Joe’s Take

As the Academy and Oscars producers should know, an ending can make or break a film. A great ending allows the viewer to forget some of the film’s earlier flaws. A bad ending can make the audience forget the film’s earlier greatness. Well, it turns out they don’t know that or they just don’t care. Last night was the 93rd Academy Awards, and the ceremony had its worst ending … ever.

When I say end, I’m not just talking about Anthony Hopkins’ egregious victory over the late Chadwick Boseman to cap the night. This production’s entire last act failed and turned a decent ceremony into a disaster. Let’s start at the beginning of the Oscars’ home stretch.

It’s about 10:40 p.m. and “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” just won best original song. There are three awards left, best picture, best actress and best actor. Before the commercial break, though, it’s time for a game. No, really. They stopped the ceremony to play a game with a few actors. Best actress nominee Andra Day, best supporting actor winner Daniel Kaluuya and best supporting actress nominee Glenn Close had to guess whether a song won an Oscar, was nominated for an Oscar or wasn’t nominated at all. Day said something ABC had to cut the audio for, so rough start. Lil Rel Howery and Kaluuya rallied with some humorous references to “Get Out,” a film they both starred in, and Glenn Close almost stole the Oscars with “Da Butt” dance. So, horrible idea for a game that the actors in attendance salvaged.

They came back from commercial break and started the In Memoriam. They had a lot of names to get through as we lost way too many greats during the extended 2020 movie season. The problem is this In Memoriam is flying. The rushed In Memoriam leaves just a brief moment to read the person’s name and what he or she did in the industry. Originally I gave it a pass, but then I remembered the awful game we had to endure. The ceremony could have cut the game and given more time to the In Memoriam.

Now, the next award is BEST PICTURE, which was given away before best actor and best actress. This blows my mind, but I have a thought. Maybe the show is saving best actor for last to honor Boseman, especially considering we just had to speed read his name during the In Memoriam. “Nomadland” won best picture, which isn’t a shock. It was the heavy favorite and Chloe Zhao won best director midway through the ceremony.

So now, the big finish. Frances McDormand wins best actress and says … nothing. Not her fault, she used her good stuff when “Nomadland” won best picture minutes earlier. No problem. The Academy is about to crown the late great Boseman for the last and greatest performance of his career to end the show in a beautiful, emotional and heartwarming way. And the winner is … Anthony Hopkins. And he’s not here so the show’s over, bye!

How does this happen? Well, my blame pie includes two sets of people, the show’s producers and the Academy. I’m giving both 50% of the blame.

The producers don’t know who will win any award, so they made the MASSIVE mistake assuming Boseman would win best actor. They built their show around that. They also knew Hopkins, who defeated Boseman at the BAFTAs not too long ago by the way, wasn’t at the ceremony. That’s incompetence. Now, as with any movie with a bad ending, we’re left to question the choices earlier in the show. The most influential and impactful actor who died last year at 43 of colon cancer had about three seconds in the In Memoriam. That’s it. Taking away whether you thought Boseman had the best performance or not, it is the producers’ job to make sure he is properly honored like he deserves. They failed.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you, Academy. The fact that most of you thought Hopkins achieved a better performance than Boseman is embarrassing. Even if you thought the performances were equal when it comes to range and emotional impact, which you shouldn’t, how can you not take into account Boseman learned how to play the trumpet for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom?” Did you not care that “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was a far superior movie to “The Father?” Oh, that’s right. You snubbed it as a best picture nominee in favor of “The Father.” Did it not matter that Boseman’s role was far more demanding, requiring emotional range and physicality? I guess not. I guess it was more important to give Hopkins his second Academy Award, even if it meant the beloved Boseman would never get an Oscar.

Let’s not forget Boseman deserved two Academy Award nominations for his work last year. However, “Da 5 Bloods” was also snubbed and with it Boseman’s chance at a best supporting actor nomination. This colossal failure between the Academy and the producers led to the ceremony honoring Boseman for no more than three seconds. Let that sink in. Three seconds in a rushed In Memoriam.

I’d also like to add Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) had the second best performance in the best actor category. I’d put Hopkins third.

Here’s where I’m to blame. I assumed the Academy and the ceremony wouldn’t disappoint me. Why was I surprised when I witnessed another failure? This stuff has been happening for years. Here’s just a few examples from the past decade. “The King’s Speech” won best picture at the 2011 Oscars over “Inception” and “The Social Network,” two of the top films of the decade. Anyone ever revisit “The Artist?” Well, it won best picture in 2012. In 2013, “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s third best film he directed out of four, won best picture over the far superior “Zero Dark Thirty.” “The Shape of Water” topped “Get Out,” one of the most influential films ever and one of the best of the decade, at the 2018 Oscars. A year later, “Green Book” captured best picture despite being the worst movie in the category.

Let’s also not forget one of the Oscars’ most memorable moments happened because of incompetence. Remember when “La La Land” won best picture for about two minutes in 2017 before it was revealed “Moonlight” actually won? That was a human error in the production of the show.

Furthermore, the random game during Sunday’s ceremony isn’t the first time the Oscars have tried to do something cute. That’s an every year thing. Jimmy Kimmel brought a bus of people into the Oscars one year. Some actors also went across the street to hand out candy at a theater another year. The one thing they have in common is none of them work. Yet, they continue to waste time on these every year.

On a side note, the pre-show was garbage with awkward interviews and horrid transitions.

As the ratings continue to plummet, the production isn’t getting any better. It in fact just hit rock bottom Sunday. And no matter how obvious the winner might be, the Academy will always find a way to get it so horribly wrong.

If I ever trust the Academy or producers again, I question my sanity. You all failed. Do better.

