The 18 Most Outrageous Moments from the 2021 Oscars
It's Hollywood's biggest night!
It was an unconventional Oscars, to say the least. It happened two months later than normal, the red carpet was more like a cocktail party, there was no host, and the crowd, gathering in LA's Union Station, was limited to the presenters, nominees and their guests. Instead of clips from the nominated performances, presenters gave heartfelt introductions of each actor and their work. The ceremony had just one funny interlude where Lil Rel Howery quizzed the audience and Glenn Close danced to "Da Butt."
It was also a historic year—Nomadland's Chloé Zhao became the second woman and the first woman of color to win Best Director, and Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell was the first woman to win a trophy for writing since 2008—and one with a few major upsets, most shockingly Chadwick Boseman losing to Anthony Hopkins in the Best Actor race. If you missed the evening's eventful proceedings, here are the most outrageous moments from an unpredictable Oscars night
Minari's Alan Kim had to walk his dog before the awards
Almost every award season, there's a kid from one of the nominated films who wins everybody over just by being adorable and hamming it up on the red carpet. In recent years, Roman Griffin Davis from Jojo Rabbit, Sunny Pawar from Lion, and Jacob Tremblay from Room stole our hearts—and this year, the Academy Award for cutest kid went to Alan Kim, the scene-stealer from Minari. But just because he's in an Oscar-nominated film doesn't mean the 9 year old can get out of chores. Being the responsible kiddo he is, he walked his (also very sweet) dog Cream before heading to the award show. Of course, the cuteness continued when he arrived on the red carpet: He gave his best Blue Steel in a very stylish Thom Browne suit and raved about his recent birthday to Giuliana Rancic, telling her he got a Fitbit for kids, a new bike, and a new iPad.
The pre-show was a big, weird cocktail party
In this deeply odd Oscars, the red carpet was also highly unusual. Yes, there was a traditional step and repeat, but the ABC pre-show, complete with interviews, took place in the courtyard of Los Angeles' Union Station, where nominees and their guests basically just hung out and sipped on drinks while waiting for the official show to begin. It was a strange sight after a year of the pandemic. After talking with host Ariana DeBose, nominee Amanda Seyfried said what we were all basically thinking: Look at all these people! In case you were worried about safety, they also had an epidemiologist from UCLA's School of Public Health explain the measures being taken. But outside of the COVID fears, it was enjoyable to see the likes of Minari's Yeri Han and Yuh-Jung Youn just walking around socializing.
The Oscars fashion was on point
The Oscar producers had some instruction for guests when it came to the dress code: "We’re aiming for a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational, which in actual words means formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not." And after a year of mostly being inside in sweatpants, the attendees rose to the occasion. LaKeith Stanfield, who was at the ceremony's London offsite, served up a '70s-inspired Saint Laurent jumpsuit that had people on Twitter screaming. Colman Domingo gave us hot pink and beaded Versace. Emerald Fennell described her flowing, floral look as "Susan, your pottery teacher who has a business proposition for you that is absolutely not a pyramid scheme." Her fellow Best Director nominee Chloé Zhao paired her gown with braids and sneakers, bringing chic comfort to the proceedings.
The epic, emotional performance of Eurovision's "Husavik"
The Best Original Song performances were punted to the pre-show, which was sort of disappointing, primarily because it meant that the glorious rendition of "Húsavík" from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was probably missed by a lot of viewers who were waiting for the main event. If you'll remember: In the comedy, Rachel McAdams' character belts the track, a tribute to her hometown, at the movie's climax. Swedish pop star Molly Sandén sang "Húsavík" in the actual Icelandic town of Húsavík, backed up by a chorus of children in cozy-looking sweaters. Sandén's version for this occasion culminated in a fireworks show that felt like it should have been a highlight of the entire night even though it was just kicking things off.
The swag bags included NFTs of Chadwick Boseman art
The swag bags given out to Oscar nominees at the ceremony are often a source of controversy and intrigue. In 2016, the bag, which included personalized M&M's and a 10-day trip to Israel, was valued at $232,000. (That's not a typo!) This year, attendees received a bag that included an NFT, or non-fungible token, that "authenticates a 3D digital tribute to" the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated posthumously for Best Actor for his work in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. The 3D piece, created by artist Andre Oshea, will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Colon Cancer Foundation, so at least this odd piece of slightly dystopian artwork goes to a good cause.
