I gotta say, I’ve covered the Academy Awards for a long time now. Year after year, I watch as they award their Oscars to winners both old and new. I see them give their statuettes sometimes to those that are most deserving, other times to nominees that couldn’t be less deserving. And with each passing ceremony, there isn’t one where the Academy doesn’t spring at least one surprise on its unsuspecting viewers.
Take this year’s awards, for example. Not only is this the first year where a comic-book film was nominated the most (Joker with 11 nominations), but this is also the second year where the Academy led its ceremony without a host. Last year it was to the ceremony’s benefit, as the awards carried out at a brisk pace while simultaneously being quick-witted and funny. This year, however, the awards seem airy and directionless, like they were scrambling to get through all the categories and find some loose way of connecting them together.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the presenters were very funny, like Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus when they confused the cinematographers and film editor’s jobs, and James Corden and Rebel Wilson, who came out in these awful-looking Cats costumes and stressed the importance of good visual effects. Other times presenters seemed random and pointless, like when Kelly Marie Tran and Anthony Ramos came out to present… another presenter. 1917 actor George Mackay illustrated the monotony of the presentation brilliantly, saying he was a “presenter to present another presenter who was going to present… another presenter.”
But the Hollywood elites who read from the envelopes this year were the least of the night’s surprises. In fact, the biggest surprises of all came from a film that I wasn’t even expecting to win the night’s top prizes:
Best Picture: The Academy’s top honor didn’t go to 1917, a beautifully-filmed war epic that captured the essence of its tragedy in one seemingly endless shot. It didn’t go to the witty and wild love letter to 60’s cinema Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. And it also didn’t go to a movie about the mental descent of one man that would grow to become Batman’s greatest nemesis in Joker. No, the Academy instead chose to give the night’s highest recognition to a film you probably haven’t even heard of: South Korea’s harrowing yet hilarious commentary on classism and economics, Parasite.
This is significant for a few reasons. One: Parasite is so out of the box and so unusual for the Academy that you wonder if their tastes are changing for the new generation. It’s strange that the Academy has gone a whole decade without recognizing at least one war film like 1917, or that it wouldn’t take up the chance to be self-absorbed in their own culture with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood like they were with The Artist or Birdman. But Parasite is just such an unusual choice for the Academy. Take away the fact that it’s a Korean film for one second: the fact they would even consider an exercise in minimalism and implication like this is so out of left field for Academy voters. If it wasn’t, then why wasn’t Get Out awarded Best Picture in 2018? Or The Revenant in 2016?
Two: Parasite is the first foreign-language film to have won Best Picture… ever. That is a stunning title for it to own, especially when you consider the fact that the Academy has overlooked nominees such as Roma, Amour, Babel, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, The Postman, and several other films dating all the way back to 1938. This also does not consider outstanding foreign-language films that weren’t even nominated for Best Picture, including A Separation, Pan’s Labirynth, The Sea Inside, Joyeaux Noel, Amelie, Ikiru, and several others.
Is Parasite undeserving of the Oscar? Absolutely not. It was cunning, captivating, poignant, thoughtful, and like all great movies, had something powerful to say about our culture. Should it have been the first foreign-language film to have earned the Best Picture honor? Probably not. It makes you wonder where the Academy has been in all years previous to Parasite, as well as what they’re going to do moving forward now that the gates are open for all foreign-language films at the Oscars?
Speaking of Parasite…
Best Director: The bigger surprise isn’t even the fact that Parasite won Best Picture, which it might have been able to nab anyway since it also won Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay (more on that later). The biggest surprise is that director Bong Joon-Ho won Best Director, beating out DGA winner Sam Mendes for 1917.
Again, Bong Joon-Ho is not undeserving of this honor in the least. The way he mirrored the two worlds of the rich and the poor was stunning and captivating and showed the true genius of a brilliant director at work. But what’s so surprising is that his win supersedes Sam Mendes’ win at the DGA Awards, which have been used to predict Best Director Oscar winners for decades now. Are the DGAs slowly moving towards irrelevance in regards to the Academy? Only a few more ceremonies will confirm that for sure.
Either way, congratulations to Bong Joon-Ho and his well-deserved win. I’ll admit 1917 was my favorite to win both Best Picture and Best Director, but I can’t fault Parasite by any means. Joon-Ho made a brilliant film, and nobody can take that honor away from him.
