Another year and another Oscar ceremony goes by without having made the requisite changes to wrestle back the interest of the average movie fan. Thankfully a couple of the award decisions saved the ceremony from being one of the worst ever, but it was a close-run thing.
There was a time when the Academy Awards were much revered, when Joe Public cared who the winners were, but that hasn’t been the case for some time. Over the past few years the curtain has been pulled back on Hollywood and the grubby, corrupt gears of the machine have been revealed. Take a look back over the winner’s speeches from various movie award ceremonies from the past twenty years and you’ll be shocked by just how many actors lauded Harvey Weinstein as a great guy and a credit to the industry.
I find it hard to believe that all of them had no idea what was going on. Some were naïve, others were probably dangerously close to being complicit. We’ll likely never know the full story of who knew what, who turned a blind eye, who sold their soul for a shot at movie immortality. Needless to say, when the glitzy back slapping ceremonies roll around at the start of every year now, us every-day folk look on with suspicion and apathy. We eye the stage, remember the likes of Roman Polanski, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Casey Affleck, Woody Allen and the Weinsteins, and we wonder whose names might be added to the list in the months and years to come.
The Golden Globes at least tried to freshen things up by asking Ricky Gervais to host. But starting in 2010 he used his sharp wit to tear down the Hollywood establishment, highlighting to every famous face in moviedom just how ridiculous the award season charade had become "If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything … so if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and fuck off, OK?“. Those in attendance looked non-plussed, even offended, but just about every other person in the world cheered Ricky on. He said what we were all thinking.
He also treated award season with irreverence and that’s exactly what it needed. As Gervais stated, Hollywood in its current state is in no position to tell us how we should be living our lives; they need to get their own house in order before they even consider doing that.
As in previous years a number of those in the industry bemoaned the lack of “diversity” in the 2020 nominations. They continue to miss the point. Race, sex, religion or any other demographical difference should play no part in choosing winners; the prize should go to the best person, regardless of who or what they are. Where more diversity is needed is in the opportunities available to people at the bottom end of the industry. I suspect it’s still a lot easier for an old white guy to fill the gap Harvey Weinstein has created than it is a person of colour or a woman.
The ceremony itself remains slightly lost, floating out at sea searching for an identity. There was no central theme to the 2020 instalment and a randomness to some of the choices made; why was Eminem chucked out on stage to sing an eighteen year old rap song that bore no relevance to anything that has happened in cinema in the past year? The show was too long, as it always is, and the jokes remained too inoffensive to raise any real laughs.
Digging in to the 200 plus minute run time, there were some highlights still. Billie Eilish gave a touchingly muted rendition of The Beatles Yesterday during the always moving ‘In Memoriam’ section. Brad Pitt and Laura Dern got well deserved supporting actor awards, while Joaquin Phoenix scooped yet another prize for his Joker (2019) tour de force. Some said it was a predictable win, but rightly so given how amazing a piece of acting it was. Despite having given a number of acceptance speeches already over the past few weeks, his Academy Award speech was a rambling affair flitting to and fro between a hodgepodge of social issues. It was heart felt though, and his final words, dedicated to his late brother River, made for the most poignant moment of the evening.
The main prize was a tough one to call. There were some odd choices in the list of films nominated for Best Picture. Ford vs Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66) got the nod, despite not being as good as Rush (2013) which wasn’t nominated seven years ago. Avengers: Endgame was probably the best film Marvel has made to date, better certainly than the previously nominated Black Panther (2018), but it was left out. 1917 was said to be the favourite but it wasn’t the measure of previous war films that didn’t win Best Picture, Saving Private Ryan (1998), Letters From Iwo Jima (2005), The Killing Fields (1984), Apocalypse Now (1979).
Though the films put forward were good, it’s unlikely that any of them will find their way high up future ‘greatest movies of all time’ lists, with the exception of two. Todd Phillips’ Joker could well be the greatest comic book movie ever, precisely because it plays like anything but. It was never going to win Best Picture though. In its long history the Academy have never given the prize to a film that has ended on a pure downbeat note. Even its most tonally dark winners left the viewer with some form of hope or resolution. Not so Joker; it’s purely misanthropic, nihilistic even, and too sombre for the Oscars. That left one film.
Parasite was one of the stand out movies of 2019 but few people saw it outside of Asia; subtitles remain a barrier still, for some viewers. Those that did see it though were enthralled. Thankfully, the Academy has warmed to the dark thriller / horror film in the last couple of years, largely thanks to Jordan Peele and his Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) one-two punch. It no doubt opened the doors for the Academy to put right a wrong, and in so doing save their 2020 ceremony.
The amazing work of the ‘J-horror’ sub-genre was inexplicably ignored by the Oscars during its thrilling hey-day in the late nineties / early noughties. Fantastic films such as Ringu (1998), Audition (1999), Battle Royale (1999), Pulse (2001), Dark Water (2002), The Eye (2002), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), and Oldboy (2003) were blanked completely, no doubt due to the Academies dislike of horror and ‘genre’ cinema, and its short-sightedness in thinking that a foreign language film couldn’t be the Best Picture released in a particular year.
Awarding Parasite with the Best Picture Oscar, and Bong Joon-ho with Best Director, goes some way to make up for this. It could be argued that Parasite isn’t actually as good as some of the aforementioned Asian classics; in this respect it stands on the shoulders of giants. Even so, Parasite’s triumph was the highlight of the 2020 ceremony. Unexpected but delightfully received, Joon-ho and his cast and crew were gracious and eloquent when they took to the stage of the Dolby Theatre to accept their well earned awards. If the Academy carry this refreshing change of spirit through to the staging of the Oscar show itself, maybe us film fans might start tuning in again.