On Sunday, April 25, the Motion Picture Academy moved its annual honors, nicknamed the Oscars, from a theater to a train station, abandoned having a host for yet another year (hard to imagine who'd want the gig at this point), did only one comedy bit (with Glenn Close providing the lone dance number), showed no clips to accompany the acting awards, and had no one perform the nominated songs live.
Most surprising, producers Jesse Collins, Stacy Sher and Steven Soderbergh decided to present the top acting awards after best picture, betting on a big emotional finale with a win for the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
As with a lot of things in the past year or so, it didn't quite turn out as hoped, as Joaquin Phoenix read off Anthony Hopkins' name for The Father, gave a perfunctory acceptance for Hopkins (who wasn't on hand, in-person or virtually) and walked off.
While proving that the producers really don't know the winners ahead of time, nevertheless, it all ended with a bit of a thud.
The same can be said for the ratings. According to a headline in Variety: Oscars Plummet to Record Low, Down 58% Compared to Last Year (and last year was already a new low).
As part of his Originals blog series, I turned to our in-house cinephile, USC film-school grad Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., to see what he thought of Hollywood's biggest night (which, if not entirely successful, was certainly original). -- Kate O'Hare
Overall, what did you think of the awards?
I enjoyed the show. I’m a little biased because I won Family Theater Productions’ office pool, as well as my head-to-head pick ‘em against my screenwriter friend (I’m now three wins, 18 losses and one tie since Gladiator won best picture in 2000).
At just over three hours, it was brisk and heartfelt. Most of the artificiality was stripped out, focusing on the nominees and their backstories. Without the original song numbers, especially, the subdued ceremony had the feel of a daily Mass in Lent.
What was the best part?
The awards night kept you guessing as to the outcome. No film seemed to emerge as a runaway as the evening progressed. In fact, by my count a half-dozen or so films scored two wins, with only Best Picture winner Nomadland getting some separation near the end with Frances McDormand’s Best Actress winner.
What didn't work?
The In Memoriam was a bit of a trainwreck. They tried to match the pacing of the editing to the tempo of the song. For some of those on the list, I didn’t have time to read both their names and their filmmaking disciplines.
In previous years, I typically tried to make the sequence a prayer of sorts, but that experience was mostly ruined this time around.
In your opinion, were any films unfairly snubbed?
Oddly enough, this was the year the Oscars got it right in almost every category -- and they have been getting it correct ever since the short list was announced. I agreed with what made the short list, then concurred with what got nominated and what didn’t get beyond the short list.
Then my picks aligned with what won on Oscar night. As crazy as the last year has been, almost all the winners were deserving of their prizes. You would be hard-pressed to play the “what did win/should’ve won” game in 2021.
Which win surprised you most?
Emerald Fennell’s original screenplay for Promising Young Woman. Although, I did pick the graduate of Greyfriars (a Catholic friary and parish, which until 2008 was also an educational institution within the U.K.'s University of Oxford) to win, the only person in either of my Oscar pools to do so. I went with my gut, and my belief that it was truly deserving.
You often ask in these Originals Q&As if the movie considered is truly original, and I can almost always draw a parallel. PYM is truly one-of-a-kind. I can’t really say much about it, because like a good movie, it keeps you guessing the whole time.
Which loss was most surprising?
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. She’s the heart and soul of the film. My heart skipped a beat in the “meet cute” scene. She broke it later on in the story, and finally mended it in this revenge tale with a justice twist. I was thinking about the character days later.
The Oscar producers gambled big in putting the Best Actor last, believing Chadwick Boseman would win -- but it was Anthony Hopkins. Why do you think Hopkins prevailed over the sentimental favorite?
I thought it was a toss-up. While suffering from terminal cancer, Chadwick Boseman played a musician at the prime of his life in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Inversely, Anthony Hopkins, clearly at the height of his powers as an actor, portrayed a man who descends into dementia in The Father.
I would give a slight edge to Hopkins and The Father’s other nominees for creating an immersive experience. See blog linked here.
In the conversation you and I had after the ceremony, you pointed out while Boseman delivered a powerful soliloquy in the film, based on a 1982 August Wilson play, it felt like something more suitable for stage than screen. The fault, then, lies not in his performance, but in the adaptation (or lack of adaptation) of the writing from the original stage play.
Nomadland was a studio film, not a small indie film, but also not a blockbuster. What does its win represent for Hollywood?
As I mentioned to the online presentation I gave to a group at St. Monica's, the Santa Monica, California, parish where I'm in residence, Nomadland was just one of a host of films nominated for Oscars. I vote on the Film Independent Spirit Awards (budgets less than $20M), and I’ve noticed more and more overlap between the year-end events. Smaller niche stories are here to stay.
Winning actress Frances McDormand of Nomadland spoke out on behalf of seeing movies in theaters. What do you think the outlook is for that between now and the next Oscars?
I applaud her encouragement. I think we’ll still be in a hybrid model of digital and in-person theaters, especially for the overseas market.
Before pandemic hit, films were shot and in the can, so this year’s Oscars were about the same in terms of eligible films and the normal production cycle. We will feel the pinch in the 2022 Oscars, as less production was happening in 2020 and subsequently less post-production scheduled for 2021.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, they should skip next year and have a double-awards ceremony in 2023. It would at least be a good excuse to try it and hearken back to the first years of Academy Awards, when they were held bi-annually.
My reference tends to be sports, where golf’s Ryder Cup is held every two years, and the Olympics every four.
How did the way most movies were watched (screeners, VOD, streaming) change the experience?
It was no coincidence I had my best year of predicting because of the temporary shift to digital. I could watch the films as voting members did, on their own time, in the comfort of their home while still in workout clothes. I suppose I got into the voters' minds better than had I been at the theaters as per usual.
Director Soderburgh said he wanted the show to feel like a movie. Did you feel this ended up being true?
It had a bit of the look and feel of a movie. The venue of Union Station felt more like a movie set than a standard awards theater. I enjoyed the Steadicam work that we see in action movies.
But ultimately, we watch movies because of story and a familiar story structure. Starting with the two screenplay awards and that they ended up mild surprises made for the inciting incident.
Mid-way through several films were in contention, and you weren’t quite sure where it would go. When all seemed to be lost in my Oscar pick ‘em, the show staggered the traditional order with a “plot twist” placing Best Picture before the Actors awards.
I was able to win my pick ‘em on the last category, which, as you mentioned, was the Hopkins upset of Boseman. A true Hollywood twist ending for both the show and for those wagering at home.
Image: Adobe Stock
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.
Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.