‘Parasite’ Saves the Oscars From a Fiery Hell of Irrelevance
The whole night illustrated an Academy that has no godforsaken idea what to do with itself or how to evolve alongside society and the industry.
Parasite is a Best Picture winner and I may as well be crawling around the Heaviside Layer, I’m so happy the right movie won. But the lead-up to the reveal was as much of a shitshow circus as the “first in the nation” political catastrophe, and certainly cinema’s greatest Cats-tastrophe, too. (OK, we’ll stop now.)
Still, as most Hollywood storytellers know, the pivotal task in any project is nailing the ending. The 2020 Oscars certainly did that, awarding a historic Best Picture win to the South Korean thriller, the first film not in the English language to ever win the Academy’s top prize, and salvaging a decidedly unpleasant telecast and noxious awards season.
Parasite also happened to be, by miles, the best and most relevant movie made this last year. Of course, it’s not like that has ever mattered with this voting body—in fact, it almost never does—as evidenced by the turbo-charge of shock when the film was announced over presumptive winner 1917 at the end of the night, as if the entire film industry stuck their fingers in an electrical socket all at once.
As Parasite, led by director Bong Joon-ho, racked up its leading four wins, which included Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature, the audience in the Dolby Theatre seemed to be in a collective state of flabbergasted joy, they were so thrilled for this outcome.
At the end of a night that was, as an entertainment telecast, an unmitigated disaster, there was a glorious, rousing conclusion to chase all the bottom-shelf bile down with. The (almost all white) A-listers in the front row even led a chant to bring the lights back up on the microphone so that more members of the Parasite team could speak. That marks perhaps the first-ever movement to have the Academy Awards last longer.
They were so thrilled that at the conclusion of an award season mired with controversy over systemic issues of diversity and gender recognition, the critical favorite from South Korea in which universal issues about class and privilege were explored with sharper insight than anything to come out of Hollywood this year won the whole thing.
Still, it’s a cherry on top of a spoiled-milk sundae. (Sorry, Joaquin!) The whole night, Parasite’s groundbreaking wins included, illustrated an Academy that has no godforsaken idea what to do with itself or how to evolve alongside society and the industry.
What does it say about an Oscars telecast when the two defining moments were celebrities in the audience wincing, wondering what the hell they were watching? (Congrats, though, to Billie Eilish and Idina Menzel for going viral!)
What does it say about how much respect is given to foreign artists when the entire cast of Parasite, which had previously won Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild, was not only passed over completely for acting nominations, but never expected to realistically get them in the first place?
That makes Parasite one of only 11 Best Picture winners with no acting nominations, the first since Slumdog Millionaire 11 years ago. Hmm, I wonder what both casts have in common…
The film’s victory was the climax of a night defined by an embarrassing pattern of selective, performative inclusivity.
That there was only one acting nominee of color, Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo, was called out repeatedly. First there was a proper roast from Chris Rock: “Cynthia did such a good job in Harriet hiding black people that the Academy had her hide all the black nominees.” But by the second Academy-sanctioned musical performance about diversity and the work by people of color the voters ignored, the mea culpa in place of actual change wore out its welcome.
Then there was Rock again introducing the other running theme/public shaming of the night, joined by Steve Martin. “I thought there was something missing from the list this year,” Martin said, to which Rock replied, “Vaginas?” Earlier in the night, Natalie Portman walked the red carpet with a cape stitched with the names of all the female directors overlooked in an all-male directors field.
The list of Best Picture nominees only had room for one film directed by a woman, and its run there has largely been defined by imbecilic, anonymous male Oscar voters whining that the artful time jumps in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women were too hard for them to follow. (Who wants to place bets on the same men praising Memento or Inception as their favorite films?)
Overcompensating with scattered rah-rah moments of feminist energy came off cringe-inducing at best, but mostly just gross.
Brie Larson, Sigourney Weaver, and Gal Gadot postulating that “all women are superheroes” as they introduced Eimear Noone, the first female conductor in the Oscars’ 92-year history was wild. Noone got to conduct exactly one (1) three-minute segment of the show. Dear GOD, don’t let the woman conduct the whole thing! One segment is enough, and we shall contort ourselves to simultaneously give the gesture a standing ovation and ourselves a pat on the back.
Immediately after, Hildur Gudnadóttir became the first woman to win Best Original Score—again, after 92 years—for her work in Joker. She used her speech to encourage women who hear music “bubbling” within them to “please speak up. We need to hear your voices.”
