Oscars 2021 — The Fun and Controversy

At the Movies Blog

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

I was a bit sad going into this year’s Oscars. Each year, I’d have the option of going to the elaborate party the San Diego International Film Festival hosts, or the annual party my dear friend Leslie Perlis would have. A few months ago she passed away. And because of Covid and crowd gatherings, SDIFF didn’t have their event. So like everyone else, I watched at home. So did a lot of people in Hollywood, as the Dolby Theatre had less than 200 in attendance for this year’s Academy Awards.

I won’t go through all the awards, as most people don’t care about the smaller categories. I also won’t go in any particular order, just what pops into my head.

I was thrilled for Emerald Fennell winning the best “original screenplay” Oscar for Promising Young Woman (even if the film was a tad flawed in places). I still hate that The Burnt Orange Heresy wasn’t nominated in this category, or Palm Springs (although, not sure how “original” it is to use the premise of Groundhog Day).

Speaking of which, the Groundhog Day time-loop thing, snagged an award for live action short — Two Distant Strangers, which was terrific (although I liked The Letter Room better, which for some reason, the presenter called The Letter.)

It’s great that The Father won for “best adapted screenplay” as what the director did with that, showing dementia from the POV of the protagonist, was brilliant. And this early in the awards show, everyone probably thought it would be the only award The Father would win. Ha!

I knew Another Round would win for Best International Film. I thought it started strong, but then became a mess (no pun intended, if you know the premise). I do think director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen deserved it for The Hunt in 2012. Although his speech was heartbreaking, hearing him talk about how he lost his daughter in a car accident a few days into the filming of the picture. 

Some of the speeches were terrific. It was adorable to hear Youn Yuh-jung give her speech for Minari. Especially when you know the story of how her acting career was derailed.

A few of the speeches went on a bit too long, and you realize how important (despite it being rude) it is to have the music play people off. Oh, and speaking of music, Questlove, the guy from The Roots (and Jimmy Fallon), did an awful job. What was with him blasting “Fight the Power” as we were trying to listen to Brad Pitt say something? And when they played a fast, uptempo song during the “In Memoriam”…it was so utterly ridiculous. I felt like Casey Kasem, when he screamed at his producer for having him come out of an uptempo song before he read a dog death dedication. Perhaps they felt that, since the names would go by so quickly (which was also a mistake, as we want a second to take each one in), that a slow song wouldn’t work. Now, with the Oscars being a few months later, that means more names on the list, but again, they left people out. There was no Jessica Walter, or young actress Naya Rivera, or musician Adam Schlesinger. You might not know his name, but he’s done songs for over 15 movies, and got an Oscar nomination for the song “That Thing You Do.” But hey, they got rapper DMX in there, so…there’s that.

It was great to see Daniel Kaluuya win for “supporting actor.” He was terrific in it (although I have to admit, I was kind of rooting for Leslie Odom Jr. because I’m a huge Sam Cooke fan). Odom also looked terrific strutting up in an all gold tux, looking like an Oscar statue.

Now, Kaluuya’s speech about his parents having sex…was a bit bizarre. It was great that we didn’t need to be Paul Raci (also a nominee in that category as the deaf guy who runs the treatment center in Sound of Metal) to read her lips. She said, “What the hell is he talking about?!”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won a few categories (makeup, costume design). And for those that want to complain about it being robbed because the “main” categories didn’t get wins for Viola Davis or Chadwick Boseman…a few things. She won for Fences, and got a much deserved nomination for Doubt. And she wasn’t in this movie all that much (which is odd, considering her character name is in the title). And Boseman was good, but not great. Now, the fact that he could pull off the exuberant character while fighting cancer, is stunning. But there’s no rule saying that when you die, you automatically win the Oscar. Otherwise, we would have seen Brian Dennehy get nominated for Driveways this year. Also, there have been six nominations after someone passed, and only twice did the actors win (Peter Finch for Network, and Heath Ledger for playing the Joker. He’s lucky because every actor nominated against him that year is a better actor, but all were in roles that were nothing special; that list includes Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Michael Shannon). Boseman had the unfortunate luck of being in a year where Riz Ahmed had a better performance in Sound of Metal, and Anthony Hopkins was better in The Father. Hopkins also became the oldest person to ever win an Oscar at 83. Can’t we instead talk about how cool that is, instead of trying to create an “Oscar so white” type of narrative? I mean, the best animated picture winner was Soul — and in my opinion, was merely the third or fourth best animated film this year.

There were two humanitarian awards handed out, which kind of confused me. Yet hearing Bryan Cranston talk about his mom being helped by the organization he gave the award to — MPTF (Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation). And while I detest Tyler Perry movies (and really, how can you not?), what an incredible human being he is. The world would be a better place with more people like him.

While I felt Nomadland was overrated, I liked seeing Chloe Zhou win the Oscar for “best director.” Mostly because her movie The Rider a few years ago, blew me away. But can someone explain to me what the deal is with her pigtail braids? They look silly. 

