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Oscars 2021: Soul & Tenet hit Academy Awards high notes, Pixar scores Best Animated win

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Apr 27, 2021, 5:37 PM EDT (Updated)

The 93rd annual Academy Awards ceremony was a rather muted reflection of the past year’s pared-back lineup of box office blockbusters, but that still didn’t stop Pixar’s Soul from making sweet music with a pair of well-deserved moments in the awards spotlight on Sunday.

Soul danced away with the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, scoring the Disney+ musical tale of finding life’s meaning its final — and biggest — honor of this decidedly different awards season. Soul prevailed over a field of animated nominees that also included fellow Pixar feature Onward, Netflix’s Over the Moon, Wolfwalkers at Apple TV+, and StudioCanal’s A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.

Director Pete Docter and producer Dana Murray accepted the Best Animated Feature award, with Docter thanking “music teachers and art teachers everywhere” for doing the real-life work of Soul protagonist Joe (Jamie Foxx). “This film started as a love letter to jazz, but we had no idea how much jazz would teach us about life,” Docter said. “…I wish we could follow the wish of jazz musicians: that, wherever we are, whatever we have, we could turn it into something beautiful.”

Nominated in three categories, Soul ended up winning in two, also earning the Oscar for Best Original Score (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste). Clad in an atypical attire of bow-tied tuxedoes, Reznor and Ross quietly backdropped Batiste as he accepted Soul’s second Academy Award of the evening. “God gave us 12 notes. It’s the same 12 notes that Duke Ellington had…that Bach had…Nina Simone,” gushed Batiste. “I’m just thankful to God for those 12 notes, man — that’s so dope…this moment is a culmination of a series of miracles.”

Reznor and Ross beat themselves by sharing the Best Original Score honor: The duo was nominated in the same category for David Fincher’s Citizen Kane origin story Mank. Other nominees included Da 5 Bloods, Minari, and News of the World. Soul received a third nomination for Achievement in Sound (Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker), but stayed quiet as fellow nominee Sound of Metal took home that award.

On the live-action front, Tenet (Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley, and Scott Fisher) picked up the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, prevailing over a genre-heavy VFX nominee field that included Disney’s Mulan remake, Love and Monsters, The Midnight Sky, and The One and Only Ivan. Christopher Nolan’s time-bending thriller also was nominated for Best Production Design, but stayed on the sidelines as Mank instead took home the honor.

Matteo Garrone's adaptation of Pinocchio earned a pair of nominations for Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, and Francesco Pegoretti), as well as Best Costume Design (Massimo Cantini Parrini), but lost out to Netflix’s Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which took both categories. Disney’s Mulan (Bina Daigeler) was also nominated for Best Costume Design.

Finally, writer-directors Will McCormack and Michael Govier took home the Oscar in the Best Animated Short category for If Anything Happens I Love You. The 2D animated exploration of parental grief edged out a field of competitors that included Burrow (the short film that preceded Pixar’s Soul), Genius Loci, Opera, and Yes-People.

Overall, the night’s big winner was Searchlight Pictures’ Nomadland, which earned this year’s Best Picture award, as well as Best Director for Chloé Zhao, and Best Actress for Frances McDormand. In the Best Actor category, the late Chadwick Boseman was nominated for his performance as Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Anthony Hopkins won the honor for his role as Anthony, an aging man struggling with dementia, in The Father. The Best Actor win marks Hopkins' second, with the first coming for his iconic performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in 1992's The Silence of the Lambs.

The COVID-19 pandemic held filmmaking timelines at bay through most of 2020, while keeping theaters largely closed. To ensure this year’s nominee field accommodated all that adversity, the Academy relaxed this year’s eligibility rules to allow Oscar entrants into the field if their films appeared at the Academy’s members-only streaming platform within 60 days of their screen debuts. That’s a marked (and hopefully) one-time change from past requirements, which require a film to screen publicly for at least two weeks in Los Angeles theaters.

For a full listing of this year’s Academy Awards honorees, visit the Academy’s winners page.