Despite the smaller scale of the event, the mood at the ceremony was cheerful, notes Aseem Chhabra.
It was a different Oscar ceremony for our troubled times.
Last year, the Academy Awards were presented on February 10, and the South Korean film Parasite was the surprise Best Picture winner.
This year, the ceremony was delayed until April 25, with the hope that COVID protocols in Los Angeles would be a bit more relaxed by mid-spring.
There were other changes too.
The ceremony had no host.
The main event was held in a relatively small space in Los Angeles' Union Station, with a couple of presentations that took place at the city's Dolby Theatre, the regular venue for the ceremony.
There were very few guests.
Many of the nominees and presenters were located in other cities, including London, Seoul, Oslo, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Sydney.
The red carpet was held, although social distancing was maintained, with no crowds and fewer cameras allowed.
But there was enough glamour, plus even an intimate moment, when the best actor nominee Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) stepped in to fix his new wife Fatima Farheen Mirza's hair.
Most of the attendees on the carpet did not wear masks.
In fact, only Frances McDormand was wearing a black mask inside the awards venue, but she took it off when she went to receive the Best Picture and Best Actress trophies.
A COVID safety team was present at the Union Station, with testing capability and temperature checks on the site.
But despite the smaller scale of the event, the mood at the ceremony was cheerful.
It felt more intimate as the small number of invitees were seated right next to the stage.
Instead of the large orchestra that would sit in the pit right in front of the stage at the Dolby Theatre, this year's ceremony had a live DJ.
Otherwise, as Oscar ceremonies go, this one was no different.
Perhaps one exception was the change in the of the order of the awards.
The Best Director trophy was presented in the first half of the show and the Best Picture was announced before the main acting categories.
My sense is that the Best Actor award was kept until the end because the organisers had hoped that the winner would be the late Chadwick Boseman for his performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. It could have been a lovely emotional end to the event with a moving speech by Boseman's widow.
Instead, in one of the biggest surprises of the evening, the Best Actor trophy was given to Anthony Hopkins for his heart-wrenching performance of an old man suffering from dementia in The Father. This is Hopkin's second Oscar. He won his first golden statue in 1991 for The Silence of the Lambs.
Another upset of the event was the Best Actress win for Frances McDormand.
Most predictions were split between Viola Davis for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman. McDormand herself was stunned and she kept her acceptance speech brief.
This was McDormand's third acting Oscar (other two were for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
This win puts her in the elite category of actors who have won three acting Oscars. Others in this group are Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman and Daniel Day-Lewis. Only Katherine Hepburn has won more Oscars: Four in total.
Actually, McDormand has also won four Oscars.
Her fourth Oscar was as one of the producers of the Best Picture winner Nomadland.
At the end of her acceptance speech, McDormand let out an unexpected howl like a wolf. It is believed that was her homage to Nomadland's sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder who tragically died by suicide last month.
Nomadland won another Oscar, this time for its Chinese-American director Chloé Zhao.
It was the first time for an Asian woman to win the Best Director trophy. Zhao is also only the second woman to be recognized for that honour.
There were no surprises in the two supporting acting categories.
Both Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari, her first American production) were expected to win. The 74-year-old Youn also made history: she is the first Korean to win an acting Oscar.
Though the ceremony lacked the lavish -- the sometimes over-the-top and gaudy dance and music segments -- there were still moments of fun, perhaps all unscripted.
At one point, during a game in the middle of the show, Glenn Close guessed a song that was played by the DJ -- Da Butt, from Spike Lee's School Daze (1988). And then the 75-year-old eight-time Oscar nominee even danced to the song, as the delighted audience cheered.
At the end of his acceptance speech, Kaluuya thanked his parents by saying, 'It's incredible. My mom met my dad, they had sex, it's amazing. Do you know what I'm saying? I'm here, do you know what I mean? I'm so happy to be alive, so I'm going to celebrate that tonight.'
Kaluuya's mother looked confused by his comment, but his sister was shocked and she covered her face with her hands.
But the best comment of the evening came from the spirited Youn, who met Minari's executive producer Brad Pitt for the first time backstage.
After the brief conversation, she was asked by a reporter what Brad Pitt smelt like.
'I didn't smell him,' Youn responded, adding, 'I'm not a dog.'