Critics’ Verdict on the 2021 Oscars: A 'Shaky' Miscalculation

Was it the Oscars ceremony a pandemic year deserved? Critics agree that it certainly wasn't the ceremony we needed.

by | April 26, 2021 | Comments

93rd Oscars

(Photo by ABC/AMPAS)

Producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher, and Jesse Collins alerted guests and the media in March that they intended the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony to feel like a movie. Held primarily in Los Angeles’ art deco–flavored Union Station with remote appearances by guests gathered at its traditional home at the Dolby Theatre and at locations around the world, Sunday night’s event certainly felt different, but what could have featured the high kicks of a Cotton Club, Cabaret, or Victor/Victoria lost its sense of spectacle in this pandemic year.

The world was watching the decidedly sober affair, whose joyous moments were limited to a few gracious acceptance speeches (Yuh-Jung Youn, Jon Batiste, among others) and actress Glenn Close doing “Da Butt.” The Oscars concluded with a whimper as the Best Picture winner announcement was pushed forward so that the show ended on Joaquin Phoenix reading the name of unsurprising surprise Best Actor award winner Anthony Hopkins, the recipient not in attendance to accept his award (though he offered an acceptance speech the following morning), and the 170 attendees likely mulling over how quickly they could get their lips pressed to a cocktail.

Who could have guessed ending the night on Phoenix would be such a colossal drag? Answer: Everyone.

Also read:

With a Tomatometer score that places it among the worst-received in the past decade and ratings that Variety called “a staggering low,” the 93rd Academy Awards will go down in history as a failed experiment.

Here’s what critics had to say.

The High Points: It Was Different

The fairest thing to say is that Academy Awards are rarely very entertaining to watch, but at least this year they were not very entertaining in an unexpected way. – Nicholas Barber,

No one’s asking for their money back: The 93rd Oscars were by far the best movie awards show of the past year. Hopefully it’s also the last pandemic show we’ll ever have to endure. – Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

The question was, would it be a good sort of different or a bad sort of different? The ceremony turned out to be a bit of both-and yet, on balance, still more entertaining than the average pre-COVID Oscars. – Judy Berman, TIME Magazine

Look, I’m a sucker for Soderbergh’s kooky art projects. This Oscar night looked different from any other, and the parts that worked were exciting enough to suggest a new style for blather-y awards shows. – Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

A fascinating exercise in rising to the occasion where necessary, and tripping on its gown when changing things for change’s sake. – Caroline Framke, Variety

The resulting relatively fast-paced and deeply personal ceremony actually might have been something more vital — a true Hollywood reinvigoration. – Dominic Patten, Deadline Hollywood Daily

I’m not sure we need this kind of lean approach every year, with its glut of words and its odd shortage of clips, but it did seem like the right style for a sobering year that has been ridden with loss, grief, illness, and financial strain. – Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe

The Low Points: Oy, That Ending

If the first two hours of The 93rd Oscars started to shakily reinvent the franchise’s formula, the final stretch collapsed into confusion and chaos. The tone flailed wildly. – Shirley Li, The Atlantic

Soderbergh and his co-producers seemed so terrified of appearing flippant about coronavirus they had apparently instructed guests to bang on about it at every opportunity. – Ed Power, Daily Telegraph (UK)

The memorial reel was introduced with a strange recitation of all the bad things that can kill people, including poverty, which seemed to shove the losses of some of the most beloved people to the background behind political issues. As though people wouldn’t die if only we fixed our social problems … Bryan Cranston’s giving out an Oscar to a nursing home in a deserted Dolby Theatre (the usual site) really captured the energy level of the night, and the slurred delivery by a suddenly 185-year-old Harrison Ford when he attempted a clunky comedy bit about initial negative reactions to Blade Runner was sad and dispiriting. – Kyle Smith, National Review

The Oscars finale was a heartless disaster…Instead of having the previous year’s Best Actress announce the Best Actor award and vice versa, the Academy broke tradition again and invited Joaquin Phoenix — who famously hates awards shows — to present the final award. Phoenix awkwardly read the lead-in to Best Actor which, in a shocking twist, went to Anthony Hopkins of The Father. Hopkins wasn’t even in attendance, so the Oscar night ended abruptly, with the Academy accepting the award on his behalf. The debacle represents more than just the heights of miscalculation. Any way you look at it, the move was horribly unfair to the Best Picture winner. – Jeva Lange, The Week

