First things first: I finally correctly picked Best Picture! After six years of choosing the wrong film for the (usually) final award of the evening, I finally chose the right winner (though, let's be honest, it was not that difficult this year). I went 7/9 on the major categories and 15/20 overall (I didn't pick the Short Film categories) - though, like many prognosticators, I was surprised repeatedly in the final hour.
I picked the first thirteen and the first major seven awards overall before losing momentum and only picking two of the final seven awards of the evening correctly - one of which was Nomadland for Best Picture, thankfully. It was my seventh time in the last seventeen years of publicly picking the awards that a potential sweep has been foiled within the final four awards of the evening (usually Director, Actor, Actress, and Picture in some order), and so I am still seeking the full sweep of the major awards. (I've included my overall records as an addendum at the end of this post.)
We knew it was going to be a different kind of Academy Awards, and it certainly was. There are a variety of thoughts on the different direction that this year's telecast took under the leadership of Steven Soderbergh, but count me in the the camp that appreciated a different strategy. Union Station was a unique setting, and the combination of the new setting, a smaller crowd, and the trimming of almost all of the "extras" (a host, montages, etc.) really altered the vibe of the evening, and I think it (mostly) worked.
I was a bit confused in the pacing - particularly the placement of the one comedic bit in the final hour of the show and in the order of some of the awards - but I did think it was good to try some different things in a year that promised to be very different anyway. Of course, the final production decision of the evening to move Actress and Actor after Picture did not pay off as expected with the final tribute to Chadwick Boseman (instead ending with an awkward Joaquin Phoenix moment and a still photograph), but I admire the fact that Soderbergh and company tried to be more cinematic.
I don't think this will be the best template for future Oscar shows, but I think they will take their lessons and learn in the future. Limit the bits and the montages and the talking about movies, show clips of the movies, and aim for three-and-a-half hours. It is likely, however, that this could be the lowest-rated Oscars in many years, so I do hope that they do not conflate the low ratings with this year's production, as the telecast was not responsible for the ratings.
This Oscar year
The Oscars - and movies in general - are in a bit of a weird space right now. The Oscars always serve as the Academy's evangelistic tool to present the power of cinema, and a lot of people are just not feeling that vibe at all right now with the absence of movie theatres and event movies. It's arguable that movies as a cultural force are less significant than they have been at any point in my lifespan, even though people might be watching as many or more movies than they ever have while being stuck at home.
It's a strange dichotomy that seems to not make much sense at first glance, but makes more and more sense the deeper it is examined. Although people might be watching more movies, they are likely not watching more "different" movies, whether that is based on the increased economy of scale of movies in the past few decades, the increased political polarization of the movies and the industry as a whole, or the continual redefinition of what makes a movie an "Oscar" movie.
There is the continued stratification of "Oscar" movies and "commercially successful" movies, with far less overlap than there was in the 1970s and 1980s. It seems utterly inconceivable now that a Best Picture could be the highest-earning movie in a year, like Rain Man was in 1988 or Titanic in 1997, or a box-office smash hit like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003. It seems like in most years there are one or two exceptions within that "mega-movie" world that cross over into the Oscar conversation, but they are really two almost entirely different pools of movies at this point (and they really have been for most of this century).
Most of the Oscar pool now is made up of the kind of "medium-range movies" that major studios have mostly abandoned and left for independent studios and streaming services and the kind of independent movies that once were completely ignored but are now mostly embraced; of course, there are now even "more" independent" films like First Cow that seem like they will never be able to gain traction with the Academy, but I suppose there always has to be someone outside of the bell curve, I suppose. And those independent and/or mid-range movies - which was the entirety of this year's slate due to the pandemic - are just not the major drivers of movie business or social media among most moviegoers.
There's certainly a political aspect to this conversation, as there has been for decades with the Academy Awards, and that is probably also making a not insignificant difference. Despite its occasionally more conservative missteps and stumbles (Crash, Green Book), AMPAS is certainly more progressive as a group than is a significant portion of the US, and so the Oscars are becoming increasingly irrelevant to more and more viewers who are perhaps limiting their scope of viewing more and more.
It's the issue that any popular medium and/or franchise is having right now; think of the MCU trying to appease everyone with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or the way HBO is trying to balance its progressive slate with continually attempting to draw in new subscribers to HBO Max with its library material. And the Oscars, for better or for worse, have enough expectations and history that they are working through the same issues; they just happen to be doing it with a very public auditing of the results.
I do think that this Oscars seemed to mostly get things right, based on what I've seen, both in terms of the general scope of nominations and the winners. The most nominated movies were widely acclaimed, and the nominees and winners provide an overall sense of the direction of Hollywood and the world - and really, in several categories, there was not really a "wrong" choice this year in what was a less significant year for movies in general.
That said, the Oscars are only a few years removed from #OscarssoWhite and Green Book's win, so it's not like they're completely out of the woods. I just think that this year was overall a step in the right direction.
I still have a lot of viewing to do to catch up on this year's Oscars and year in movies in general: Nomadland; Promising Young Woman; Soul; Sound of Metal; and The Trial of the Chicago 7 are on the top of my list, with The Father; Judas and the Black Messiah; Minari; and Wolfwalkers (an animated film) also on my short list.
Of course, the facts that many of those have been available on streaming services (several with no additional cost, mind you) and that I, as someone who is interested in these types of movies both naturally and as a byproduct of attention from critics and awards, have not yet taken the time to watch most of this year's slate probably tells you how generally uninspiring a year it has been. Some good movies, to be sure, but I'm not sure which movies from this year - if any - will emerge as favourites in the future.
Addendum: Personal Prognostication Results since 2005
Results by category:Best Picture: 7/17 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020)
Best Actor: 13/17 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017, 2021)
Best Actress: 13/17 (missed 2008, 2012, 2019, 2021)
Best Supporting Actor: 15/17 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 15/17 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 11/17 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2019)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 14/17 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 14/17 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)
Results by year:
2019: 6/9 (missed Picture, Actress, and Original Screenplay)
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)