Cinema Chat: 2021 Oscar Recap, Star Wars Day Celebration, 'Street Gang,' And More

Apr 29, 2021

Oscar statue
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is now in the books.  On "Cinema Chat," WEMU's David Fair and Michigan Theater Foundation executive director Russ Collins reviewed this year's winners and surprises and discussed the new movies and special events coming your way here in town! 


TV VIEWERSHIP FOR MAJOR KUDOS EVENTS HAS STEEPLY DECLINED AMID THE PANDEMIC, WITH ONLY A FEW OUTLIERS LIKE THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDS INCREASING THEIR AUDIENCE

The 93rd Academy Awards slumped to their smallest TV audience ever.  But the April 25 show was hardly alone this awards season in achieving that dubious milestone.  The 10.4 million viewers for ABC’s Oscars telecast — a 56 percent drop from 2020 — were in keeping with a host of other awards broadcasts over the past seven months.  Collectively, the four biggest awards shows — the Emmys, Globes, Grammys and Oscars — lost a staggering 35 million viewers from their previous telecasts in the 2019-20 season, suffering an average drop of 45 percent.  The Emmys actually fared the best, losing only 9 percent of their 2019 audience (albeit from a much lower starting point than the other three).

OSCARS 2021 - FROM CHLOE ZHAO TRIUMPH TO ANTHONY HOPKINS NO-ZOOM ANTICLIMAX

This year's slimmed down Oscars may have been shorter, leaner, and more indie, but it's a miracle they took place at all.

 

However low the ratings turn out to be for the two-month-delayed 2021 Oscars, the three rookie Oscar show producers, Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Glenn Collins, took advantage of their pandemic limitations to apply a fresh twist to the tried-and-true awards-show formula.  They wanted viewers to escape into a cinematic experience miles away from the trapped-at-home feel of watching television and Zoom.  Soderbergh’s watch-a-movie Oscars deployed roving wide-angle lenses, 24 fps images, and a live Questlove soundtrack to take audiences closer to attendees, sitting two by two at plush banquettes and small tables in the blue-curtained intimate amphitheatre erected inside iconic Union Station.  As Soderbergh promised beforehand, “I want the whole thing to announce itself out of the gate as different.”

Sure enough, right off the bat, actress-turned-director Regina King strode into Union Station in a dazzling blue gown clutching an Oscar like she owned the place. S he was covered by a long wide-angle tracking shot as credits rolled, and entered the intimate Oscar show.  “It’s been a hard year for everyone,” said King as she gained her footing on the stage.  “But our love of movies helped us to get through. It made us feel less isolated. They helped to connect us when we were apart.” 

 

Best Actress winner Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) gave a rousing get-back-to-theaters speech.  “Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible,” she said.  “And one day, very, very soon, take everybody you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder, in that dark space, and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.”  To push the movie aesthetic and increase nominee attendance, no Zooms were permitted: Satellite hook-ups at hubs around the world, including London, Paris, Sydney, and Rome, supplied other acceptance speeches including Paris-based writer-director Florian Zeller for Adapted Screenplay for “The Father” (shared with Christopher Hampton, in London), and Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, editor of “Sound of Metal,” in Berlin.

 

These Oscars had no populist touch, no comedy bits except for a trivia contest with DJ Questlove testing profanity-spouting Andra Day (who scored a Best Actress nod for her first movie, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) and prepped Glenn Close (who lost her eighth Oscar for “Hillbilly Elegy” and will come back fighting with “Sunset Boulevard”) that might have lured more viewers at the top of the show. Close did improvise her “Da Butt” dance, the viral hit of the night.

 

In fact, the night’s elder statespeople were among the most entertaining, from Close to 73-year-old Best Supporting Actress winner Yuh-Jung Youn, the second Asian woman to win in this category (after Miyoshi Umeki for “Sayonara” in 1958).  Youn hit on her “Minari” absentee producer-presenter Brad Pitt (who gallantly helped her off the stage). That “Minari” win marked A24’s first Oscar since “Moonlight.”  “How can I win over Glenn Close?” asked Youn.  “I have been watching all her performances.  All five nominees, we are all winners.  We cannot compete with each other.  I am luckier than you!”