It was a beautiful moment, emblematic of the evening’s intrinsic chaos: fleeting examples of overdue progress, poignant sentiments about the world and the industry’s role in it, and the actual celebration of excellence. But all of it amounted to merely refresh water stations on a scorched marathon of bafflement, boredom, and institutionalized bigotry.
The Oscars need a host. Hosts provide guidance, inject energy, wrangle things into focus, and help maintain the gravitas that the ceremony requires. Before the conclusion’s much-needed Bong hit, the telecast was a lifeless slog, a zombie that somehow still tripped over the low bar that was set for the night.
Sending poor Janelle Monáe out to open the ceremony with the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song was almost like a plea for kindness to the certain-to-be-bad show. Following it up with a musical number celebrating a number of films the Academy snubbed, then a monologue from Martin and Rock that seemed to go over like an anvil falling from the sky, seemed to set the tone for the night at “boy, the Oscars really do suck, huh?”
Who would have predicted, for example, that the highlight of the Oscars would be a bit about Cats? (James Corden and Rebel Wilson pawing at the microphone was brilliant.) Or that Olivia Colman would drop the best comedy set of the night?
More, who had “Eminem comes out and performs a full rendition of ‘Lose Yourself’” on their Oscar bingo card?
Because no one involved in the show felt it necessary to explain why this happened—a special performance of the Best Original Song winner on its 17th anniversary doesn’t appear to be an Oscar tradition—the most cogent explanation we could find is that the rapper did not perform and was not in attendance to accept his Oscar the year the track won, something now rectified. But, like, why now? Call me a .GIF of Idina Menzel because I ain’t got no clue.
The winners were more spread out than usual. The sound categories went to Ford v Ferrari and 1917, because, I guess, cars and wars make a lot of noise. Costumes went to Little Women, because those women, they wear clothes? Make-up went to Bombshell, because Megyn Kelly sure uses some!
Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for Marriage Story, which is just the thing about the Oscars. Would I have voted for her for this performance? No. Is it a bad thing that Laura Dern has an Oscar? No!!! It’s a wash.
Brad Pitt won Best Supporting Actor for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. After an entire award season of basically delivering stand-up comedy at the podium, he was uncharacteristically nervous and jittery, instead opening with a political statement: “They told me I had 45 seconds up here, which was 45 more seconds than the Senate gave John Bolton this week.”
It’s fun when an actor wins an award for a performance like this, as a character whose vibe embodies his career-long appeal. Of course, because I may never stop obsessing about this, Brad Pitt won an Oscar for a part that is the crystallization of his entire contribution to celebrity and pop culture, but Jennifer Lopez did the same thing in Hustlers and instead triggered 700 Lindas to email me after I praised her performance saying she’s a SKANK—always in all-caps.
Then there’s Joaquin Phoenix and Joker. The movie is as if Todd Philipps laid an egg fart in a crowded elevator and then charged everyone to escape. You’d think that would be unappealing, except that in the grand tradition of sniveling juveniles who run the world, it instead made him the most popular person in school, so to speak. In this case, the most-nominated movie on Oscar night.
Phoenix’s speech was weird and uncomfortable and vaguely admirable in a kind-of unsettling way, as we all thought it was going to be. Inarguably the first time both artificial cow insemination and the power of the collective voice were invoked in tandem on the Oscar stage, it was as if Phoenix delivered the greatest speech that Marianne Williamson never had the chance to give.
Listen, I appreciate and encourage political speeches. I also happen to be a proponent of coherence. On that note, I believe Renée Zellweger is still somewhere in Hollywood finding her way to her point about what heroes mean to us, but she gave a helluva performance in Judy and good for her, good for her comeback, and good for her Best Actress Oscar.
This has been an awful lot to discuss on a night that, until the end, packed all the thrills of watching a toddler trying to successfully blow into a bubble wand.
Here’s a thought: If you’re not gonna have a host, why have any of the fringe hoopla? If they only aired the announcement of the winners and their speeches on Sunday night, you’d have missed that convoluted Janelle Monáe performance, Eminem rap for some reason, Rock and Martin bomb their monologue, and live renditions of five of the snooziest songs to ever compete for an Oscar. Sounds ideal! Give me the full crazy, or give me just the goods.
Thanks to its rewarding of Parasite, the Academy delivered the goods. But a desirable end result doesn’t absolve the messy, complicated journey it took to get there. That roadmap needs a major overhaul, even if we get to toast to Bong tonight.
So to him, I say thank you. I will drink until next morning.