For Rob & Carrie’s take on the ceremony, be sure to check out the latest podcast!
(If you’re curious how the three of us fared in our predictions: Tim had 18/24, Rob came in with 15/24, and Carrie’s got 12/24)
“Some thoughts”, it says up there, but really it’s just the one: HOOOOO-LEEEEE SHIT.
Nobody needs me to point out that Parasite winning Best Picture and three other Oscars is completely unprecedented for a host of reasons, the previously ironclad rejection of films made exclusively in a language other than English being foremost among them. But it’s still an astonishing thing, made all the more astonishing given that it’s also one of the rare cases of a truly capital-G Great movie receiving what presents itself as being cinema’s highest honor (of course, Parasite also won cinema’s actual highest honor, the Palme d’Or, making it the first movie to take both prizes since Marty in 1955). If I were the one doing the calculating, I’d call this the best Best Picture winner since No Country for Old Men in 2007, the two of them standing alone as the only absolute masterpieces to win Best Picture in the last quarter of a century.
Parasite winning four times also meant that Bong Joon-ho got to go onstage four times last night (tying a record set by Walt Disney in 1953), which went a long way towards making Sunday night’s ceremony more enjoyable to watch than most Oscar telecasts have been in the last decade. Which is an extremely low bar to clear, so I very much do not want to make it sound like I’m claiming this to have been a great ceremony in some absolute sense. It still had its share of wretched comedy, forcing Steve Martin and Chris Rock into some peculiar, meta “hosts in a non-hosted ceremony” bit that was going horribly, and then somehow got even worse once they started dragging in Jeff Bezos jokes. Even worse, I’d say, was watching Maya Rudolph and Kristin Wiig doing the annual “awards for crew heads are sooooo boring, let’s just make fun of them like only a psychotic person could care about the visual aspects of a visual medium” routine, forcing their way through a nightmarish, endless joke about comic actors playing drama in the guise of presenting Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. It was offset only somewhat by Maya Rudolph being one of my two picks for the evening’s best-dressed.
Speaking of which: what was up with the doubling-up on categories? Best Animated Feature & Short, and Best Documentary Feature & Short, as well as the two sound and two writing categories, have been lumped together for ages now, but pretty much everything other than the acting categories seemed to be paired with something else. If this has happened before, I’d forgotten about it. Obviously, it’s part and parcel of the Academy’s ongoing attempts to devalue all of the categories that reflect the hard work of filmmaking rather than just the marketable celebrity of it, but it rankles. And it was echoed in the bizarre choice to pair up unrelated names during the “In Memoriam” segment, which was just flat-out thoughtless.
But let’s shift back to the good parts, of which there were quite a few. I’ve mentioned Rudolph was one of my two picks for best-dressed: my other was Jane Fonda, whose meaningful pause before announcing Parasite for Best Picture was the most gratifying detail of a gratifying night of worthy people getting rewarded for their worthiness.
It was a fantastic year for reaction shots: the best were obviously of Martin Scorsese, who seemed very Solomonic throughout, even when he was openly baffled by why Eminem was singing “Lose Yourself” onstage in the year of our Lord 2020 (a bafflement I very much share), but I also loved how much Rita Wilson seemed to enjoy every single thing that ever happened across the show’s 3 hours and 20 minutes. And while most of her reaction shots were side-effects of her sitting directly next to Tom Hanks, she still had every moment of my attention. And in third place only because she got so few reaction moments, I am now officially a Billie Eilish fanboy; her undisguised “what is this corny dad bullshit” dismay was endlessly delightful, and I await seeing how she copes with her nomination at next year’s ceremony for her upcoming James Bond theme song with great anticipation.
The speeches were merely okay – Joaquin Phoenix and Renée Zellweger both gave unendurable, meandering “I am panicking in real time and I am too famous for anybody to take mercy on me and stop it” monologues, but mostly these were nice and tidy. No real tearjerking, but also nothing embarrassing. But then, to get back to the start: it is to the ceremony’s unimaginable credit that one-sixth of the its speeches were given by Bong Joon-ho, who is far more adorable than I ever realised, with his chubby face and boyish disaster of a haircut. Every time he showed up, he somehow seemed more astonished and overawed, and his translator Sharon Choi (an aspiring filmmaker in her own right, who now wants to make a feature about awards season, and God grant that she’s able to do so) did miraculous work in putting across his sentiments with a shocked joy that perfectly matched his dazzled facial expressions. It was endlessly pleasant to see a great filmmaker talk about the greatness of cinema from a place of selfless humility, and I don’t know, maybe it would be worth doing this kind of thing again, year after year. Besides which, it was a reminder that I didn’t need that Bong’s films all carry that same bountiful happiness about what movies can do, and it made me want to re-watch all of his stuff as soon as possible. Which is the best thing for a night like this to be about.