April 25, 2021


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A unique year in the history of movies (not to mention the history of the world) will culminate in a unique ACADEMY AWARDS tonight.  Only a small fraction of audiences will have seen any of the nominees on a big screen, relying instead on their televisions for VOD presentations and as part of the programming on their subscribed streaming services.  Since none of the studios report the number of people viewing that way, the entire concept of “box office” has become meaningless in the Oscars context, and we have no idea how many people have actually seen frontrunners like Nomadland and Minari.  There’s a high likelihood that tonight’s winners will have been watched by fewer people than even low-grossing previous winners like Moonlight.

Consequently, the ratings for tonight’s ceremony are expected to reach historic lows, following the pattern of virtually all awards shows this past year.  However, a production team led by genuine visionary Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins will attempt to at least keep the evening distinctive.  For the first time, the bulk of the telecast will take place at LA’s Union Station, and the Best Song nominees will be performed during the pre-show rather than as part of the Oscars themselves.  Most tantalizingly, Soderbergh has been issuing cryptic promises that we’re going to see not a TV show but a “movie.”  No one seems to know what that means, but we’ll be finding out soon enough.

Join us here for a live-blog account of the night, starting aat 8PM EDT/5PMPDT.

4:55PM:  We’ve had a pleasingly loose-limbed pre-show, less intense than the usual parade of celebrities being prodded down the endless red carpet, and now it’s time for the show.

5:02PM:  The opening sequence is giving us a taste of what this “cinematic” awards show is going to feel like:  Panavision aspect ratio, full opening credits over action, and a film-like palette of colors.

5:05PM:  We’re starting with Original Screenplay.  Putting the songs during the pre-show should have freed up some time for the actual awards, so we’re getting some background on the nominees before the envelope is opened.

5:07PM:  Promising Young Woman has taken the one Oscar it was expected to win, so no real effect on the rest of the evening.

5:10PM:  Quickly on to Adapted Screenplay.  We’re getting our first view of the satellite hubs for overseas nominees.

5:12PM:  The Father takes the Oscar, so Chloe Zhao won’t tie Walt Disney as the only person to win 4 Oscars in one night.  As with Promising Young Woman, though, the question will be whether this is a consolation prize or the start of something bigger.

5:15PM:  As we head into the first commercial break, a breath to look at the production of the show thus far.  As we’ll doubtless be hearing, the Academy Awards started as a relatively small ceremony hosted in a hotel ballroom, and this pandemic version is in a sense a return to those original roots.  However, there will be breaks in continuity as audience members are shuttled in and out as their categories are completed.  Still, the small-scale feel has its charm.

5:19PM:  Our next segment host is Laura Dern, beginning with International Film.

5:22PM:  Another Round wins, as expected.  People who watched the joyous clip from movie’s ending will be surprised that the film itself isn’t always so cheerful.

5:27PM:  We’re reached Supporting Actor, and instead of presenting clips, Dern delivers a (quote-unquote) personal message to each nominee.

5:29PM:  As expected, Daniel Kaluuya gets the prize for Judas and the Black Messiah.  So far all of the English-language awards have gone to Best Picture nominees who may not get back to the podium.

5:33PM:  At least in the early going, there’s been no attempt to play off the winners who may want to talk beyond 45 seconds.

5:37PM:  As part of the “movies are back!” message of the night, the show will be featuring some trailers and clips from upcoming big-studio releases, and the first was Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, which looks… like West Side Story.

5:40PM:  Don Cheadle is up next, to present Make-Up/Hair to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, another predicted win.

5:45PM:  Ma Rainey again for Costumes, also as expected.  This handsome show could still use some plot twists.

5:48PM:  According to Twitter–which is never wrong–there’s actually been a decision not to cut off the winners’ speeches.  We’ll see how that works if the show starts to run over in the 3rd hour.

5:49PM:  Bryan Cranston is presenting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award with a stroll through the Dolby Theater, usual home of the awards ceremony.

5:56PM:  We’re getting Best Director!  In the first hour!  And… ok, there’s a a translator.

6PM:  Chloe Zhao takes her first Oscar, after having swept the precursor awards.

6:02PM:  I may regret saying this 2 hours from now, but it’s rather nice to hear the winners able to speak at some length.

6:07PM:  Riz Ahmed, star of The Sound of Metal, gives Best Sound to Sound of Metal.  As anyone who’s seen the film knows, the sound design is genuinely dazzling.

6:10PM:  Moving on to the Shorts area with Live Action, which goes to Two Distant Strangers, a topical film that was heavily featured on Netflix.

