It’s fitting that Steven Soderbergh, who directed 2011 pandemic thriller Contagion, was the production brains behind the 2021 Oscars. Whereas the coronavirus-era Emmys and Golden Globes veered toward absurdist comedy in the face of our altered world, the 93rd Academy Awards went in a completely different direction. As helmed by Soderbergh, the pared-down ceremony opted for seriousness and austerity, ostensibly to reflect the times we’re living through. (Mercifully, no one delivered a glitchy living room speech over Zoom.)
Whether that’s your jam or not, what’s undeniable is that this was an Oscars like no other: The ceremony forsook the plush environs of the Dolby Theatre for the sunlit ticket-counter room in Los Angeles’ Union Station, with only a small audience of (vaccinated, unmasked) nominees and their plus-ones in attendance. Hostless as it has been since 2019, this Academy Awards employed a variety of beloved A-listers (Brad Pitt! Renée Zellweger! Harrison Ford!) to present what turned out to be, despite its blandness, an historic ceremony.
Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland swept in three big categories, including Best Picture — and, maybe more significantly, Best Director: Zhao is just the second woman, and the first woman of color, to ever win in the category. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom hair and makeup artists Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson were the first black women to win in that category, while the film’s 89-year-old costume designer, Ann Roth, became the oldest female Oscar winner in history. Meanwhile, first-time nominees Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari) took the Best Supporting Actor statuettes, while vets Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Anthony Hopkins (The Father) added to their mantel collections — the fourth Oscar for her, second for him — by winning the two big acting categories.
Read on for the best, worst, and WTF moments from an Oscars like we’ve never seen before, and probably won’t see again — and join us in pouring one out for the late, brilliant Chadwick Boseman, who won Best Actor in our hearts, if nowhere else.