by Julian Spivey
Indignant laughter isn't how I expected to finish the 93rd annual Academy Awards, but that's certainly how it ended. The Academy Awards, produced by a team led by director/producer Steven Soderbergh, got exactly what they deserved when they broke with tradition at this year's awards ceremony in an effort to set up an emotional finish and wound up effectively with no ending at all.
The Oscars is rarely a fun watch, even for somebody who's an entertainment buff like myself, especially after the Academy decided to do away with comedians hosting the televised ceremony. I felt the night was mostly on-track for its first three hours - there were things I liked (not playing off the winners during their acceptance speeches, because it's incredibly rude) and things I didn't (the one time the Oscars tried to do the usual "fun" thing when Questlove and Lil Rel Howery did an Oscars song trivia game at a quarter to 10 p.m. central time was not what I wanted to see when things should've been wrapping up). Then things went off the rails in its last half hour when Soderbergh did the most unusual thing I've ever seen watching the Oscars - he didn't schedule Best Picture (the award ceremony's biggest honor) for the final award of the night. Best Picture was announced before the Best Actress and Best Actor categories.
I was immediately shocked, but more so off-put. I know it's just an award show and many will likely find this a bit much, but not saving Best Picture for the final moment of the telecast felt like a huge slap in the face to the history of the Oscars and to the film industry in general. I felt it was disrespectful to do so. It was effectively the Academy saying that movie stars are more important than the whole of the film, which I found insulting.
I immediately knew what the Academy and Soderbergh (and I don't know if this decision was either/or or a combination of the two) was going for. They wanted to end the evening with the emotional high of Chadwick Boseman posthumously winning Best Actor for his performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and to presumably have an emotional acceptance from Boseman's widow Taylor Simone Ledward, like she gave at the Golden Globes ceremony earlier this year.
So the best film of the year according to the Academy, which was director/writer Chloe Zhao's (who made history as the second female director and the first of color to win Best Director earlier in the evening) "Nomadland" was left playing second fiddle to the Best Actress (which was a seemingly wide open contest that wound up going to Frances McDormand of "Nomadland") and Best Actor.
I thought Boseman's performance in 'Ma Rainey' was terrific and felt like he would probably win the Oscar as he had won the majority of the Best Actor honors given during "award season." I won't say he was the most deserving because I haven't seen all of the nominated performances and don't believe anybody can say someone's most deserving without having done so.
It's important to note that only the accountants that tabulate the votes know the names of the winners within the envelopes opened on the night of the ceremony (which is how it should be), so manufacturing the category order during the telecast comes with some risk.
The Academy found that out the hard way on Sunday night (April 25) when last year's Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix for "Joker" ripped open the Best Actor envelope and announced the winner was Anthony Hopkins for "The Father." Hopkins, who doesn't really seem like the award ceremony type of guy, wasn't even at the venue or via zoom to accept his honor. The Oscars telecast, which was manufactured to end with this emotional finale, ended with a "Anthony Hopkins could not be here tonight, I'll accept this award for him" (or something like that I was laughing to loud to actually hear it) and went straight to the end credits.
It's a finish that'll have Oscars viewers talking for years to come for a variety of reasons (some are just angry Boseman lost), which if that was Soderbergh's intention when the usual order of the night was joggled than he succeeded. But I think it was a fitting way for this year's ceremony to end after they showed such disrespect to the night's biggest honor.