 

Finally, as much as the producers welcomed the chance to reinvent the Oscar wheel, they had to work within defined restraints, and that includes a three-hour show with the tagline “Bring Your Movie Love” that handed out 23 Oscars and two Governors awards (Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards to Tyler Perry and the Motion Picture Television Fund) along with the usual (speeded up) In Memoriam reel (that omitted Jessica Walter).  Perry gave a rousing political speech.  “My mother taught me to refuse hate,” he said.  “I don’t hate anybody.  I could hope that we would refuse hate.  I dedicate this award to anyone willing to stand in the middle: that’s where healing conversation and change happens.  Anyone who wants to meet me in the middle and refuse hate and lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you.”

 

Finally, Oscar voters didn’t care that McDormand would win a third Oscar.  She joins Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Meryl Streep in the three-time-Oscar-winner club; Katharine Hepburn is the only one with four.  In a tightly contested race, McDormand beat SAG-winner Viola Davis — who beamed when “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” won Best Costume and Hairstyling and Makeup (the first Black artisans to win in that category) — Critics Choice and Indie Spirit winner Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), and Golden Globe-winner Day. Mulligan and Day, along with Supporting Actor and Best Song nominee Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) were all dressed to win in head-to-toe gold.  Next time.

 

Chadwick Boseman, who had won most of the precursor awards (except the BAFTA won by Hopkins), while Aaron Sorkin’s Best Picture contender “The Trial of the Chicago 7” lost all six of its bids.  Nominations leader “Mank” won two out of ten for Best Production Design and Cinematography, Best Live-Action Short for “Two Distant Strangers” and Best Animated Short for “If Anything Happens I Love You,” and as expected, popular underwater love story “My Octopus Teacher” won Best Documentary.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.), which nabbed two Oscars, for Best Song (“Fight for You”) and Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya (who thanked his weeping mother, watching from the London hub).  “We’re enjoying ourselves tonight,” said Kaluuya.  “Let’s celebrate life.  It’s incredible.  I’m here!  I’m so happy to be alive.  I’m going to celebrate that tonight.  Love and peace and onwards!”

 

OPENING DOWNTOWN

"Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street" -- OPENS FRIDAY, APRIL 30 AT THE STATE

This film will take us inside the minds and hearts of the Sesame Street creators to help us understand not only how they produced this groundbreaking show, but also what it was like to be at the center of a cultural and social phenomenon.  The film concentrates on the most experimental and groundbreaking period of Sesame Street.  The original surviving creators weave together personal narratives, and never before seen behind the scenes footage to reveal how they collaborated to push every boundary that confronted them, changing television, and changing the world.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS DOWNTOWN

"Star Wars: A New Hope" -- PLAYS TUESDAY, MAY THE 4TH AT THE MICHIGAN

To appreciate Star Wars is to appreciate the strive and vision of a renegade, independent filmmaker and one of the most highly regarded filmmaking success stories of our time.  Though this series has grown into something so much larger than George Lucas first envisioned, its scope and ingenuity continues to inspire and teach young filmmakers about creativity and the mistakes that informed the history of these Hollywood juggernauts.

Also on May the 4th – the Michigan Theater’s Day of Giving, on which a generous donor will double your gift by matching any donation dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000.  Go to michtheater.org to get more information or make a gift (especially on May the 4th)

CONTINUING DOWNTOWN

"Demon Slayer" -- PLAYING AT THE STATE

After his family was brutally murdered and his sister turned into a demon, Tanjiro Kamado's journey as a demon slayer began. Tanjiro and his comrades embark on a new mission aboard the Mugen Train, on track to despair.

"Together Together" -- PLAYING AT THE STATE

When young loner Anna (Patti Harrison) is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms), a single man in his 40s who wants a child, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

"Nomadland" -- PLAYING AT THE MICHIGAN

Winner of 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director & Best Actress

Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.  The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, this film features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.

"Minari" -- PLAYING AT THE MICHIGAN

Winner of Best Supporting Actress Oscar

If you liked the indie hit “The Farewell” (starring Awkwafina), you will like this film.  A tender and sweeping story about what roots us, the film follows a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream.  The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother.  Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really builds a home and family.  Starring Steven Yeun ("Burning") and Yeri Han ("Champion").

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu