LOS ANGELES — “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao’s meditation on grief and the damaged American dream, won Academy Awards for best picture, director and actress at Sunday night’s surreal ceremony, a stage show broadcast on television about films mostly distributed on the internet.
It was a sleepy event until the final minutes, when academy voters served up a dramatic twist ending: Anthony Hopkins, 83, won the best actor Oscar for “The Father,” beating out the late Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), who was the runaway favorite going into the night, having been lauded by film organizations and critics’ groups for months.
Frances McDormand was named best actress for “Nomadland,” which gave Searchlight Pictures its fourth best-picture prize in eight years, an astounding run unrivaled by any other specialty film company. “We give this one to our wolf,” McDormand said as she accepted her statuette (the third of her career), an apparent reference to Michael Wolf Snyder, a “Nomadland” sound mixer who took his own life in March. She then unleashed an unbridled wolf howl.
In many ways, the 93rd Oscars amounted to a celebration of diversity, an issue that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has emphasized in wake of the #OscarsSoWhite protests of 2015 and 2016, when its acting nominees were all white. This year, nine of the 20 acting nominations went to people of color.
Daniel Kaluuya was recognized as best supporting actor for playing the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” “Bro, we out here!” Kaluuya shouted in joy before changing gears and crediting Hampton (“what a man, what a man”) and ending with the cri de coeur, “When they played divide and conquer, we say unite and ascend.”
The supporting actress award went to Yuh-Jung Youn for playing a comically cantankerous grandmother in “Minari.” She was the first Korean performer to win an acting Oscar, and only the second Asian woman; the first was Miyoshi Umeki, a Japanese-born American actress who was recognized in 1958 for playing a bride who encounters racism in “Sayonara.”
“I’m luckier than you,” Youn said to Glenn Close, a supporting actress nominee, to laughter. (Peter O’Toole and Close now jointly hold the record for most nominations in the acting categories without a win — eight apiece.)
In other firsts, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win the makeup and hairstyling Oscar, a prize they shared with Sergio Lopez-Rivera for their work on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” “I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking,” Neal said about her win. “It will just be normal.” Ann Roth won for her “Ma Rainey” costume design, becoming, at 89, the oldest woman ever to win an Oscar.
Zhao, who is Chinese, became only the second woman, and the first woman of color, to win the award for best director. (Kathryn Bigelow was celebrated in 2010 for directing “The Hurt Locker.”)
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard,” she said in her acceptance speech, referring to a Chinese poem she used to read with her father that began with the phrase “People at birth are entirely good.”
“This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other,” she said. (Emerald Fennell was also nominated for “Promising Young Woman,” making this the first time two women had been nominated.)
“Soul,” the Pixar film about a Black musician stuck between Earth and the afterlife, added to the celebration of diversity, winning best animated film and score. The Walt Disney Company, which owns Pixar and Searchlight, won a total of five awards.
The ceremony got underway on Sunday with Regina King, a former Oscar winner and the director of “One Night in Miami,” strutting into a supper-club set. It harkened back to Hollywood’s earliest days, when the Academy Awards were held in hotel ballrooms — laid-back, insider events without the pressure of worrying about whether the television masses might find them compelling.
“It has been quite a year, and we are still smack dab in the middle of it,” she said solemnly, referencing the pandemic and the guilty verdict in the killing of George Floyd. “Our love of movies helped to get us through.”
With very little additional preamble — signaling a low-key, stripped-down-to-the-essentials ceremony, the snoozy opposite of the typical pomp and circumstance — Oscar statuettes began to get handed out. Fennell, a first-time nominee, won best original screenplay for “Promising Young Woman,” a startling revenge drama. The last woman to win solo in the category had been Diablo Cody (“Juno”) in 2007.
“He’s so heavy and so cold,” Fennell said about her little gold-plated man in an impromptu speech that revisited one she wrote when she was 10 and loved Zack Morris in the television series “Saved By the Bell.”
It was one of the few lighthearted moments in a telecast notable for marathon acceptance speeches. (Play-off music seemed not to exist.)
