So, here we are… A couple of month’s later than usual and a very different ceremony to normal. But it is Oscar time once again.

On a personal note, this year is very different for me, as I was given authorised press credentials for the first time ever and given access to the Virtual Media Center. So, a big thank you to the Oscars for allowing us access.

Before commenting on any of the nominations or winners, it’s worth addressing the change of venue and format. This year’s ceremony took place in a specially laid out Union Station rather than the traditional Dolby Theatre. In a year where so much has been cancelled due to Coronavirus, you have to appreciate the effort that the Academy has gone to in order to allow this ceremony to take place and actually have nominees attend in person, if not in LA, then in one of the international hubs. As much as virtual ceremonies and events have dominated the last year, there is still no substitute for seeing the reactions on the winner’s faces and watch them walk up to the podium to deliver a speech.

In saying that though, the ceremony itself felt very underwhelming. For whatever reason, it was decided to not screen clips of the nominations, instead relying on platitudes delivered by the guest hosts. This is all well and good for some categories, but falls short on categories such as Sound, Editing, Visual Effects etc. Not giving any context to the work that is being honoured felt more than a little strange.

On to the awards themselves. Opening up a bumper evening for British Talent, Emerald Fennell was awarded the prize for Best Original Screenplay for her film, Promising Young Woman. When asked what it meant for her to be a British Film-maker, this was her response:

The award for Adapted Screenplay went to Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller for The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman. International Feature Film went to Danish film, Another Round, a booze filled drama with Mads Mikkelsen. Another British win next for Daniel Kaluuya and his portrayal of activist, Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. This resulted in one of the more peculiar speeches of the evening with Kaluuya remarking on how incredible it was that his parents had sex, much to the shock of his mother in the audience.

The awards for Make Up and Hairstyling and Costume design went to Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson and Ann Roth respectively for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

We then moved on to the first of two Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards of the evening. With this first one being awarded to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, a charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries and their families with limited or no resources. This has been a particularly difficult year for a lot of industries, and the MPTF has been on the frontline supporting people in the entertainment industry who have found themselves in hard times over the pandemic.

Arguably one of the biggest awards of the evening, Directing, went to Chloé Zhao for Nomadland. I have to say I look forward to the day where we no longer have to celebrate the fact that it is extraordinary for a woman of colour, or even simply a woman to win this award. I will be very happy when that is no longer the exception, but the norm that no longer requires commenting on.

The award for the newly combined Sound category was aptly taken by The Sound of Metal, the tale of a heavy metal drummer dealing with the onset of deafness, played by Riz Ahmed. Followed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe winning the award for Live Action Short with Two Distant Strangers.

One of my favourite productions of the evening, If Anything Happens, I Love You won the award for Short Film Animation. This is a very powerful peice which tackles the grief caused to a family by a mass shooting. Creators Will McCormack and Michael Govier spoke about their hopes for the impact of their film.

Another well deserved win came in the form of Animated Feature Film which went to the wonderful Soul. This film does a phenomenal job of balancing some very difficult existential concepts with what is essentialy a kid’s movie. Documentary Short went to Colette, and Documentary Feature went to the wonderfully named My Octopus Teacher. The gong for Visual Effects went to Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher for Christopher Nolan timebender Tenet. Scott Fisher spoke briefly about the approach they took to the effects in the film.

Actress in a supporting role was picked up by Yuh-Jung Youn for her performance in Minari, and was certainly one of the more entertaining speeches of the evening, veering from her obvious crush on presenter Brad Pitt through her astonishment winning over eight time nominee Glenn Close, to using the award as justification for why ‘Mommy work so hard’. Funny, honest and engaging, Youn was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

Production Design and Cinematography justifiably went to Mank. Anyone who has seen the film will appreciate the work that went into making it look and feel like you were watching something that looked and sounded like it was being screened in a 1930’s theatre, using the cue dots in the top right to notify the projectionists of upcoming reel changes, over-exposing Day for Night sequences and creating lavish sets that immersed us completely in that era.

The last of the technical categories, Editing went to Sound of Metal, marking a very odd year for technical categories due to the majority of the big budget Marvel and other Sci-Fi/Genre movies having their release dates bumped due to the pandemic, as well as the notable absence of the highly anticipated Bond movie.

The second Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was presented to Tyler Perry who gave a very powerful speech, encouraging people to ‘refuse hate’, saying that we should be a part of the conversation rather than hating people.

The final five awards of the evening start out with another favourite of mine, Best Original Score. This was won by the collaborators, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste for the animated feature film, Soul. In a departure from Reznor’s normal mature fare, this is very much a kid’s film. Not only that, but Reznor and Ross found themselves in the enviable position of being their own rivals, having created the score for David Fincher’s Mank as well this year. Some good news for long time Nine Ince Nails fans such as myself was provided by Reznor later in the evening in the press room.

The award for Best Original Song this year went to Fight For You from the film Judas and the Black Messiah by H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas.

In an odd break from tradition, Best Picture was moved from the final category to before the best Actor/Actress categories. This should not detract from the success of winner Nomadland, but, given the events that followed, the decision to move this category earlier seemed to be a strange one. Following on from this, Frances McDormand picked up the award for Best Actress, also for Nomadland, giving a very short speech, in which she seemed to suggest the Academy should have provided a Karaoke Bar… In all fairness, I’d have loved that, and it would have been a welcome distraction from a lot of the other odd choices of the evening.

Finally, the Best Actor award. Now, I know I am not alone in thinking that this was a sure win for Chadwick Boseman’s final epic performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. So, I was as surprised as everyone else when it went to Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father. I can’t comment on the performance itself, as I haven’t seen The Father as of the writing of this article, and I offer my warmest congratulations to Anthony Hopkins on becoming the oldest recipient of the award. Sadly, this resulted in a very subdued and blunt ending to the ceremony, with Joaquin Phoenix accepting the award on Hopkins’ behalf as he was not present at the ceremony.

As for the rest of the ceremony, there were certainly issues… The odd ‘quiz’ section that resulted in exposing not only Glenn Close’s excellent music knowledge, but also the eight time nominee’s twerking skills. I mean, really, what does this woman need to do to actually win an Oscar?

The ‘In Memoriam’ section felt oddly rushed and seemed to be missing a couple of key names, omitted apparently because they were best known for Television work rather than Film. Maybe the rushed pace was a result of the sheer amount of people we have lost over the last year underlining exactly how many people have died recently, be it due to COVID or other conditions.

Also notable by its absence was the lack of a Skit sequence which is one of the things I look forward to every year as a satirical take on the year’s biggest films as well as moving the Best Song performances to the ABC exclusive Pre-Show rather than using them to break up the awards. I do have to question a lot of the decisions made by the ceremony’s director, Stephen Soderbergh, who had billed this year’s ceremony as a three hour movie where some awards were given out. There was no denying some moments of excellence including the initial tracking shot of Regina King, but the omissions in the programme were certainly notable compared to previous years.

To conclude, The 93rd Academy Awards wasn’t perhaps the most exciting and engaging ceremony on Earth, but it certainly made concrete steps towards getting us back to some semblance of normality in a year that has been difficult, fractious and socially isolating. I personally can’t wait for the day the cinema’s re-open and I can get back to enjoying these films in the medium they were created for.