Pick your jaw up off the floor because, yes, it really did happen.
The 2021 Oscars finally occurred Sunday—close to two months late from its usual lofty perch atop the award season schedule, due to the pandemic that sank its teeth into more than just the movie business last year just weeks after Parasite made history, but it happened. And it happened like never before.
With Steven Soderbergh guiding the reliably unwieldy ship as producer, the Oscar-winning director having agreed to take the reins (along with Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher) despite not knowing what sort of show they'd even be able to put on due to public health guidelines, the 93rd Academy Awards unfolded from both its usual home at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood as well as from art deco landmark Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
But as weird as just about everything has felt for the last 13-plus months, including this strange springtime ceremony—one of many times, actually, it's been held in April, but the first time since 1988 and the second-latest ever, with the latest being the first Academy Awards, held May 16, 1929—there was a real red carpet ("It's not two miles long," nominee Glenn Close told E!'s Giuliana Rancic approvingly), a parade of movie stars, history-making wins, a conspicuous absence and almost no masks but a hell of a lot of other preventative COVID-19 protocol in effect.
But how to honor a year in which relatively few people got to see movies in actual theaters and in which almost the whole slate of 2020 presumed blockbusters (Black Widow, Top Gun: Maverick, etc.) were pushed to distant, safer-seeming release dates (Tenet, finally released in September, was it, and at least won a Best Visual Effects Oscar for its intrepidness)? And in which sitting down to watch anything other than the conspicuously missing big-budget entertainments sometimes sounded more like homework than the lighthearted distraction that sometimes we'd prefer our movies to be?
Well, you just tally up the beautiful, moving pieces of work and dive right in—and whether seriousness on Oscars night is your bag or not, neither the Academy nor Soderbergh shied away from the complicated, challenging reality of the state of our world that so many of the nominated pictures this year reflected.
And somehow, even when the questions managed to be more existential than logistical, the Oscars came together, with all the glory, tears, glamour and insider celebration that we expect from this particular night, wherever it falls on the calendar.
As Gary Oldman's hard-drinking screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz says at the end of the homage to the Hollywood of yore that is two-time Oscar winner Mank: "Well that, my friend, is the magic of the movies."
Overall, the movie version of the Oscars that Soderbergh delivered was a lot like the nominated films: packed with meaning and not for everybody, but a vital part of what Hollywood does and a proud display of why it continues to matter.