"You can pretend not to care about the Oscars, but even the most hardened souls secretly thrill to their glamour," says Stephanie Zacharek. "The sometimes heartfelt, sometimes pretentious speeches; the occasional surprise underdog winner; and for sure the gowns—the tradition of the event still means something. But this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, on April 25, has demanded some imaginative compromises on the part of both attendees and producers—one of whom is Steven Soderbergh, head of the Directors Guild task force on COVID-safe film production. Last year, in the midst of pandemic uncertainty, the Academy pushed the awards from their scheduled date, in February, to late April. The initial hope was that the pandemic would be well under control by then, and that movie theaters in all states would have reopened. We all know how that went. And now our strange year of movie watching—one year, plus, of having to watch movies designed for big screens on small ones—will be celebrated in a similarly unconventional Oscars ceremony, most likely a sort of live event–virtual hybrid. Everything about the upcoming ceremony has felt uncertain, a little improvisational and therefore a little more thrilling. The vibe this year is different, not just in terms of the reformulated ceremony, but also in the choice of nominees. It’s as though the Academy, like so many of us, somehow recognized it needed to change not just its way of watching, but also of seeing. Hollywood, arguably the most ego-filled industry in the world and run largely by control freaks, has been humbled—if only temporarily—by a public-health crisis it had no way of controlling. If the glamour of the Oscars has always been presented as aspirational, this year it’s meeting us on our home turf: a world where we must compromise on certain things we can’t change, even as we force change on the things we can no longer live with."
It's okay that the Oscars will almost certainly have a record-low audience: "The pandemic seems to have accelerated the perennial hand-wringing over the ratings for the Oscars broadcast and whether award shows are irrelevant and dying relics," says Marina Fang. "The lead-up to Sunday’s ceremony brought the usual series of headlines about the enormous pressure on the academy and ABC to get audiences to tune in...Sure, this year has been particularly precarious. Audiences are understandably fatigued from watching Zoom acceptance speeches beset by technical snafus (poor Daniel Kaluuya). And it may still feel superficial to care about a glitzy, gossipy gathering of Hollywood elites, against the backdrop of the trauma and grief of this horrific year. The 2021 Oscars will almost certainly be the lowest-viewed ever, following the similarly low viewership numbers for this year’s Super Bowl and Grammys. But the cratering TV ratings have been a source of concern every year. We don’t watch as much live TV anymore, and every time we turn on our screens, an endless menu of viewing options vies for our attention. There are fewer truly collective sources of entertainment, pop culture events that seemingly everyone watched and are talking about the next day. These aren’t new problems, making the perennial warnings that award shows are in a state of crisis overly alarmist."
Musical director Questlove plans to have hip-hop Easter eggs and creative play-off music: “This is not work for me. This is like ‘Wow, all that useless (music) information I had before is going to pay off,'” says The Tonight Show bandleader. He adds that the first thing he thought about after confirming the role was the “wrap it up, B” music, or the play-off music for much-too-long acceptance speeches. “I didn't work on anything. I immediately just had dreams of, ‘Man, what creative way can I disrupt someone's overindulgent acceptance speech?’ That's how excited I was,” he laughs.
Locals fear a "horrible town car parade" at Union Station: A major transit hub, Union Station will remain open to riders before, during and after the event. Complicating things is that the nearby Dodger Stadium will be hosting game on Sunday. "It just seems like one of those nights where it's going to be hugely chaotic," says Los Angeles resident Alissa Walker, the urbanism editor at Curbed.com. "It would be worth it if at least more celebrities took the train to the event, a promise to take transit in solidarity with transit riders. Otherwise you're just going to have this horrible town car parade of people trying to come up to a train station, which is just so comical. It gives us another great reason to make fun of Los Angeles."