Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.
Perhaps until the past few years, there was nothing that would divide people more than their opinions of the annual Academy Awards telecast.
The "hate-watchers" as I call them are in one corner, tuning in every year just to complain about the length of the program, the stuffiness of it all or to call for the hypocritical Hollywood elites handing each other golden statues to just be quiet. On the other side, you have "Awards aficionados," the ones that eat this stuff up, that block their calendars off months in advance when they announce when the Oscars are happening, who secretly love when the Oscars go long, who tear up during the In Memoriam segment each year and who would do all of the above annually without question because it validates and confirms their "love of the movies."
The first group LOVES trolling the latter, and the latter love to defend the Oscars at all costs...they are and have always been a sacred celebration of all things movies, and an attack on the Academy Awards is, in fact, an attack on us.
I say "us" because I proudly identify as being in the second group, an awards show junkie who credits his love of movies to watching early 80s Oscar telecasts as a kid, who learned about movie-making from the technical awards categories that would be presented to the "nobodies" on stage (I desperately wanted to one day be one of those nobodies), who thought that his grandma had been invited to the gala (it was, in fact, not my grandma but Jessica Tandy), and who fights off naysayers each year when they inevitably attack the integrity of the biggest awards show of all, by suggesting that it - gasp! - shorten, or otherwise change.
So let me say this as Oscars biggest fanboy: Last nights show was indefensible. There was a lot of good, some bad, and then a final 20 minutes or so that absolutely sucked the wind out of me, and made me disgusted. The Steven Soderberg-produced show crashed and burned after a promising start...and if I ended up feeling devastated about it, I can only imagine what the "haters" thought.
I'm not here to defend the 2021 Oscars...but let's take a look at what worked, what didn't and everything in-between.
There's nothing easier than piling on The Academy Awards broadcast after the fact. I refuse to become one of those Oscar trolls that I loathe...who spends time watching something and posting on social media about how they never saw the films, or taking the time to post things like "don't care!" (Clearly you care enough to post and tell me you don't care...). Worse, who sits down to watch something and then complains endlessly, "Ugh, when is this thing going to end? It's going on too long!"
It's your choice if you want to watch the Oscars. But why watch something to hate it? If you go into something already wanting or knowing you hate it, you're the worst sort of critic.
The theme of "Bring Your Movie Love" was ultimately a winning theme for the show. After 2020, it was an interesting idea to have the Oscars attempt to rekindle our love of the movies, and the movie-going experience. The look and the feel of the show was instantly off-putting to many, but for me, I absolutely dug it. It did feel like a movie, and I was immediately invested.
While it was a bit jarring to not be inside the Dolby Theater (where the Oscars have been held since the early 1990s), I really dug the look and feel inside the Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. It gave off an intimate sort of vibe, the "dinner party" feel of the very early Academy Awards celebrations. I also instantly connected with the push for more personal stories...I loved hearing about how some writers/directors got their starts in the film industry, or hearing how the love of the movie industry impacted many of these "technical" people, people I didn't recognize physically, but could wholly recognize and appreciate for our shared passion of film.
The early moments set the tone, and it was a tone that I respected and responded to. Of course I love the usual mood that is set by a host like Bob Hope, and I would never, ever rally against a light and funny opening musical act from the likes of Billy Crystal or even Hugh Jackman. But in this regard, I did love the more serious overall vibe...not everything has to be light, funny and snarky, though you would never know this by watching ANYTHING else on television, awards show or not. Good, I thought, they're going for a stripped-down, personal evening, and I was on-board.
I also was a huge fan of the fact that nobody was "played off stage." Speeches were promised to be an integral part of the broadcast, and in that, the producers delivered. I felt almost naughty watching speeches go too long, like we were accessing some kind of bonus content on a DVD (remember those?). Many of the greatest speech moments of the night came from portions of speeches LATE in each speech, from "Another Round" director Thomas Vinterberg's heartbreaking story about how his daughter died prior to filming, to Daniel Kaluuya's awkward reference to his mom and dad having sex, with his mom there listening and reacting. This, I hope, is a concept that can be applauded and held as something to keep moving forward in future years.
Slowly though, I started to realize something that became a glaring problem with the entire night: Where the hell were the movie clips? I'm all for intimacy and simplicity, but shouldn't we be seeing some of the clips from these nominated films? Only the "feature" categories ultimately got clips, but for long stretches of the show, it was as if ABC hadn't secured the rights to show other copyrighted material during the broadcast.
