Academy Awards 2021: ‘Nomadland’ claims the coveted best director prize at an in-person Oscars

After the nominations made history on a variety of fronts, the awards did early on as well, Breaking with tradition, the producers chose to hand out best director early, with Chinese-born Chloé Zhao of “Nomadland” becoming only the second woman ever to claim that prize, following Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.

“Minari” co-star Yuh-jung Youn also became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar, in the process adding a more dubious footnote to Glenn Close’s illustrious career: With her eighth bid for “Hillbilly Elegy,” she ties Peter O’Toole as the actor with the most nominations without ever having won.

Adding to the international flavor, the evening began with screenplay awards that went a pair of Europeans: “Promising Young Woman’s” Emerald Fennell — for a story that dealt with sexual assault — and “The Father’s” Florian Zeller, both of whom also directed those films. (The latter accepted remotely, but most nominees were in Los Angeles.)

Daniel Kaluuya earned his first Oscar for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” playing Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, in a movie that released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. (Both Warner Bros. and the streaming service are, like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia.)

“Soul,” one of the movies redirected to streaming — in this case, Disney+ — was named best animated film, marking the third Pixar movie from director Pete Docter (with Kemp Powers as co-director) so honored, following “Up” and “Inside Out.” It’s also the first of the studio’s movies to feature a predominantly African-American cast, with Jamie Foxx voicing the central character.

Daniel Kaluuya won the Oscar for best supporting actor. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)
“Another Round,” the Danish movie, received the prize for international feature film. Director Thomas Vinterberg delivered an emotional speech about the death of his 19-year-old daughter Ida in a car accident during the making of the film.

The makeup/hairstyling team from Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” also became the first Black winners in that category, with the Netflix film receiving the Oscar for costume design as well.

Regina King presents the Oscar for original screenplay. (Photo by Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)
Regina King opened the ceremony, referencing the recent verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, and saying that she wouldn’t apologize for injecting politics into the show. As the mother of a Black son, she said, “I know the fear that so many live with, and no amount of fame or fortune changes that.”
Later in the show, the provocative “Two Distant Strangers,” about a police killing of a Black man, was recognized as outstanding short film.
Andrew Howard as Merk and Joey Bada$$ as Carter in "Two Distant Strangers."
Due to the pandemic, this year’s Oscars extended the awards calendar by two months and made what was described as a one-time-only exception allowing movies that premiered via streaming and weren’t released theatrically to compete. But those same factors also resulted in several movies that might have contended for awards being delayed beyond the eligibility window, hoping for a more traditional release — and greater box-office revenue — once theaters reopen.
As a result, five of the eight best-picture contenders premiered exclusively or simultaneously on streaming services, with Netflix amassing 35 nominations, more than any other distribution entity.
Award-show ratings have been in steep decline during the pandemic, and after record-low results for Emmys, Golden Globes and Grammys, the Oscars — which already hit a low point in 2020, when “Parasite” made best-picture history — are expected to be no exception. The focus has been, rather, on putting on the best possible show, and hoping for better in 2022.

The pre-show included a video urging people to return to theaters as the movie industry heads into the summer, using the hash tag #TheBigScreenIsBack.

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