Well, there I was Sunday night, in the midst of what almost certainly is the greatest run I’ve had in years of predicting Oscar winners. After the first 16 categories, I was 16-0 — including three correct predictions in the short-film categories.
I was king of the world. I was feeling lucky. So I fired off a text to my daughters bragging about my night so far — and, of course, triggered a jinx. I went 2-5 the rest of the way, stumbling to an 18-5 mark for this year’s Oscar predictions.
I missed on cinematography, which went to “Mank” instead of “Nomadland,” although it’s hard to get too upset about that — both films featured outstanding work. I missed on editing, which went to “Sound of Metal,” ruining what turned out to be the last chance for “Trial of the Chicago 7” to win even one Oscar. I missed on song, which went to “Fight for You,” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” — again, this was not a great year for the original songs. (Can you hum a few bars from any of the nominees?) I missed on actress, where Frances McDormand edged out Carey Mulligan and Viola Davis in what had been seen as possibly the night’s tightest race.
And, of course, I missed on the race for best actor — but, in my defense, so did just about everybody else, including the producers of the Oscar show. In retrospect, it’s clear that the producers (including famed director Steven Soderbergh) juggled the order of the awards in order to end with the best actor winner — which, they assumed would be Chadwick Boseman for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” That would have ended the evening with an emotional tribute to Boseman, who died of colon cancer last year.
Instead, Anthony Hopkins unexpectedly won the Oscar for what is admittedly a powerhouse performance in “The Father.” Like the rest of us, Hopkins thought Boseman would win — so he didn’t even show up for the ceremony. That left presenter Joaquin Phoenix essentially standing alone at the podium. That’s it, folks. Show’s over. Drive home safely!
You have to give credit to the producers for trying to inject something new into the show, but at this point, it feels like a lost cause: The ratings, not unexpectedly, tanked: The show drew 58% fewer viewers than last year’s record low. That’s pretty much in line with how the ratings have gone for award shows all year — and, granted, it has been an odd year, with no real blockbusters (and, thanks to the pandemic, no theaters in which to show them). “Nomadland,” while an excellent movie, is the lowest-grossing best picture winner in history, with an estimated box-office haul of $2.5 million to $3 million. (“The Hurt Locker,” with a final gross of about $17 million, was the previous record holder.) Oscar ratings bulge when a blockbuster like “Titanic” or the last “Lord of the Rings” film is the favorite; obviously, this year, there wasn’t a best picture nominee that qualified along those lines.
Finally, a word about McDormand, who won her third best actress Oscar on Sunday night: I was thinking about the three movies that she’s won for — “Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and now “Nomadland.” Those are three very different performances in three very different movies. Can you think of another actress working today with that kind of range? I cannot. (And, for my money, “Nomadland” may be her greatest achievement because it’s such a quiet and restrained performance — there’s power in her acting, but not even an ounce of flash.)