Tuesday, April 27, 2021


Now that the 93td Annual Academy Awards Ceremony, honoring  the best films of 2020, is in the books, it’s time to take a deep breath and think about what transpired Sunday evening at – of all places – L.A.’s venerable Union Station. Needless to say, the COVID pandemic had scrambled the usual plans for the festivities, along with rules requiring that all the nominated films debut in Southern California theatres before the close of the year in question.

 Ever since the Oscar ceremony was first shown on television, it has always been a major way to entice worldwide audiences into theatre seats. Some of that strategy was certainly present at this year’s ceremony: producers cut away from the Downtown L.A. event to showcase clips from upcoming would-be blockbusters In the Heights and the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story. Both of these ambitious musicals feature singing and dancing on the streets of New York. For those of us who would LOVE to be dancing on New York streets rather than quarantined in our own homes, the clips were a tantalizing prospect of better things to come.  Too bad they put to shame an Oscar ceremony with no singing, no dancing, and precious few clips of the nominees.

 Given the challenge of staging a ceremony in the age of COVID, producer Steven Soderbergh opted for an intimate tone, with the few attendees present spaced out, supper-club style, at banks of small tables. (No food was consumed, though, nor was alcohol – the event hardly took on the boozy chumminess of the Golden Globes.) The time saved in not having big musical numbers and film montages was used to allow winners to speak at length, and to  have hosts present cutesy facts about nominees’ first run-ins with Hollywood. (One had worked as a ticket-taker; another made popcorn in the lobby.) Sometimes this sense of intimacy worked nicely; elsewhere (as when participants traded in-jokes with their homies) we at home felt we were intruding on a private party. 

 Highlights? For me these included Best Supporting Actress winner Yuh-Jung Youn charmingly fawning over Brad Pitt as well as the truly inspiring tribute to Tyler Perry, who summed up the past year’s social discord with a ringing invitation to “Meet me in the middle . . . refuse hate!”  I also got a giggle out of Glenn Close responding to a totally pointless song trivia game by revealing her deep knowledge of  “Da Butt,” the hit dance tune written for Spike Lee’s 1988 School Daze, and then proceeding to shake her bootie in time to the music. (Was this bit planned in advance? It certainly might have been. If so, kudos to Close for being so good at projecting spontaneity.)

 Low points? The attempts to build suspense by scrambling the order of presentations, with Best Director given early in the evening, and Best Picture upstaged by the Best Actress and Best Actor awards that followed it. Clearly the categories were re-arranged to allow for the posthumous coronation of the late, lamented Chadwick Boseman as Best Actor. Except (remarkably, given the strength of his performance and the sadness of his early death) he didn’t win. And winner Anthony Hopkins—superb in The Father, though his film did not seem quite as timely as some others—wasn’t present either physically or virtually.

 Still the evening, such as it was, belonged to the austere and beautiful Nomadland. A salute to groundbreaking director/producer/writer/editor Chloë Zhao for her achievement and her pigtails. Amid a slew of beauties in slinky, boob-baring attire, her Princess Leia nightgown was elegant in its solemn simplicity.


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