Chloé Zhao made history on Sunday at a socially aloof Oscar ceremony retooled for the pandemic. The filmmaker “Nomadland” was named best director and was only the second woman to win the award and the first woman in color in the 93 years of the Academy Awards.
Only Kathryn Bigelow, 11 years ago for “The Hurt Locker”, had previously won the award. The widely anticipated victory completes the extraordinary rise of Chinese-born Zhao, a lyrical filmmaker whose “Nomad Land” is only her third feature film. Your film, Favorite for Best Picture, is a wistful open-road drama about wandering life in the American West.
“I have always found kindness in the people I have met all over the world,” said Zhao. “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and hold onto the goodness in others, no matter how difficult it is to do so.”
The 93rd Academy Awards, the most ambitious awards show during the pandemic, rolled out a red carpet and returned some glamor to a film institution, but with a radically transformed – and in some ways scaled-down – television show.
The ceremony – designed as a separate film – began with an opening credits and a seductive appearance by Regina King as the camera followed the actress and the director of “One Night in Miami” in one shot as she headed for Los with an Oscar in hand walked Angeles’ Union Station and onto the stage. Inside the transport hub, the nominees sat at cozy, lamp-lit tables around an intimate amphitheater.
Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor for “Judas and the Black Messiah”. The win for the 32-year-old British actor, previously nominated for “Get Out”, was widely expected. Kaluuya won for his fiery performance as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, whom Kaluuya thanked for showing him “how to love myself”.
“You have to celebrate life, man. We breathe. Went for a walk. It’s incredible. My mother met my father, they had sex. It is wonderful. I’m there. I’m so happy to be alive, ”Kaluuya said as cameras caught his mother’s confused reaction.
Hairdressers Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were the first black women to win makeup and hairstyling. Ann Roth, one of the oldest Oscar winners of all time at the age of 89, also won for the film’s costume design.
The first winner of the night was Emerald Fennell, the writer and director of the provocative revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman” for Best Screenplay. Fennell, who won for her feature film debut, is the first woman to win solo in this category since Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007.
The show immediately looked different. It is recorded at 24 frames per second and in widescreen format – more like a movie. In a more intimate show with no audience beyond the nominees, the winners were given more leeway in their speeches.
“It’s been quite a year and we’re still in the thick of it,” King said at the opening.
King explained how the Sunday Oscars were even possible – tests, vaccinations, social distancing, and more. The safety protocols, she said, were the same as those on filming during the pandemic.
“When we roll, put masks on,” said King. “If we’re not, take off your masks.”
The television show, produced by a team led by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, left the awards’ usual home, the Dolby Theater, for Union Station. Since Zoom was excluded for nominees, the show included satellite feeds from around the world. The song nominees’ performances were pre-recorded and broadcast during the preshow, including “Husavik (My Hometown)” from the “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” In the port of the Icelandic city. Additional screenings were held from the top of the Film Academy’s new $ 500 million museum.
The best adapted script went to the dementia drama “The Father”. Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” won the best international film.
The red carpet was back on Sunday, without the crowd of viewers and with socially distant interviews. Only a handful of media were allowed on site, behind a velvet rope and some distance from the nominees. Casual wear, the Academy warned nominees early on, was a no-no. During the Oscar preshow, the nominees gathered at an outdoor set in Union Station that resembled an open-air cocktail lounge.
But even a good show may not be enough to save the Oscars from an expected rating slide. The audience ratings for the awards have increased during the pandemic, and this year’s nominees – many of them smaller, lower-budget dramas – will not come close to the iconic power of previous Oscar heavyweights like “Titanic” or “Black Panther”. Last year’s Oscars, when Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win Best Picture, was watched by 23.6 million viewers, an all-time low.
Netflix dominated this year with 36 nominations, including main nominee “Mank”, David Fincher’s black and white drama about co-writer “Citizen Kane”, Herman J. Mankiewicz. The streamer is still aiming for his first best picture win. This year, Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” could be the best shot.
However, it is widely expected that the grand prize of the night, best painting, will go to Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a contemplative character study of a traveling woman (Frances McDormand) in the American West.
Sunday’s pandemic-delayed Oscars will end the longest awards season ever – one that made the season’s industrial complex virtual with cocktail parties and movie screenings. Eligibility was extended to February of this year, and for the first time, a cinema run was not a requirement for nominees. Some films – such as “Sound of Metal” – premiered in September 2019. The biggest ticket seller of the best nominees for pictures is “Promising Young Woman” with $ 6.3 million at the box office.
Lately, as vaccinations increased, there have been signs of life in movie theaters, most of which are 50% busy. But it was a punishing year for Hollywood. Movie tents around the world replaced movie titles with requests to wear a mask. Streaming services rushed to fill the void, rebalancing studios and theaters. Just weeks before the Oscars, one of the most famous theaters in Los Angeles, took the Cinerama Dome, along with the ArcLight cinemas, out of business.
After the pandemic, Hollywood – and the Oscars – may never be the same. Or as WarnerMedia’s new CEO Jason Kilar said when he announced plans to stream the studio’s films, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”