The Academy Awards 2020: Some Commentary

the oscars 2002The Oscars have again surprised the world, and, this time, thankfully, not because they gave an award to the wrong film. Parasite, a South Korean movie, has officially become the first foreign-language film to win the most prestigious award – Best Picture, a fact that is especially remarkable given that it was also nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category and won there too. The Oscars have also been overly “white” this year, did not recognise some (more art-house) films and acting which are also deserving of praise and nominations (that acting in “The Lighthouse“!), and, for the year that is supposed to celebrate women in cinema-making and acting, did not acknowledge great acting and films made by women (for example, no women nominees in the category of Best Director). I will only very briefly comment on the 2020 wins in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in the Supporting Role and Best Cinematography. 

  • Best Picture – Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)Parasite Alternative Poster

Other nominees: Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig), 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes), Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach), Ford v Ferrari (dir. James Mangold), The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino), Joker (dir. Todd Phillips) and Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi). 

I am very happy about “Parasite”‘s win, because I consider it truly to be the best film of the year. This is a good step forward by the Academy to finally and properly acknowledging foreign-language productions that have much artistic merit. However, I also cannot help but think about all the previous years and all the brilliant foreign-language films that, oddly, were never nominated in the Best Picture category. For example, why an Argentinian and Spanish-language film “The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) was not nominated in the main category, and why Italian “Life is Beautiful” (1997) was,….but lost to….”Shakespeare in Love” (1997)?

The South Korean cinema did not just fall from the sky suddenly and surprised everyone with its brilliance. For example, South Korean director Park Chan-wook has been making great films for more than two decades now, and his absolutely brilliant film “The Handmaiden” (2016) never even featured at the Oscars (because South Korea did not put it forward?). “The Handmaiden” is as intelligent, engrossing and well-crafted as “Parasite” – see it for yourself (they could even have cut out certain nudity in “The Handmaiden” for the Academy, and it would have still remained a great, worthy-of-an-Oscar movie). And, is more “artistic” and “challenging” work by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos really that different fromParasite”, that also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes? In my review of “Parasite”, I compared Bong Joon-ho’s latest work to the more “eccentric and art-house” work of Lanthimos, including to “The Lobster” (2015) and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017).  Lanthimos had to go “more mainstream” for his “The Favourite” (2018) to receive a Best Picture nomination.

And what about such “artistic”, very thought-provoking and intelligent films as English-language “Melancholia” (2011) or “Mulholland Drive” (2002), or the work of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (“Our Little Sister” (2015), “The Third Murder” (2017))? All received none or just a single (at best) praise from the Academy. The randomness of the recognition of “Parasite” now is striking because it is so sudden and unexpected, and, thus, now seems even a little unjust in comparison to all other previous wonderful, Cannesque, “artistic” and eccentric film creations. Did Bon Joon-ho somehow strike a balance in his film between this “arthouse eccentricity and thought-provoking elements” and more understandable and linear narrative that is also fast-paced and appealing to mainstream audiences, and other similar directors did not? Was it also because “Parasite” is so fun and entertaining, and other more intelligent and “artistic” movies are generally “sad” or too “erotic” – recall the ignored “Shame” (2011) or “First Reformed” (2017)? No other worthy American movie shot this year to give the main award to?

The rule at the Oscars is usually this – if you don’t want some foreign-language film to win some main award – don’t nominate it. Japanese “Your Name(2016), which is arguably one of the greatest animations of all time, was ignored by the Academy, so had no chance to compete or win any awards. It seems that, suddenly, the Academy is making another statement, but is it something coming too late? Was predominantly British “1917” “punished” by the Academy because of Brexit in some subconscious way? Is this thought really that ludicrous? If we consider that the Academy is an institution that likes to make its (political) statement via its nominations and wins, even the Brexit factor is not too far-fetched. 


  • Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)Joker Movie Poster

Other nominees: Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes),  Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Adam Driver (Marriage Story).

Is Phoenix’s win the most obvious, predicable and “comfortable” Best Actor win in the history of the Oscars? Was there anyone at all who doubted that Phoenix (“You Were Never Really Here” (2018)) would win this award? Especially since this role just begs for an Oscar and the late Heath Ledger won it posthumously for the very same role in 2009 (“The Dark Knight”). Phoenix was, indeed, simply brilliant in “Joker”, but it is also true that the whole movie was a “star-vehicle” to enable Phoenix just this privilege since the movie was nothing more than his acting and, let’s be frank? – there was no movie beyond the character study of Joker.

Talking about “Joker”, I am very pleased for the win of Hildur Guðnadóttir in the category of the Best Original Musical Score. Hildur Guðnadóttir also became the first person from Iceland to win an Oscar, as well as the fourth woman to win in the category. 


  • once upon a time in hollywood posterBest Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) 

Other nominees: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood), Al Pacino (The Irishman), Joe Pesci (The Irishman) and Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes).

I feel bad about the movie “The Irishman” and its cast. The movie received 10 nominations and was not able to win any of them. That reminded me of Scorsese’s 10 Academy Awards nominations for “Gangs of New York” (2002), when the film did not win any of its nominations either. The Irishman “snub” is particularly difficult to swallow since, I think, Martin Scorsese was also unjustly ignored by the Academy in his making of “Silence” (2016), his “passion-project”, which he wanted to make for so long. Similarly, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci did not receive their recognition at the ceremony (and Robert De Niro was not even nominated!).

Brad Pitt’s win is also curious. We are used to think about his acting in relation to his late 1990s and 2010s films, but he actually impressed me long before then in one now forgotten movie – “Kalifornia” (1993), where I realised that the man has always had that acting ability in him (and it did not suddenly emerge in “Moneyball” (2011), for example). I am happy for the recognition of his acting now. 