Best Actor: The Academy was right to award Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar in his 30-year career for playing a meek clown gone mad in Todd Phillips’ Joker. He completely earned the Oscar for giving one of the most haunting and darkly comedic performances of the decade. Congratulations to Joaquin for his well-deserved win, although his acceptance speech where he complained about the evils of milking cows was a little strange.
Best Actress: Judy Garland may have never won an Oscar, but Renee Zellweger did for portraying the actress in her dramatic biopic Judy. It still blows my mind that this home-grown Texan could portray the late actress’s final years in show business and pull it off with the conviction and appeal that made Garland a household name in the first place. Congrats to Renee for winning her second Oscar. Here’s to never forgetting an unforgettable performance.
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt rightfully won his first acting Oscar for playing a quietly disturbing stunt double in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Having recently revisited Pitt’s psychotic portrayal of a man’s splintered persona in David Fincher’s 1999 hit Fight Club, I was surprised to find out that he’s only been nominated for three acting Oscars prior to his first win, including 12 Monkeys, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Moneyball. Pitt’s nominations don’t do justice to his commitment in the roles that he plays. Either way, congratulations to Pitt for his well-earned win. He taught me a lesson about never paying an uninvited visit to Cliff Booth at night.
Best Supporting Actress: As expected, Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for playing a sensitive yet savage divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. Having re-watched Dern and her co-star Scarlett Johannson in both Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, I’m still baffled as to how Dern could have the edge over Johannson, especially when you see her passioned and sensitive performances in both of the movies she’s nominated for. If you want to talk about talent that wasn’t even nominated, Jennifer Lopez gave a commanding performance as a stripper with attitude and swagger in Hustlers. Either of those women could have walked away with the Oscar and it would have made perfect sense. But Dern has a couple of scenes in her office and in the courtroom and suddenly she’s an Oscar frontrunner? Why? What did she do that was so special compared to her fellow nominees, or even her fellow co-stars?
Either way, congrats to Dern for winning Best Supporting Actress. I could think of five other movies she deserved to win the Oscar for more so than this one, but I guess the path doesn’t matter as much as the destination does.
Best Animated Feature: Like clockwork, Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature, despite the fact that How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Klaus were both better films. If the Academy keeps this up, they should save the viewers some time and simply rename this category to the Disney-Pixar award. At least then they’d be honest.
Best Documentary Feature: Okay, I got this one wrong, but to be fair this category was already a toss-up in the first place. I figured the Academy would go with a film as unique and creative as the one that followed one of Bekirlija’s last beekeepers in Honeyland. I should have known the Academy would have gone political and given the Oscar to the Obama’s first documentary produced under their new production company, American Factory. Earning an Academy Award is officially the newest thing that the former President can claim that the current President cannot.
Best International Feature: Of course since Parasite won Best Picture, Best International Feature was obviously going to be a shoo-in. I do find it odd that it technically has won two best film Oscars on one night, but either way, it isn’t undeserving. If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, you need to watch Parasite at your earliest convenience if you haven’t done so already.
Best Original Screenplay: Again, Parasite upsets in the original writing category after securing its win at the WGA’s. When I predicted Quentin Tarantino would win for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I did so only knowing that the Academy almost never awards writing Oscars to foreign-language films. In fact, the last time a foreign-language film even won the original writing Oscar was Spain’s Talk To Her in 2002, and after that eight other films were overlooked in this category before Parasite finally won last night. Again though, it deserves the win as Bong Joon-Ho’s writing is just as clever and captivating as his directing is for the film. I just hope Bong Joon-Ho doesn’t go too crazy with celebrating. I would like him to not die of alcohol poisoning and keep making more movies as wonderful as Parasite.
Best Adapted Screenplay: In another stunning upset, Taika Waititi wins the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Jojo Rabbit and shuts Greta Gerwig out for Little Women. If Academy voters are smart, they’ll hide out in their bunkers and wait for rage Twitter to blow over. Little Women fans are going to be upset about this one for a while.
