Header Ads

Breaking News

Oscars 2020: “Parasite” ’s Best Picture Win Can’t Redeem the Academy’s Failings


It’s worth starting at the end: the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s film “Parasite” won the Oscar for Best Picture—marking the first time since the Academy Awards were established, in 1929, that an international film has won the top prize. It’s about time. This happened a year later than I expected—I’d figured that Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” would win Best Picture last year—and it took me by surprise. I predicted that “1917” would win, and, inasmuch as “Parasite” is a far better movie, I’m glad to have been wrong. In a way, its victory attempts to right nearly a century of neglect. (Ingmar Bergman’s film “Cries and Whispers” was one of the five nominees in 1973, and lost to, of all things, “The Sting.”)

This year, the Oscars were political from the very start. Some of the presenters and the winners offered noteworthy political remarks, though the one that struck me as most piercing wasn’t a speech but a song, the one that opened the broadcast: Janelle Monáe, enacting Fred Rogers’s routine of changing into his character’s costume on set, sang the “Mister Rogers” theme song, with its refrain, “Won’t you be my neighbor?,” to the overwhelmingly white audience and, by extension, to viewers at home. The question, in Monáe’s voice, powerfully invoked the unchallenged and unredressed racism that extends far beyond the Oscar nominations and Hollywood’s notables into society at large.

As Steve Martin and Chris Rock noted, in a bantering presentation immediately following Monáe’s introduction, the acting nominations included only one black performer (Cynthia Erivo, for “Harriet”), and no female directors were nominated at all. The omissions in the year’s roster of nominees were as conspicuous, from the start, as were its notable inclusions—such as the nomination of Antonio Banderas, for best actor, the nomination of the animated short film “Hair Love,” and the ten nominations for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” Political anger is justly in the air at a time of gross misrule, unleashed hatred, abuse of power, and plutocratic plunder, and with this year’s Oscars—both in the particulars of the ceremony and the results that it delivered—Academy members faced up to their own symbolic part in the dire state of the nation.

Brad Pitt, accepting the award for best supporting actor, noted that he had forty-five seconds to speak—forty-five seconds more, he added, than John Bolton had at Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial last week. The great filmmaker Julia Reichert, whose “American Factory” won a well-deserved award for Best Documentary Feature, said that the lives of workers can improve only when “workers of the world unite.” Taika Waititi, the director of “Jojo Rabbit,” acknowledged the indigenous nations on whose homeland the Dolby Theatre is situated; Gal Gadot, Sigourney Weaver, and Brie Larson, introducing the nominees for Best Original Score, spoke jokingly but passionately about the obstacles that women confront in Hollywood. The strangest of the political moments arose when Joaquin Phoenix, who won the best-actor award for “Joker”—a movie considered, by its defenders, to be some sort of substantive statement about inequality, stifled class rage, mental illness, and the health-care system—started to speak about racism, sexism, and humankind’s unwarranted plunder of nature. I expected this last point to lead him to remarks about climate change—but, instead, Phoenix veered off into a pathos-laden, graphically detailed discussion of the oppression of dairy cows, in a pro-vegan discourse that left behind the inhumanities of racial prejudice, misogyny, and abuse of power which plague his own industry and the country at large.

The victory of “Parasite” is a paradox. I consider it a much better film than what I’d feared were the front-runners (“1917,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” and “Jojo Rabbit”), and a worse one than the best of the bunch (“The Irishman,” “Little Women,” and “Marriage Story”). At the time of its theatrical release, last fall, it struck me not only for its extraordinarily clever dramatic twist, which is realized with a familiar and conventional aesthetic, but also for its potent, simple sociopolitical symbolism. Its bold and confrontational display of the absurd contrasts between the lives of the rich and the poor has an impact that’s far more powerful than the methods by which it’s realized. The film is utterly sincere, even passionately insistent, and this quality seemed to mesh perfectly, perhaps too perfectly, with a message that critics were apt to receive with enthusiasm.

The Academy agrees. It’s not the first time in recent years that the industry and its critics have found themselves generally in agreement; the same thing happened three years ago, with the victory of “Moonlight.” I wonder whether “Moonlight” could have won today—whether the very fact of its complexity, of its unresolved intricacy, would have counted against it. What’s clear is that, this year, the virtues of the good helped bar the way of the great: “The Irishman” had ten nominations and came away empty-handed. Martin Scorsese did receive a generous tribute in Bong’s acceptance speech for best director, and Scorsese, as a result, received a standing ovation from the audience.

Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” also had a raft of Oscar nominations (five) and no wins. It seems as if the director has, in his own time, passed into a special realm of classics—like Shakespeare, whom everyone would willingly acclaim as great, peerlessly great, but far fewer would willingly read. I’d contend that “The Irishman” is a more radical political film than “Parasite.” I hope that the victory of Bong’s film opens the floodgates to the recognition of a wide range of international movies, rather than the exception that symbolically breaks the rule—the better to offer cover for other omissions by the Academy, now and later. It’s worth noting, for instance, that the two dramatic features centered on a group of female characters, “Little Women” and “Bombshell,” came away only with awards for Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling, respectively. It’s as if the Academy were tacitly, even unconsciously, telling the world what it thought such movies were good for. That’s why my satisfaction in the triumph of a good movie is balanced by concern—that its win may remain a gesture, rather than an acknowledgment of profound and desperately needed change.

Source link

No comments