- 10 Feb 20
Roe McDermott looks at why this year’s Best Picture winner is a rare example of the unsafe victor; and highlights from the 2020 Oscars ceremony.
Bong Joon-Ho. A glorious winner who saved an utter snoozefest in a stunning upset. The leader all wanted, but didn’t believe we would get.
The 2020 Oscars thankfully repeated last year’s decision to eschew a host, again streamlining the ceremony and allowing me to get another half an hour’s sleep after the event wrapped after 4.30am. However, without the distraction of Hugh Jackman’s song and dance routines, beloved comedians’ easy quips, James Franco emotionally and literally abandoning Anne Hathaway, or Seth McFarlane singing songs about actresses’ breasts, all we had to focus on were the winners – and with the exception of Bong Joon-Ho’s well-deserved win for Parasite, which scooped Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International feature Film, there very few surprises to be found.
But why, in the face of campaigns for progress, diversity and representation, is it still so rare to have a Best Picture winner that is as brilliant and original as Parasite?
As the results of Ireland’s General Election are set to come streaming in over the next 24 hours, it seems relevant to note that some of the 2020 Oscar nominees were facing down a selection process not unlike our own politicians this weekend - even if Oscar results were always bound to be far less shocking and status quo-shaking. What can we say – the Academy are rule-makers, while the Irish are rule-breakers. Good hustle, everyone.
For the Oscars, the winner of nearly every category is determined by popular vote of Academy Members. For Best Picture, however, the Academy rely on a ranked or preferential ballot, where voting members rank their picks for Best Picture in order of preference. If a film were to receive fifty percent of the votes, it would automatically be the winner – however this essentially doesn’t happen. Instead, votes are then sorted by film, and the movie with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated, and then that eliminated movie’s votes are transferred to the movie in that ballot’s No. 2 spot. Then the whole process starts again, repeating until one of the movies gets more than fifty percent of the vote.
The practical result of this is the winner of Best Picture is usually not in fact most people’s number one choice, but rather the middle choice of the many. Given the historically majority male and white demographics of the Academy, the Best Picture is rarely a film that the majority of voters were passionate about, but rather a film that the majority of voters were fine with. This explains why the Best Picture winners are rarely the most innovative, ground-breaking or boundary-pushing films, but more often the safe, respectable films that please the many and challenge few.
Throw in the fact that only a handful of categories - Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, International Feature Film, Animated Short Film, and Live Action Short Film – explicitly state that voting is only open to members who have viewed all of that category’s nominees, and the yearly admissions from anonymous voters that they haven’t watched all the Best Picture nominees, and you get a lot of uninformed votes for films that “seem” like they should win an Oscar, instead of the most deserving film out of all the nominees.
This is why some of the most outrageous snubs in Oscar history have been in the Best Picture category. Citizen Kane losing to the drama How Green Is My Valley. Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash. Shakespeare in Love knocking out Saving Private Ryan. Forrest Gump beating Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Goodfellas losing to Dancing With Wolves. The musical Oliver! Beating out 2001: A Space Odyssey. In each case, it was clear which film was superior – but also clear which film challenged people, made more people uncomfortable, was less pleasing across demographics.
All of which is to explain why the Oscars have not been designed to award the most artistic, masterful, original, ground-breaking cinema. The Best Picture award is designed to reward the safest, least upsetting, broadly pleasing films.
But this year, Parasite was far from a sure thing. The first foreign language film to win Best Picture and the first South Korean film to ever be nominated, Parasite is a searing, genre-defying examination of class and a darkly funny skewering of capitalism – and no, none of these qualities are the typical hallmarks of a Best Picture film. But with the last few years’ increased focus on diversifying the Academy, allowing more women, younger people and people of colour to vote, the tide may be changing. Voters may be demanding a change, eager to upend the status quo. Voters may be refusing to bow to the increasing influence of white supremacist, xenophobic vitriol, and are showing their desire to see marginalised and underprivileged people given a voice. Voters may be showing that they are harnessing their individual and collective power, instead of merely deferring to the comfort level of the elite and the powerful.
Kind of like another vote that’s happening right now.
