Well well well well well.
Lookie what the Oscars did.
You could feel something brewing early on in last night's Academy Awards telecast, when the charming odd couple of Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves – she typically eccentric, he appearing to have enormous fun with her eccentricity – announced that Bong Joon Ho's Parasite had won Best Original Screenplay. As Bong and co-writer Han Jin Wong headed toward the podium amidst a roaring ovation, Keaton whooped with delight and scattered members of the audience stood, and for a moment it felt almost possible: Could Parasite actually win Best Picture, too?
The odds, of course, were against it happening. Way against. Sam Mendes' World War I epic 1917, after all, seemed to have the momentum: Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, Best Picture at the British Academy of Film & Television Awards, the Producers Guild Award, the Directors Guild Award, $130 million in domestic box office ($287 worldwide) after only a month in wide release. Bong's South Korean comedy-thriller-drama-horror-flick-et-cetera, meanwhile, was a huge critical smash and an undeniable box-office success, especially for a subtitled specialty-film release ($35.5 million domestic, $167 million international to date). But beyond losing most of those awards that 1917 captured instead, no movie not in the English language had ever won the Academy's top prize. Ever. Ninety-one years running.
So when, 18 awards into the evening, Penélope Cruz revealed that Parasite won the newly named Best International Feature Oscar, with Bong this time receiving a standing ovation from everyone within sight, it felt like the logical end to the film's awards-circuit journey. Sure, it was obvious that both Bong and his movie were massively popular with the Dolby Theatre crowd; even Cruz seemed genuinely pleased by this particular victory, and one of the International Feature nominees that Parasite beat out, Pain & Glory, was directed by her longtime friend Pedro Almodóvar and featured Cruz herself in the cast. But after Bong left the stage for the second time last night, the only other categories that his film was nominated in were Best Directing and Best Picture, and certainly 1917 had both those prizes all sewn up. Right?
Turns out, not so much. After Spike Lee, with a satisfied grin, belted “Bong Joon Ho!” as the winner of the Directing Oscar, the room (and, at my viewing party, my room) erupted in cheers, with the Dolby Theatre attendees leaping to their feet and applauding a clearly shocked Bong for nearly a full minute. His third speech of the night, again delivered with the aid of his interpreter Sharon Choi, was a classic: gracious, humble, with sincere shout-outs to his fellow nominees and a fabulous closing line (“I will drink until the next morning!”) spoken in English. Bong even managed to sneak a second standing O in there, with his recognition of Martin Scorsese's influence earning the legendary American director, who was visibly choked up by the gesture, his own roaring ovation. Certainly, you had to think, Best Picture was in Parasite's grasp now … until you remembered that last year, Roma's Alfonso Cuarón also won Best Directing and Foreign-Language Film and a third Oscar for a subtitled movie that didn't go on to win the evening's biggest prize. Even though fellow three-time winner 1917 had lost the directing and writing races to Parasite, surely the Academy's voters – mostly the same voters who gave last year's top honor to Green Book – weren't going to buck 91 years of English-language-films-only tradition. Um-m-m ... were they?!
They were. Finishing her recitation of nominees and opening the envelope, Jane Fonda, looking almost impossibly beautiful at 82, took the most perfect of historic-import pauses before revealing that Parasite had indeed won Best Picture. And, as the saying goes, the crowd went wild. Really wild. As Bong (for the fourth time!) ascended the stage, this time alongside the film's many producers and cast members, they were greeted by a thunderous standing ovation that lasted a full 90 seconds and felt like it could go on forever. You kind of wanted it to. Scorsese appeared thrilled. Quentin Tarantino, a vocal Bong supporter years before it was fashionable, appeared thrilled. A clearly moved Kathy Bates clapped and said, “Oh my God!” Like Bong's and Han's, producer Kwak Sin Ae's acceptance speech – also delivered with the aid of evening MVP Sharon Choi – was exceedingly gracious and infectiously cheerful, and when she and Choi completed their thank-yous, the lights on stage dimmed, and a spotlight rose on Fonda for the night's official wrap-up. The Dolby's guests, however, weren't done with the movie and its participants quite yet.
