Parasite win a first at Academy Awards
Those watching the 92nd Oscars clumsily toddle into the 21st Century can be forgiven if they felt impatient. After more than nine decades, including almost six where the Motion Picture Academy dominated pop culture, the show’s veneer of glam and glitter showed cracks in the aging, out-of-step, face of the Hollywood film industry.
Today, pop-culture thrives in almost all voices internationally, through a multiplicity of venues, platforms and distribution systems. There’s a niche for almost everybody. But Oscar seemed to forget that.
To the producers’ credit, the show ran largely on time, with just a few bits of real crazy thrown in to make things interesting. There were no name-flubs, no political rants (beyond Brad Pitt’s measured comment on Trump’s impeachment trial) no naming live people as the dearly departed, no major dance or musical mishaps (beyond Janelle Monae’s tame wardrobe malfunction, no rival to the 2004 Superbowl’s), little pre-show red-carpet self-absorption and, once again, no host.
But the show felt forced and fake as if everyone had swallowed a mind-control pill dictating they observe or at least express “commonality and humanity” as Joaquim Phoenix said in his rambling, eccentric yet self-effacing rant as he accepted the best actor for The Joker.
Bits of Crazy
Phoenix provided a bit of the crazy, as did Renee Zellweger, when she accepted her gold statue for the best female actor in Judy. Zellweger started out on track with the “we’re all kind members of a big, mutually-adoring yet tempered, equal and diverse club” script that most of the presenters and winners followed, and which framed the tone of the show. Then she spiraled off on a tangent in praise of just about everyone on the planet, including first responders and members of the military. Love the crazy at these awards when it happens.
All the “day-after” headlines may call the 92nd Oscars historic because a non-English speaking film, the Korean-language Parasite, was named as the best picture. But given the global, connected world we live in, you might ask, what took them so long? And that one big milestone did not make up for the dinosaur thinking that dominates the industry and got scant heartfelt commentary.
Let’s start with Hollywood’s refusal to recognize female talent. With the Harvey Weinstein trial looming like the elephant in the Dolby Theatre, few men or women made noise about this issue. All the nominees (excluding best actress) in the “big win” categories (with the exception of documentary films) were almost exclusively male.
Steve Martin and Chris Rock launched a series of one-liners at the beginning. The only missing thing among the directing nominees were “vaginas,” they said. Still, both Martin’s normal pointed comedy punch, and Rock’s angry exasperation were absent.
However, Mark Ruffalo did sarcastically point out how all of four of the films up for documentary awards had been directed or co-directed by women. Four! Big whup, Mark! Later, when they announced with great fanfare Maestra Eímear Noone was to be the first female to conduct the best Original Score category, tokenism reigned supreme. Issa Rae got closest to an anti-sexism message when she said, “Congratulations to those men,” after introducing the Best Director nominees.
As for Hollywood’s lack of diversity, again Rock made the point.
“Cynthia Erivo did such a great job in ‘Harriet’ hiding black people,” he said, “that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees.” But that barely got a reaction. Neither did the Martin-Rock exchange about how the first Oscars had no black acting nominees and 92 years later, there was all of one. “Amazing growth!” Martin quipped to an audience obviously lacking any outrage.
Rappers Rapped it Out
Many presenters and performers were people of color, including rapper Utkarsh Ambudkar, rapping about the “winners who don’t look like me” and pointed out the lack of diversity in the words, “what you’re seeing right in front of you is a sign of the times.”
Still, there were some great highlights in the show. James Corden and Rebel Wilson were hilarious in Cats’ costumes, wickedly batting the microphone like a cat toy. And Billy Porter dazzled in a long, baroque skirt and a top of stitched, golden feathers, and Jimmy Choo heels with glasses that even put the more subdued Elton John to shame.
The musical numbers contained the bright spots, especially Eminen’s comeback rap mini-set that had everyone singing along. But 18-year-old Billie Eilish’s rendition of the Beatles’ tune Yesterday during the In Memorial presentation was a big — not. Eilish did not bring young innocence to contrast with the theme of death, and she lacked the vocal range and interpretation to do justice to the morose, melodic tune.
One Terrible Dress
As always, there was one terrible dress worn by Kristen Wiig - a bizarre, bright-red number that looked as if she had two angular rooster combs attached to her sides.
Then all was made well when Bong Joon-ho gave his genuine humble, graceful and grateful acceptance speeches for Parasite. Yes, it was historic. But not academy life-changing. Let’s hope by the time Oscar hits 100, the show will have caught up with the rest of the world — or be gone for good.