Highlights From the 2020 Oscars Ceremony:
- Janelle Monae opening the ceremony with a Tonys-style musical performance, starting out as a gently homage to Mister Rodgers before the singer and actress was joined onstage by dancing Jokers, Little Women, Queens and Slims and red jumpsuit clad US dopplegangers began dancing across the stage. Monae was joined onstage by the ever glorious Billy Porter, who gave a suitably fabulous nod to Elton John, which might make up for the fact that Rocketman was only up for Best Original Song.
- Steve Martin and Chris Rock discussing how the Oscars have evolved/regressed over the years:
- “The Oscars don’t have a host anymore, why?” “Twitter!”
- “I thought there was something missing from the list this year.” “Vaginas?” “Yes.”
- “Cynthia Erivo is here tonight. Cynthia did such a great job in Harriet hiding black people that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees.”
“In 1929, there were no black acting nominees. And now, in 2020, we got one. Amazing growth!”
- Brad Pitt winning his first ever Oscar for acting, (He previously won for 12 Years A Slave, which he produced.) Pitt characteristically started his acceptance speech with a political dig, saying “They said I only had 45 seconds up here. That’s 45 seconds more than they gave John Bolton this week.” He then thanked Quentin Tarantino and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, saying “Leo, I’ll ride on your coattails anyday, man. The view is fantastic.” Pitt also gave recognition to stunt co-ordinators and stunt crews, in deference to his stuntman character.
- Accepting his Oscar for Best Animated Short for Hair Love, a film about a Black father learning to style his daughter’s hair for the first time, writer Matthew A. Cherry, said he wanted to draw attention to the Crown Act, a law first passed in California that bans discrimination based on natural hairstyles and that backers hope to pass in other states. Filmmaker Karen Rupert Toliver expressed “a firm belief that representation matters deeply," especially in cartoons “because that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.”
- Taika Waititi, the New Zealand writer and director, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, becoming the first Oscar winner of Māori descent and dedicating his win to “all the indigenous kids of the world who want to do art and dance and write stories.” Waititi said, holding up his trophy, “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well. Thank you.”
- Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig just busting out a random musical medley including ‘Lady In Red’, just for the craic, while Billie Eilish looked deeply confused in the audience.
- Josh Gad referencing that infamous John Travolta moment, introducing a performance of ‘Into The Unknown’ from Frozen 2, performance by Idina Menzel, “pronounced exactly as it is spelled.”
- Shia LaBeouf presenting the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short alongside his Peanut Butter Falcon co-star, Zack Gottsagen who has Down’s Syndrome, but who shone through his nerves.
- "I've been working in Afghanistan since 2005 and this movie is my love letter to the brave girls of that country." Carol Dysinger speaks after Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl) wins Best Documentary
- Laura Dern accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress and giving a heartwarming dedication to her parents. “Some say never meet your heroes,” she said. “I say if you’re really blessed, you get them as your parents. I share this with my acting hero my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. You got game. I love you.”
- Eminem singing ‘Lose Yourself’ to commemorate the use of songs in film, much to the bemusement of the crowds of old, white people in the audience. Martin Scorsese merely closing his eyes like your Grandad trying to drown out the General Election results was a beautiful moment.
- Cynthia Erivo’s performance of ‘Stand Up’, an original song from Harriet, was simply glorious.
- James Cordon and Rebel Wilson poking fun at their recent flop Cats, coming onstage to present an Oscar while wearing some truly dodgy cat costumes, saying “Nobody better than us understands the importance of good visual effects.”
- Ray Romano getting bleeped while presenting the Oscar for Best Make Up and Hair. Speaking about the make-up team on The Irishman, Romano said “I would just sit there and be amazed – and then Joe Pesci would come in and say ‘Get the fuck out of my chair.’”
- Parasite winning Best International Feature Film. Just give Bong Joon-Ho everything. He finished his speech by saying “I am ready to drink tonight.” Atta boy.
- Sigourney Weaver giving a shout out to Kilconnell native Eimear Noone, the first women to ever conduct the Oscars orchestra, here for a medley of the nominated scores. Noone killed it, and also managed to look fierce in a dramatic gold jacket. Doing us proud, Noone.
