2021 Oscars Recap: 'Nomadland', 'Mank', And 'Sound Of Metal' Win : Pop Culture Happy Hour We are wrapping up this year's Oscars. It was a big night for Nomadland, which took best picture, best actress for Frances McDormand, and a historic best director win for Chloé Zhao. But there were also huge upsets, most notably in best actor, where Anthony Hopkins won over Chadwick Boseman. And the telecast took some big risks that didn't always pay off.

Our 2021 Oscars Recap

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It's 1:06 a.m. And we are wrapping up this year's Oscars. It was a big night for "Nomadland," which took best picture, best actress for Frances McDormand and a historic best director win for Chloe Zhao.


But there were also huge upsets, most notably in best actor, where Anthony Hopkins won over Chadwick Boseman. And the telecast took some big risks that didn't always pay off. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And we're recapping the Oscars on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. So don't go away.


HOLMES: Welcome back. Here with me and Stephen from his home studio bunker out in Virginia is Glen Weldon of NPR's arts desk. Hey, Glen.


Hey, Linda.

HOLMES: And also here from her home studio bunker out in California where it's not so late is Aisha Harris. Hey, Aisha.


Hello, Linda.

HOLMES: Well, we have been chatting about the Oscars a little bit. As we mentioned, "Nomadland" won best picture, which, I think, was expected by a lot of people. It also won best director for Chloe Zhao, who is the first woman of color and the second woman ever to win in this category. Yay for her, boo for category.


HOLMES: Frances McDormand won best lead actress for her performance as Fern. There's a little moment in here that we enjoyed when Frances McDormand - well, let's just say - I'm going to let her give it to you straight.


FRANCES MCDORMAND: Please, watch our movie on the largest screen possible. And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that's represented here tonight. We give this one to our wolf, (howling).


HOLMES: Now, if you did not see "Nomadland," which you can still watch - and I encourage you to do so - that little wolf howl is a reference to the movie, as you might have imagined. It's not just her randomly making a noise like a wolf. Now, the interesting thing about what would normally be the climactic winners, they changed the order up a little bit. So the last was actually the Lead Actor award, which went to Anthony Hopkins in "The Father." Now, Glen, what did you think when you realized that they were moving around the awards?

WELDON: Well, it seemed like they were doing it to maximize a kind of emotional moment at the top. Chadwick Boseman was widely expected to win. So if the evening ended on that, his wife or somebody like that would go up and give a very emotional speech. And we might have ended the evening on not an up note, certainly, but a moving note. And as it was, it was a whole nothing because Hopkins wasn't there.


WELDON: But, yeah, it seemed a gamble that didn't pay off, as Stephen mentioned.

HOLMES: Yeah. How about you, Aisha? How did that strike you?

HARRIS: (Laughter) Supremely deflating on that end. This isn't unprecedented. The earlier years of the Academy Awards, the best picture award was not the last one given out. They had other awards after, including acting awards and, like, humanitarian awards. But we're used to ending where the entire production of a movie comes on stage and celebrates and has fun - feels like we've reached the apex.


HARRIS: And with this, it was just like, oh, boy, this is depressing. The person we all thought was going to win didn't. And that person wasn't even there who won. So yeah...

HOLMES: Yeah. It's hard to end the night literally on we accept this award for him. Goodnight.


JOAQUIN PHOENIX: The academy congratulates Anthony Hopkins and accepts the Oscar on his behalf. Thank you.

HOLMES: There were, of course, lots of other winners, including a couple of acting winners that I think we are all fans of. Daniel Kaluuya for "Judas And The Black Messiah" won in the Supporting Actor category. I particularly liked a little bit of his speech that, I think, embarrassed his mother.


DANIEL KALUUYA: Like, it's incredible. My mom, my dad, they had sex. It's amazing. Like, do you know what I'm saying? I'm here. You know what I mean? So I'm so happy to be alive. So I'm going to celebrate that tonight. You know what I'm saying?

HOLMES: That would have embarrassed my mother, I know, I think many of our mothers.


HOLMES: Stephen, what'd you think about that win?