  • 1917 film poster Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins (1917)

Other nominees: Jarin Blaschke (The Lighthouse), Lawrence Sher (Joker), Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman) and Robert Richardson (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).

Winning, Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049” (2018)) also cements his reputation as one of the best cinematographers working in the industry today, and it is a deserved win. Still, I feel for Jarin Blaschke, and I thought the cinematography of “The Lighthouse” was just out-of- this-world. In fact, it was precisely the cinematography there that held people’s attention, alongside committed and superb performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.


Conclusion

I think “Parasite” won because it was the best film of the year, and if the Academy suddenly decides that now is the time to finally give foreign-language or more “artistic” films what they have been denied for so long, it is also a good development – better late than never. Not that I think that the Academy will turn into any Cannes any day soon, but this year it certainly made its way into that direction. Have you watched the recent Academy Awards? Do let me know what surprised you the most at the ceremony. 


19 thoughts on “The Academy Awards 2020: Some Commentary

  1. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I did hear about Parasite winning. Good for all the creators of that movie. You bring up great points how so many films don’t even win let alone get nominated for the Oscars. I could name several examples of movies that should’ve been at least shoo-ins for The Academy, but they get ignored.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So very interesting your assessment DB and I really agree at the randomness of the Oscar win for both best international film and best film for Parasite when there have been and incredibly long list of amazing films out there that were in a foreign language over the years and were never even nominated.

    I have a strange (somewhat cynical) notion that this win is highly political and related to America’s geo-political situation and relationship with China. South Korea (along with Japan) are in the middle, buffer-zones between China and the US and so by awarding this to a South Korean film they validate their status as super-powers of the world in terms of Hollywood being the most important film industry in the world, it’s an exercise in soft power while real economic power of the US dwindles. This is just a weird thought I had, and possibly groundless but it seems that when stuff happens in America, this is reflected in the Oscars, in a reactive, politicised way in how they select winners.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is a very interesting thought – it did not occur to me, but I agree – there is something in this and you may be right. I guess the situation is more complicating since the Academy is very critical of the Trump administration and now the USA equals the Trump administration, too when one thinks about any geopolitical situation and actions – there are many factors involved, but I do believe that the Oscars are very political and their awards and nominations reflect their political stance. It will be very naïve to think otherwise as we have also seen from the previous years too.

      Speaking of China, there are already controversies surrounding the new American movie “Mulan” based on the Disney animation and some say the animation is designed “to please Chinese people and government” even!!, with the focus on the army, etc. and not on the Mulan as such or her individuality. I am not sure how much is that true. But then maybe the producers possibly decided to shift their focus slightly from the individual to the collective to reflect the Chinese tradition and history too. Who knows, just a thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes…it’s a highly taut and intense political situation over there, and it is actually very confusing to work out what is going on with many things in the media and in Hollywood too. I am not sure it’s right, although there could be something in that. Mulan…that is very interesting you say that, I wonder how that will all play out, it will be interesting to see.

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  3. I haven’t seen Parasite yet so I can’t comment on whether I like it or not.

    Also I note a lot of these films you mention by the same directors and so on I haven’t seen so I’ll be searching around trying to find them, as they are no doubt wonderful! Thanks as always for your high quality posts

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was pleased to see Parasite win but Park Chan Wook is a much better film maker and it makes me sad that none of his films have had this type of recognition. Parasite was great (I enjoyed 1917 more) but I think it’s victory is largely down to strong marketing. In the end I fear it will make about as much difference as Kathryn Bigelow’s win for The Hurt Locker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, possibly, and I agree about Park Chan- wook. I mean there are Japanese and other South Korean directors who have been producing masterworks and BRILLIANCE for YEARS without any recognition from the Academy and then suddenly Parasite triumphs not just once but multiple times with one film. One cannot think but of randomness and luck, and I do not want to diminish the great work or take away credit from Bong Joon-ho. Parasite was more “understandable” that other (shall I say) arthouse films with zero or almost nil? nudity and much entertainment. Why may think – what a calculated move, even heh.

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  5. Ending this separation between foreign language and English speaking (read: Hollywood) films at awards ceremonies is something that has needed to happen for a long time, and I hope this is the catalyst for that.

    A good film is a good film regardless of which country it came from, but sadly the general film viewing populace have been acclimatised, almost programmed if you will, by the likes of the Oscars and mainstream media to accept that distinction as the norm.

    So many important, artistically superior and better acted films is being ignored because of this narrow minded attitude, and in this day and age of global streaming and shopping making the divide smaller for those of with interest in all cinema, there is no excuse for every territory to get together and help open the doors for everyone to understand that language needn’t be a barrier for enjoying a great film.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely agree with everything you say. Foreign-language or not foreign-language, quality is quality, and don’t we know how averse the US mainstream audience has been in particular to films having any subtitles?The tide is turning, and hopefully Parasite’s win will not be a mere one-off.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s similar in the UK although the advent of foreign language dramas and films on mainstream terrestrial TV over the past decade or so has helped break that barrier down. All it needs now is to get them in the cinemas on a larger scale which is harder.

        After Parasite’s Oscar win, it has opened in more mainstream cinemas across the UK but if they are like my local, they are sadly limited to a couple of nighttime showings only. I’m trying to get my head around the logic here, the only thing I can come up is they feel only people working 9 to 5 jobs are interested in foreign language films and not us lowly proles who can attend the cinema during the day or half term holidays. :/

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post 🙂 Glad to see Parasite take home Oscars 🙂 I did not watch the ceremony, but it was a bummer that The Irishman did not take home any prizes because that was my number one favorite film of 2019. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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