As the camera scooted away from the happy winners, it became evident that another member of Team Parasite was planning to speak but was apparently going to be denied the opportunity; the orchestra didn't start playing, but that was definitely the vibe. Consequently, a collective murmur in the crowd began to turn into a legitimate rumble. (Oh God, I mistakenly thought, don't tell me Parasite didn't actually win! Not again!!!) And after a few more seconds of vocal distress, you could see, through a wide shot, members of the front row – among them Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks – repeatedly lifting their arms and delivering a chanted plea to the lights: “Up! Up! Up! Up!” The rest of the crowd quickly joined in the chorus, and telecast director Glenn Weiss, who surely knew a priceless live-TV moment when he saw it, did indeed bring up the lights to another long ovation.
I'm not sure that executive producer Miky Lee's subsequent words were terribly necessary. Praising “his crazy hair, the way he talks, the way he walks,” she basically just hit on Bong in front of tens of millions of viewers. But I wouldn't have missed this silly, overjoyed addendum for the world – and, it appeared, neither would the ravenous Parasite fans in the Dolby who closed the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on one of the happiest end notes in the show's very long history.
So there you have it: Parasite became the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture. It became the first English-subtitled film to win the most Oscars – four – of all of the year's nominees. After being the first Korean feature to be nominated for the International/Foreign-Language Feature prize, it became the first to win, and also the first subtitled movie to receive Best Screenplay since Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her in 2003. It's the second recipient of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or grand prize to also win Best Picture, the first and only other one being 1955's Marty. And perhaps most importantly, and with widespread agreement on this, it earned all that recognition, joining Moonlight, The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfathers I and II, and a handful of other titles among the Academy's most inspiring Best Picture choices of all time. I was already elated by the first award of the evening, with Brad Pitt winning his long-overdue first acting Oscar for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. By the last award of the night, I was ecstatic … even if Parasite's victory does make it five years in a row that I've guessed Best Picture incorrectly. (You won't hear me crying, though: I still managed to correctly predict 18 of the 24 categories, and that's with missing three of Parasite's four wins, mostly out of fear of jinxing it.)
Given the overriding ebullience of the Parasite wave – man, but you could feel that love for Bong and his film straight through the TV screen – everything else that happened last night feels almost superfluous. As usual, though, the Oscars was a grab bag of wonderful, puzzling, and ill-considered moments, with the wonderful, in a pleasing change, accounting for a majority of the evening.
It wasn't a blow-out, though. While it was nice to see them, I don't know why Beanie Feldstein and George Mackay, among others, were introduced just so they, in turn, could introduce presenters such as Mindy Kaling and Olivia Colman; at one point, if I followed the progression correctly, Anthony Ramos' only duty was to introduce Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose only duty was to introduce Eminem. (This is the closest the Oscars will ever get to The Human Centipede.) I'll never bitch about watching Janelle Monáe in performance, but that opening number of hers was deeply weird – did that song really feature dancing World War I soldiers and conclude with Monáe donning Florence Pugh's floral-arrangement gown from Midsommar? With the show lasting just over three-and-a-half hours – just slightly longer than The Irishman! – several time-killing bits could have been dropped with no loss, among them the bizarre montage of '80s and '90s movies that preceded Eminem's equally unnecessary (but mightily delivered) performance of his 2003 Oscar winner “Lose Yourself”; the update on construction progress for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures; and the mid-show recap rap by Utkarsh Ambudkar, whom I'd feel more ashamed for not recognizing had the 20-somethings at my party not recognized him, either. (My favorite quote from one of my millennial guests: “Tony Hawk is there!”) Also, what was the deal with clips from the nominated movies, especially in the craft and tech categories, relegated to a relatively small rectangle in the center of the screen while the rest of the available space was just an artsy black-and-gray void? Didn't our TVs get bigger for a reason?!
Yet despite these hiccups and random ghastly bits such as Kelly Marie Tran's introduction of Keanu Reeves as “a man whose Matrix we'd all like to reload” (insert horrified shudder here), most of this year's ceremony – the second host-less one in as many years – was a complete delight. Though their material was hit-or-miss, Steve Martin and Chris Rock made up for the lack of a unifying comedic presence with the opener's largely funny shared monologue (duo-logue?), while Maya Rudoph's and Kristen Wiig's hysterical presentations of the Production and Costume Design awards made a solid argument for the pair hosting next year, and maybe every year after. (If that can't happen, perhaps they can do a bi-annual swap with the night's second-funniest pairing: Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.)