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller won the adapted screenplay prize for “The Father,” about the ravages of dementia. “Another Round,” about middle-age men who decide to get drunk daily, won the Academy Award for international feature film (previously referred to as foreign-language film). The Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg dedicated “Another Round” to his daughter, Ida, who was killed in a car crash in 2019.
“Maybe you’ve been pulling some strings somewhere,” Vinterberg said, providing a notable moment of emotion.
Hollywood wanted the producers of the telecast to pull off an almost-impossible hat trick. First and foremost, they were asked to design a show that prevented the TV ratings from plunging to an alarming low — while celebrating movies that, for the most part, have not connected widely with audiences. The producing team, which included the Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), also hope to use the telecast to jump-start theatergoing, no small task when most of the world has been out of the box office habit for more than a year.
McDormand tried to help their cause with her acceptance speech: “Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible,” she said. “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 was represented here tonight.”
Lastly, the producers needed to integrate live camera feeds from more than 20 locations to comply with coronavirus safety restrictions. Despite the logistical challenges, there were no notable technical malfunctions.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had delayed the event, which typically takes place in February, in hopes of outrunning the pandemic. Still, the red carpet had to be radically downsized and the extravagant parties canceled.
Netflix wins multiple awards, but not best picture.
Netflix received its first Oscar nomination in 2014 for “The Square,” a feature documentary about the Egyptian revolution. Since then — in large part because of copious amounts of money spent on awards campaigns — the streaming giant has come to dominate the nominations. It amassed 36 this year, more than any other company, with “Mank” receiving 10, more than any other film.
Netflix did win seven statuettes, including for documentary feature (“My Octopus Teacher”), hair/makeup and costume (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), animated short (“If Anything Happens, I Love You”) and live action short (“Two Distant Strangers”). It also picked up two for the little-seen “Mank,” landing Oscars for production design and cinematography.
But Netflix and its sharp-elbowed awards campaigner keep whiffing in the end.
Last year, the company’s best-picture hopes rested on “The Irishman.” It failed to convert even one of its 10 nominations into a win. In 2019, Netflix pushed “Roma.” It won three Oscars, including one for Alfonso Cuarón’s direction, but lost the big prize.
On Sunday, Netflix had two nominees, “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” But they came up short against Zhao’s “Nomadland,” which connected with voters in part because it seemed to meet the cultural moment, with its themes of homelessness and economic pressure a cinematic corollary to the pandemic.
Amazon also had a best-picture nominee, “Sound of Metal,” which received Oscars for sound and editing.
There was nothing usual about the broadcast.
With so much attention spent on the logistics of creating a live show in the middle of a pandemic, most of the evening was centered on the business of handing out awards with little of the pomp that audiences are used to. Soderbergh and his producing partners for the event, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, succeeded in eschewing Zoom and implementing enough protocols to enable a mask-free environment for the nominees.
And presenters as varied as Zendaya, Brad Pitt and Bong Joon Ho, last year’s winner for best director, joined in the festivities.
Yet, the ceremony, which typically includes performances of the five tunes nominated for best song, instead moved them off the main stage and onto a preshow, which allowed them to be performed in their entirety.
The academy did decide to hand out two honorary Oscars during the primary show. (Since 2009, honorary statuettes have been awarded during a nontelevised banquet in the fall.) The nonprofit Motion Picture & Television Fund, which underwrites a nursing home and retirement village for aging and ailing “industry” people (actors, executives, choreographers, lighting technicians, camera operators), received one. The organization, founded in 1921 by stars like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, also provides a wide range of other services to Hollywood seniors.
The second went to Tyler Perry, who the academy cited as a “cultural influence extending far beyond his work as a filmmaker.” Perry, of course, started his entertainment career as a playwright. Since ending his popular “Madea” film series in 2019, Perry has focused on making television shows like “Bruh,” “Sistahs” and “The Oval” for BET. He owns a studio in Atlanta.
The Dolby Theater, which holds more than 3,000 people and has been the home of the Academy Awards since 2001, was not the epicenter of the telecast. This year, with just the nominees and their guests in attendance, an Art Deco, Mission Revival train station in downtown Los Angeles served as the main venue.