Along with the night’s biggest prize, the film made history when director Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director, and the first woman to win the prize since Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for Zero Dark Thirty. The film’s star Frances McDormand also won her third Best Actress trophy (she previously won for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
For the other major acting prizes, Anthony Hopkins scored a bit of an upset when he took home his second Best Actor trophy for his turn in The Father (he last won in 1992 for Silence of the Lambs). Meanwhile, Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, while Yuh-Jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for her turn as the Yi family’s grandmother in Minari.
Emerald Fennell took home Best Original Screenplay for for Promising Young Woman, becoming the first woman to win a screenplay Oscar since Diablo Cody won the same prize for Juno 13 years ago. The Father, meanwhile, took home Best Adapted Screenplay, with Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller sharing the prize.
In the music categories, H.E.R. became a first-time winner, taking home Best Original Song for “Fight for You,” her track from Judas and the Black Messiah. And Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste shared Best Original Score for Soul (this was Reznor and Ross’ second Academy Award win, and Batiste’s first).
Due to the pandemic, this year’s Oscars were a much smaller affair and moved from the usual home, the Dolby Theater, to Los Angeles’ Union Station. With light pouring in through the location’s large windows, the railway hub turned out to be a rather charming setting as nominees and a few select guests gathered at socially distanced tables. To a certain extent, the vibe was not unlike the Golden Globes, though the show’s director Glenn Weiss — along with producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins — worked to give the proceedings a fittingly sleek cinematic edge. The show even opened with a brisk tracking shot of Regina King strutting through Union Station to the main stage that felt clipped right out of Soderbergh’s own Oceans movies (for the third year in a row, the Oscars were host-less).
One of the biggest changes, however, was the decision to push the Best Original Song performances from the actual ceremony to the pre-show. Questlove was on hand as the night’s DJ, while later in the evening comedian Lil Rel Howery hosted a game of Oscars trivia that ended with Glenn Close dancing to “Da Butt,” a song from the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s School Daze written by the Washington D.C. go-go band E.U. (This bit was followed immediately by the annual “In Memoriam tribute,” for a nice shot of third-hour-of-the-awards-show whiplash.)
This year’s Oscars was also way more generous with its time than a typical awards show, allowing winners to go long with their speeches without fear of getting hit with the dreaded wrap-it-up music. This made for naturally moving moments, like Best International Film winner Thomas Vinterberg getting through all his thank-yous before speaking movingly about the death of his daughter just after he began filming Another Round. And it gave a gassed up Kaluuya the chance to talk about all Fred Hampton achieved and the work that still needs to be done, while still absolutely mortifying his mother when he said, “We’re enjoying ourselves tonight, we’ve got to celebrate life, man — we’re breathing, we’re walking, it’s incredible … My mum met my dad, they had sex, it’s amazing, I’m here!”
Among the other film winners this year was Soul, which gave Disney and Pixar yet another Best Animated Feature Oscar, while My Octopus Teacher took home Best Documentary Feature. In the technical categories, history was made by Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, who became the first black women to win Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And Ann Roth, at 89-years-old, became the oldest woman to win an Oscar when she was awarded Best Costume Design, also for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
This year’s Oscars also found the old Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories combined into a new singular Best Sound category, which was won by Sound of Metal (Jaime Baksht, Nicolas Becker, Philip Bladh, Carlos Cortés and Michelle Couttolenc). Sound of Metal also won Best Editing (Mikkel E.G. Nielsen), while Tenet won Best Visual Effects (Scott R. Fisher, Andrew Jackson, David Lee and Andrew Lockley), and Mank picked up Best Production Design (Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale) and Best Cinematography (Erik Messerschmidt).
Best Live Action Short Film went to Two Distant Strangers, which starred rapper Joey Bada$$ and used a sci-fi time loop to examine interactions between black people and police officers. Best Animated Short went to If Anything Happens I Love You — about two grieving parents — and Best Documentary Short went to Colette, about former World War II French resistance member Colette Marin-Catherine (Colette was part of the virtual reality video game Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, which made its producers, Respawn Entertainment and Oculus, the first video game studios to win an Oscar). Filmmaker Tyler Perry was also given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, as was the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which supports a nursing home and retirement village for elderly people who used to work in the film industry.