These were the biggest moments at the 2021 Oscars

The show started with a bang, ended with a surprise, and featured plenty of memorable moments in between.

Youn Yuh-Jung Brad Pitt 2021 Oscars
Youn Yuh-jung and Brad Pitt at the 2021 Oscars. Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images

The 2021 Oscars were unlike any awards show in recent memory. Produced by Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s 11,” “Contagion”), the whole ceremony felt like one long movie.

Cinematic cameras moved through an audience seated in gala-style circular tables, bathed in natural light streaming through the windows of Union Station. Instead of relying on skits, clips, and one-liners, presenters spoke from the heart about the nominees. And like many a film, the 2021 Oscars featured a twist ending no one saw coming.

At times, the numerous changes were a welcome reinvigoration of a staid awards show template. But when it mattered most — particularly during the biggest awards of the night — the newfangled Oscars fell flat.


Here are the biggest moments of the ceremony, from the pre-show red carpet to the final award.

See the biggest looks on the Oscars red carpet

Saoirse Ronan attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards.

Ahead of the 93rd Academy Awards, celebrities took to the red carpet, stepping in front of the cameras while wearing the latest fashion.

A letter from the Academy told guests to aim for a “fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational” in their attire. In other words, while black-tie wasn’t an absolute necessity, sweatpants were a definite no-no.

Red carpet correspondents kept their social distance from the celebs, and masked guests milled around in the background. But beyond a few minor cosmetic differences, the red carpet felt more normal than expected.

Regina King references Derek Chauvin verdict in 2021 Oscars opening

The 93rd Academy Awards started off on a distinctive note, both in style and in substance.

The show began with a walk-in intro from actress/director Regina King, with opening credits rolling by as she strolled into the ceremony reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Once on the stage, King took a moment to reference the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, saying she might have “traded in her heels for marching boots” if things had gone differently in the trial.


“I know that a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you,” King said. “But as a mother of a Black son, I know the fear so many live with, and no amount of fame or fortune changes that.”

Chloé Zhao and Youn Yuh-Jung make Oscars history

“Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao made Oscars history, becoming the second woman Best Director winner — joining Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) — and the first woman of color to win the honor.

“My entire Nomadland company, what a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime journey we’ve all been on together,” Zhao said.

Also making history was Youn Yuh-Jung (“Minari”), who became the first Korean performer to win an acting Oscar, and only the second Asian woman.

“I’m luckier than you,” Youn said to Glenn Close, who was nominated for an eighth time without a win. And speaking of Glenn Close…

Glenn Close does ‘Da Butt’ dance

Glenn Close may still be lacking an acting Oscar, but the veteran performer still had her moment in the spotlight at the 2021 Oscars.

Close’s performance in “Hillbilly Elegy” lost out in the Supporting Actress category to Youn Yuh-Jung (“Minari”), but the actress had one of the funnier moments of the night during a sketch featuring actor Lil Rel Howery and master of ceremonies Questlove.


Howery hosted a trivia game in which he asked nominees if a piece of music had either won an Oscar, been nominated for one, or hadn’t been nominated at all. After playing the game with Andra Day (for Prince’s “Purple Rain”) and Daniel Kaluuya (for Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”), Howery came to Close, for E.U.’s “Da Butt.”

While Howery assumed the 74-year-old Close wasn’t familiar with the 1988 one-hit wonder, the actress dropped some knowledge.

“Wait a second. Wait a second. That’s Da Butt,” Close said, in what felt like a scripted joke. “It was a classic song by the great Washington, D.C. go-go band E.U. Shoutouts to Sugar Bear and the Backyard Band and the whole DMV.”

At Howery’s request, Close got out of her seat and performed the song’s signature “Da Butt” dance.

“She did Da whole Butt at the Oscars,'” Howery said. “This is the blackest Oscars of all time.”

Oscars end abruptly as Anthony Hopkins wins Best Actor over late Chadwick Boseman

For unknown reasons, producers moved the presentation of the Best Picture Oscar from its traditional spot as the final award of the night, which meant “Nomadland” took home the top prize with Best Actress and Best Actor still to come.

As viewers quickly weighed in on Twitter, the consensus was that the Academy was saving Best Actor for last, in order to best honor the late Chadwick Boseman, the frontrunner for the award for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Instead, the award went to Anthony Hopkins for “The Father,” and with the elder actor not present at the awards, the night ended with an abrupt goodbye.


Get Boston.com's browser alerts:

Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com