Most of the innovations fell flat, and the Oscars’ worst tendencies towards bloat and self-congratulation were only amplified in the new setting. Every Oscar broadcast has its slow parts. This year, it felt like all slow parts. – Dave Nemetz, TV Line

No film clips. No songs. No host. No fun. The words “show don’t tell” never occurred to Soderbergh and his crew. It was like if the Grammys didn’t have any music. – Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

This is how I know for sure that the 2021 Oscars was a prestige-TV show and not a movie: because it was mostly enjoyable until the terrible finale that ruined the whole thing. – Jen Chaney, New York Magazine/Vulture

The Affair Overall: It Was Not the Celebration of Movies We Needed

The Oscars this year of all years should have been a great big global commercial for motion pictures and the need for them in our lives. I brought my “movie love.” I don’t feel like the 93rd Annual Academy Awards quite returned it. – Pete Hammond, Deadline Hollywood Daily

Overall it all felt similar to previous Oscar shows, and often flat, especially without the masses (there were 170 at the ceremony compared to the usual several thousand in Dolby Theatre), loud applause and rattling of borrowed jewellery. – Jeremy Kay, Screen International

May have felt like an earnest celebration of the people who make movies, but, thanks to some bad decisions, wound up being both a boring TV show and a lackluster argument for heading back out to movie theaters. – Kristi Turnquist, Oregonian

I could see what the producers were going for. Maybe I even respect what the producers were going for. But they didn’t beat the house. Not this time. – Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

In a bid for elegance, the broadcast courted sluggishness. – Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

It’s tough to remember Oscars ceremonies from one year to the next, but the 2021 Academy Awards telecast may stand the test of time for all the wrong reasons. It was bad. Really bad. – Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This strange time has a way of taxing our short term memory, and once this awards season is a dot in our rearview mirror perhaps we’ll simply look at this Oscars as an adventurous effort that in the end, couldn’t wriggle free from clichéd habits. – Melanie McFarland,

The changes, however necessary, were a reminder of how the rituals of the Oscars, no matter how lame and formulaic, are a crucial part of its appeal — the mixture of performative glamour with the klutzy, mortifying atmosphere of a high school dance. – Mike Hale, New York Times

A breezy three-hour event is hard to pull off, and it’s even harder to make entertaining. Besides a bit of hard-earned magic, Oscars telecasts rely on tension, spectacle, and surprises. Stripping out the first two and relying on the third is a risky bet. – Ben Travers, indieWire

The Academy Awards: 93rd Oscars (2021) 24%

Critics Concensus: The 93rd Oscars definitely delivered something different, but after a strong opening moment with Regina King the changes to this year’s ceremony cemented the importance of certain structural traditions — and how damaging hedging your bets on the Academy’s votes can be.

