To say that 2021 has been a weird year is quite an understatement. Things started off really bleak then seemed to be getting better only to culminate in the uncertainty we now feel about everything. But we still got awards ceremonies and plenty of great moments from them. Due to pandemic precautions, all the ceremonies had to find ways to adapt so that they could still be events full of stars but also emphasizing the safety of those in attendance. Some of those presentations, like this year’s Grammy Awards, actually made this list which was selected by 15 of the site’s editors and contributors.
Several of the moments that are highlighted came from specific wins. Tony Ruiz gushed over Jean Smart claiming the Best Comedy Actress Emmy for “Hacks” (her fourth win overall). Also from this year’s Emmys, Rob Licuria went nuts for Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein winning Comedy Supporting Actress and Actor, respectively, for “Ted Lasso.” In another ceremony, David Buchanan enjoyed watching David Alan Grier and Danny Burstein finally take home Tony Awards after years of performing on Broadway.
Other moments highlighted had more to do with the moments that you can only get from awards shows. Tom O’Brien writes about how he was entranced by watching Regina King strut into Union Station in Los Angeles to open the 93rd Oscars. Chris Beachum felt that Grammys did one of the best “In Memoriam” segments he had ever viewed. Kevin Jacobsen found himself cheering on as Glenn Close did “Da Butt” during the Oscar telecast and Luca Giliberti went wild for Viola Davis’s equally wild reaction to her victory at the SAG Awards.
Enjoy watching (or revisiting) each of our favorite awards moments below:
Regina King’s Oscar Walk
For me, the most memorable moment of the 93rd Academy Awards was its very first — the sight of an Academy Award being picked up by a woman in a silver gown just outside a Los Angeles train station who began to walk. And walk. And walk. That woman was Oscar winner Regina King, and she walked through Union Station carrying that Oscar as if she owned the place. And for that one minute and 56 seconds, she did. Co-producer Steven Soderbergh promised us an Oscar ceremony that would look like a motion picture, and as the show’s opening credits, featuring cast and crew, began to roll, it did indeed feel like a movie, harboring the promise of more exciting things to come. That promise, sadly, was never fulfilled, but King didn’t care. Striding confidently toward the stage, she knew the assignment, and she fulfilled it brilliantly. For those brief 116 seconds, that Oscar show was magic. Written by Tom O’Brien.
Jean Smart (“Hacks”) Wins Best Comedy Actress Emmy
I don’t think anyone believed that Jean Smart WOULDN’T win the Emmy for Best Comedy Actress this year for her brilliant performance on “Hacks.” But great awards moments happen when you least expect them, and such is the case with Smart’s Emmy win. As evidenced by the prolonged standing ovation, the love and adoration in the room for Smart was palpable. Then the actress went and lived up to her status as a true pro by giving a speech that was both funny and sincere, especially as she remembered her late husband, the actor Richard Gilliland, who had died just six months prior. Never mind the history of the moment, with Smart becoming only the second woman, alongside Betty White, to win an acting Emmy in every comedy category. Brava! Written by Tony Ruiz.
Surprise Duets at the Tony Awards
The 74th Annual Tony Awards were filled with performances of classic showtunes in celebration of Broadway’s triumphant return. But as the “Broadway’s Back” portion of the evening came to a close, three surprise reunions took the stage to top them all. Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth sang a touching rendition of “For Good” from “Wicked,” Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal proved that their voices haven’t aged a day during “What You Own” from “Rent,” and Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell brought the house down by belting their way through “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime.” Resurrecting these past favorites was a much needed shot of enthusiasm for a beleaguered industry, and reminded us all of the power of live performance. Written by Sam Eckmann.
Conan O’Brien Accepts His Gold Derby TV Award for “Conan”
For the first time ever, Gold Derby reached out to our Gold Derby TV Awards winners to get their video acceptance speeches, and boy did they deliver. In all, more than 20 of our champs participated in the 18th annual ceremony with Conan O’Brien kicking things off with his victory for Best Variety Talk Series. In lieu of a trophy (we send certificates), O’Brien held up a tissue box and proclaimed, “I’ll always treasure this until the very expensive prize shows up.” He then hungrily chomped down on one of the tissues. Oh, Coco, we miss you. Written by Marcus James Dixon.
Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein win Emmys for “Ted Lasso”
Was there a better way to open this year’s Emmy Awards than having newly-minted Emmy winner Hannah Waddingham bound up to the stage, looking like a million bucks, giving an acceptance speech through tears of unbridled joy, cheering loudly into the microphone “Jesus Christ on a bike! Oh my God, I’m not responsible for anything that falls out of my face in the next 30 seconds!” As Waddingham looked around the room incredulously, realizing that she had won the fiercely competitive Best Comedy Supporting Actress, you could see her energy permeate the room as her co-stars and peers clapped loudly at her expected but still exciting triumph. That moment was all the more rewarding for fans of Apple TV+’s most acclaimed show “Ted Lasso” when Brett Goldstein beat out three of his co-stars and bounded up to the stage, also looking like a million bucks, to accept his Best Comedy Supporting Actor prize. In true Roy Kent fashion, he started his heartfelt speech with “I was very, very specifically told I’m not allowed to swear, so this speech is going to be f***ing short,” with a wry smile. No wonder they both won; who can resist that kind of unfiltered and unfeigned joy, humility and gratitude? Written by Rob Licuria.
The Grammy Awards Get the Pandemic Ceremony Exactly Right
We’ve seen a lot of innovation, improvisation, and experimentation as awards shows have tried to adapt to a pandemic where it was no longer safe for crowds to gather indoors. No one walked that fine line better than the 2021 Grammys, which were held at the Los Angeles Convention Center instead of the Staples Center (now the Crypto.com Arena). Multiple stages were used for the indoor/outdoor hybrid event, and the result was a ceremony that felt intimate and streamlined. It wasn’t as BIG as the Grammys usually are, but it felt more special. Written by Daniel Montgomery.
Frances McDormand Winning Best Actress at Oscars
It’s increasingly rare when an Oscars category remains up for grabs heading into the Academy Awards ceremony, but that was the case with Best Actress at the 2021 show. Four of the nominees captured a major precursor: Viola Davis won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Carey Mulligan won at the Critics Choice Awards, Andra Day was the Golden Globe Awards winner in Best Drama Actress and Frances McDormand took home a BAFTA in the category. So the suspense was high, but maybe the result should’ve been obvious all along: McDormand won her third Best Actress trophy for her performance in Best Picture winner “Nomadland” — and then quoted Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” her latest awards contender, in her speech: “‘I have no words. My voice is in my sword.’ We know the sword is our work, and I like work. Thank you for knowing that, and thanks for this.” Written by Christopher Rosen.
Viola Davis’ Reaction to SAG Awards win
In 2021, we learned that Viola Davis can get away not only with murder but also with being the ultimate queen of the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Just when it looked like the actor might go home empty-handed for her turn as real-life blues singer Ma Rainey in Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” she took home the Best Actress prize at the SAG Awards, to the surprise of many (but not all) awards pundits. Even after Davis had lost the Critics Choice Award and been snubbed at BAFTA, I had a sneaking suspicion that she could still pull off a victory at the SAG Awards, where she hadn’t lost an individual category since her supporting bid for “Doubt” (2008). When Ethan Hawke proclaimed her the winner, you better believe I almost fell off my chair out of shock and joy just like Davis herself, whose viral reaction truly is one for the ages. Though she didn’t ultimately win the Oscar, it’s nice knowing that she walked home with at least one televised award for her “Ma Rainey” performance, which I believe is one of the best of her career. The only thing that would have made her victory even better is if I had had a bottle of cold Coca-Cola to celebrate it. Written by Luca Giliberti.
Michaela Coel’s Historic Emmy Win
Michaela Coel became the first Black woman to win an Emmy in the Best Movie/Limited Series Writing category for HBO’s “I May Destroy You.” Her historic win was followed by one of the most memorable speeches of the night, in which she encouraged other writers, “Write the tale that scares you. That makes you feel uncertain. That isn’t comfortable. I dare you!” Coel then dedicated her story to “every single survivor of sexual assault.” Written by Denton Davidson.
Glenn Close Does “Da Butt” at the Oscars
The Oscars ceremony this year lacked the visual panache and excitement of previous ceremonies, with a handful of exceptional moments that enlivened the proceedings. One such moment occurred late in the show, where what began as a simple game of Oscar trivia descended into madness, where Lil Rel Howery asked eight-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close if a certain song was an Oscar nominee or winner or not nominated at all. After he played “Da Butt” by E.U. from the movie “School Daze,” Close not only named the song but highlighted that it was from the Washington D.C. (or “the DMV”) based genre of go-go music and proceeded to do “Da Butt” dance in front of everyone. And they still won’t give this woman an Oscar?! Written by Kevin Jacobsen.