The lack of film clips went from noticeable to annoying, but then the disaster that was the last 20 minutes would arrive. A butchered, fast-paced "In Memoriam" segment is what finally - after 42 years of life on this planet, many of them as a staunch Oscars defender - made me turn. How appalling, that absolute LEGENDS of film, got a send-off from the Academy in a rushed and ill-conceived segment, that would have received an F grade if submitted to a professor in a film class. I had had a few beers and a glass of champagne, but some of the deceased flashed by on-screen so fast that you did not have time to read their name, their job occupation and then glance at their faces.
Again - LEGENDS - like Olivia de Havilland, given less than two-seconds of screen-time, with a still image no less. Sean Connery's filmography, reduced to a headshot. The "In Memoriam" was so egregiously insulting, that I literally couldn't stop shaking my head about it well afterwards. It's one thing to not honor these people, it's something else completely to have dishonored them. This segment was dishonorable. And for once, I agreed with the "haters" that have called in the past for this segment to be dropped completely, or put online separately. I would have rather either of those happen then to show us what they did.
With the theme of the evening being "Bring Your Movie Love" and all the story-telling, why not a bit longer of an "In Memoriam," where those that were close to some of the fallen give us similar origin tales about Cicely Tyson, Brian Dennehy, Yaphet Kotto, Christopher Plummer or Cloris Leachman? Instead all of these amazing talents got about 15-seconds of combined remembrance.
And then it went from bad to ugly.
Following the disastrous "In Memoriam," we went right into Best Picture, the big-daddy award of them all that has - for most of our lifetimes - been reserved as the final award of the night. This led to "Nomadland" winning, but part of the shock wasn't from its name being read out loud but from the shared confusion that everyone was experiencing from the award coming early. With Best Actress and Best Actor still to come, did I inadvertently miss this? Did Pricewaterhousecoopers lose the envelopes for these two categories?
Instantly, it all started to makes sense...I guess. They must be saving Best Actor to the end, because surely it will end with a heartfelt tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who was thought to be a shoe-in for the award, for his (final) performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." But the train left the Union Station completely - so to speak - when Boseman's name was not read, and when Anthony Hopkins' was, for his career-best performance in "The Father." At 83 and at high-risk, Hopkins wasn't in attendance, so the Oscars closed with presenter Joaquin Phoenix accepting the award on his behalf.
Really? If Soderberg wanted this year's telecast to be treated as a movie, then as a film critic, I have an obligation to review it. Even from a perspective of overall narrative, the final "act" of the show was a disaster...where there was story and "guidance" offered throughout the rest of the ceremony, there was none at the end...no closure, no wrap-up, no reaching of a final destination. It was a "film" that built us up nicely but let us down with an anti-climactic finish. And if it must be judged as a whole, then on the whole, the ending made the thing an underwhelming and over-hyped failure.
When the Oscars lose a guy like me, they have even bigger problems than they might perceive. I "Brought My Movie Love" and happily, I left with it, intact. But my "Oscar love" took a major hit last night.
Here are some quick hits and highlights, separated into "The Good" and "The Bad," with "The Ugly" reserved specifically for the show's final 20-minutes.
- Frances McDormand wins her fourth Oscar, 3 in the Lead Actress category and 1 for Best Picture for "Nomadland." She is now one Acting Oscar shy of Katharine Hepburn to tie her for most all-time.
- Chloé Zhao becomes second woman and first woman of color to win Best Director, and wins two Oscars overall (sharing in Best Picture win).
- Yuh-jung Youn becomes the first Korean actor or actress to win an acting Oscar.
- Anthony Hopkins, at age 83, becomes the oldest Best Actor winner.
- Netflix took home the most Oscars (7) after having the most nominations (35).
- Emerald Fennell's Original Screenplay win for "Promising Young Woman" is the first time a woman has won the award in 13 years (Diablo Cody for "Juno").
- Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson become first black women to win Best Makeup & Hair
- Glenn Close does "Da Butt" (you didn't think I'd go through this entire article without mentioning this moment, did you?)
- Glenn Close now has eight total nominations and zero wins, a record for an actress and tying the male record held by Peter O'Toole.
- Chadwick Boseman was not awarded with an Oscar.
- While the two "Humanitarian Awards" given out are obviously important, they took up waaaay too much time during the broadcast, time that could have been given to the "In Memoriam" segment
- Everything from "In Memoriam" to the end credits