Highlights from the 93rd Oscars

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, PERSONIFIED. Regina King nailed her description of newbie feature director Emerald Fennell as a “Promising Young Woman”. That, of course, is the title of Fennell’s film, which would win Best Original Screenplay minutes later. And in a year when Oscar speeches decidedly took on new flavor, Fennell’s offbeat tone was a charming start.

SKÅL FOR DENMARK. In a ceremony that exercised lenience towards long speeches, Thomas Vinterberg took the audience to emotional extremes. What began with cheeky smugness (“This is beyond anything I could ever imagine, except this is something I always imagined”), segued to holding back tears as the Danish director opened up about losing his daughter before production. It was a jolting shift in tone that left the audience speechless, but a tender moment nonetheless, made possible by the show’s intimate new format. With its victory, Another Round is now Denmark’s fourth Oscar-winning feature, following Babette’s Feast (1987), Pelle the Conqueror (1988), and In a Better World (2010). The country would add another milestone later in the telecast: the winner for Best Editing, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen (Sound of Metal), is also Danish.  

CLEAN SWEEP FOR DANIEL KALUUYA. The Golden Globes muting episode is now a thing of the past for Judas and the Black Messiah’s Daniel Kaluuya, who obviously relished the expanded speaking time and delivered his thanks with such poetic cadence. Though judging from his mother’s scandalized reaction towards the end, alluding to his parents’ sex life might have been a step too far. Either way, this victory makes Kaluuya the only actor to win all his nominations throughout this awards season.

BLACK BOTTOM‘S BACK-TO-BACK MILESTONES. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom scored two consecutive landmark wins in the technical categories when Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson jointly became the first black women to win Best Make-Up and Hairstyling for their work with Sergio Lopez-Rivera. Immediately after that, 89-year-old Ann Roth won her second Costume Design award 24 years after her first for The English Patient, making her the oldest ever female to win an Oscar. Suddenly, that Best Picture snub feels inconsequential.

RIZ AHMED ANNOUNCES HIS OWN FILM’S VICTORY. It’s unclear why Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed ended up presenting Best Sound, where his own film, Sound of Metal, was in the running. Whether that was a minor oversight or something within the bounds of intention, that smirk he sported upon opening the envelope and the resulting congratulatory hugging spree were priceless.

MANK SCORES SURPRISE SECOND WIN. Despite leading the nomination tally with 10 nods, David Fincher‘s Mank was only expected to win for Production Design. One of this year’s pleasant jaw-droppers came when they won Best Cinematography, consecutively after securing their lone expected win for Production Design. Even cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt was visibly surprised he usurped what was anticipated to be one of Nomadland’s technical sure bets. Presenter Halle Berry must be their lucky charm.   

YOUN YUH-JUNG STEALS THE SHOW. There was initially a general fear that Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari wouldn’t win anything – presumably because a Korean already dominated last year and Best Foreign Language Film was recently re-branded as Best International Feature (Minari’s an American production). That fear was soon assuaged when veteran actress Youn Yuh-Jung overtook Borat’s Maria Bakalova at the tail-end of the awards season, which eventually paved the way for her to become the first South Korean to earn an acting Oscar. People who witnessed her memorable SAG and BAFTA speeches would probably attribute this plot twist to Youn’s candid personality and hilarious quips. Oscar viewers sure had their fill.  

HALF-AN-EGOT IN A MONTH. Fil-Am R&B singer H.E.R. received her first Oscar nomination barely 24 hours after her surprising Grammy Song of the Year win. And by just-as-surprisingly edging out a predicted Odom-Warren toss-up with her Judas and the Black Messiah anthem Fight For You, she’s now two awards away from an EGOT.

SHAKE IT, GLENN CLOSE. Much as we’re raring to finally witness Glenn Close graduate from Gracious Loser Cutaways, it really wasn’t meant to be through Hillbilly Elegy. Face it, the film was a critical dud, plus she’s also up for a Razzie for the same role. But if there’s any consolation in her eighth Oscar loss and even that filler of an ice-breaker, she got the most cheers than any winner that evening.

ALL HAIL CHLOÉ ZHAO. We can momentarily absolve the Academy for taking seven years shy of a century to award two female directors. Redemption came anyway, even if it took too damn long and even if it happened way too early in the telecast. And whatever happens from here on in, Chloé Zhao’s name will now be synonymous to breaking barriers, as far as this award-giving body is concerned. Apart from being the first woman of color, she is also the first to succeed another Asian and the first woman to beat another woman in the Best Director category. And, lest we forget, that other woman is Emerald Fennell, who didn’t exactly walk away empty-handed herself. These are more-than-welcome developments in a race that, for decades, disproportionately favored men. Time for the ladies to catch up.

NOMADLAND FINISHES STRONG. Despite not winning any technical award, Nomadland still ended up becoming this year’s most awarded film. Apart from Chloé Zhao’s groundbreaking Best Director win, the film also clinched the highest honor, which was curiously not presented last this year. And just when we thought that the last we’d hear from co-producer Frances McDormand was that wolf howl, she also prevailed in what was easily the tightest Best Actress race in Oscar history. Finding herself back onstage, McDormand began her speech with an excerpt from Macbeth (“I have no words: my voice is in my sword”) before echoing her winning character Fern (“…I like work”). With this third win, McDormand now trails behind only Katharine Hepburn who had four Best Actress trophies. And yes, this even puts her ahead Meryl Streep, whose first of three Oscars was for Best Supporting Actress.  

CHADWICK BOSEMAN LOSES TO ANTHONY HOPKINS. Look, it’s not like there were no precedents to this; the BAFTA shocker early this month was already a hint. But when we figured they were about to end the show with Best Actor, it felt like we were up for a dramatic finale. And what could have been a more searing than a departed nominee winning the award he was highly touted to win? It was probably the rationale behind the mishmashed presentations and unfortunately, this is where it backfired. This is not to undercut the eventual result. Because, come to think of it, Anthony Hopkins was substantially more of a lead in The Father than Chadwick Boseman’s Levee Green, who was essentially second fiddle to Viola DavisMa Rainey. The anticlimax stems mostly from Hopkins’ absence (He’s in Wales), which obliged presenter Joaquin Phoenix to resort to the usual “accept award on his behalf” and Questlove to abruptly take on the wrap-up duties. It was an awkward ending to an otherwise inventive Oscar ceremony.

And had this clip been available at that time, it might have softened the blow:

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