The opening credits were cinematic as hell
Producer Steven Soderbergh promised that the ceremony would feel like a movie itself, and he held true to that promise with an opening that evoked one of his Ocean's movies. As the credits rolled, Regina King picked up a trophy and strutted into Union Station where the nominees were seated in banquettes. The camera followed her in a tracking shot, which was more thrilling than one of those montages where Billy Crystal inserted himself into the nominated films. After short opening remarks where she spoke frankly about police violence against Black men, King got along with proceedings, explaining how the guests would be wearing masks when off screen, but would be maskless when cameras were rolling. In keeping with the night's theme of the love of movies, King introduced all of the screenwriting nominees with tidbits about how they got their start in the business. While Glenn Weiss directed the telecast, Soderbergh's influence was keenly felt as the camera swerved around nominees.
Daniel Kaluuya thanked his parents for having sex
When Daniel Kaluuya picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, he began his speech by thanking God. He went on to thank the cast, the crew, his friends, the Black Panthers, and Hampton, who he praised and noted, "How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed." Then, he thanked his parents for having sex in a tiny aside about how wild it is to be alive. "Life’s incredible!" he observed. "My mom met my dad. They had sex. It’s amazing!" The producers then cut to Kaluuya's sister, covering her face in embarrassment, and mom, looking very confused/disturbed. "It just came out of my mouth," he reportedly said backstage afterwards. "My mom is probably going to text me."
Sharon Choi, Bong Joon Ho's translator, returned (along with Bong Joon Ho)
Throughout Parasite director Bong Joon-ho's 2019 awards cycle, he was rarely seen without his translator Sharon Choi, who quickly garnered her own fan following while appearing alongside Bong. A filmmaker herself, Choi made the intensely difficult task of translating on the fly look easy. Bong returned to the Oscars ceremony this year as a presenter, and brought Choi along with him, who translated his introductions of all of the Best Director nominees and their own unique ways of describing what exactly a director is. At the end, Bong and Choi cheekily switched languages, with Bong getting to say those goosebumps-inducing words, "And the Oscar goes to…."
Chloé Zhao wins Best Director in a history-making moment
In a truly groundbreaking moment, Nomadland's Chloé Zhao became the second woman ever, and the first woman of color, in the Oscars' 93-year history to win Best Director. Accepting the prize from last year's Best Director winner Bong Joon Ho, who was in Seoul, Zhao told a story about how she and her father used to play a game growing up where they would memorize Chinese poems and texts, and she cited her favorite: "People at birth are inherently good." Zhao's win followed Emerald Fennell's Original Screenplay victory for Promising Young Woman at the start of the night, breaking another drought; Fennell was the first woman to win one of the writing awards since Diablo Cody won for Juno in 2008. Toward the end of the ceremony, Zhao would also take home the win for Best Picture.
The My Octopus Teacher filmmakers forgot to thank the octopus
Making a movie is a lot of work, involving countless hours of footage and tons of people— actors, directors, everyone behind the scenes—to make it all come together. It's the reason awards acceptance speeches often run long: There's just so many people to thank! Usually, though, the actors manage to make it in, unless, apparently, one of the stars of the movie is an octopus. The filmmakers of Netflix's My Octopus Teacher, accepting their award for Best Documentary Feature, thanked everyone involved with the film except for the TITULAR OCTOPUS FOR WHICH THE MOVIE IS NAMED. Twitter got REAL worked up about their oversight. Congratulations, but also: How dare they??
Minari's Yuh-jung Youn gave an instantly iconic speech
Without a traditional host lobbing gags, the Oscars ceremony, while structurally adventurous, was a mostly earnest event. But Yuh-jung Youn, the Korean acting legend, livened up the tone when she won Supporting Actress for her work in Minari. Youn opened her speech, given in English, by exclaiming how nice it was to "finally" meet presenter Brad Pitt, who also happened to have produced the film for which she got her trophy. She disavowed the nature of competition and marveled at how she could have possibly beaten Glenn Close, remarking, "Maybe I'm luckier than you. Maybe it is American hospitality for the Korean actor. Anyway, thank you so much." She ended with some gratitude for her "two boys who made me go out and work," and the director Ki-young Kim, who directed her in her first movie, Woman of Fire.