Tag Cloud

all-time cars die hard Countdown transformers satire 2016 rotten Cosplay Tarantino Holidays YA crime thriller Amazon Prime Video Black History Month cancelled TV series thriller FX GIFs Chilling Adventures of Sabrina screenings APB The Arrangement game show anthology science fiction Oscars know your critic halloween movie aliens Western Martial Arts Britbox IFC Films black comiccon critics Ovation Super Bowl Pop TV RT21 cancelled police drama adventure Mary Poppins Returns Brie Larson Crackle Baby Yoda Disney Plus El Rey TCA Lionsgate miniseries movies comic HBO mission: impossible comic books VICE Dark Horse Comics TCA Awards harry potter scary movies 71st Emmy Awards Discovery Channel Paramount DC Comics PaleyFest monster movies cinemax hist Disney Channel Freeform Rocketman ABC Signature indiana jones period drama Sundance Rocky Apple festivals sag awards Fox Searchlight Star Wars Captain marvel emmy awards Set visit Trailer ITV TV renewals docuseries The Academy Winners strong female leads Polls and Games Red Carpet based on movie X-Men social media Emmy Nominations what to watch National Geographic parents Showtime streaming movies 007 kong joker Quiz serial killer ABC Family concert comics Apple TV+ witnail Adult Swim Marathons Alien Comedy fast and furious Tomatazos hispanic Arrowverse Pacific Islander Musicals Food Network franchise Netflix Elton John war Women's History Month live action book Mystery Awards Television Critics Association Pop crossover Masterpiece Tumblr target 99% Legendary Image Comics blockbusters Sundance TV Cartoon Network nfl Columbia Pictures free movies Travel Channel french FXX Vudu NYCC sequels animated revenge book adaptation video on demand SundanceTV Broadway Turner Endgame TBS streaming binge new star wars movies rom-coms MCU 2018 ViacomCBS 4/20 latino PBS scorecard Funimation Family remakes Lifetime Sundance Now doctor who TV movies space MTV RT History TCA Winter 2020 Superheroes Ghostbusters rt archives popular TCA 2017 ratings video Apple TV Plus Trophy Talk Summer Election aapi Cannes sports news History cancelled television TNT Musical political drama SDCC toronto adaptation Christmas Grammys Sci-Fi HBO Go First Reviews romance 2019 quibi directors USA Network crime TruTV Country TV Land Teen 20th Century Fox IFC GoT mockumentary high school twilight YouTube Film Shudder Classic Film Disney+ Disney Plus rotten movies we love marvel cinematic universe dogs Premiere Dates renewed TV shows Animation See It Skip It Song of Ice and Fire biography golden globe awards Universal jamie lee curtis ghosts dragons Television Academy cooking MSNBC facebook jurassic park blaxploitation TV Shondaland composers Mudbound Opinion Photos robots Kids & Family Peacock fresh children's TV series breaking bad tv talk A24 dramedy Sneak Peek Extras TCM First Look Starz Paramount Plus Comics on TV Watching Series DirecTV Star Trek Hallmark Christmas movies Esquire ESPN Spring TV Heroines Chernobyl Black Mirror canceled Podcast Comic Book mutant Logo Holiday politics nbcuniversal best 2020 The CW OneApp prank WGN reboot elevated horror worst documentary obituary OWN universal monsters supernatural LGBT blockbuster Spike sequel BET Awards Marvel Avengers Ellie Kemper discovery Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt golden globes BBC America BET historical drama Amazon Prime Acorn TV game of thrones ID sitcom President E! TV One YouTube Premium telelvision king kong Amazon Studios TLC A&E classics Hulu USA VH1 nature Schedule PlayStation Syfy The Walt Disney Company halloween tv superman Comedy Central Mary Tyler Moore 93rd Oscars television documentaries stoner WarnerMedia spy thriller zero dark thirty Trivia Hallmark Year in Review Sony Pictures psycho saw Bravo Reality Competition cartoon Character Guide 2017 Mary poppins dc SXSW cancelled TV shows boxoffice italian deadpool green book hollywood unscripted Pirates Video Games Reality E3 spanish Anna Paquin Best and Worst razzies Pet Sematary 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Certified Fresh 21st Century Fox superhero teaser criterion Emmys BBC One Writers Guild of America Paramount Network award winner pirates of the caribbean BAFTA independent Walt Disney Pictures chucky CBS FX on Hulu australia 24 frames Action docudrama Biopics AMC diversity VOD casting DC streaming service Thanksgiving new york FOX GLAAD Infographic NBC Awards Tour Film Festival christmas movies richard e. Grant batman spain new zealand films laika trailers Stephen King cops kaiju CW Seed zombies Nominations Tubi 45 anime spinoff Crunchyroll 72 Emmy Awards Toys a nightmare on elm street technology Fall TV Box Office Drama Pixar kids comedies BBC Horror Lucasfilm medical drama Music Fox News Interview screen actors guild Nickelodeon international singing competition Netflix Christmas movies canceled TV shows Valentine's Day Academy Awards CNN 2021 indie Turner Classic Movies hidden camera Disney streaming service ABC Hear Us Out stop motion foreign lord of the rings CMT slashers heist movie Calendar dark stand-up comedy theme song natural history godzilla reviews cults HBO Max Rom-Com DGA Binge Guide Winter TV 2015 Marvel Studios spider-man finale Rock football cats child's play disaster Mindy Kaling south america asian-american venice Spectrum Originals Creative Arts Emmys LGBTQ spanish language DC Universe travel Superheroe romantic comedy versus The Witch Marvel Television dceu festival American Society of Cinematographers crime drama true crime Fantasy boxing New York Comic Con name the review Pride Month japanese werewolf worst movies TIFF San Diego Comic-Con Nat Geo Disney The Walking Dead talk show archives YouTube Red james bond women psychological thriller The Purge Warner Bros. scene in color Exclusive Video zombie CBS All Access Lifetime Christmas movies Amazon Epix justice league vampires toy story