2021 Oscars: The Big Upsets and How They Happened

Awards season is over ladies and gents, sad times, I know! But here at MCDI, it’s awards season all year round, rejoice! I’ll be giving you all my early predictions for the 2022 Oscars, but I wanted to recap on the night as a whole. Many awards went as expected (Director, Picture, Supp. Actor and Actress), but unlike last year when there were only two upsets in Picture and Director, this year we had more and two in big categories! I was relieved by this as after a long season, I didn’t want the night to be boring (well, it kinda still was) and expected. I’m going to run down the upsets of the night and see if hindsight can help me justify them. I’ll be starting with the lesser categories and work my way up.

Original Song – “Fight for You” beats “Speak Now”, “IO SI” and “Husavik”

I was tempted to leave this category last as even though it’s not a category as strong as the others, it was by far and away the biggest surprise. “Fight for You” from ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is my favourite song so I was thrilled to see it beat its competition, but I just didn’t think it was the type of song that wins. The last example of a rap song winning Original Song is when “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” for ‘Hustle and Flow’ back in 2006, but that was when there was three nominees and the competition was week after “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was snubbed. Moreover, this song beat three songs which seemed much stronger to win and also had better incentives to win; “Speak Now” was written and performed by Leslie Odom, Jr. who is already a saint in music in broadway, literally everyone loves the man. “IO SI” won the Golden Globe and has the incentive of having a much overdue song writer (Diane Warren) finally get her do at the Oscars on her 12th go. Then there is “Husavik”, the most ‘big’ out of all the songs and has the advantage of being the only song to feature within the film and not just tacked onto the credits. It seemed like a three way horse race and nobody saw the number 4 having a big boost at the end. This was the first time since ‘Ex Machina’ winning Visual Effects that a nominee in the 4th spot in the odds went on to win the Oscar.

The Possible Reason:

This is by far and away the category I’m most clueless on how the win happened, but I think this is a scenario where we focused way too heavily on the other nominees we didn’t focus enough on the outside shots. In the anonymous ballots, an awful lot of voters shared their love for “Fight for You” and I didn’t pay much attention as I thought it didn’t have good odds to win and it was a small sample size, but looking back on it, “Fight for You” is the most original of the songs whilst the other songs are, and I hate to say it, generic! It’s the song that would most likely have the biggest fan base and I think this must of really helped its chances. More then anything, I’m happy this surprise happened. I’ve not been a fan of this category before as I didn’t like many of the winners of the past ten years, so it’s nice that my favourite of the bunch won.

Best Cinematography – Mank beats Nomadland

Quite possibly the category Film Twitter exploded in anger most about, the better looking movie beat the movie with the more unique and emotional cinematography. ‘Nomadland’ had won BAFTA and the Critics Choice beforehand, and ‘Mank’ had just the ASC. This may make it seem like ‘Mank’ had a strong chance of winning due to it winning at the ceremony exclusively cinematographers, but this didn’t mean as much as you’d think. Places like the BAFTA’s and Critics Choice let all their voters vote on the winner for every category, so if anything these are strong precursors then the guilds as the Oscars has the same voting systems, everybody votes. Moreover, in the past when there has been a split between precursors in the cinematography category at other ceremonies, the Oscars rarely then vote the sole ASC win. For example, ‘Cold War’ won ASC but ‘Roma’ had BAFTA and Critics Choice, the latter being the Oscar winner.

The Possible Reason:

Even though ‘Nomadland’ won Best Picture, I do wonder if the love for it had been dying down over the season. The Academy only awarded it with three wins and it lost Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography where many expected it to win. I think ‘Mank’ is the more obvious film to award cinematography, it’s black and white and more lush. ‘Nomadland’ has great cinematography but you have to be feeling quite sentimental if you really want to appreciate it. ‘Mank’ uses cinematography to tell the story of its time whilst ‘Nomadland’ uses cinematography to tell an emotional story.

Best Lead Actress – Frances McDormand wins in an already crazy category!

I’m almost certain no one would disagree with me when I say Best Actress was completely wild this year. Even if a category is up in the air, there is usually a nominee everyone agrees is a sensible number one, well not this year! At each of the precursors a different actress won at everyone one (Andra Day won GG, Carey Mulligan won CC, Frances McDormand won BAFTA and Viola Davis won SAG). Vanessa Kirby would’ve been the true upset as she is the only one of these ladies not to have won anywhere. But, if any of the other four women were going to win, I didn’t think it would be McDormand. With this win she joins Katherine Hepburn as only the second woman to be a winner of three lead actress Oscars. I wasn’t sure if the Academy were ready to make this move especially when they had the opportunity to honour three actresses who have never won, two of whom celebrate their first nomination, or honour everybody’s favourite Viola Davis with her second win and her first lead win. Moreover, McDormand’s performance in ‘Nomadland’ is very natural and subtle, something that usually goes against a performance in its Oscar chances.

The Possible Reason:

The voting must of been extremely close here. I think the voters must of been really conflicted on what to vote. Keeping in mind ‘Nomadland’ had lost in two categories where it was expected to win, voters may of felt like voting it to win else where in order to make its Best Picture win more ‘meaty’. Picture, Director and Actress, very nice package if you ask me. Also, voters who were unsure may of resorted to McDormand as she is respected and it would have been an in-offensive winner.

Best Lead Actor – Anthony Hopkins beats Chadwick Boseman to become the oldest acting winner in Academy history

I felt so conflicted on this win. Hopkins does give a stellar, career best performance in ‘The Father’, it emotionally destroys you. Then we have Boseman, who gives a very grand performance in an otherwise low-key movie. I don’t want to call it a rivalry because I know that both Hopkins and Boseman wouldn’t agree with calling it that, but I guess you could say this was the biggest one-on-one horse race of the night. After Hopkins won BAFTA, it became obvious to me he could upset. Mark Rylance, Tilda Swinton and Olivia Colman (alright, she did win the Golden Globe, but so did Glenn Close who was her rival) all won with just a BAFTA win and they’re all British, so I didn’t fully buy this was a British biased thing.

The Possible Reason:

Hopkins is incredible in ‘The Father’, but the film took a while to peak. Around the time the Academy were voting the winners is when ‘The Father’ began peaking, thanks mainly to its late release in the US. When voters were voting they were probably coming off of the emotional high of ‘The Father’, and I think the ending really helped push Hopkins over the edge. Moreover, in the anonymous ballots I saw a lot of voters saying “I think Boseman will win but I want Hopkins to win so I’m going to vote him instead”, it may of been a small sample size of voters but I think MANY more had this attitude, whilst offers purely wanted to vote Hopkins. Whilst I would of loved to hear Boseman’s name called and have his wife give a final emotional speech, it was hard say Hopkins win isn’t deserved, and Boseman will have an amazing legacy without an Oscar.

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