6:15PM:  Nice touch as we go to commercial:  the voice-over announcer saying “I swear we’re running on time.”

6:20PM:  Reese Witherspoon takes over the Shorts mantle for Animated, which goes to If Anything Happens, I Love You, another Netflix title.

6:23PM:  Best Animated Film, in one of the least surprising results of a night not brimming (so far) with surprise, is awarded to Pixar’s Soul.  Notably, this presentation included the first nominee clips we’ve seen tonight.

6:33PM;  We’ve reached the end of the Shorts awards with Documentary, which goes to Collette.

6:36PM:  The trio of winning shorts concern a police shooting, a school shooting and the Holocaust.  So some things about the Academy don’t change.

6:40PM:  Documentary Feature is also featuring clips from the nominees.  The award goes to My Octopus Teacher, another Netflix title and another favorite.

6:50PM:  Steven Yeun arrives to give Visual Effects to Tenet, a small return for Christopher Nolan’s crusade to be the man who saved theatrical distribution.

6:53PM:  Just when the show needed a shot in the arm, here’s Brad Pitt to hand out Supporting Actress to Yuh-Jung Youn, who started out as a longshot and then swept the pre-Oscar awards.  Another consolation prize to a Picture nominee  that’s gotten as far as it’s going to go?

6:58PM:  Finally, an acceptance speech with some humor.

7:03PM:  Halle Berry on hand to present another likely “thanks for coming” award to Mank.

7:07PM:  No, a little more support for Mank as it takes Cinematography for its burnished black-and-white visuals.

7:11PM:  Another preview of movies yet to come:  Into the Heights, which provides a more current sign of the state of the movie industry since it will premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

7:15PM:  Harrison Ford has a Blade Runner gag, which seems likely to get us to Best Editing.

7:16PM:  The unspoken punchline to the Blade Runner bit is that not only did it flop badly on initial release, but Ridley Scott was so unhappy with the “final” cut that he did several new versions for re-release.

7:17PM:  The Oscar for Editing goes to The Sound of Metal, which returns us to less-than-surprising results.  Apart from the 2 music awards, the remaining cateogires are the big ones:  Actor, Actress and Picture.

7:22PM:  Not many awards left to give, but we now have an honorary Oscar to Tyler Perry and there’s still the In Memoriam to come.

7:25PM:  All of the Best Picture nominees (except Trial of the Chicago 7) have at least 1 Oscar, and no winner is likely to walk away with more than 3-4 total awards.

7:32PM:  Soul takes Best Original Score, another win for the favorite.

7:37PM:  Best Song was one of the categories without a clear favorite, and in a mild upset, it went to “Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah.

7:41PM:  Well into the 3rd hour of the show, we’re getting our first comedy bit, a musical quiz hosted by Lil Rel Howery.  Not clear why this didn’t happen much earlier.  And courtesy of Andra Day, our first bleep!

7:47PM:  And our second bleep, courtesy of Very Good Sport Glenn Close.

7:48PM:  There must be movies opening this year that aren’t musicals, but those are the previews we’re getting, now Questlove’s Sundance hit Summer of Love (a Hulu acquisition).

7:42PM:  The In Memoriam segment is particularly tough this year for obvious reasons.  the production decision was to feature no clips or on-stage musical number.

8PM:  In a startling break with tradition, Best Picture is being awarded before Actor and Actress.

8:06PM:  And the winner is… Nomadland.  Thanks everyone, and have a good–wait, there are still awards to give out?

8:08PM:  Frances McDorman’s wolf-call speech as a producer of Nomadland sort of felt like she doesn’t expect to be giving a Best Actress speech tonight.

8:10PM:  Last year’s Best Actress Renee Zellweger is giving out Actress, to Frances McDormand, whether she expected it or not.  She’s only the 3rd actress to win 3 Oscars, joining Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep.

8:15PM:  The night ends with its biggest upset:  Anthony Hopkins (who isn’t there) beats Chadwick Boseman for Best Actor.

8:16PM:  And that really does end a strange evening.  As anticlimactic as it was always going to be not to end with Best Picture, the fact that the telecast finished with a loss for the year’s sentimental favorite, by someone who wasn’t even present for an acceptance speech, is painful, no matter how good Hopkins was in The Father.

8:17PM:  There will be a lot of discussion about what happened during the last hour of this Oscars, both from a production point of view and the actual results.   Time to start thinking about next year’s hopefully more normal Academy Awards.


















About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."