Evan Peters’ Emmy Win and Subsequent Reaction
Evan Peters won his first Emmy on his first nomination for his supporting turn on “Mare of Easttown,” but he deserves another one for Most Relatable Reaction. Upon hearing his name called for Best Limited/TV Movie Supporting Actor, Peters dropped an F-bomb. As he gathered himself to hug his mom — while hilariously, accidentally snubbing one from Julianne Nicholson‘s husband — he let out a “sh–” and another one for good measure on his way to the podium. The first words out of his mouth there? “Oh, sh–, public speaking.” We feel you, Evan, we feel you. Written by Joyce Eng.
The “In Memoriam” Segment from the Grammy Awards
The Grammy Awards showed every other event producer how to properly assemble an “In Memoriam” segment. They had a beautiful stage filled with massive yet classy photos of each person who had died in the previous year. Live song tributes included Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak for Little Richard, Lionel Richie for Kenny Rogers, Brandi Carlile for John Prine and a finale with Brittany Howard and Chris Howard. Many others were remembered with clips and photos, including Eddie Van Halen, Charley Pride, Ennio Morricone, Chick Correa and Mary Wilson. Just a few weeks later, the Oscars ceremony put together one of the worst memoriam segments ever (upbeat music over an incredibly rapid display — maybe one second per person in many cases), so hopefully the next Academy Awards producer will learn from the Grammys how to do it right. Written by Chris Beachum.
David Alan Grier and Danny Burstein Finally Win Tony Awards
After decades of nominations – and an extra 18- month delay due to the pandemic – beloved theatre veterans David Alan Grier and Danny Burstein finally took home Tony Awards. Grier’s victory for his indefatigably menacing performance in Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play” came almost 40 years after he debuted on Broadway as Jackie Robinson in the musical “The First,” for which he received his first Tony bid. His speech was equally heartfelt and hilarious, paying tribute to his mentors and razzing his fellow nominees saying, “Tough bananas, I won!” Burstein delivered a similarly lovely speech. The Broadway stalwart had a particularly challenging two years, from surviving a bad case of Covid in March 2020 to the passing of his wife Rebecca Luker to ALS, and his victory felt like both recognition for his charismatic work in the musical “Moulin Rouge!” and a loving embrace from his theatre community complete with a standing ovation. How nice, too, after an egregious snub in 2017 to see Mary-Louise Parker pick up a long-awaited second trophy for the harrowing “The Sound Inside.” Though a year and a half later than planned, Broadway’s biggest night led with these and other beautiful, overdue awards. Written by David Buchanan.
Anthony Hopkins wins Best Actor Oscar for “The Father”
Right from the beginning, I knew “The Father” was going to destroy me emotionally and, sure enough, it did. There are so many reasons why that movie works as well as it does but the number one reason is Anthony Hopkins. In a career that already contains one of the most iconic and chilling performances ever (as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs”), Hopkins showed that he could still give the performance of a lifetime at 83 years of age. I was crying so hard from the final ten minutes of his brilliant performance that I couldn’t breathe through my nose for a full 30 minutes after the movie ended. All of this made his Oscar victory so incredibly well-deserved. Unfortunately, what left a sour taste in my mouth (along with many other viewers) was the inexplicable decision to end the ceremony with that award as if the producers were banking on a posthumous win for Chadwick Boseman. There is no doubt that this win will be remembered as one of the best ones in the long run. Written by Charles Bright.
Conan O’Brien’s Emmy Hijinks
He didn’t win and he didn’t host. Heck, he wasn’t even one of the presenters. But Conan O’Brien was able to steal the Emmys show in his last year as late night host for “Conan.” He’s built a career on committing to the absurd, which played perfectly on the Emmy stage. When Variety Talk winner John Oliver said he hoped Conan won, the red-haired comic stood for applause before turning on puppy dog eyes with on point comedic timing. The head of the academy presenting is usually a dry moment. But this year, Conan’s ironic cheering and salute coaxed a standing ovation and big laughs. Then when Stephen Colbert won for his election night special, Conan went up with the winning crew, giving Colbert a big hug on stage after shouting “we f**king did it.” Oh, Conan did it. He became the star of the 2021 Emmys. Written by Matt Noble.
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