As producer Steven Soderbergh keeps reminding us, this year’s Academy Awards ceremony is going to play out a little differently. Attendance at Los Angeles’ Union Station is capped at 170, with presenters and nominees allowed a single guest each for a ceremony that will apparently be a “wonderfully intense” three-hour “movie.” Building on last year’s innovation, the 2021 Oscars will have no host, opting to instead feature a series of presenters who will act as guides through the litany of acceptance speeches, performances, and showcases.
But the format of the ceremony isn’t the only thing that’s changed.The 93rd Annual Academy Awards are historic, with many nominees blazing a trail for representation at an event that’s long been fossilized as a bastion of white male taste. Take the Best Director category, where not one, but two women — Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao — are considered frontrunners. Their films, Promising Young Woman and Nomadland, are also nominated for Best Picture, which in turn offers the for history to be made: Never before has a movie written, directed, and starring women been crowned with Hollywood’s greatest honor.
What’s more, this year marks the first time most of the nominees were released on a streaming platform — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences temporarily lifted its usual rule requiring a two-week minimum theatrical window in Los Angeles or New York in light of pandemic restrictions. On the one hand, this means they’re more accessible than ever. On the other, it means the usual theatrical buzz surrounding a standout performance or moment has largely faded to a whisper. Not to mention that in a time of great upheaval, rewatching Legally Blonde for the 78th time feels a lot easier than sitting down for a two-hour black-and-white opus on the making of Citizen Kane — even if it is on Netflix.
But trust me, some of this year’s nominees are worth interrupting even your Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon for. Travel through wide expanses of the West with Frances McDormand in Nomadland; learn about musical legends through powerful performances from Viola Davis and Andra Day as Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The United States. vs. Billie Holiday, respectively; see the Black Panther movement through a new lens in Judas and the Black Messiah; or fall in love with Yuh-jung Youn and Alan Kim in Minari. Though the ceremony is only days away, there’s still time to squeeze in some last-minute viewing. Your virtual Oscars ballot will thank you.