The best and worst moments from the 2021 Oscars
Highs and lows
The 2021 Oscars were a big question mark for a long time. Would they happen? Would they be virtual? And even once we had more information — including a new location in Union Station and a promise that it would be “like a movie” — we were left to wonder what any of that would mean. But in the end, the show was still what it always is: a tribute to a year of magnificent movie-making, rising to meet our present moment in the ways and projects it celebrated. Here are the best and worst moments from the 93rd Academy Awards.
Best: Union Station looks incredible
When news broke that the 2021 Oscars would be moving from its longtime home at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood to Los Angeles’ Union Station, it caused a lot of eyebrows to rise. But we never should’ve doubted Hollywood’s ability to turn any space into a palace fit for movie magic. From the beautiful outdoor terraces and fountains of the pre-show red carpet to the opening walk through the beautiful ticket hall, every aspect of the L.A. landmark was on beautiful display. The newly restored ceiling was the perfect cap to the Art Deco-inspired set that looked to borrow its design from classic nightclubs and the Oscar banquets that were the norm prior to the mid-1940s. It turned social distancing requirements into something chic, classy, and eye catching.
Worst: No splashy opening
Previous years have proved that no host is necessary to put on a great show, but that doesn’t mean the opening should have no pizazz. This year’s opener featured a credit sequence running over a glam Regina King walking an Oscar through the halls of Union Station. Then, King took to the stage to say a few words about our current moment before diving into handing out the first award. For a show all about celebrating filmmaking, the lack of a masterfully edited montage, a monologue, or a musical number was jarring. After waiting over a month extra for this year’s show, it was a lackluster beginning. No disrespect to Regina King, who is always a queen.
Best: Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson make Oscars history
When Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for their work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, they made history as the first Black women to ever win in the category (coming only a few years after Ruth E. Carter broke that barrier in the Best Costume Design category). But their powerful speech hammered home how underrepresented Black women are in this crucial department — and how we need to get to a place where these wins are not historic, but normal.
Worst: No clips of the nominees
It’s no secret that the 2021 Oscar nominees are not necessarily huge box office success stories. And because theaters have been closed all year, there’s been plenty of discourse about how it’s likely audiences have seen fewer of the nominated films than ever before. So, if there was ever a year we needed to see clips of the nominated work, showcasing and celebrating it for all of us at home, this was it. Plus, just listening to presenters talk about each nominee was, frankly, boring.
Best: Steven Yeun’s Terminator story
For a night designed to be about intimacy and connection, it often weirdly lacked a feeling of authenticity or some of the more unpredictable, unplanned moments that typically make the show great. But one presenter who rocked it was Steven Yeun, telling a story of how his mom took him to see Terminator 2 as a child, not really understanding what they were in for — and how she tried to act like everything was fine as he was awed by the violence. Because who among us has not accidentally watched an inappropriate movie with our parents?
Worst: Never-ending acceptance speeches
Playing winners off the stage often feels to be in bad taste, so the producers’ goal to allow winners to give speeches from the heart this year was admirable. Unfortunately, this tactic backfired spectacularly. Despite being explicitly asked not to, many winners still gave laundry list speeches instead of striving for any larger message — and they went on and on and on.
Best: Yuh-Jung Youn’s love for Brad Pitt
At first, Yuh-Jung Youn was not as enamored with her new gold statuette as she was with the golden-haired actor who presented it to her, staring after him standing in the wings. “Mr. Pitt, finally nice to meet you,” she gushed, which was in reference to Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B producing her film Minari. She went on to give the most adorable speech of the night, celebrating her fellow nominees, being “luckier” than them, and calling out her sons, who “made her go out and work,” saying, “This is my reward because mommy worked so hard.” If only we could give all great moms an Oscar.
Best: Glenn Close shakes “Da Butt”
The 2021 Oscars were very short on comedic bits and in-person performances (probably largely due to COVID-19 safety protocol), but at last, an extended bit reared its head and brought us an iconic Oscars moment of pure joy. Questlove and Lil Rey initiated an Oscars trivia game about the winners of Best Song, mashing it up with a “Name That Song” challenge. Watching the legendary Glenn Close get up and shake one of her many assets after identifying song “Da Butt” was one of those absurdist, wonderful moments we tune in for every year.
Worst: In Memoriam
The In Memoriam segment is never an easy package to assemble, with perceived snubs an inevitable part of the process. But this year's presentation, with no live music performance and a flurried montage of photographs, seemed almost disrespectful. Many of the slides went by at such warp speed, it was almost impossible to read the names. There were an extraordinary number of losses this past year, and it was likely the consequence of trying to fit as many people in as possible. But it seems unfathomable that legends such as Chadwick Boseman, Olivia de Havilland, Sean Connery, and Christopher Plummer didn't merit a display of clips of their work.
Best and worst: Best Song performances... before the show
The Best Song performances this year were the most marvelous part of the night — except that they all aired before the Oscars broadcast even began. The performances were pre-taped at varied locations including the terrace at the new Academy Museum and a Eurovision performance from Iceland! But unless you're Oscars addicts like us, there's a good chance you missed some of the most buoyant, wonderful showcases of the evening. With the show taking place in locations around the world, there's no reason these performances couldn't have been interspersed in the broadcast — and perhaps injected some life and vibrancy into a dull, one-note show.
Worst: The Chadwick Boseman upset
No disrespect to the estimable Sir Anthony Hopkins (who won Best Actor for his spectacular work in The Father), but it was extremely anti-climatic and disappointing to see the late Chadwick Boseman's sweep of this awards season not finish the gauntlet at the Oscars. Moving the category to the final award of the night seemed a potential bid to end the proceedings on a bittersweet note, given Boseman's well-deserved victories thus far this awards season. But with Hopkins not even making a speech, things just sort of fizzled out. And considering Hopkins already has an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs, we think this upset will go down in history as one of the most frustrating since Grace Kelly beat Judy Garland back in 1955.
Best: Promising young women
There was much that was disappointing or lackluster about the 93rd Academy Awards, but one thing that wasn't was the girl power on the winners' podium. Though Nomadland director Chloé Zhao didn't score a historic win in all four categories she was nominated in, she still became only the second woman to win Best Director in Oscar history (and took home another statue for Best Picture). And Promising Young Women writer-director Emerald Fennell became the first woman to win Best Original Screenplay since Diablo Cody won for Juno 13 years ago! Let's make this a more regular thing, please.