Chloe Zhao, winner of the awards for best picture and director for “Nomadland,” poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)

Rebecca’s Take

This year’s Oscars were already going to be substantially different because of the coronavirus pandemic. Delayed by two months, the 93rd Academy Awards juggled COVID-19 protocols as it altered its red carpet, slashed the guest list and changed its location.

Separately from those constraints, the show’s producers decided to shake up its traditional format. But just because they could change it doesn’t mean that they should have. In trying to make the ceremony more like a movie with its own climax, the producers lacked faith in their product, botching the ending of a history-making show.

During the age of coronavirus, awards shows have morphed into Zoom meetings. The Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards became screens of dressed-down celebrities at home. To its credit, the Oscars tried to avoid that trap.

For the first time during the pandemic, the broadcast felt like a real awards show. Filmed in 24 frames per second – the standard for film, Sunday’s vibrant and glossy Oscars reminded viewers of the movies they had missed seeing in cinemas due to theater blackouts. The opening tracking shot of presenter Regina King walking into Union Station in Los Angeles, with candy-colored titles overlapping, brought a welcome energy that had been lacking throughout awards season.

Seeing the stars sitting at tables – in person! – felt familiar and intimate. Instead of seeing clips from the nominated films, the presenters told stories and tidbits about the nominees, which made the broadcast more personal. For about two hours and 40 minutes, the Oscars felt like life was returning to normal, much as it has in the real world with the rollout of vaccines.

And then, like the title of show producer Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, the 93rd Academy Awards went “Haywire” in its final act.

It wasn’t enough that Chloé Zhao would become the first woman of color and just the second woman to win best director. Because she was the frontrunner, the producers moved that category up in the broadcast. It wasn’t enough that her film, “Nomadland,” was the heavy favorite to win best picture. So the producers moved the night’s biggest award from last to third to last, ahead of the best actress and best actor honors.

Instead, they decided to end with the category they thought would have the most emotional resonance. The producers bet big that the late Chadwick Boseman, the frontrunner for best actor for his sensational performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would claim the honor, and shifted that category into the final spot.
The producers should know better. At the Oscars, you can’t guarantee who’s going to take home the trophy – “La La Land” and “Moonlight,” anyone? In trying to manufacture drama, the show created even more of it when Boseman didn’t win.

Instead, Anthony Hopkins’ name was read aloud for “The Father” – stunning everyone, including the producers. And to add insult to injury, the 83-year-old actor wasn’t even in attendance to accept his second Oscar. What was meant to be a tender, beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Boseman’s short but impactful career turned to confusion as the awards show abruptly ended. After the promise of something more, the cut to black felt completely anti-climactic. This is the worst kind of ending for a movie – and what’s supposed to be the biggest night in film.

After seeing Boseman’s widow accept award after award, it was a shock not to hear the actor’s name for best actor. Boseman, who made a career out of playing Black icons both real and fictional, achieved his best performance playing an ambitious but naive trumpeter in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” He readily gave himself over to the impassioned and physical demands of the role. He had so much talent yet to give when colon cancer claimed the actor last summer at the age of 43. I thought Boseman deserved the award, and that it would cap off the stellar body of work he left us.

But don’t blame Hopkins. The internet response accuses the actor of pulling a “Green Book” and stealing the win from Boseman. But the comparison isn’t exactly fair.

First, the actor’s recent BAFTA win indicated the category wasn’t cut and dry. Second, crowd favorite “Green Book” was tone-deaf and simplistic in its treatment of race relations, undeserving of its 2019 best picture win. Hopkins, on the other hand, delivers an excellent, layered performance as a dementia patient struggling to understand what’s happening around him. It’s an emotionally grueling and devastating portrayal that anyone who has watched family members suffer from dementia can relate. I have looked into the eyes of relatives who had Alzheimer’s and realized the lack of recognition staring back at me.

Is Hopkins worthy of the award? Yes, without a doubt. Should he have won over Boseman? Not necessarily, and many viewers have already taken a side. But by placing the best actor category for last, the producers set up the show to fail when the outcome didn’t go the way they wanted. After a rushed In Memoriam segment, Boseman didn’t get the extended tribute he deserved. And Hopkins wasn’t there to try and temper the tide against him. In an Instagram video this morning, the actor revealed he did not expect to win the award and paid tribute to Boseman. The decision to shake up the order of the awards did a disservice to both actors.

So who do we blame? The show’s producers. The pandemic protocols didn’t mandate changing up the order of the awards; the producers decided to do that on their own. Had they left the traditional structure intact, then the best director and best picture honors would have followed best actor. Zhao’s historic wins would have been celebrated last, lessening some of the blow from the best actor stunner. The producers already had their dramatic moment, but they didn’t trust it.

This is a shame for everyone – the producers, the winners and the viewers. Instead of the focus on Zhao’s one-two punch, the Boseman/Hopkins disaster is commanding the Oscars conversation.

This takes away from the awards’ other historic moments. Out of the best actor winners, half were diverse performers. Daniel Kaluuya became the sixth Black actor to win best supporting actor for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Best supporting actress winner Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) is the first Korean to claim an Oscar. In taking home the Oscar for original score for “Soul” with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste became the second Black composer to win in the category. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson are the first Black women to win makeup and hairstyling for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The producers had the ending they wanted: historic wins and progress for diversity. And for the most part, the show aced its snazzy new look and creative nominee introductions. But it wasn’t enough. Instead, the best actor miscalculation will go down as one of the biggest goofs in Oscars history. That’s what people will remember about a ceremony that put in the work to rise above an unprecedented pandemic to recognize the best in film.

Now once again, in a seemingly endless cycle, next year’s Academy Awards must seek redemption – and prove that they’re still worth watching.