wed 19/02/2020

Oscars 2020: a 'Parasite' love-in caps a night of firsts | reviews, news & interviews

Oscars 2020: a 'Parasite' love-in caps a night of firsts

Oscars 2020: a 'Parasite' love-in caps a night of firsts

South Korean triumph dominates a generously-spirited Oscar night

Winning big: Bong Joon Ho, director of the history-making 'Parasite'

The 92nd Academy Awards saved its surprises for a final stretch that saw Parasite make history as the first foreign language film ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture, pipping to the post the presumptive favourite, the World War One drama 1917 (pictured below). The top prize marked the fourth Oscar of the night for the South Korean success story, following a no less startling director trophy for Bong Joon Ho over 1917’s heavily favoured Sam Mendes, as well as prizes for best original screenplay and best international film.

“I will drink until next morning,” Bong remarked to an adoring crowd after winning the director accolade, having already told those in attendance at the Dolby Theatre, “I’m ready to drink tonight,” after one of the film’s previous awards. Heaven knows how far into the week ahead the Best Picture prize will extend his celebratory refreshments, but the director’s generous shout-outs to his fellow nominees should consolidate his popularity no end, Martin Scorsese getting his own standing ovation mid-way through Bong’s speech.

But it was a measure of the real delight that Hollywood has taken in this wildly entertaining thriller-cum-satire that the crowd demanded that the lights not be lowered on the several speakers who took to the podium following Parasite’s Best Picture win. The Oscars may this year have come under renewed fire for being insufficiently inclusive, but Bong and his entourage were taken fully to the Academy’s heart and proved that English in fact doesn’t have to be the language of choice.

Elsewhere, from an opener that found Janelle Monáe revisiting her song “Come Alive”, this time with Oscar-related lyrics, the ceremony seemed determined to do penance for leaving women and minorities out of the mix. “Stand Up”, the rousing  song from the film biopic Harriet, got far and away the biggest ovation of any of the five nominated tunes, and was belted to the rafters and beyond by double nominee Cynthia Erivo, who co-wrote the song and also played Harriet Tubman onscreen – the English actress-singer generating headlines as this year’s only black acting nominee.

And Idina Menzel’s performance of “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2 saw the Tony-winning actress-singer joined onstage by nine Elsas from all over the world who have voiced the part overseas – a reminder of the Academy’s ability to extend its reach when it wants to. (On that front, it’s worth noting that notably few Americans have won the Best Director prize in the last dozen years.) A warm, prolonged ovation went to Hildur Guðnadóttir upon receiving the prize for her original score for Joker. The Icelandic composer took the opportunity to urge “the girls, the women, the mothers, the daughters who hear the music bubbling within [to] please speak up” – lest, her speech left unsaid, it be another 23 years before a woman wins this category.

This spirit of wanting to set things right may explain a generosity of spirit that was unusually evident across a host-free evening – the second in a row – that contained fewer political jibes than one might have expected. Donald Trump wasn’t mentioned once by name, though supporting actor recipient Brad Pitt, winning as expected for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, did manage a few well-aimed zingers both at the Iowa caucuses and the President’s impeachment proceedings. His time at the Oscar podium, he quipped, was “45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton.”

Elsewhere, the victorious actors – none of the four winners a surprise – folded emotion into exultation. Marriage Story’s Laura Dern (pictured above), the reigning victor across the season in the Supporting Actress category as she was once again here, paid tearful tribute to her parents, the Oscar-nominated actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, the second of whom was her date for the evening. Joaquin Phoenix finished a customarily polemical Best Actor speech for Joker by citing a song lyric written by his late brother, River, choking up as he did so. The evening’s lengthiest speech saw Phoenix make a renewed bid to “use [his] voice for the voiceless”, enumerating such issues as animal rights, racism and gender equality before urging listeners to “use love and compassion as our guiding principles”. And also – surely an Oscar first here – to think about where the milk comes from that we pour on our cereal.

Not to be outdone, Renée Zellweger’s sweetly maundering remarks upon receiving the Best Actress prize for Judy (pictured below) paid tribute to the power of heroes to unite us, Judy Garland’s name then folded into an eclectic list of inspirational figures ranging from Neil Armstrong to, yes, Harriet Tubman. Missing from Zellweger’s roll call was Freddie Mercury, even though the prize was presented to her by Rami Malek, who won last year’s Best Actor Oscar for playing the Queen frontman. Well, you can’t name everyone.

Up until the Parasite double-whammy, the evening trundled along in line with expectations. There were relatively few surprises in the technical categories, and it was immensely satisfying to see the great Roger Deakins recognised for cinematography twice within three years, this time for his work on 1917, the Englishman informing the crowd that he’s “a pretty good cook”. Watch any available gourmands start angling for a dinner invite.

A second Oscar also found its way to Elton John, though the inspiration for Rocketman gave pride of place at the podium to longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, who in turn expressed his gratitude for “53 years of just hammering it out”. (One wanted to shout director Dexter Fletcher’s name when Sir Elton kept wondering aloud whose name it was that he was leaving out.) And though it seemed a shame that neither of the Syrian-themed documentaries For Sama or The Cave made it across the finish line, American Factory proved a popular choice here as it had the previous night at the Independent Spirit Awards, where it took the same prize.

The celebrated “Oscar cringe” moments that have defined so many Academy Awards over the years weren’t in evidence, even if one did wonder quite why Eminem was on hand singing a song (“Lose Yourself”) from a film (8 Mile) dating back 18 years. But between that surprise appearance, Billie Eilish singing a baleful “Yesterday” during the In Memoriam sequence and Utkarsh Ambudkar appearing mid-show to deliver a freestyle rap recapping events so far in case you’d fallen asleep in the loo, the intention seemed to be to cast as wide as possible a net. Whether this will lead next year to a comparatively multicultural list of winners, only time can tell. For now Parasite is sitting pretty, and Bong Joon Ho – his Cinderella story a case study all its own in inclusion – can presumably boast no shortage of eager Hollywood hosts.

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