(CNN)The Oscars are over, and except perhaps for the winners, the prevailing feeling is more relief than euphoria. If one message emerged from the telecast and preshow, it was the hope for better days ahead, with an in-person ceremony that signaled the prospect of going back to the movies.
Award shows have mightily struggled during the pandemic, and the 93rd Academy Awards — despite the advantage of capping off an extended 14-month “awards season” calendar — promise to be no exception. Yet even a charitable assessment would find the presentation lacking, amid a host of decisions that ranged from puzzling to flatly misguided.The awards themselves made history on a number of fronts. “Nomadland’s” Chloé Zhao became only the second woman ever to win Best Director and the first woman of color, for a movie that premiered on the streaming service Hulu, a seemingly inevitable milestone in a year that, by necessity, temporarily erased those lines.Academy Awards 2021: 'Nomadland' wins best picture at an Oscars that spreads the wealthYears of effort to promote diversity after the #OscarsSoWhite campaign could be seen elsewhere, from “Minari’s” Korean co-star Yuh-jung Youn to Pixar’s “Soul,” the animation studio’s first movie with a predominantly African American cast. Even Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar for “The Father,” while preventing Chadwick Boseman from receiving that honor posthumously, made the 83-year-old the oldest acting winner, a blow against ageism in an industry known for practicing it.Such breakthroughs, however, are only one of the ways a multifaceted enterprise like his year’s awards can be judged, reflecting progress in some areas and deficiencies in others.Read MoreUnder the stewardship of Steven Soderbergh, the Oscars sought to celebrate the people who make movies, and as the acclaimed director stated prior to the show, provide them the experience — the magical moment — of accepting awards in the company of their peers. A change of venue and Covid protocols allowed for that, in a departure from virtual events that appeared liberating for those on hand and represented an impressive feat of logistics. Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsFrom left, producer Peter Spears, actress Frances McDormand, director Chloé Zhao, producer Mollye Asher and producer Dan Janvey pose with their Oscars in the press room after their film “Nomadland” won best picture on Sunday, April 25.Hide Caption 1 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsA trio of Oscar winners — from left, Yuh-jung Youn, Daniel Kaluuya and Frances McDormand — pose together in the press room. Youn won best supporting actress for her role in “Minari.” Kaluuya won best supporting actor for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” And McDormand won best actress for “Nomadland.”Hide Caption 2 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActor Bryan Cranston recognizes some of the vaccinated front-line workers who were at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday night. Cranston was presenting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to the Motion Picture and Television Fund for the group’s help and assistance to productions during the coronavirus pandemic.Hide Caption 3 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsYuh-jung Youn holds her best supporting actress Oscar as she stands next to presenter Brad Pitt in the press room.Hide Caption 4 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsPeople watch Youn’s acceptance speech from a railway station in Seoul, South Korea. She’s the first South Korean actress to win an Oscar.Hide Caption 5 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActress Olivia Colman poses for a photo while attending an Oscars screening in London.Hide Caption 6 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsTravon Free, left, and Martin Desmond Roe accept the Oscar for the short film “Two Distant Strangers.” Their shoes and the inside of their jackets carried the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people killed by police violence.Hide Caption 7 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsNominees attend an Oscars screening in Paris.Hide Caption 8 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsFrom left, Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross enter the press room after winning the Oscar for best original score (“Soul”).Hide Caption 9 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsLakeith Stanfield, a best supporting actor nominee, is interviewed in London. Many of the nominees were in Los Angeles, but some appeared remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.Hide Caption 10 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActress Reese Witherspoon enters the Oscars press room. She was one of the award presenters.Hide Caption 11 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsBest actor nominee Gary Oldman was among those in London.Hide Caption 12 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsChloé Zhao accepts the best director Oscar for “Nomadland.” She is the first woman of color and the first woman of Asian descent to win best director. “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold out to the goodness in themselves and to hold out to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that,” she said in her acceptance speech. “You inspire me to keep going.”Hide Caption 13 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsAnders Hammer, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Do Not Split,” takes part in the show from Oslo, Norway.Hide Caption 14 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsFrom left, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson and Sergio Lopez-Rivera pose with the Oscars they won for best makeup and hairstyling (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”).Hide Caption 15 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsDirector Thomas Vinterberg accepts the Oscar for best international feature film, which went to his film “Another Round.” He said this was “beyond anything I could ever imagine — except this is something I’ve always imagined, since I was 5.”Hide Caption 16 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsPhillip Bladh, holding the best sound Oscar for “Sound of Metal,” enters the press room in Los Angeles.Hide Caption 17 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsFlorian Zeller, speaking remotely from Paris, holds the Oscar he won for best adapted screenplay (“The Father”).Hide Caption 18 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsSongwriters Fat Max Gsus, left, and Savan Kotecha appear on the show from Stockholm, Sweden.Hide Caption 19 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsDaniel Kaluuya examines his best supporting actor Oscar, which he won for his role as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”Hide Caption 20 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy Awards”Pinocchio” makeup artist Dalia Colli and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti appear on the show from Rome.Hide Caption 21 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsEmerald Fennell won the first Oscar of the night, for best original screenplay (“Promising Young Woman”). “I’m trying very hard not to cry