Few surprises at 93rd annual Academy Awards

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The 93rd Academy Awards aired Sunday night on ABC, capping off a year in film that produced an impeccable class of nominees despite their relatively low penetration into the cultural consciousness. No film unambiguously swept the Awards, though the biggest winner of the night was “Nomadland,” taking home trophies for best picture, best director and best actress. 

The ceremony, produced by Steven Soderbergh, was a smaller, more intimate celebration than usual, focusing on the nominees’ personal stories rather than on the work they produced this year. The show kicked off with an “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque tracking shot that saw Regina King walk through Los Angeles Union Station, where this year’s ceremony was held to accommodate COVID-19 safety measures. Arriving on stage, King introduced the show by explaining that this year’s ceremony will strive to present itself as a movie — to aid in this effort, all nominees and presenters appeared maskless on camera, and the broadcast was cropped to cinematic widescreen.

King then presented the first award of the night for best original screenplay to Emerald Fennell, who wrote “Promising Young Woman.” In an impromptu speech, Fennell, who also directed the film, thanked her crew, lead actress Carrie Mulligan and her supportive family.

The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller for “The Father,” based on Zeller’s 2012 play “Le Père.” Zeller thanked his lead actor Anthony Hopkins, saying, “I wrote the script for him. To me, he’s the greatest living actor.”

Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” picked up the international feature film award. This win makes “Another Round” the fourth Danish film to win the category, and the first since Susanne Bier’s “In a Better World” in 2010. Accepting the award, Vinterberg fought back tears while speaking about his late daughter, who passed before he filmed his script, and dedicated the award to her memory.

Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor — his first Oscar and second nomination — for his riveting performance as Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” He also won the unofficial award for best quote of the night: “My mum and dad … they had sex, and now I’m here!”

For their work on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson picked up the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling, making Neal and Wilson the first Black women to win the award. Ann Roth also won best costume design for the same film.

Category frontrunner Chloé Zhao became the second woman in history to win best director, and the first woman of color ever to win the award, for her sweeping film “Nomadland.”

An emotional, complex character study about a musician who loses his hearing and struggles to find his place in the deaf community, “Sound of Metal” shocked nobody by winning the best sound award. Mikkel E.G. Nielsen was also awarded best editing for “Sound of Metal,” a pleasant surprise and the film’s last win for the evening.

The short film awards went to Michael Govier and Will McCormack’s animated short “If Anything Happens I Love You,” Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s live-action short “Two Distant Strangers” and Anthony Giacchino’s documentary short “Colette.” 

The Oscar for Best Documentary Feature was awarded to “My Octopus Teacher,” a nature film about a diver who befriends an octopus. Pixar’s “Soul” won the best animated feature award, beating out fellow Pixar competitor “Onward” and the acclaimed “Wolfwalkers.”

For its mind-bending, time-warped action set pieces, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” won out over the live-action “Mulan” remake, earning the Oscar for best visual effects.

In one of the most exciting wins of the night, Youn Yuh-jung was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her delightful and deeply funny performance as Soon-ja in “Minari.” Youn is the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award.

“Mank” won two Oscars in a row — first, Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale took home an award for their striking production design, then Erik Messerschmidt, for his black-and-white “Citizen Kane”-inspired cinematography. Messerschmidt previously collaborated with director David Fincher on his series “Mindhunter,” but “Mank” is Messerschmidt’s first feature film as cinematographer.

The music categories were competitive this year, but the Oscar-winning team of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, joined by jazz composer and pianist Jon Batiste, won for their original score on “Soul.” Best original song went to “Fight For You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah,” written and performed by H.E.R. 

The ceremony surprised with its unorthodox decision to present the biggest award of the night — best picture — before the two lead actor awards. And despite a relatively lackluster night leading up to the category, “Nomadland” and Zhao won as expected, awarding Zhao her second Oscar.

“Nomadland” had one more win left in store, though, as Frances McDormand took home best actress for her subdued, but moving performance in the film. This is McDormand’s third best actress win — her second in three years — making her the only person other than Katharine Hepburn to win the award more than twice.

The ceremony ended with the best actor category, serving up the night’s biggest surprise by far. Anthony Hopkins beat out Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated posthumously for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and became the oldest winner in the category’s history at 83. Though Boseman’s performance was magnetic and his cultural impact indelible, Hopkins’ legendary career-retrospective performance in “The Father” is a worthy recipient of the Oscar.

The unexpected decision to switch up the typical category order left many speculating that the ceremony’s producers expected Boseman to win the award, and that his victory might lead to a tribute celebrating his powerful, tragically short career. Yet, as the producers are unaware of the award recipients prior to the opening of the envelope, this was a gamble — and an unsuccessful one at that. The absent Hopkins’ win, though deserved, forced the otherwise seamless ceremony to a close on a hasty, sour note.

Nonetheless, this year’s Oscars mostly surprised with its lack of surprises — though the historic wins for Zhao and Youn are absolutely cause for celebration.

Matthew DuMont and Neil Haeems are the deputy arts & entertainment editors. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected].