Oscar Recap: A Best Picture That Actually Was The BEST Picture Of The Year
'Parasite' makes history with its first Academy Award for South Korea
The 92nd Academy Awards were held Sunday night with some surprises, some firsts and some predictable results.
I have to admit that I was not looking forward to this year’s Academy Awards because so many truly original films (“Midsommar,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Us”) were completely shut out of the nominations and the bulk of the nominations felt numbingly bland. I still can’t figure out how films like “Ford v Ferrari” and “The Two Popes” got best picture nominations for such conventional filmmaking or how “Joker” received the most nominations of any film of the year.
But, I have to say that I was quite delighted that although I was disappointed by most of the 100-plus nominations, the five that I cared most deeply about went to the right people and films.
For the first time in ages, the film that topped my 10-best list became the Academy’s Best Picture of the year. The year’s most nuanced and cleverly executed films took the most Oscars of the night and that was South Korea’s “Parasite.” It picked up its first award for Best Original Screenplay and writer-director Bong Joon Ho, speaking in part through a translator, noted the history that was being made: “Writing a script is always such a lonely process; we never write to represent our countries. But this is the very first Oscar to South Korea. Thank you.”
Bong and “Parasite” would go on to pick up three more Oscars including the history-making combo of both Best International Feature (the new title for the category formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film) and Best Picture, a first for any film.
Bong seemed to have thought his writing award would be the only one he’d get for the night so in accepting the award for Best International Feature he concluded with, “Thank you, and yeah, I’m ready to drink tonight. Until next morning. Thank you.” His genuine joy and shock was thoroughly engaging.
A quick red carpet note before getting to the awards.
Natalie Portman decided to protest the lack of female nominees in the Best Director category by having the names of the overlooked women embroidered on the cape she wore on the red carpet. But apparently she didn’t want to make that statement too loud. The names were so small you needed a magnifying glass to read them. But it did make some people notice.
And I have to give fashion props to Billy Porter and Janelle Monae who ruled the red carpet with bold fashion statements that recalled old school glamor with a distinctly modern twist.
Best Supporting Actor went as expected to Brad Pitt (“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”) who made a succinct and pointed political comment of “They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week” before thanking his director Quentin Tarantino and paying tribute to stuntmen (he played a stuntman in the film, and joking, “Leo [Leonardo DiCaprio], I’ll ride on your coattails any day, man. The view’s fantastic.”
Best Animated Film went to “Toy Story 4,” a predictable win that overlooked not just the innovation in animation but in cinematic storytelling from France’s nominee “I Lost My Body.” Best Animated Short went to “Hair Love” and scored the Academy some points for racial diversity although not in one of the major categories.
I felt that the Academy somewhat slighted the two writing categories by placing them early in the show while giving the end of show prime spots to acting, producing and directing. Writers deserve a little more respect.
But another one of the inspiring wins last night was for Taika Waititi’s Best Adapted Screenplay for his anti-hate satire “Jojo Rabbit.” He seemed genuinely surprised and delighted by the win … and nervous. After stumbling through a thank you to his mom and a few others he paused and said, “That’s it.”
Backstage Waititi was asked if he had thanked everyone he had wanted to in his acceptance speech and he had a great answer:
“You don't want to go up there and actually say lots of people's names. That seems like a waste of time. I mean, people who've known me — I've said to people before I came here, ‘If I have to go up, I'm not going, thank you. Because why should I? I did all the typing. No one else did it.’ And all the words came from my head. So, bottom line, I'm not going to thank my lawyer for that. I love him. He's done great stuff for me, he got me a bloody good deal on ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ but he didn't type anything on ‘Jojo Rabbit.’ So, you know, as far as acceptance speeches go, I think mine was probably the most truthful speech that anyone's ever given. I think we can all agree on that.”
The poor costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, who won for “ Little Women” seemed to have been made to travel the farthest distance to come accept her award. Not sure if that says something about costume design or her perceived chances of winning but Hollywood loves period costumes so she seemed a likely choice to win. “American Factory” was the oddsmakers pick for Best Documentary and it won.