- Elton John winning his first Oscar since winning for ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ in 1995. The win for ‘I’m Gonna Love Me Again’ was John’s second Oscar, but the first for his primary lyricist of 53 years, Bernie Taupin, who John acknowledged. “Thank you to Bernie, who has been the constant thing in my life — when I was screwed up, when I was normal, he’s always been there for me. This is a dream for us. We’ve never been nominated before for anything like this,” he added.
- Bong Joon-Ho winning Best Director and being so adorably shocked. In his speech, he paid tribute to the other nominated directors, and thanking Quentin Tarantino for touting his early films. But the South Korean director really stole the show and won everyone’s hearts by saying “When I was young and starting in cinema there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart which is, 'The most personal is the most creative.' That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese." In the least violent way possible, I just want to throw every award available at this glorious man.
- Joaquin Phoenix winning the Best Actor award and giving an emotive speech that – like the actor himself - was thoughtful, impassioned, a bit rambling, and vulnerable. After acknowledging he privilege and power of having a job that can help “give a voice to the voiceless,” Phoenix made a plea for human beings to stop fighting each other and to stop plundering our natural resources, placing particular emphasis on…um… industrial dairy farming. I mean, sure, but the audience/issue match seemed slightly off. Phoenix also addressed his own past behaviour as a “scoundrel” and apparently critiquing cancel culture, saying “When we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create systems of change. Not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we guide each other to grow, for redemption, that is the best of humanity.” The actor finished his speech mentioning his late brother River. “When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric, ‘Run to the rescue love and peace will follow.'”
- The entire audience booing as the lights went down early as the Parasite team accepted their Oscar for Best Picture – then applauding heartily as the lights went back up and the jubilant speeches continued. Via Bong Joon-Ho’s translator Sharon Choi, producer Kwak Sin-ae said “We never imagined this would ever happen, we’re so happy. I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now.” Miki Lee, a South Korean media mogul, continued the speech, saying "I'd really like to thank director Bong," Miki Lee said, referencing the way he directs in addition to his "smile" and "crazy hair." The producers also thanked the Korean film audience, who "never hesitated" to give straightforward opinions on their movies, “never letting us be complacent, and keep pushing the directors, the creators, to keep pushing the envelope. Without you, our Korean film audience, we are not here.”
All the Oscar nominees and winners from last night's Academy Awards:
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renee Zellweger, Judy
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johannson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Todd Phillips, Joker
Sam Mendes, 1917
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Animated Feature Film:
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Toy Story 4
Dcera, Daria Kashcheeva
Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry
Kitbull, Rosana Sullivan
Memorable, Bruno Collet
Sister, Siqi Song
The Irishman, Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi
Joker, Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes, Anthony McCarten
Knives Out, Rian Johnson
Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach
1917, Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino
Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han
The Irishman, Rodrigo Prieto
Joker, Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse, Jarin Blaschke
1917, Roger Deakins
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Robert Richardson
Best Documentary Feature:
American Factory, Julia Rieichert, Steven Bognar
The Cave, Feras Fayyad
The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa
For Sama, Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
Best Documentary Short Subject:
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha
Best Live Action Short Film:
Brotherhood, Meryam JoobeurNefta Football Club, Yves Piat
The Neighbors’ Window, Marshall Curry
Saria, Bryan Buckley
A Sister, Delphine Girard
Best Foreign Language Film:
Corpus Christi, Jan Komasa
Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
Les Miserables, Ladj Ly
Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodovar
Parasite, Bong Joon Ho
Ford v Ferrari, Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
The Irishman, Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit, Tom Eagles
Joker, Jeff Groth
Parasite, Jinmo Yang
Ford v Ferrari, Don Sylvester
Joker, Alan Robert Murray
1917, Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Wylie Stateman
Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker, Matthew Wood, David Acord
Ford v Ferrari
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Irishman, Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
Jojo Rabbit, Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova
1917, Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
Parasite, Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee
Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir
Little Women, Alexandre Desplat
Marriage Story, Randy Newman
1917, Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” Toy Story 4
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You,” Breakthrough
“Into the Unknown,” Frozen 2
“Stand Up,” Harriet
Makeup and Hair:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
The Irishman, Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo
Joker, Mark Bridges
Little Women, Jacqueline Durran
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Arianne Phillips
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker