Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz.
At the very least, Sunday's Academy Awards promise to be unique. The show's producers (which include Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh) are promising an unprecedented ceremony for unprecedented times — one that will be broadcast from multiple locations, including LA's Union Station. But for as different as it may be, the show will still award winners in twenty-three categories, and each of those categories will have presenters. And if past experience is any guide, each one of those presenters will fall into one of five archetypes. Herewith is a guide to each:
This is where you'll find the majority of Academy Awards presenters. One or perhaps a pair of Hollywood stars get sent out to read a little scripted banter and then hand out an award. Of course, within this phylum there are lots of small subdivisions. If it's an acting category, perhaps the presenter will deliver a laundry list of the character types who were nominated — "An adulterer, a seafarer, a loyal husband, a corrupt cop, and a lion tamer" — followed by a little joke. Sometimes, particularly when presenting in the craft categories like production design or sound or cinematography, the presenters will give a little scripted explanation for the audience at home (and probably more than a few people in person at the theater) about how those craftspeople contribute to a movie. Sometimes the text is somber, sometimes it's more lighthearted, sometimes there is an attempt at humor that falls flat. But it all falls under the umbrella of the standard Oscar presentation. All other types of presentations are defined by how they deviate from this norm.
These tend to be the Oscar presenters we remember. They're the ones tasked with breaking up the show's many awards presentations to deliver some comedic spark. They're also a way for the Academy to tacitly acknowledge that they don't honor comedies nearly enough, so at least they're now giving comedic actors a showcase in front of the vast Oscar television audience. Often these presentations are elaborate bits tied to the theme of the category, like Ben Stiller presenting Best Makeup in full Avatar drag, or, sticking with the theme, when Will Ferrell and Steve Carell came out to present Best Makeup in some of the most awful stage makeup you could imagine:
Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph honored the Best Costume Design nominees in their own particular way, with a rapid-fire song medley dedicated to movie costumes. Speaking of Maya Rudolph, sometimes two Oscar presenters are so funny together that everybody starts clamoring for them to host the next year, like after Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish presented at the 2018 Oscars.
One personal fave comedic pairing that doesn't get as much love as it should: Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. presenting Best Original Screenplay at the 2010 Oscars and getting all passive aggressive about writers vs. actors.
This is kind of an offshoot of the comedy presenters in that these are pairings which address a different kind of film that gets overlooked by the Academy: action blockbusters. Any time Oscar telecast producers and/or ABC get skittish about falling Nielsen ratings, it seems like they load the Oscars up with paired presenters from the Marvel universe or youth-skewing faces who have not yet entered the realm of Oscar-nominated performers but who will hopefully draw their fans to their TV sets. In the last several years, any and all Avengers basically had an open invitation to present at the Oscars. Chris Evans presented every year from 2013 to 2017, including once with the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, and once with nearly the entire main cast of Avengers.
Looking back, it's fun to triangulate which films were popular in any given year that led Oscar producers to snap up their beautiful young cast members to present. Past pairings of youth-targeted Oscar presenters include Mila Kunis & Justin Timberlake, Kristen Stewart & Taylor Lautner, and Zac Efron & Alicia Keys. Last year, in an odd workaround for not having a host, a bunch of young performers like Beanie Feldstein, Kelly Marie Tran, and Anthony Ramos were called upon to introduce… other presenters.
It's an Oscar tale as old as time: we're getting to the final handful of awards and the show is already running long. So rather that eat up precious seconds by going through a whole elaborate spiel about the art of cinematography, the presenter will just barrel right through to the reading of the nominees. Sometimes this is done seamlessly, while other times, such as Julia Roberts presenting Cinematography at the 2001 Oscars, the presenter will just lay all their cards out on the table:
On one memorable occasion, time was running so low that Glenn Close actually jogged across the stage before introducing a performance from Shine's David Helfgott (which was itself a pretty speedy performance, although that was kind of Helfgott's thing anyway):
Finally we arrive at my Oscars nemesis. Fictional characters presenting awards. I will stipulate that most people watching awards shows think this is very cute: either an animated character from one of that year's popular animated films or a Muppet are tasked with presenting an award or introducing a performance. It's a whimsical moment, to be sure, and often a chance for further comic relief. But the logistics of always take me out of the moment. For as funny as it is when, say, Edna Mode from The Incredibles joins Pierce Brosnan to present Best Costume Design, you have to think of the indignity of having your one Oscar moment as the director of an animated short film upstaged by the tomfoolery of the Minions:
With the 2021 Oscars taking place under some truly bizarre conditions, it remains to be seen how these five types of Oscar presenters will factor in, but you can bet we'll most likely see most if not all of them represented in one way or another.
The 93rd Academy Awards air on ABC Sunday April 25th at 8:00 PM ET / 5:00 PM PT
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.