Terrific gags popped up all throughout the telecast: James Corden and Rebel Wilson, in kitty attire, swatting at their roles in Cats and at the standing mic in front of them; Olivia Colman, referencing her 2019 Best Actress win, saying “Last year was the best night of my husband's life”; Josh Gad explaining that Idina Menzel's name "is pronounced exactly as it is spelled.” (Apologies, Travolta, but that joke might never grow old.) Genuinely touching moments also weren't in short supply: The Peanut Butter Falcon's Zack Gottsagen, standing alongside his beaming co-star Shia LaBeouf, becoming the first person with Down's syndrome ever to present at the Oscars; Chrissy Metz's and Cynthia Erivo's glorious renditions of songs from movies they starred in – and, in Erivo's case, a movie she was doubly nominated for; the traditionally moving “In Memoriam” segment, which, naturally, still managed to bypass several name talents, including a performer from one of this year's Best Picture nominees. (Sorry, Luke Perry.) Meanwhile, the uniting of Brie Larson, Gal Gadot, and the goddess that is Sigourney Weaver (there's no way she's 70…) for the Original Score and Song presentations hopefully sent a few clever screenwriters scrambling toward their laptops to come up with a proper feature-film vehicle for the trio.
Plus, as always, there were the winners, and with the possible exception of Toy Story 4 receiving the Animated Feature trophy over four far more interesting competitors, I'd be hard-pressed to gripe about any of them. (And the Pixar sequel at least has Forky.) Beyond Bong's and company's, my favorite speech of the night was probably Hildur Guðnadóttir's spectacularly charming thank-you for her winning Joker score – a victory that now puts her three-fourths of the way to an EGOT. (Just like Cynthia Erivo and Lin-Manuel Miranda!) The person I thought would give my favorite speech, Brad Pitt, likely would have had the competition not been so intense; the obviously emotional Pitt was traditionally funny, self-deprecating, pointedly political, and generous before ending with a beautiful “'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' – ain't that the truth.”
But last night was positively lousy with lovely words of thanks, and a few other words besides. Joker's Joaquin Phoenix, in his meandering yet clearly heartfelt Best Actor acknowledgment, addressed gender rights, ethnic rights, queer rights, the plundering of our natural resources, veganism, commonality, forgiveness, love, and ended with a song lyric written by his late brother River. Judy's Best Actress Renée Zellweger also meandered, but appeared less distracted (and, vocally, less broadly Texan) than she has seemed in awards shows of late, closing her speech with sweet, tremulous recognition of Judy Garland – a performer who, unlike two-time victor Zellweger, never won a performance Oscar of her own. Jojo Rabbit's Taika Waititi, with his Adapted Screenplay win, was expectedly deferential and genial; 1917 cinematographer Roger Deakins was stately and assured; Rocketman song composers Elton John and Bernie Taupin, as they always are, were freakin' adorable together.
And in addition to her effusive praise for her Marriage Story cast and crew and her friends including Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (who are this close to Elton-and-Bernie-level adorableness), Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern gave deeply affecting recognition to her screen-legend parents Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd – a smiling, crying Ladd was there to appreciate it – and closed by saying, “Thank you all for this gift – this is the best birthday present ever.” That's right: As of today, February 10, Dern is both an Oscar winner and a new 53-year-old. Now I feel extra-crummy for not sending a card.
2020 Academy Award winners
Best Picture: Parasite
Best Directing: Parasite, Bong Joon Ho
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, Judy
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Best Original Screenplay: Parasite, Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Wong
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4
Best International Feature: Parasite, South Korea
Best Documentary Feature: American Factory
Best Cinematography: 1917
Best Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Production Design: Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Best Costume Design: Little Women
Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Sound Mixing: 1917
Best Original Score: Joker
Best Original Song: Rocketman, “(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again”
Best Visual Effects: 1917
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Bombshell
Best Documentary Short: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You'e a Girl)
Best Live-Action Short: The Neighbors' Window
Best Animated Short: Hair Love