The producers of Sunday’s Oscars promised the pandemic ceremony would be something different: a movie. It sounded corny, but after the longest and strangest awards season ever and months of Zoom acceptance speeches, it seemed like it could be a fun experiment.
And it was a lot of fun — until it wasn’t, delivering a twist ending that was, in fact, befitting of a movie, albeit a deeply unsatisfying one. In by far the biggest surprise in recent award show history, Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for “The Father.” All through awards season, the single most certain prediction that movie fans and awards season prognosticators could make was that the Best Actor trophy was expected to go to the late Chadwick Boseman for his towering final performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
The Oscars producers clearly wanted to keep viewers on their toes until the very end, switching up the awards order and putting Best Picture not at the very end, but prior to Best Actress and, finally, Best Actor. As the show went on, viewers and reporters speculated that the change in the awards order was building toward Boseman’s posthumous win, and potentially a tribute to him to conclude the ceremony.
It would have been a predictable but satisfying ending. Instead, the Oscars delivered the exact opposite. It was the equivalent of sitting in the theater at the end of a three-hour, emotional roller coaster of a movie and saying: “What the hell did I just watch?!”
At first, the ceremony — produced by Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins — showed a lot of promise. The nominees were sitting at tables in the stylish, art deco Union Station in Los Angeles. Regina King opened the show, making a glorious entrance that was straight out of one of Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” movies. (Hollywood, please cast Regina King in a heist movie immediately.)
Visually, the show did quickly dispense with the cinematic approach. But the show’s producers allowed for a lot of moments that gave the ceremony the most joy they’ve had in a while. Every year, the Oscars promise to pay tribute to the movies, often through hokey montages about the “magic of movies.” But this ceremony felt more personal and intimate. Presenters talked about their first movie memories, and the onstage banter didn’t feel as canned as usual. They allowed speeches to go longer than they usually would, giving us some legendary moments. (Youn Yuh-jung absolutely understood the assignment.)
As the clock ticked toward 11 p.m., the pace of the show started to drag. Lil Rel Howery’s Oscar music trivia segment was an unnecessary way to kill time — but it did produce a truly iconic clip of Glenn Close doing Da Butt. (Can Close, a perennial Oscar nominee who has somehow never won, get an Oscar just for that? This show was a movie!)
And then, it all came crashing down, like the third act of a movie that had a lot going for it, but couldn’t stick the landing.
The twist ending was mainly the fault of Oscar voters. But the show’s producers, by trying to shake up the ceremony, attempted too many tricks, and it backfired spectacularly.
If the ceremony were a movie, it was one that began with a solid premise, good characters, stylish visuals, and then a terrible final act — in which the characters we were rooting for didn’t get the ending they deserved.