THOMPSON: Well, I thought it was a perfectly deserved win. I think that's a fantastic performance. I did appreciate the fact that they cut to his mother, who I believe mouths the words, what is he talking about?


THOMPSON: Which, I think, as a parent and a person with parents, I could really feel that moment. That was a favorite.

HOLMES: Yeah. I agree. And Supporting Actress went to Yuh-jung Youn, who - from "Minari," who is somebody that we have all talked about really admiring. She plays the grandmother in that film. Aisha, I know you enjoyed part of her speech where she talked about her work.


YOUN YUH-JUNG: Oh, I'd like to thank my two boys who make me go out and work. So...


YOUN: Beloved son, (non-English language spoken). This is the result because Mommy worked so hard.


HARRIS: I just thought it was the most charming speech. Between her and Kaluuya, I just want them to give speeches all the time. And one of the issues I think that arose from this entire production was that we didn't have an orchestra playing them off when they got too long. But when you have someone like Yuh-jung Youn giving just the most delightful speech that mentions everything from Brad Pitt to her kids and all the hard work she put into it, it was just delightful to see that happen.

HOLMES: There were, of course, lots of other categories. One of our favorite movies of the year kind of across the board was "Sound Of Metal," which won, I think, very well-deserved awards for sound and editing. If that movie did not win in sound, I would have rioted.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: That was one of my real bottom line ones. "Mank," which we have spoken about on this show, won for production design and cinematography, I think both pretty understandable awards for that particular film. Aisha, I think you picked that one as the cinematography - the likely cinematography winner. Aisha, the seer of cinematography awards, apparently.


HARRIS: The "Mank" enthusiast, as I...

HOLMES: The "Mank" enthusiast and seer. So you know, congratulations to Mank. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" - I think a lot of people expected, as we were talking about earlier, Chadwick Boseman to win. A lot of people expected Viola Davis to win rather than Frances McDormand. They did win for costume design and also for makeup and hairstyling. And the hairstylists, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, are the first Black women to win in that category. Makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera is also part of the Oscar-winning team. It's amazing to me that those are the first two Black women to win in hairstyling because there's been so much discussion around representation of actors. But as much as we talk about representation in acting and on screen, you know, representation behind the scenes is just as important in making those performances possible. And I really liked that win.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I was really happy with that win, too. Though, it does bring up for me a huge quibble with the telecast, which is all of the categories that you just named across "Sound Of Metal" and "Mank" and "Ma Rainey," all those categories would have benefited so much as a viewer from a telecast that had bothered to show us that work.

WELDON: Right.

HOLMES: For real.

THOMPSON: The work in makeup and hairstyling in "Ma Rainey" is gorgeous. I wanted to see it. The cinematography in all of those films was really impressive. I wanted to see it. The production design, what is that? I want to see it. And this telecast over and over again did so much telling instead of showing that it was really frustrating as a fan of a lot of these movies. Show us how "Sound Of Metal" is experimenting with sound in such innovative ways. It was frustrating. They cut a lot out of this telecast. They cut the best original song performances. They cut film clips. We saw very few film clips in a awards show about movies. And what they seemed to replace it with most of all was a lot of talky, talk, talk.

WELDON: It's just that you're blowing a chance to give viewers a sense of these movies that they're much less likely to see. All the shorts - we didn't see anything from any of the shorts. And those clips are those filmmakers' chance to reach millions of people with, admittedly, a very tiny sample of their work. But still, you're reaching them instead with a speech.


WELDON: It just doesn't have the bite.

HARRIS: And very awkward moments of Reese Witherspoon telling you how much she loved your performance and whenever she was...


HARRIS: It's like...


HARRIS: ...I didn't need these little tidbits about their favorite movies and whatnot. Give me the clips.


HARRIS: That's why I love the Oscars is the clips and the montages.

HOLMES: They did that a few years ago. And I feel like we decided then that it wasn't great. And now they kind of went back to it...


HOLMES: ...Which I thought was strange. You know, it also strikes me that another thing that it would have been good to see clips of or hear music from would have been the animated feature that won for best score, which is "Soul"...

WELDON: Right.

HOLMES: ...Which, you know, we've talked about quite a bit. It won two pretty significant awards. Stephen, I know that you not only love that movie, but you love that score. That's the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste score. Jon Batiste gave, I thought, a lovely speech.