Speaking of Nomadland, I’m a huge fan of Frances McDormand, but she’s won two Oscars previously (and Three Billboards wasn’t that great a film). Did she really need to win again? She was playing a character she could have played in her sleep. Despite a few somber facial expressions that worked well in the film, I don’t think it beats out Andra Day for singing and acting to play Billie Holiday (even though that movie was a mess); Vanessa Kirby struggling through a difficult childbirth and dealing with a family (and boyfriend) she despises; Davis gaining weight and sweating as Ma Rainey, or the actress I was rooting for to win — Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. She had to play depressed, sexy, drunk. And hey…what happened to the Academy liking to give awards to actors that play drunks or disabled people (Riz as a deaf character, would qualify). Perhaps the fact that she was merely pretending to be drunk, but hey…isn’t that what acting is? Pretending?

The Sound of Metal won a few categories (sound, film editing), and they were well-deserved. They did such innovative things with the sound, making you feel like what it would be to lose your hearing.

Tenet did some great things with sound and visuals, which is why it was cool they won for “visual effects.” Especially since that film lost over $100 million because of Covid keeping people from the theatres. I just wish when the winners went up to the stage, they would have walked up there backwards (that joke will make no sense, unless you saw Tenet).

Mank won a few awards — for “production design” and “cinematography.” My favorite fun fact about that being — it has won more Oscars than Citizen Kane.

McDormand, who has given bizarre Oscar speeches in the past, seemingly gave another one, as she howled like a wolf. Yet it was touching when you found out later it was a dedication to the sound mixer on their film, who killed himself a few months back from depression over Covid lockdowns. His nickname was Wolf.

Now for people that want to talk about Boseman being robbed, his brother and family just released an amazing statement. They said they wish people would stop saying Chadwick got “robbed” and how all the performances were great, and they were thrilled Hopkins gave Boseman a shout-out in his speech the next day. It’s nice to see his family is as classy as he was.

And, let’s talk about brilliant songwriter Diane Warren who has now lost out 12 times. And Glenn Close, who while she didn’t deserve it this year, she did deserve it for The Wife a few years ago. That time, she was robbed by Olivia Colman, who had to give an uncomfortable speech, knowing so many of us wanted Close to win that year. It would have also been awkward for her this year, as she was supposed to go up there and give the speech to accept the Oscar that Hopkins won, but Joaquin Phoenix messed up, and didn’t give her the opportunity.

Hopkins was amazing in that performance, and The Father was one of my favorites of the year. I would have gone with Riz for the award, though. I also don’t think Gary Oldman or Steve Yeun were chopped liver. Yeun gave an understated performance that was beautiful.

What a bizarre Oscar year this is for Close. She becomes the first actor to ever be nominated for a Razzie and Oscar for the same role, and then she becomes the hit of the Oscars by doing “Da Butt” as well as throwing out some facts about the song used in the Spike Lee film School Daze (it does crack me up that so many goofballs out there, like Sunny Hostin on The View, think she actually knew those facts about the song and that the bit wasn’t scripted).

I was glad Soul won for the “best score.” The music in it was lovely, and I still give my wife a hard time for not being a bigger fan of the film. Who would have imagined that the goth/metal stylings of the band Nine Inch Nails, would lead to two of those members creating such terrific movie scores? And on the topic of music, when H.E.R. won for best song, I was intrigued by her outfit. I said to my wife, “Who is that?” She said, “It’s ‘HER’.” I then said, “Yes, her. Who is she?”

It became a two minute “Who’s on First” bit in our living room.

I’ve always cracked up at Lil Rel, and I wish he would have been the host; or that ANYBODY would have hosted. I’m not sure why they opted not to have one. 

Harrison Ford came out and did a weird bit, reading negative notes from the screening of Blade Runner. The two problems with that bit is…Ford just isn’t a great speaker (or, truth to be told, not a great actor). It also hurt the bit that you knew right away which film he was talking about. It would have been more powerful if he read all these negative things, and then we found out what movie it was.

Can someone explain what was going on with Halle Berry’s hair? Speaking of which, I thought this year the whole fashion thing would be downplayed a bit. Especially when it’s a year where we have Angela Bassett, start the “In Memoriam” segment talking about deaths from Covid, and racial related deaths…it just seems everything else about the fashions should have been downplayed a bit.

That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get excited by seeing some of the people on the red carpet (who knew Aaron Sorkin was dating widow/supermodel Paulina Porizkova?)

During the “In Memoriam” segment, it hit me a bit harder this year. Maybe that’s because I’m older now, and know more of the actors on the list; or maybe it’s just because so many big names left us this year — Sean Connery, Cicely Tyson, Carl Reiner, Fred Williard, Kirk Douglas, Jerry Stiller, Christopher Plummer, Brain Dennehy…and…when I saw the list end with the name Chadwick Boseman, I smiled at the thought that maybe my friend Leslie is having her Oscar party, and is sitting next to Boseman and discussing all the movies.

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