Best Film Editing: Yet another category I got wrong. I thought Yang Jin-Mo was going to win for seamlessly assembling various perspectives into one cohesive and tragic narrative in Parasite, but I neglected how exciting and dizzying Ford v Ferrari was while simultaneously being coherent enough to follow all of the fast-paced racing action. Michael McCusker (Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma) is not undeserving by any means, and I’m happy he can finally call himself an Oscar-winner. At the very least, Ford v Ferrari’s best editing win makes more sense than Bohemian Rhapsody’s win did last year.
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins rightfully earned his second Oscar for his masterful one-shot technique in Sam Mendes’ emotionally stirring war epic 1917. If any other nominee won, rioting from the cinematographer’s branch would have been the only appropriate reaction.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell won best makeup, as expected. Thank you, next.
Best Costume Design: I thought Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s timely wardrobe would appeal to the Academy as it does to its colorful and charismatic characters. I figured since Jacquelin Durran already won once for Anna Karenina that the period piece play wouldn’t work as well on the Academy this time around. I should have just went with the period piece, because Little Women won as predictably as Anna Karenina did in 2012. Jenny Eagan was also not nominated for Knives Out, which means that in a way, I lost twice in this category.
Best Production Design: In a happy upside, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood won the Oscar for Best Production Design. Nancy Haigh deserves her win for accurately recreating 60’s signage and movie sets. That is, before Quentin Tarantino covered it all with blood and splattered brains.
Best Musical Score: As predicted, Hildur Guonadottir won for providing the haunting, eerie string themes for Joker’s descent into madness. I’m just frustrated Thomas Newman has to go through his 15th nomination for 1917 and still not win a blasted Oscar. But in either case, congratulations to Guonadottir for making a beautiful yet unsettling theme for the Joker’s mental and moral decay. Meanwhile, let’s hope the 16th time is a charm for Newman during a future ceremony.
Best Original Song: Elton John won his second Oscar for his uplifting and empowering theme “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” for Rocketman. Thankfully so, because I don’t know how fans might have reacted if Bohemian Rhapsody won four Oscars and Rocketman didn’t win at least one. Either way, congrats to him for his well-deserved win. He made everyone feel the love tonight.
Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari beat out the rest of the nominees for Best Sound Editing. I personally made the case for 1917, but Ford v Ferrari admittedly did have some exemplary sound editing in it. I’m not as frustrated by the loss like I was last year when Bohemian Rhapsody unbelievably won this award over A Quiet Place. I doubt any nominee winning this year could top my shock any more than that win did last year.
Best Sound Mixing: If that “Wayfaring Stranger” scene in 1917 didn’t convince you that it deserved to win for sound mixing, then nothing ever will. Thankfully, Academy voters saw that scene and was as moved as I was and rightfully awarded the film with the Oscar anyway.
Best Visual Effects: What did I tell you? What did I bloody tell you? The Academy can’t support outstanding visual effects to save its dang life if it means awarding it to a superhero movie. They did just that this year by giving the best visual effects Oscar to 1917 instead of the vastly more grand-scale Avengers: Endgame. Granted, I do not feel 1917 is a better film than Endgame is, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. After all, 1917 is a grounded war eulogy while Endgame is the epic conclusion to a superhero saga that was several years in the making. Still, recognize the better work when you see it. 1917 may be the more moving film, but you’re bonkers if you think that film compares visually to the sensation and spectacle of Avengers: Endgame. At this rate, Disney should just buy out the Academy and give themselves the visual effects Oscar every time they’re nominated just to get a fair chance in this category.
Disclaimer: I’m kidding, of course. I don’t want Disney to get even more power-hungry than it already is. But still, I hope you understand how hot-blooded I am about this snub, especially since this is hot off of the heels of Avengers: Infinity War losing to First Man in 2019.
And finally, the shorts. I don’t know what is going on with me, but I’ve been on a roll with these categories as of late. Last year, I unbelievably got all of them right as opposed to most ceremonies where I get most of them wrong. This year I’m continuing the good streak as The Neighbor’s Window, Hair Love, and Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl) all won Best Live Action, Best Animated and Best Documentary Short respectively. That helped boost me in predicting 16 out of 24 of the categories correctly this year. Not my best Oscar performance, but definitely not my worst.
Thank you all for tuning in yet again this year, fellow Oscar lovers. Now go and see Parasite. You obviously need to.
– David Dunn