— STEPHANIE GOODMAN
The Best Nonhost Hosts
After last year’s ceremony went just fine without an officially designated host, the academy announced it was forgoing an MC this year as well. And yet the 2020 Oscars got off to a decidedly traditional start when, after Janelle Monáe’s musical opening number, Chris Rock and Steve Martin — two comedians who have each separately hosted the ceremony before — took to the stage and traded one-liners. They gave shoutouts to several nominees, made jokes about current events and punched at the lack of representation for people of colour.
Among their best lines:
MARTIN: A couple of years ago, there was a big disaster here at the Oscars where they accidentally read out the wrong name, and it was nobody’s fault, but they have guaranteed that this will not happen this year, because the academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app.
ROCK: Marty Scorsese. Marty, I got to tell you, I loved the first season of The Irishman.
MARTIN: Chris, think how much the Oscars have changed in the past 92 years. … In 1929, there were no black acting nominees.
ROCK: And now, in 2020, we got one.
Martin closed out their bits with, “Well, we’ve had a great time not hosting tonight.”
— SOPAN DEB
The Best Answer to Overlooked Filmmakers
Though female filmmakers and people of colour were largely omitted from the top categories, they were rewarded in less glamorous ones. Best documentary went to American Factory, which was directed by Julia Reichert along with Steven Bognar, while best documentary short went to Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl), from filmmaker Carol Dysinger. And Hair Love, the best animated short, was made by three African-American filmmakers: Matthew A Cherry, Bruce W Smith and Everett Downing Jnr Onstage, a Hair Love producer, Karen Rupert Toliver, described the film as a labour of love that stemmed from “a firm belief that representation matters deeply,” especially in cartoons “because that’s when we first see our movies, and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.”
— STEPHANIE GOODMAN
The Oddest Answer to Snubbed Films
Look, Queen & Slim! Hey, it’s Dolemite Is My Name! Check it out, um, Midsommar? The show decided to use a musical opening number to celebrate a few films they completely ignored in the nomination process. Leading the performance, Monáe began on a makeshift Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood set (a reference to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which did get one nomination), but later donned full flower dress regalia, a reference to Ari Aster’s bleak horror show Midsommar, unlikely to have been seen by many academy members. If we’re celebrating movies that came nowhere near making the Oscar ballot, it’s a shame they didn’t throw at least a couple of Jellicles into the opening, rather than saving them for a visual effects joke later.
The Greatest Onstage Audition
The Oscars are kind of fun and kind of stupid, and every once in a while, someone at the ceremony seems to recognize that. This year, it was Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig with a bit that was very fun and very stupid. They pretended to be showing off their dramatic chops, declared they were passionate about production design and broke into a terrifically precise little musical medley to introduce the best costume design nominees. Can we do this every year?
— MARGARET LYONS
The Most Refreshing Looks
Old Hollywood — and the way it is represented by the academy and its nominations — has been under the microscope for awhile now, whether because of #OscarsSoWhite or #MeToo or the lack of recognition of female directors. It makes you wonder why so many actors still think dressing a la “old Hollywood” is the way to go on the red carpet. If ever there was a time to change things up a bit, this should be it. So it was hard to see all the Veronica Lake hair and silver screen-era gowns, the bows and the fishtails and the corsets — Charlize Theron in off-the-shoulder Dior black; Renée Zellweger in a white-sequined Armani slither; even Regina King in queenly shell-pink Versace — and not think: “lost opportunity.”
Happily, there were those who stepped up to seize it: Natalie Portman, for example, in a Dior gown edged in gold embroidery listing the names of the female directors who hadn’t been nominated. Spike Lee, longtime basketball fan, in a Laker purple-and-gold Gucci suit, with the number “24” on the lapels, in honour of Kobe Bryant. Margot Robbie in mid-1990s vintage couture Chanel. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
It was about using clothes to make a greater point. So when the dreaded question “what are you wearing?” came, the answer meant something more than marketing. Monáe, in silver, crystal-covered, hooded Ralph Lauren, may have had the best dress. But in the end, hands down, it was Lee, Portman and Co. who had the best looks of the night.
— VANESSA FRIEDMAN
The Least Helpful Bathroom Exchange
Sometimes the most, um, interesting moments happen where you least expect them. Renée Zellweger needed to give the corset under her dress a break, seeing as how she was supposed to be sitting in it for four hours. Relatively early in the evening, she ran into Brie Larson in a Dolby Theater bathroom. Larson asked her if she was tired. Zellweger said yes, and Larson, who won the trophy for best actress in 2016, responded, “It’s better that way.””Oh really, why?” Zellweger asked. “You have less energy, less ability to be nervous,” Larson replied. “I don’t know,” said Zellweger, who would go on to win best actress for her portrayal of Judy Garland. “I’m still really nervous.”
— NICOLE SPERLING
The Worst Production Choices
Why the need to double dip on introductions? Why introduce Beanie Feldstein … to introduce Mindy Kaling? Why introduce Anthony Ramos to introduce Lin-Manuel Miranda? But the weird announcing didn’t stop there. Some of the Oscar-nominated songs got full-on intros, but some just began out of nowhere, with no details or context.
Another odd production choice was not cutting to every nomination montage but instead showing the stage and its askew video screen — during the production design and costume design reels, which are the coolest ones of all. Many aspects of awards shows could use some tweaking, but these are not among them. Announce the presenters! Show the nominee montages! These are the easy parts.
— MARGARET LYONS
The Most Puzzling Surprise Guest
Eminem popped up during the ceremony — apropos of seemingly nothing — to perform Lose Yourself, his Oscar-winning song from 2003. Martin Scorsese seemed to sum up the reaction: He appeared to use Eminem’s performance as an opportunity to take a nap. Cameras quickly cut away from the director and toward audience members singing along. And to be fair they did give him a standing ovation. But the performance still went down as one of the ceremony’s clankier moments. Did producers invite Eminem in an attempt to attract young male viewers? Nobody backstage had any idea. Perhaps the purpose was to counterbalance the night’s warmth, especially concerning messages of community and inclusion. Eminem, who has a history of gay slurs, was most recently in the news for lyrics about the killings at an Ariana Grande concert in 2017.
— BROOKS BARNES
New York Times