Oscars 2021: Yawwwn

Woke up early to watch the 93rd Academy Awards. Big mistake

The Oscars red carpet outside Union Station. Photo: Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

Let’s start by talking about the end: why like that? I sat—okay, lolled—in bed for close to five hours, from 6.30 to 11.15, only to see the ending that I did not see coming: No one went on stage to receive the Oscar! There was, therefore, no speech. The whole show just fizzled out. It was all brought to a close by the Crocs-shod musical director Questlove, who, for some reason, reminded me of tWitch of the Ellen Show. The last award, presented by the bland Joaquin Phoenix, was for Best Actor and it went to Anthony Hopkins. The Sir didn’t show up (not anywhere else in the world either) and that was that! Show was over. Credits rolled. Television sets ready to be turned off. My breakfast of chashaobao still not eaten.

The traditional order in which the categories were presented was jumbled. Best Picture was not reserved for the last. The Best Actor and Actress categories were. And the no-show winner left the stage empty. Rousing! Sure, we’ve all been told before that this would be a different Academy Awards night, to be presented “like a film”. Well, there was the cinematic aspect ratio on my TV screen, but it surely didn’t unfold like a movie. Everything had to be kept small, including the attendance, and so controlled, that the show, like a movie, was very, very scripted, except the winners’ speeches. And it was very, very, dull—just like the game that was played as entertainment, half-way through: the one that had Glenn Close appear to be utterly with-it. Seriously, I did not want to see Ms Close, curiously dressed in what could be a Punjabi suit (Giorgio Armani, no less), twerk to Da Butt!

Regina King opening the show. Photo: ABC

One thing I have to say: Both the Star Awards and the Academy Awards have one thing in common: they were held in transport hubs: The Star Awards at Changi Airport Terminal 4 and the Academy Awards in Union Station in Los Angeles, a change from the usual Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the show had been staged and televised from for the last 20 years. The 73-year-old Union Station is “the Sistine Chapel of railway stations in America”, Tom Savio of the Los Angeles Union Station Historical Society told the BBC. The 1982 film Blade Runner was shot here, in addition to more than other 150 films. It has become legendary, which, perhaps, made it suitable as an Oscars venue. The set decorators kept somewhat to the part-Art Deco and part-mission revival styles of Union Station, converting the Historic Ticketing Hall and the Grand Waiting Room into a nightclub, as if where an old Hollywood-era musical number might be staged. A train station, for one night, didn’t look like one, but, a week ago, on our island, for one award night, an airport certainly looked like the passenger terminal it is.

But in a pandemic year, must award nights be so sluggish? Sure, it hasn’t been a show-biz-as-usual year for this award season, but, despite its IRL production (thankfully, no Zoom acceptance appearances and speeches), the presentation wasn’t exactly celebratory. I get it. It’s still a pandemic year, still post-BLM and the George Floyd court case has just concluded amid more police shootings, and, for many, the Oscars is still not inclusive enough. Entertainment no longer in the picture, causes close to the heart are. Regina King, who got the show going in probably the best gown of the night by Louis Vuitton, set the tone when she made references to the verdict in Minneapolis, and if it had been diametrically so, “I would have traded my heels for marching boots”. Were nominees and attendees, therefore, looking out for lapses in inclusivity and justice? Is it a wonder that viewership of the Oscars this year was reported to be at an “all-time low”?

Oscars 2021 Red Carpet: Yawwwn

The skin-baring and the over-fluffy: (from left) Andra Day, Zendaya, Laura Dern. Photo: Getty Images

Asian aesthetic on the red carpet: Chloé Zhao’s village girl look. Photo: Getty Images

“This is Hollywood’s Christmas,” Angela Bassett, confident in red Alberta Ferretti and sleeves that could be props from Raise the Red Lantern, had said earlier, outside the red carpet/arrival “pre-show”. But, thankfully, few came noticeably as Christmas trees. Rather, in their post-pandemic, post-jogger-bottom best. Both Andra Day (in Vera Wang) and Zendaya (in Valentino Couture) showed us how to be mask-free for the waist. Laura Dern took the modest route, wearing Oscar de la Renta ostrich feathers, while looking like the bird. Her pal Reese Witherspoon decided to give her red prom-night dress (Dior. Did she pick the belt from Walmart on the way to Union Station?) another run. Or was that her old bridesmaid gown? Conversely, Olivia Coleman, who also wore a red Dior and a belt, looked far much more pulled-together and stylish. Carey Mulligan seemed to be telling us that when she went to Valentino (Couture), they were very happy: They found someone to use their dead-stock fabric on. What, to me, was palpably absent was the gathering of fashion heavyweights. There was no Nicole Kidman, no Thilda Swinton, no Cate Blanchett. This has been one Oscars confectionary that not only didn’t rise, it was missing the frosting.

In the end, it was really Chloé Zhao that really killed it for me. Ms Zhao may have won for Asians and women directors in Hollywood with her two awards, but her sartorial choice was no victory for fashion. Even Hermès was limited in their powers to make her look polished. Yes, I know her trademark look is fashion-free, but this was the “casual-is-really-not”-cool Oscars. She could have tried; she could have left the sneakers (Hermès too, so what?) at home (even if she was taking the subway) and she could have worn some makeup (even if she was going to a train station), but somehow, she couldn’t shake off her 村女之美 (cunnu zhimei) village lass beauty and those barnyard ponytails. She told Vanity Fair last year, when asked about her hair, “I haven’t been to the hair salon in five years”. Enough said.

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