Oscars 2020 Roundup: The no-host and the Parasite

Snubs for Netflix and 1917. Martin Scorsese walks home with no awards. Joaquin Phoenix makes a strange speech. And yet, the 92nd Oscars will be remembered for two things — Bong-Joon Ho and Parasite
Oscars 2020 Bong Joon Ho Parasite
Oscars 2020 Bong Joon Ho Parasite

Why do films have the power to be so personal? Why are we so invested in a ‘local’ awards show that often leaves us heartbroken? Why are we glad when the film we rooted for wins awards all round? And most importantly, why didn’t the Oscars give an acting nod for Christian Bale? Channeling my inner spirit animal, i.e. Garfield, I was geared up to hate on the Academy for playing it safe and showering the awards on 1917, this year. But almost 200 minutes later, I had to contend with a pleasant surprise.

Rewind to the beginning of the event. It all began with Janelle Monae doing a fabulous job with her opening musical act that questioned the Academy for its various snubs and misrepresentations. It was evident that the audience wasn’t enthused at all. The traditional hosts were missed. We realised we missed it too, when former hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock walked up soon after to kickstart proceedings again. Just like Monae, Martin and Rock too called out the Academy for not nominating non-white actors, and gave a huge shout-out to Eddie Murphy for Dolemite Is my Name. Okay, so, now tell me, if the Academy seemingly doesn’t want hosts, why have people filling in once every few minutes?

Nevertheless, the Oscars began by honouring an actor with an award that was long due. While we can continue debating if it was an award-worthy performance, I wouldn’t deny that the sight of Brad Pitt holding the Oscar was comforting. After reading about his snub for 12 Monkeys, and feeling bad about him not winning it for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and already knowing he didn’t stand a chance for Moneyball, this victory felt special.  So was Laura Dern’s win for Marriage Story. What was telling about Dern’s award was that this was one of just two awards for a Netflix submission. Out of 24 nominations, only Dern and the documentary, American Factory, managed to secure a win. Though this can’t be outright called a film industry pushback, it makes you wonder if it indeed is. Will there be a #OscarsSoTraditional trending next year, once AppleTV likely joins the fray? But hey, what do I know? I wanted Ford v Ferrari to win Best Picture.

While it did hurt that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman went zero-for-ten, one of the warmest moments this year was Best Director winner Bong Joon Ho acknowledging the legendary director’s impact on him, and largely, cinema. “When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart: ‘The most personal is the most creative’. That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese.” Just as this was said, the audience stood up to respect the champion director. Bong also paid respect to Quentin Tarantino for championing his previous films.

Meanwhile, the criticism against the Academy wasn’t relegated to just the lack of stage presenters. In one of the strongest statements, Natalie Portman came to the ceremony wearing a cape, embroidered with names of women directors who were snubbed this year. While she was praised on social media, Portman was soon given a reality check as it was pointed out that her production company is yet to back a woman director, apart from her. Ah, the fickle nature of social media. Was it an actual woke moment or plain ol' virtue-signalling?

What is an Academy awards ceremony without controversial acceptance speeches? Though the 92nd academy awards seemed to be hurtling towards the endpoint without any sensational speeches, everyone knew there was one person who would deliver it. We have been hearing him at the SAG’s, the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. The Best Actor winner, Joaquin Phoenix, began his speech promisingly, but it tapered off in between, before thankfully ending on a high. From talking about “voicing for the voiceless” to talking about how fighting for injustice cuts across oppression of many types, Phoenix was on a roll but traversed into contested territory talking about egocentric worldview and animal rights. The Joker talking about how cruel it is to milk cows for human use? Trust the Oscars to give us some gems.

Though the Oscars sprang up no surprises in the acting department with comeback actor Renee Zellweger winning it for Judy as expected, the last award of the night was a decision that will be spoken about for quite some time. With 1917 getting one snub after another, and Sam Mendes not winning the Best Director, it was heavily expected that the war film, which gave Roger Deakins his second Oscar, would win Best Picture, at least. Incredibly, this Oscars will forever be remembered for a motley group of people from South Korea sweeping in to take over the Academy Awards right from under the noses of Hollywood elite.  

It appears, after all, that the Oscars agree with director Bong Joon-Ho who famously urged the world to look past the '1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles'.

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