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The Winners and Losers of the 2021 Oscars

With a reduced guest list and a handful of relatively unsung Best Picture nominees, this year’s Academy Awards were nontraditional—and that was true even before the bizarre climax

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

While referring to an Oscars ceremony as historic usually feels hyperbolic, the 93rd Academy Awards actually earned that distinction. This year, the Oscars shook up its usual formula with the festivities taking place at several in-person locations around the world—it beats doing another award show by Zoom, at least!—and featured a diverse slate of winners and a ceremony shake-up that had lots of people looking around for Anthony Hopkins. Below, we break down the biggest winners and losers from a wild Sunday night.

Winner: Earnestness

The pandemic forced so many award shows to go the Zoom route, but with vaccinations slowly but surely rolling out in the United States, the Oscars found a way to have an actual ceremony. And this relatively unprecedented event resulted in an unprecedented amount of … intimacy? Previewing how the ceremony would play out in an interview with Vanity Fair, producer Steven Soderbergh said that viewers will “have a connection to everyone in this show.” To Soderbergh’s credit, this wasn’t just PR bluster. Instead of opening the show with a quippy monologue, Regina King entered like she was in an Oceans spinoff and started complimenting everyone in the room. The winners, for the most part, weren’t shooed off the stage with an orchestra: Thomas Vinterberg, whose film Another Round claimed Best International Feature, spoke movingly about making the movie after his daughter died four days into production. By the time Laura Dern delivered genuinely touching praise to all the Best Supporting Actor nominees while standing next to several of them, the Oscars felt as if it had somehow bottled up the unabashedly wholesome spirit of Ted Lasso.

The vibe of this year’s ceremony—which rather controversially (in some circles) omitted showing clips from many of the nominated movies to instead spotlight everyone nominated—may never be replicated again. We may return to large venues, ironic jokes, and celebrities pranking civilians in no time. But like it or not, there’s no denying that Soderbergh brought something meaningfully different to the proceedings.

Winner: Chloé Zhao

No filmmaker is having a better 2021 than Chloé Zhao. Zhao just couldn’t stop winning awards ahead of the Oscars, taking the top directorial honors at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Directors Guild Award. Now, with the Oscar for Best Director, Zhao becomes the second female filmmaker to win the award after Kathryn Bigelow, as well as the first Asian woman to win the award. A Best Picture win for the film wasn’t a bad way to top off the night, either. And if that’s not enough, she will have a superhero movie, Eternals, coming out in November. It’s not often that directing a Marvel movie is the least impressive thing you do in a calendar year—there’s little doubt we’ll be seeing Zhao back at the Oscars for years to come.

Loser: Daniel Kaluuya Reminding Children Everywhere That Their Parents Had Sex

Shoutout to Daniel Kaluuya’s mom for reacting like anyone would after having their sex life put on blast by their son during a national broadcast.

Winner: Parity

Instead of a single film dominating the evening, the Oscars charitably doled out awards to nearly every Best Picture nominee. While Nomadland—which secured the lucrative Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress—will likely go down as having the most successful evening, the likes of Promising Young Woman, Mank, Sound of Metal, Minari, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and The Father all scored wins as well. It’s not often that most of the buzzy movies get to go home happy at the Oscars, but in a year when there was a rich assortment of lesser-known nominees, spreading the love added an almost poetic quality to the festivities.

Loser: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Unfortunately, uh, the Oscars’ charitable mood did not extend to one Best Picture nominee. Aaron Sorkin’s film didn’t win any of the six awards it was nominated for, and while that wouldn’t go down as a major L in another year, the fact that it’s the only Best Picture nominee to come away empty-handed gives it an unwelcome spotlight.

Winner: Icelandic Tourism

In an effort to trim the Oscars’ bloated run time, all the performances from the Best Original Song nominees were prerecorded at various locations and aired before the ceremony. These restrictions ended up working in the favor of one nominee: “Husavik” from Netflix’s musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The song, which is named after a quaint Icelandic village where part of the film’s production took place, was quite literally performed in Husavik by Molly Sanden and an adorable children’s choir with an iconic sweater collection.


(Is this what Chris Evans’s Knives Out character wore every day when he was growing up?)

If the Best Original Song Oscar went to the ceremony’s best performance, “Husavik” would win by a landslide (instead of H.E.R’s “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah). Regardless, the real winner is Iceland’s tourism prospects—specifically, which I’m trying to do ASAP.

Loser: Glenn Close

The good news: Glenn Close belongs in the same sentence as Hollywood legend Peter O’Toole. The bad news: It’s because they’ve both taken a ton of Ls at the Academy Awards. After losing Best Supporting Actress to Minari’s Youn Yuh-jung—a much deserved win, for what it’s worth—Close has now been nominated for eight acting Oscars without a single win, tying her with the late O’Toole. That’s a pretty tough beat (though it would’ve felt a little wrong if Close won her first Oscar for Hillbilly Elegy). On the one hand, Close still has a decent shot at erasing this record—she’s picked up two nominations in the past four years alone. Another loss, though, and she’ll make some rather unfortunate history.

Winner: Also Glenn Close

Loser: The Ending

For the first time since 1971, Best Picture wasn’t the final award handed out at the Oscars. (That year, the final statue was for an honorary award for Charlie Chaplin.) With Nomadland’s Best Picture win preceding the top acting categories, the show’s producers were clearly anticipating a Best Actor win for the late, great Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) to close out the night. But despite being the front-runner for much of award season, Boseman lost out to Anthony Hopkins in The Father. Now, most years, there’d be nothing wrong with ending the show on a celebration of another superlative actor like Hopkins—not the dramatic climax they were going for, but still sufficient. But the only problem this year was that Hopkins didn’t even show. Not in person, not on Zoom, not on anything. And so the ceremony just … ended.

This one isn’t on Hopkins: He wasn’t expected to win, he’s 83 years old in the middle of a pandemic, and he just wants to chill at home with his cat. The producers—Soderbergh included, who said the order was intentionally mixed up to be “surprising”—made the fatal mistake of assuming who’d win the top awards at the end of the night instead of keeping the nominees in a more traditional order. (Sure, Nomadland winning Best Picture was a foregone conclusion, but at least there were people present to accept the award!) This year’s ceremony was unlike any before it. How it played probably varied person to person, but one thing’s for sure—this bonkers anticlimax won’t soon be forgotten.