because, as an English person … I don’t cry ever,” she joked.Hide Caption 22 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActor Sacha Baron Cohen is cleaned up by his wife, Isla Fisher. They appeared on the show from Sydney.Hide Caption 23 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsPeople attend a drive-in Oscar party in West Hollywood.Hide Caption 24 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActress and director Regina King opened the show at Union Station. She delivered a hopeful monologue and said that if things had gone differently in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, she probably would have been out marching instead of presenting. “As a mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with — and no amount of fame or fortune changes that,” she said.Hide Caption 25 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsAttendees prepare for the beginning of the show at Union Station in Los Angeles.Hide Caption 26 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsFrom left, Nina Parker, Brad Goreski and Zanna Roberts Rassi were part of the panel for the E! channel’s red-carpet show.Hide Caption 27 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsActress Laura Dern walks the red carpet before the show.Hide Caption 28 of 29 Photos: The 2021 Academy AwardsBest actress nominee Viola Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, are seen on the left after arriving on the red carpet.Hide Caption 29 of 29Yet in the focus on recipients and nominees, the producers seem to have forgotten about the audience. Largely dispensing with clips of the nominated films — many of which, it’s worth noting, were surely seen by few potential viewers — they delivered the most talk-heavy Oscars in recent times, with long testimonials from the presenters and no obvious “Wrap it up” button on the acceptance speeches.Moving elements usually presented during the telecast into the preshow — like taped performances of the nominated songs — freed up time for that. But the gambit sapped the awards of most of their traditional entertainment assets, and in a year defined by loss, the producers inexplicably raced through the In Memoriam segment, blunting what could have been among the most emotional moments.Granted, the mere act of mounting these awards during the pandemic provided some cover for experimentation, while diminishing the customary pressure to maximize ratings. That’s about the only reasonable explanation for shifting the traditional awards order and handing out best picture before the top acting categories, setting the stage for the night’s awkward ending.Assuming that the numbers drop sharply, it will be hard to separate the extent to which that was beyond the producers’ control, as opposed to being at least partly due to a telecast that too often felt like a public television pledge drive. Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best picture: “Nomadland”Hide Caption 1 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best actor: Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”Hide Caption 2 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best actress: Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”Hide Caption 3 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best director: Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”Hide Caption 4 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best supporting actor: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”Hide Caption 5 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best supporting actress: Yuh-jung Youn, “Minari”Hide Caption 6 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best original screenplay: “Promising Young Woman”Hide Caption 7 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best adapted screenplay: “The Father”Hide Caption 8 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best animated feature film: “Soul”Hide Caption 9 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best animated short film: “If Anything Happens I Love You”Hide Caption 10 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best live action short film: “Two Distant Strangers”Hide Caption 11 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best international feature film: “Another Round” (Denmark)Hide Caption 12 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best original score: “Soul”Hide Caption 13 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best original song: “Fight for You,” performed by H.E.R. for the film “Judas and the Black Messiah”Hide Caption 14 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best production design: “Mank”Hide Caption 15 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best cinematography: “Mank”Hide Caption 16 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best makeup and hairstyling: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”Hide Caption 17 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best costume design: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”Hide Caption 18 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best documentary feature: “My Octopus Teacher”Hide Caption 19 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best documentary, short subject: “Colette”Hide Caption 20 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best sound: “Sound of Metal”Hide Caption 21 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best film editing: “Sound of Metal”Hide Caption 22 of 23 Photos: Oscars winners 2021Best visual effects: “Tenet”Hide Caption 23 of 23Measuring the impact of the awards will prove equally elusive, since streaming services — which dominated the evening, amassing roughly two-thirds of the honors — are famously stingy about revealing how many people watch them.Will more people subscribe to Hulu because “Nomadland” won? Will fewer cancel Netflix because of its seven prizes? Can you translate the marketing, publicity and talent-relations benefits into a tangible value?The Oscars have always been, and remain, a career pinnacle, among the first lines in the obituary of any show-business talent fortunate enough to win one. But the real legacy of this year’s awards might be simply as the final nail in a terrible year for movie-going, casting a cloud over the entire theatrical model.During ABC’s preshow David Rubin, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, expressed hope that movies can “lead the way toward a life at the end of the tunnel” following the pandemic, heralding a time when people can safely assemble again, including in theaters. A video using the hash tag #TheBigScreenIsBack promoted seeing movies “the way you’ve always loved them.”Should that happen, the shortcomings of this year’s Oscar telecast — and the doom-saying about the movies’ future — will likely be forgotten. A return to greater normalcy will carry the hope that bigger, more commercial movies will cause ratings to rebound, even if Sunday-night’s show matches the grim predictions.For now, though, the organizers of this year’s Academy Awards can at best derive some satisfaction from having fulfilled the goal of cheerleading for their business. It’s just that in doing so, coming to the end of this extremely difficult year, they failed to put on much of a show.
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