Not sure when it was. I believe it was when I saw firsthand James Corden and Rebel Wilson come on stage, decked out in their full Cats attire. Maybe it was when I saw them stand there in complete silence much to the mixed reaction of applause and dismay from the audience. Or rather when they hit the microphone like a cat with a toy. Maybe as the two stood awkwardly on the side as the 1917 crew accepts their award for Visual Effects. Either way, it was around that moment that I knew this year’s Oscars was something special. But that wasn’t the only standout in this historic awards show. South Korean thriller Parasite by Bong Joon Ho took home not only Best Foreign Film – which is already a first for South Korean cinema – but also the treasured Best Picture. This makes it the very first non-English film to ever win a Best Picture award at the Oscars.
Comic book drama Joker didn’t exactly surprise, even with its impressive and ultimately divisive 11 nominations. Of the 11, Joker nabbed itself two awards – Best Score by Hildur Guðnadóttir and, to nobody’s surprise, Best Lead Actor for Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin Phoenix has been a bit of a controversial figure surrounding the film’s release, including his act of leaving in the middle of an interview that questioned the film’s effects on the mentally ill and his arrest at one of Jane Fonda’s weekly climate protests (which also saw Martin Sheen, as well as 147 other protesters arrested).
In an unprecedented turn, Joaquin Phoenix had a few things to say during his acceptance speech, taking the opportunity to discuss female inequality in Hollywood, racism, queer rights, and animal rights.
“I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world — what we’re guilty of is an egocentric worldview; the belief that we’re the center of the universe,” Said Joaquin, “We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth we steal her baby. Even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
Joaquin continues, saying he believes people “fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up.” Joaquin also won Best Actor for portraying Joker at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild. He is with the late Heath Ledger as one of the two actors who won an Academy Award for portraying the comic book villain.
As is practically tradition with the Oscars, there was little in the way of any real diversity. Greta Gerwig of Little Women was left out of the Best Director category, instead opting for Best Adapted Screenplay. South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) were the most notable diverse nominations. Despite the worrying lack of diversity almost every year, that didn’t stop Steve Martin and Chris Rock from partaking in their own bit, as they introduced the show together.
“Cynthia Erivo is here tonight,” Rock stated. “Cynthia did such a great job in Harriet hiding black people that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees.”
But worry not! Steve Martin assured the crowd: “Think how much the Oscars have changed in the past 92 years… back in 1929, there were no black acting nominees.” Chris Rock elaborated with: “And now in 2020, we got one”. It’s very reassuring, knowing the Academy is aware of the issue, will continue to joke about it every year, and still do nothing about it. Because as we know, self-deprecating while doing nothing to improve is much more effective. At least they have their priorities straight.
Though it took him 18 years to do so, Eminem finally made a surprise appearance at the Oscars to perform his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself”. Better late than never, I suppose. I would’ve much rather preferred his iconic “VENUMMMMM” song to be played, but we can’t all be winners. Billie Eilish, who swept this year’s Grammys, performed the Beatles’ “Yesterday” at the Oscar memoriam, which paid tribute to Kobe Bryant, Kirk Douglas, and Doris Day.
Despite the Academy’s attempt to tone down on politics and continue last year’s trend of having no host, that couldn’t save the ratings. According to Nielson figures, the awards show reached 23.6 million viewers, a heavy 20 percent drop from last year’s ceremony which was also an all-time upset with 26.5 million viewers. Even still, the reception towards the Oscars was mostly positive, save for the few odd controversies that get repeated every year. Though they have a long road to redeem themselves, the Oscars are indeed showing signs of improvement.
Yet why did this Oscars still annoy me so? After all, I contend that this was the best and most normal Oscars in recent years, so why do I still feel empty about it? Among the criticisms mentioned earlier, it still comes down to that underlying cynicism that still stains the Oscars. The fact they still haven’t changed.
Oh, for certain, good decisions were made. Parasite taking the major awards was awe-inspiring; almost as if the were apologizing for Green Book last year. Yet there’s that feeling that the Oscars still haven’t improved upon the entire system.
Awards in themselves are meaningless and arbitrary. For sure, good work needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. But in the end, what does an Oscar mean? Already-prolific studios, directors, and actors can simply advertise themselves more than they could already.
Awards are merely for marketing, plain and simple.
By all means, award good work. Be happy certain movies win big awards. If it helps small filmmakers get on their feet, then award them. But do we need Disney winning Oscars every year for cynical, unoriginal ideas? Award technical staff. Award the small people who sacrificed it all to become known, not the big studios who merely had to pay for slots and keeping the little guys out. It’s an annual event of rich people awarding the rich.
But perhaps I’m the cynical one. But am I to blame? As more independent arthouse films move off the ground, it seems Hollywood is back-pedaling with unoriginal ideas and profiting off of that. Is Parasite winning a sign of the tides turning? Will Oscars finally admit their mistakes without making it a joke for next year’s show? Will they value art over popularity?
We know the answer to that.
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