“Nomadland,” a small-scale film about nomads in America directed by Chloé Zhao, won best picture at the 93rd Academy Awards, which were characterized by the pandemic, with movies that debuted on streaming platforms dominating the ceremony — an in-person event held under Covid protocols.
In a year when the pandemic shut down theaters and turned moviegoers into couch potatoes, 16 of the 23 Oscars went to films that debuted on streaming platforms at the same time, with “Nomadland,” which was purchased by Hulu, becoming the first best picture winner from that relatively new platform.
Three years after winning an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Frances McDormand won again for the film. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins won best actor for his portrayal of a dementia-stricken man in “The Father,” eclipsing the emotional moment that would have occurred if Chadwick Boseman had won for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” as the third actor to win posthumous honors.
Hopkins becomes the oldest champion in history at the age of 83. His previous Academy Award was for “The Silence of the Lambs,” which he won almost 30 years ago.
Unlike previous awards shows, where one film has dominated, this year’s ceremony distributed the spoils to many films. “Nomadland” took home three awards, while five other films each received two.
Among the producers’ many perplexing decisions, best picture was given out before the two biggest acting awards, defying years of tradition.
Netflix won seven awards in total, marking the start of the leading streaming service’s courtship of Oscar voters, facing opposition and reservations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the awards.
Following in the footsteps of Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010, the producers decided to award best director early, breaking with tradition. Zhao became only the second woman to win the award, following Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.
Yuh-jung Youn, who co-starred with Glenn Close in “Minari,” became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar, adding a more shady footnote to Glenn Close’s illustrious career: with her eighth nomination for “Hillbilly Elegy,” she matches Peter O’Toole for the most nominations without ever winning.
The evening started with screenplay awards for Emerald Fennell of “Promising Young Woman” (for a story about sexual assault) and Florian Zeller of “The Father,” both of whom also directed those films, adding to the international flavor. (The latter accepted via teleconference, but the majority of the nominees were in Los Angeles.)
Daniel Kaluuya won his first Academy Award for his role as Black Panther Party chief Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which was released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, and H.E.R. won best song for “Fight For You.” (Like CNN, WarnerMedia owns both Warner Bros. and the streaming service.)
“Soul,” one of the movies redirected to streaming — in this case, Disney+ — was named best animated film, marking the third Pixar movie from director Pete Docter (with Kemp Powers as co-director) so honored, following “Up” and “Inside Out.” It’s also the first film in the studio’s history to feature a primarily African-American cast, with Jamie Foxx voicing the lead character, and it won an Academy Award for best musical score.
The Danish film “Another Round” won the award for best foreign feature film. During the making of the film, director Thomas Vinterberg gave an emotional speech about the death of his 19-year-old daughter Ida in a car accident.
The makeup and hairstyling team from Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” became the first Black winners in that category, with the Netflix film also winning for costume design.
Other technical categories included production design and cinematography for “Mank,” a Hollywood history lesson about the making of “Citizen Kane,” sound and editing for “Sound of Metal,” and best visual effects for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Tenet.”
Regina King kicked off the ceremony by mentioning the Derek Chauvin trial’s recent verdict and stating that she would not apologize for injecting politics into the show. “I know the fear that so many live with, and no amount of success or wealth changes that,” she said as the mother of a Black boy.
The provocative “Two Distant Strangers,” about a police shooting of a Black man, was later recognized as an excellent short film later in the show.
Other political topics, such as gun violence, were discussed during the ceremony, but Tyler Perry, the recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ humanitarian award, encouraged viewers to join him in “refusing hatred” when it came to other people.
Due to the pandemic, the Oscars were delayed by two months this year, and a one-time-only exception was made to allow movies that premiered via streaming but were not released theatrically to compete.
However, due to the same reasons, some films that might have competed for awards were postponed past the eligibility window, in the hopes of a more conventional release — and higher box-office revenue — once theaters reopened.
As a result, five of the eight best-picture nominees debuted exclusively or concurrently on streaming platforms, with Netflix receiving the most awards (35), more than any other distributor.