Harrison Ford read the brutal early notes for Blade Runner
While presenting the award for Best Film Editing, Harrison Ford began by unfolding an ancient piece of notebook paper and reading aloud the harsh notes from an industry professional tearing into an early version of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, in which Ford played protagonist Rick Deckard, proving how crucial editors are to the filmmaking process. "He sounds drugged. Were they all on drugs?" "Flashback dialogue confusing. Is he listening to a tape?" "We gotta use Vangelis." "This movie gets worse every screening." Blade Runner, of course, now has approximately a bajillion different versions, some with voiceover dialogue, some without, all providing an instant litmus test of someone's filmic taste. Step aside, Myers-Briggs, these days the kids are debating the merits of the international theatrical version vs. the Final Cut.
Andra Day called it "bullshit" that "Purple Rain" isn't Oscar nominated
In an extended bit that can only be described as "extremely chaotic," the night's musical director Questlove and emcee Lil Rel Howery subjected guests to a game of Oscars musical trivia. First up was Best Actress nominee and star of The United States Vs. Billie Holiday Andra Day. Lil Rel Howery quizzed her if Prince's hit "Purple Rain" from the titular film won an Oscar for Best Song, was nominated and didn't win, or wasn't nominated at all. Day, who didn't look thrilled to be put on the spot, took the opportunity to call out the Academy. The telecast cut her mic, but she reportedly said, “It probably wasn’t even nominated or some bullshit,” referencing the Academy's long history of overlooking Black art. Unsurprisingly, she wasn't wrong! Lil Rel Howery shared that the correct answer was that the song won for Best Original Song Score, but you've gotta hand it to Day for making the most of being passed the mic in such an unpredictable moment.
Lil Rel Howery and Daniel Kaluuya did an extended Get Out bit
Howery then approached his buddy Daniel Kaluuya for the second round of Oscars music trivia, as Questlove played him Donna Summer's "Last Dance" (which DID win its Best Original Song Oscar). Kaluuya, who seemed to be turning up as he promised earlier in the night, got his question wrong (which Glenn Close predicted, calling him "too young" to remember it), but he and Howery traded a few Get Out-themed jokes while Howery put his pal on the spot. "You in the sunken place again," Howery said.
Glenn Close proves she knows "Da Butt"
Finally, Lil Rel moved to Glenn Close, who he thought he was going to stump with "Da Butt" by Experience Unlimited from Spike Lee's School Daze. However, Glenn Close did indeed know "Da Butt," called bullshit on the fact that "Da Butt" was not nominated for an Oscar, and then, at Lil Rel's urging, did "Da Butt" dance, creating a GIF that will live in... posterity... on the internet. (After the show was over it was reported that the bit was scripted.)
The Best Actor/Actress and Best Picture order was switched
After what felt like a speed run of the In Memoriam segment, the Oscars tossed one more curveball. No, you didn't fall asleep or slip into a Tenet-like award show temporal pincer movement. The producers decided to end the show with Best Actress and Best Actor, flipping the normal order of the final stretch. In a show with a handful of (carefully choreographed) chaotic moments, this might have been the most disorienting. Maybe next year they'll just start with Best Picture? Why not?
Frances McDormand wolf howled after Nomadland won Best Picture
Frances McDormand is always a wildcard, and that remained true at this year's Oscars. After her Nomadland director Chloé Zhao turned over the mic to her when the film won Best Picture, she encouraged everyone to go back to the movies and then issued a wolf howl that made dogs watching at home search for the intruder. (Or at least one dog, Thrillist writer Esther Zuckerman's dog.) But there was a touching element to her display: It was in honor of the movie's production sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder, who died by suicide earlier this year.
Chadwick Boseman lost Best Actor in a major upset
Going into the show, Chadwick Boseman seemed like a shoo-in for a posthumous Oscar for his towering performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, having won nearly every precursor award. And when the run-of-show swapped Best Picture for the acting awards, it seemed like the telecast was gearing up to end with a tribute to Boseman. But then, in a shocking turn of events, Anthony Hopkins was announced as the victor for his role in The Father. And he wasn't even present! Hopkins did make Oscar history as the oldest Best Actor winner, and his work in The Father was extraordinary, but it made the whole experience feel like a giant letdown, with the show simply fading to black after presenter and last year's award winner Joaquin Phoenix mumbling how there won't be a speech. The general sentiment was a mix of "what" and "huh?" with some noting that this felt on par for producer Soderbergh, who loves a muted ending.