In Hollywood on Sunday night, in a country riven by income equality, political schisms and fear of foreign takeovers of homegrown businesses, an edgy tragicomedy of haves and have-nots in contemporary South Korea took four Oscars. “Parasite” was the top story of this year’s Academy Awards, landing best screenplay, best director, best international feature and best picture for filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho. It was the first time a film with subtitles won the top prize and the first time one person won four Oscars in an evening since Walt Disney swept the documentary (“The Living Desert”) and animation categories in 1954.
And then there was “American Factory” from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. This year’s documentary Oscar-winner chronicles the culture clash in Dayton, Ohio when a Chinese auto-glass manufacturer takes over a shuttered GM auto plant. The prize was shared by filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert.
No one mentioned the current president by name, but supporting actor winner Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”) accepted his statuette by noting the 45 seconds allotted for his thank-yous was more time than the Senate had given Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton during the Impeachment Hearings.
Thus did the 92nd Academy Awards mirror geopolitics, economic policy and electoral politics — all in under 220 minutes. Ratings-wise, the broadcast hit an all-time low in the U.S. More’s the pity, for the politics of representation that underpinned the show produced by Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howard Tyler made for the most diverse and enjoyable Oscars in years.
Singer/actress Janelle Monae (“Hidden Figures”) kicked off the evening with a musical number that filled the Dolby Theater with energy and life. “Demoted” former Oscar hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock traded ripostes, and were quite sharp (see below). Though female directors were for the most part overlooked in the screenplay and best director nominations, women won non-acting statuettes for musical score, animated short, documentary, production design and costume design. Apart from Bong Joon-Ho, there were fewer wins for people of color, an exception being the prize for animated short, and there were a lot of pointed jokes about the lack of representation.
Oddly enough, no one noted the irony of Academy members awarding an Oscar to a film that critiqued their privileged lives. Still, this year’s “Bongslide” (the coinage of A.O. Scott) made me feel that the Academy honored a terrific best film in “Parasite,” a geographically specific story about a universal problem. Paradoxically, it also honored a terrific documentary that looked with a gimlet eye at the downside of the internationalism celebrated with the best picture win.
Below are seven random thoughts I scribbled down during the ceremony:
1) Janelle Monae can light the world up with her smile — and set the house on fire with her voice.
2) No one wears three outfits at the same time with as much élan as Diane Keaton.
3) Everyone at the Dolby Theater was happy with the Brad Pitt and Bong Joon Ho wins, even their fellow nominees.
4) Best musical score winner Hildur Guonadottir made the best acceptance speech, exhorting woman to listen to the music inside them.
5) Love Elton John and Bernie Taupin (whose “I’m Gonna Love Me Again”(from “Rocketman”) won best song, but Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up”(from Harriet) is the year’s best song.
6) Chris Rock’s observation that “Mahershala Ali has two Oscars. Know what that means when he gets stopped by the police? Nothing” was the best-delivered joke at the ceremony. Second-best was Steve Martin’s quip that to make sure the Oscars didn’t repeat the gaffe of announcing the wrong best picture winner, it had adapted the Iowa Caucus App.
7) Rebel Wilson and James Corden scored best visual joke when they come out to give award for special effects in their furry-creepy costumes from “Cats” and said, “No one knows the importance of good special effects like us.”
In addition to writing film reviews and essays for Truthdig, Carrie Rickey has been a film critic at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Village Voice and an art critic at Artforum and Art in America. Rickey has…