In the Best Documentary Short, “Learning to Skateboard in A Warzone" won and director Carol Dysinger said, “Frank Capra, you guys remember? Frank Capra handed me a Student Academy Award in 1977, and I’d thought I’d skipped the hard part. I thought I would then go on to make movies. And if I hadn’t had that encouragement at my back back then, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand the last four decades in this business.”
I think that spoke eloquently about the challenge women face in Hollywood.
Best Supporting Actress went as expected to Laura Dern for “Marriage Story.” It was one of only two wins for the streaming giant Netflix, which had garnered an amazing 24 nominations, more than any of the traditional movie studios. The Netflix connection may have hurt Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which received 10 nominations but went home empty-handed.
Dern won a well-deserved award and graciously acknowledged her acting parents in her acceptance speech: “And you know, some say never meet your heroes, but I say, if you’re really blessed, you get them as your parents. I share this with my acting heroes, my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. You got game. I love you.”
Sound Editing is not usually a category that stirs excitement but the win for “Ford v Ferrari” marked a different kind of history as winner Donald Sylvester noted: “’Ford v Ferrari’ is probably the last film ever made by 20th Century Fox.”
The studio was taken over by Disney last year and the word Fox has been removed from both 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight. That does deserve a moment of silence and maybe should have been in the memorial montage.
After ignoring his work for years the Academy decided to give his second Oscar in three years for “1917.” As you might expect from him, he was exceeding gracious in accepting the award: “I want to thank my fellow nominees for their wonderfully inspiring work. But more than that, I want to thank them for their friendship, too.”
To offset the lack of women in the nominations, the Oscar show brought out three women of superhero status: Brie Larson (“Captain Marvel”), Sigourney Weaver (“Alien’s” Ripley), and Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”). Weaver’s groundbreaking role as Ripley was acknowledged before Gadot gave a shout out to all women being superheroes. A bit trite but I guess it's something.
Then they gave the Best Original Score award to Hildur Guðnadóttir for “Joker.” It seemed prescient of the Academy to have that set up for Guðnadóttir’s win and speech.
“To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices,” Guðnadóttir said.
The final awards
My favorite win of the night, however, was for Best Director with Bong Joon Ho racking up his third win of the night.
“After winning Best International Feature, I thought I was done for the day and was ready to relax,” he said, speaking in part through a translator. “When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is ‘the most personal is the most creative.’ That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be nominated was a huge honor; I never thought I would win.”
The comments encouraged the crowd to give Scorsese a standing ovation. The unintentional irony of this, however, was that Bong took Scorsese comment to heart and made a film that is a descendant of Scorsese yet wholly original while in contrast Todd Phillips’ “Joker” desperately tried to be a Scorsese film by imitating all the superficial things and never making them personal.
Bong also thanked Tarantino for putting his films on lists when mainstream America was not yet interested. I have to give props to Tarantino for making audiences more accepting of subtitled films whether it was about him distributing films like Takashi Kitano’s “Sonatine” or including subtitled section in films like Kill Bill or creating viewing lists of films to watch that were foreign, he used his popularity and cache as a trendsetter to help bring these films to a new generation of viewers who now do not seem put off by subtitles.
My two least favorite awards were in the lead acting categories. These were locked in and went to the actors who were acting with a capital “A,” Joaquin Phoenix for “Joker” and Renee Zellweger for “Judy.” Phoenix used his acceptance speech to hit every PC issue he could from gender inequality and racism to animal rights.
“We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources,” Phoenix said about midpoint in his lengthy speech. “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
After Phoenix’s hoax retirement and fake documentary, I have a hard time taking him seriously or believing he is sincere. He produced his own film but I didn’t see him furthering any of those causes by hiring a woman director (he hired his white male friend Casey Affleck) or getting a person of color as writer or hiring trans actors. He made a white male-centric film all about himself in “I’m Still Here.” Why didn’t he do something to challenge that Hollywood racism or gender inequality when he was completely in control of that film? And he won for a film that was white male centric.
I have no problem with Phoenix delivering whatever message he wants and using his time onstage for whatever politics he wants to discuss, but I don't think raising worthy issues means his speech is immune from criticism. I even agree that the causes he highlights are all in need of addressing, I just have trouble believing this messenger is entirely sincere.
Then Zellweger used her time to thank all people in her entourage plus people like tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, at least I think that was the Venus and Serena she referred to. Her speech felt longer than “The Irishman.” I was not impressed by either of their speeches or performances.
But the night ended on a high note with “Parasite” winning Best Picture. The Academy tried to dim the lights and bring up the music as the Bong crew onstage was still talking but we got a shot of front-row celebrities Charlize Theron, Tom Hanks and Margot Robbie raising their arms to get the lights back on so the South Korean cast and crew could have their moment in the spotlight.
On a certain level, I think the Fandango poll that asked moviegoers which film deserved the Best Picture award is somewhat more telling of the future of film. Moviegoers, folks going to mall theaters to see films, picked "Parasite" for best picture. That says a lot about the power of the film.
America as a country is divided and doesn’t know how to deal with it or how to heal itself. It can’t yet fully embrace homegrown films that deal complexly with the issue like Jordan Peele’s “Us” but “Parasite” is foreign in origin yet absolutely familiar in the issues it addresses. It was about class but not in a simplistic way, the rich were not devils, the poor were not saints, everyone was flawed and human and we saw how circumstances play a role in their fates. I think South Korea is uniquely suited to dealing with issues of division and conflict since the country itself was forced to divide with family members sometimes finding themselves on opposite sides. So being on opposites sides carries a different and more complex emotional weight that is beautifully expressed in much of the country’s films.
The Oscar show
It was another year of no-hosts but then they had people who were not hosts come out to introduce themselves and then introduce the people who were giving out awards. What the show producers don’t seem to realize is that a good show starts with good writing and the bad banter is just painful and makes the show feel longer than it is. Instead of mindless jokes about what a cinematographer is not, how about a quick segment explaining and showing what they do or have a cinematographer as the presenter and giving us some insights?
The opening musical number with Janelle Monae seemed designed to make up for Academy oversights in diversity and originality. Only one African American nominee in the acting categories but plenty in the opening number. The Academy completely ignored “Midsommar’” uncomfortable originality so they just used the costumes for the film in the musical number. Oversight addressed! Gag! The lack of diversity was also addressed in the multi-language singing of the “Frozen 2” song entry.
Then there were head-scratching moments like the montage tribute to the impact of music in film. Most of the music shown was not written for film but were pop songs used in movies. The Academy honors craft categories so why not show a clip of “Jaws” or “Psycho” where music was so key. And the montage ended with Eminem coming out and singing “Lose Yourself” from his 2002 film “Mile.” The cutaways to the audience revealed a confused looking Idina Menzel and pained looking Martin Scorsese. Eventually, people in the audience started singing along but the musical number made no sense.
The in memoriam tribute always creates problems. This time some people like Monty Python’s great Terry Jones had to share a slide with someone else while Kobe Bryant (who was not really a movie person despite an Oscar for producing one short film) got the screen all to himself.
Here’s the full list of 2020 Oscar winners, you can check out my awards here:
Best Picture: “Parasite”
Lead Actress: Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
Lead Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Director: Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
Original Song: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”
Original Score: “Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
Best International Feature Film (new title for this category, formerly Best Foreign Language Film): “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho
Makeup and Hair: “Bombshell”
Visual Effects: “1917”
Film Editing: “Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
Cinematography: “1917,” Roger Deakins
Sound Mixing: “1917”
Sound Editing: “Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester
Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” Carol Dysinger
Best Documentary Feature: “American Factory,” Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
Costume Design: “Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran
Production Design: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
Best Live Action Short Film: “The Neighbors’ Window,” Marshall Curry
Adapted Screenplay: “Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi
Original Screenplay: “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho, Jin Won Han
Animated Short: “Hair Love,” Matthew A. Cherry
Animated Feature: “Toy Story 4,” Josh Cooley
Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”