JON BATISTE: My parents took me around clubs in New Orleans when I was 10 years old, put me in piano lessons - Ms. Shirley (ph), William (ph) (laughter). Just so much has happened. This moment is a culmination of a series of miracles.

THOMPSON: Yeah. It was fantastic to see Jon Batiste win an Oscar. It was also just fantastic to see that particular score awarded because it's really two fantastic scores in one, each of which is giving you this unbelievably vivid sense of place. I mean, when I think about that movie, I think about the music. And I think about that dual score, both of which were worthy of that award.

HOLMES: Yeah. Well, Stephen, you also talked some about original song. You are my...

THOMPSON: Oh, I did (laughter).

HOLMES: ...Original song correspondent. Tell us who won original song.

THOMPSON: Well, best original song went to "Fight For You" by H.E.R. It is a good song. It is my second favorite song in this category. But I have to say, I had come to take very personally the Oscar campaign of the song "Husavik" from "Eurovision Song Contest," a song that does so much more work in the movie that it's in. It's such a shame that it didn't win because it is a fantastic song.

HOLMES: "Fight For You" is over the credits of "Judas And The Black Messiah."

THOMPSON: All four other nominees were ran over the closing credits.

HOLMES: Yep. Yep. Yep. Yep. Yep. So we didn't hear, of course, any of that music...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Except in the pre-show. They had a performance of the songs. But that's it. Original screenplay, a big one, went to Emerald Fennell, who wrote "Promising Young Woman," a movie that I was a big fan of. I think it isn't necessarily always completely successful. But I think it has these big, interesting ideas about twisting revenge to not be that satisfying that I respected. And I liked her. And I - she's one of those people where I'm just very excited to see what the next film is. Also, I will say, adapted screenplay went to Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller for "The Father." I called it on our show.


HOLMES: I think that's a fine movie and a nice work of adaptation of a play. We also were going to mention visual effects went to - God bless it - "Tenet." Stephen, what do you think that means?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that is the category that has probably been most affected by the pandemic. When you don't have these big, tentpole blockbusters coming out, this is a category that traditionally is stacked with action movies. And a lot of your big action blockbusters - you know, your "Fast & Furious 9" or whatever - that sneak into categories like this didn't come out. And so you had a little bit more of a motley gaggle of films to choose from. And this is where "Tenet" got its Oscar.

HOLMES: Yeah. Hurray for "Tenet." Hooray for "Tenet."


HOLMES: Best international feature film went to "Another Round" from Denmark. Documentary feature went to "My Octopus Teacher." Now, look; (laughter) we had a whole episode about documentary features. There are a lot of people who really hate the octopus movie. I don't hate the octopus movie. I just think the other movies are a lot better. You know, "Time" and "Collective" and "The Mole Agent" and "Crip Camp" are all easily streamable. They're all really great. But, you know, perhaps Netflix has discovered a new form of Oscar campaign, which is putting your documentary right at the top of everybody's recommendations queue 'cause I know I saw it about 4,000 times in that row before I started enjoying it. As one of my Twitter correspondents said, you've got to admit, that movie had legs.



HOLMES: Yeah, so the telecast, as we've mentioned, the winners are part of it, but there is a production. Glen, how did this strike you?

WELDON: It started off so good 'cause it wasn't at the regular theater, of course; it was at Union Station, the train station in LA. And we start off with a long tracking shot, a very Steven Soderbergh tracking shot, just following Regina King. Following Regina King is always a good idea. She's wearing a great dress. And they just follow her as she walks into Union Station, goes down the hall quite a bit and then comes into this - like, a little - it looks like a '30s nightclub, actually - a lot of banquettes, lot of booths. That whole opening had such style and such energy of the sort that the rest of the broadcast just didn't have. I mean, if you had told me that Glenn Close doing a bit would be an evening highlight, I wouldn't have believed you.

I mean, the Oscars giveth; they taketh away. Like, we lose an opening monologue, which are always hit or miss. We lose time-killing montages. We lose really strange presenter banter. But as we were all mentioning, you also lose these clips, and you also lose jokes. I mean, like, you know, Harrison Ford attempted a bit where he talked about some of the editing notes that "Blade Runner" got.


