed like they were being presented with the “best sales” award at the company dinner. Not exactly cinematic.
And then, if we want to get even more inside baseball, since there was natural light coming in through the windows, and the event was over three hours long, the light kept changing throughout the show, and I don’t think they were adjusting well to it because some of the presenters were really badly lit. I noticed it most with Halle Berry. Look at her in this shot – I mean, I know her new hairstyle probably isn’t popular but they did her dirty by not lighting her face properly. You can’t see her eyes!
But of course the most controversial production decision now, in hindsight, is the decision to announce Best Picture not at the end but before the lead actress and actor categories. For a long, long time at the Oscars, Best Picture has been the one we wait for, the biggest award of the night. Before we found out who actually won Best Actor, this seemed like a good call. This year in particular most people watching hadn’t seen most of the Best Picture nominees. So, in theory, the audience wasn’t sticking around well past the three hour mark for a list of movies they don’t care about. But they might care about the people in those movies – especially if one of those people is a superhero.
That was the intent, non? Chadwick Boseman was the frontrunner for Best Actor. And it appeared as though even the show producers thought he would win, and designed the Oscars like it was a movie, saving the most emotionally anticipated moment to the end…
For what it’s worth, there were some signs last week that it may not have been a slamdunk. Sir Anthony Hopkins won the BAFTA and was on Colbert on the last day of voting and there’s a healthy British contingent in the Academy; then Riz Ahmed won the Independent Spirit Award so coming into the Oscars, Chadwick’s streak wasn’t as strong as it was a month ago.
Still. Chadwick was the favourite. And it appeared that even the show’s producers, Jesse Collins, Stacy Sher, and Steven Soderbergh thought the same and scripted the end of their Oscar movie accordingly. I mean, that’s the ONLY reason Joaquin Phoenix was chosen to present when he did. Because nobody ends the show on Joaquin Phoenix, LOL! There is no producer in the world who would look at a list of presenters and say to themselves – yep, I want to the show to close on the guy who doesn’t want to be at the show.
Joaquin Phoenix was there as a vessel to say “Chadwick Boseman”, then disappear. Instead, Joaquin Phoenix was the one who had to accept on behalf of Sir Anthony Hopkins to muted applause and even some disappointed groans. It was an audible letdown, no disrespect to Sir Anthony Hopkins – what we’re talking about here is an emotional buildup. For months now, and definitely for the three plus hours of the Oscars, all night people in that room and at home were expecting an emotional release, and what they got instead was Joaquin Phoenix holding an envelope, almost apologetically, and backing off the stage like he couldn’t wait to peace out…
This is not the ending the producers were producing. And of course they had no way of knowing and that’s why the Oscars are the Oscars and not the People’s Choice Awards but the Oscars are also a television show – or rather, in this case, a TV movie, and the ending of this TV movie was …not a blockbuster. Which, I guess, in the most meta way, is kinda fitting, considering the state of the movie business after this year.
BREAKING: Anthony Hopkins wins the Academy Award for Best Actor. https://t.co/sdgeoBK7lX #Oscars pic.twitter.com/juaMIYpCLN— ABC News (@ABC) April 26, 2021