If the 2020 Oscars telecast proved anything, it’s this: a year is a long time in cinema. Little over eleven months ago, this author was bemoaning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as a retrograde organisation that is disconnected from the modern world. Now he finds himself not dissing the Academy, but applauding it – and with good reason.
The telecast of the 92nd Academy Awards began with an energetic, eccentric performance from Janelle Monae which the Dolby Theatre didn’t quite know what to make of; following that, the audience got a taste of ceremonies past by having veteran hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock provide a jovial introduction to the evening. Although their routine was somewhat amusing, Martin and Rock’s segment served as a reminder of why last year’s Awards were such a success: they didn’t have a host (or hosts) to slow things down.
Yes, for the second year in a row, the producers opted not to have a presenter for their telecast – a choice made easier by the positive reception to last year’s event. In place of a single personality to bookend categories or guests, it was left to a melange of stars to briefly introduce themselves prior to announcing who would appear on the stage immediately after. (Poor Beanie Feldstein, Kelly Marie Tran, George Mackay et al looked rather out-of-place as they had to perform their fleeting roles in the telecast.)
There were other issues to be had with the handling of events. The visual feed of the telecast cut to black during the Best Actress presentation here in Australia, forcing the local network to switch to an advertising break; camerawork and editing was sloppy at best, with the producers making strange cutaways to those attending and lingering too long on bad shots; and two recipients of Bombshell’s Makeup and Hairstyling award failed to make their acceptance speeches after being cut short by the orchestra, much to the disdain of stars Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie.
All of these mistakes contributed to a feeling of unease, which was only exacerbated by the list of nominees. Prior to the ceremony, many commentators (including yours truly) criticised the lack of diversity in the major categories, with some reviving the #OscarsSoWhite tag on social media and others fearing a repeat of the controversy surrounding last year’s Best Picture winner. Blessedly, such concerns subsided after the winners were revealed, some of which were genuinely surprising.
One such surprise was Taika Waititi, who collected the Best Adapted Screenplay award for Jojo Rabbit. In doing so, the Kiwi film-maker became the first person of Maori descent, male of female, to win in a competitive category. Waititi himself appeared to be surprised by the feat, seemingly struggling for words as he offered his acceptance speech. (It would not be the last time Taika graced the stage either, for he returned later to acknowledge America’s native peoples as the original inhabitants of the land on which the Dolby Theatre stands.)
History was also made in the Best Original Score category, with Icelandic musician and composer Hildur Gudnadottir becoming the first female victor in that same category. Having received her statuette from Brie Larson, Gal Gadot and a trailblazing legend of the screen in Sigourney Weaver, Ms Gudnadottir gave an emotional, yet composed speech as she both recognised the importance of the moment and her fellow nominees.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the number of accolades gifted to Bong Joon-ho’s much-praised film Parasite, including the Major Prize. The significance of its four Oscars cannot be understated – it is the first South Korean nominee to win an Academy Award in any category, and the first ever foreign picture to take home American cinema’s top honour. Clearly, the Academy has taken heed of the criticism levelled at it this past year and believed the time was right to be more progressive.
Yet the recognition of Parasite is no mere lip service. As Bong strode toward the stage to collect each of his four Oscars, a clearly jubilant audience of Academy members gave him a rapturous, thundering applause, the kind usually reserved for industry veterans. The feeling was very much mutual as Bong, through a Korean translator, made his gratitude known and praised fellow nominees Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino for their inspiration and support.
And the Dolby Theatre wasn’t done there! With Parasite’s female producer Kwak Sin-ae having ecstatically accepted her Oscar for Best Picture, it looked as though Jane Fonda would close the evening and let the credits role; but as it happened, Korean personality Miky Lee had been cut-off (again) shortly after approaching the microphone, and it was left to those in attendance to encourage the producers to turn the mic back on, which they duly did, resulting in a beautiful speech.
It was with these moments that faith was restored in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. For an organisation that had played it safe with Green Book the previous ceremony, here was a night which dared to be bold, a night which promoted diversity, a night which acknowledged the films that were truly deserving, a night which cinephiles everywhere could be proud of. There were many reasons to love this year’s Oscars, but for this author, the utmost highlight of the telecast belongs to Bong Joon-ho with this rather antipodean statement, made in English:
“I’m bloody ready to drink tonight!”
Finally, as far as my predictions are concerned, I only guessed twelve out of the 26 winners correctly. My correct predictions are listed below in bold, while my wrong guesses have been placed in brackets.
Best Picture: Parasite
Best Director: Bong Joon-ho
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix
Best Actress: Renee Zellweger
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern
Best Original Screenplay: Parasite
(Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jojo Rabbit
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4
Best International Feature: Parasite
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins for 1917
Best Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Sound Mixing: 1917
Best Original Score: Hildur Gudnadottir
Best Original Song: “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from Rocketman
(Into the Unknown)
Best Production Design: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Visual Effects: 1917
Best Make-up and Hair-styling: Bombshell
Best Costume Design: Little Women
Best Feature-Length Documentary: American Factory
Best Documentary Short: Learning to Skate in a Warzone
Best Animated Short: Hair Love