They did it! They actually did it!
Ah! Did that really happen? It's been over 24 hours since Parasite stunned the world, and I'm still in utter disbelief. Easily the biggest upset since Moonlight edged out La La Land in 2017, one year removed from the worst Best Picture winner of this century beating out another foreign film powerhouse in Roma, (not mentioning the former's name) and the (seemingly) unfathomable happened: Parasite took down 1917. The first Korean film to ever be nominated for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars just won Best Picture, becoming the first film not in the English language to EVER win Hollywood's most prestigious award in the process. 92 years of precedent were shattered in an instant, and, at least for this year, the Academy looked at the winds of change and let it carry them to the best possible outcome any reasonable individual could've asked for. For at least this one shining moment, the cynicism in me is gone, replaced by jubilation and a delirious sense of pride and joy. This is why I am hopelessly in love with film, and with the Academy Awards. (Don't worry: that cynicism will return by the end of this post.)
Let's start by talking about the highest of highlights. Parasite, the 7th film from South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, had been shaking the industry for months, ever since it unanimously won Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Shameless flex: I was actually at Cannes for this moment, after waiting several hours outside the Palais to get a prime seat to experience one of the first screenings of this provocative crowd-pleaser. Since then, the film has been raking in award after award, breaking countless boundaries along the way, but never did I think it actually stood a chance against the old guard of the Academy and their (unofficial) representative, 1917. After all, I will once again remind you that last year the Academy faced a similar decision, with a vastly inferior film that shall-not-be-named, no less, and embarrassingly whiffed on the opportunity. I fully expected a win for 1917, and had long since accepted this outcome. Even after the biggest upset of the night, Bong Joon Ho winning Best Director over Sam Mendes, I was ready (and waiting) to hear 1917's name called for Best Picture. But, the wave of momentum for Parasite at that point was very real after upsets in both Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. (The later of which truly is a rarity - Sam Mendes won at the Director's Guild for 1917, and the last time the DGA and Best Director didn't line up when the DGA winner was on the Oscar ballot was in 2002.) And then, it happened. In the biggest shock of the night, and one of the biggest shocks in Oscar memory, for that matter, Parasite destroyed the status quo and became the first film not in the English language to ever win Best Picture. And made up for an otherwise relatively mediocre awards show in the process.
Before I talk about the rest of the show, I have to say that I simply adore Song Kang-ho in this video. The accomplished actor, and long-time collaborator with Bong Joon Ho is in the background towards the end of that acceptance speech, mostly during Miky Lee's speech, (which is wonderful) and you can tell he is truly enjoying the scene. He can barely hold back his emotions, but he's still in that moment, savoring every millisecond of it. Song Kang-ho is all of us who keep coming back to the Academy Awards, hoping they give Best Picture to deserving films like Parasite, and I love it. His genuinely overwhelmed emotional state of being when he holds that Best Picture Oscar for the first time (at 4:40 in the video) is exactly why we do this.
Ok, time for the cynic in me to slowly creep back in. As for the rest of the Oscars, it felt like something off an off year of questionable decisions and mediocre acceptance speeches. There was a bizarre "Impact of Music" montage, which felt rushed and unimportant for a 3.5 hour awards show, and it led into a performance of "Lose Yourself" by Eminem, who famously didn't show up to perform the song that won an Oscar 17 years ago. So, why is he here now? What relevancy does this performance have on anything? Who knows / cares, but it was offset by a wonderful montage to introduce each contender in Best Original Score, prominently featuring the Oscars' first female conductor, Eimear Noone, in the process. (Even though the speech prior from Brie Larson / Gal Gadot / Signourney Weaver felt a little too much like pandering to me.) This great montage was immediately followed by one of the better feel-good stories of the night, as Hildur Guðnadóttir completed her unprecedented rise to A-list status by winning Best Original Score, becoming only the fourth woman to win the category in the process. (And first since 1997.) Check out her speech below, easily the most wonderful / authentic moment of the night from anyone not involved with Parasite.
That said, Joker's other Oscar win, Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor, was easily the worst speech of the night, (biases towards the frustrating implications of that win aside, which I have previously mentioned here) as Joaquin stumbled through a borderline incomprehensible acceptance speech that highlighted the overarching idea of standing for something, (anything) before talking about animal rights, before thanking the Academy for giving people like him a second chance? (Which is a bit of a head-scratcher, coming from a straight white male who looked like a deer in the headlights the entire time he was up there.) Whatever. Joaquin got his Oscar, let's just move on.
Overall, the winner's list was pretty solid. I was sad when Little Women failed to win Best Adapted Screenplay, (it did win Costume Design, though!) but at least it lost to Taika Waititi, who joined a very small list of indigenous people to win at the Oscars in the process. (the first of his native Māori decent) Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature, which.... eh, but hey! Roger Deakins won his second Oscar for Cinematography! And it's all 1917 received, outside of a perplexing Oscar for Best Visual Effects, so yay! (How do you not give that to the literal thousands of people who worked on Avengers: Endgame?) But, for the most part, this ceremony was.... forgettable. Outside of the shock at Best Picture / Best Director (the later of which is, truly, one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. I can't overstate this enough) and the amazing speech that followed from director Bong Joon Ho, all the major categories were locked up, and none of the four stars had noteworthy speeches to follow up their expected wins. Outside of Guðnadóttir, there wasn't a triumphant moment from someone like Hannah Beachler or Ruth E. Carter that would lead to an inspirational moment, so the Academy is very fortunate they allowed Parasite to save the day.
I keep falling back to Best Picture, because it really baffles me that the Academy could rubber band as much as it did from last year to this year. In my opinion, the gap in quality between Parasite and 1917 was significantly smaller than the gap in quality between Roma and Green Book, so why did virtually the same Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give Best Picture to freaking Green Book? (Yes, finally mentioning its name.) My hypothesis is the preferential ballot and the Netflix effect. There is serious resentment from many in the Academy towards Netflix, (on display again this year, as the studio walked away from its 24 Oscar nominations with a mere 2 trophies, highlighted by their rather stunning upset in Best Animated Feature, and The Irishman being the only film nominated for Best Picture to walk away from the night empty-handed) which, in my opinion, led many to put Roma dead last on their preferential Oscar ballot last year. However, this year, many of those same crusty old voters likely put Parasite somewhere in their top 3, which enabled it to be number one if they had films like Once Upon a Time and Ford v Ferrari above it. I may be completely off-base with that theory, but it's just so bizarre to me to see this kind of extreme whiplash otherwise. How did Roma not win Best Picture??? I'm still not over this, clearly!
That said, I am very glad Parasite happened, and it saved an otherwise (mostly) forgettable night. Parasite's unprecedented win is hopefully the sign that the east winds of change are truly sweeping through Hollywood, and the young guard really is coming to dethrone the old white men that have comfortably sat in their positions of power for decades. But, who knows. Steven Speilberg is remaking West Side Story, which is certainly a problematic remake with issues that I expect most old white men to overlook, so my hopes still aren't that high.
My Number: Parasite/Parasite
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