HARRISON FORD: Opening - too choppy. Why is this voiceover track so terrible? He sounds drugged.


FORD: Were they all on drugs?

WELDON: Every one of those was a pretty good point.


WELDON: So when your bit is cutting itself off at the knees, something's gone amiss.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And I would add to that, I found the in-memoriam segment to be one of the most frustrating and hard to read, kind of pointlessly chaotic and unsatisfying in-memoriam segments you'll ever see. I just felt like it was a production that took a lot of risks, in some cases for admirable reasons, but just kind of kept gambling and losing.

HARRIS: Maybe I'm just a sucker for Stevie Wonder, but the montage of the in memoriam worked for me all the way.


HARRIS: I liked the timing of it. I think one of the issues that really came down - like, the first 10 minutes, like Glen said, are fantastic. I loved that Regina King sort of served as a - not quite a host, but she was up there for the first few minutes or so. But I actually couldn't even tell at first that she was presenting a category because there was nothing to distinguish between her doing her opening bit and then going into that next category. And so that confusion without the clips, without - and just having everyone kind of, like, show up on screen, it was very confusing. And I wish that there was a little bit more of a delineation within all of that.

WELDON: I think she's so good that she could go off script and it just felt like it was all part of a seamless whole.

HARRIS: Right.

WELDON: And no other presenter really could do what she was doing in those opening minutes, by switching back and forth. It all felt very stilted, when other people tried to do what she did so effortlessly.

HOLMES: Yeah. And I feel a bit guilty in the sense that, you know, we talk every year about how some of these cliched kind of bits really are frustrating, and then they take them all out and replace them with a bunch of other stuff...


HOLMES: ...And then it's like, well, what is all this? I will say, you know, I think some people found this format to be more intimate, more personal. It was certainly quieter. It was more staid. I heard a lot of people saying variations on, like, company banquet kind of stuff. It just had that feeling of being for the people in the room and not the people at home. That is how it felt to me. And that's OK. Heaven knows everybody deserves to celebrate themselves for themselves. But I'm not sure this is a telecast that sent people off looking for any of these films. You know, I don't know that it would have anyway, but I don't think it felt meant to do that.

As Glen said, you know, the one place that I think it sort of began to flicker to life had to do with Glenn Close doing, you know, a fairly, I thought, corny and somewhat forced bit in which she pretended to organically know the history of the legendary go-go number "Da Butt."


GLENN CLOSE: Wait a second. I know - that's "Da Butt."


CLOSE: I know that. "Da Butt" was - wait a second. It was a classic song by the great Washington, D.C., go-go band E.U. So, yeah, and shoutouts to Sugar Bear and the BackYard Band and the whole DMV.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: I was a fan of that. I thought that bit was really funny. I thought it injected a little jolt of energy when the show needed it. I am also a massive, massive superfan of E.U.'s go-go classic "Da Butt." One of the best things about living near Washington, D.C., is occasionally hearing it on the radio. So even though it was a pre-staged bit, I felt like Glenn Close and I both sprung to life and celebrated that song in that moment.

HOLMES: Yeah. Well, another time, Stephen, you and I will have a more extended version of "Da Butt" debate.


HOLMES: It was, I thought, a very quiet show. But, you know, they got a lot of good awards given out. I like "Nomadland." I like all those performances. I think everybody is talented. And the things I most didn't want to win mostly didn't, so hurray for that.

WELDON: Well, I just have one question. They did take over Union Station. So if you had to get a train into or out of LA last night, would they just jitney you to Topanga? I mean, what happened there? How did you...


HOLMES: I read somewhere that I think they weren't cutting off any trains or anything. It was still functioning.

WELDON: Because I didn't hear any, yeah.


HOLMES: All right. Well, we want to know what you think about this year's Oscars. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Thanks to you all for being here and staying up late.

WELDON: Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

HOLMES: And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second and you're so inclined, subscribe to our newsletter. It's over at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. We will see you all tomorrow, when we will be talking about - what's this? - "Mortal Kombat."


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