Movies

The ‘Parasite’ Oscars Sweep Saved What Otherwise Would Have Been A Pretty Boring Evening

If there was a representative moment from last night’s Oscars, it was Eminem taking the stage to sing “Lose Yourself,” an 18-year-old song from a movie where the guy who played General Zod has sex with his mom. The crowd went wild for him, bopping their heads and letting loose like the Chardonnay had just kicked in.

Miramax

Has there ever been more definitive proof that white people are incapable of looking cool grooving to rap music? Even when it’s a white guy rapping it still holds true. It’s nice to know that even famous movie stars can still be giant tools.

Eminem, who was neither nominated nor in a movie this year, went on to receive a standing ovation for the performance, of a song that won the Oscar for best song in 2003, the same year Roman Polanski took home the best director Oscar (for The Pianist, which wasn’t even that good). 17 years seems like a good rule of thumb for the amount of time it generally takes Oscar voters to recognize when something is cool. I’m allowed to say this because I too love 8 Mile, and I had to find out who Billy Eilish was about two weeks ago via Google.

Like the Eminem performance, this year’s hostless Oscars was mostly both arbitrarily strange and safely nostalgic. The opening number — featuring Janelle Monae doing a play on the opening of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with back-up dancers dressed like Midsommar characters and the Joker — felt like it escaped from the Tony Awards. Meanwhile, the telecast made the curious decision to play lengthy montages of the nominees from each category, and then have the presenter tediously read out the names of the nominees we had just seen in the montage. It felt like waiting for someone to translate a thing that’s already in English.

When Joaquin Phoenix won the Oscar for best actor for Joker, he rattled off a list of the world’s problems — racism, gender inequality, queer rights, indigenous rights, animal rights — and then got to what he really wanted to call out by name: the way 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 use it for our coffee and our cereal.”

As someone who thinks making fun of vegans is hack and that a vegan lifestyle absolutely would be better for the environment (assuming I possessed that kind of willpower)… what a weird way to make that point. “Killing animals is unnecessarily cruel,” “eating animals is terrible for the environment,” and “veganism is healthier” all seem like perfectly valid arguments. Instead, Phoenix went with “please think of the calves.” Really, not the bolt through the head? Not humans being separated from their mothers? The artificial insemination and the stolen milk, then?

It was, well… certainly a choice. After that there was a vague decrying of cancel culture. I won’t say it was a cowardly speech, or an entirely meaningless protest, but it’s not hard to imagine a room full of billionaires scolding each other for serving hamburgers instead of impossible patties on their private jets next week.

In fairness to Phoenix, this is an actor who probably should’ve won three or four Oscars by now, but didn’t until he played an evil clown from a comic book. He was amazing, but how many more times can we give awards to people who played the Joker? Jared Leto is probably so pissed right now. At least that much we can appreciate.

Meanwhile, in the best actress category, Renee Zellweger won for playing Judy Garland in Judy and took the stage to a weird silence (maybe the guests hadn’t seen the movie — I certainly hadn’t, it made just $39 million worldwide). She began by thanking a seemingly endless procession of people, and then, just when it seemed like the audience was on the verge of falling asleep, she compared Judy Garland to a random grab bag of other famous people, both dead and alive, and then to famous types of people, seemingly in the hopes of eliciting some kind of response from the dead audience.

I have to say that this past year of conversations celebrating Judy Garland across genders and … I’m sorry, it’s across generations and across cultures has been a really cool reminder that our heroes unite us. No, the best among us who inspire us to find the best in ourselves. They unite us. When we look to our heroes, we agree, and that matters. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Dolores Huerta, Venus and Serena and Selena, Bob Dylan, Scorsese, Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman. We agree on our teachers, and we agree on our courageous men and women in uniform who serve. We agree on our first responders and firefighters. When we celebrate our heroes, we’re reminded of who we are as one people united.

Here’s to agreeing! Huzzah! One of the best decisions the show’s producers made was to not cut her off and ruin the absurd comedy of it all. At a certain point that evolved from speech into social experiment. “And I’d like to thank Bob Dylan and Harriet Tubman and Venus Williams, and firefighters and Mr. Evans at Robinson Elementary and my neighbor’s dog Scruffo…”

At the same Oscars telecast 18 years ago, where Eminem won his best song Oscar, Michael Moore took the stage with the rest of the best documentary nominees to rail against the Iraq War. Moore famously said “we live in fictitious times” and “shame on you, Mr. Bush” while Baghdad was in the process of being shocked and awed. He was promptly booed.

It’d be easy to say “we haven’t learned anything since then,” but clearly we have, about acceptable targets for protest speech. It was notable the degree to which this year’s winners avoided any mention of the thornier issues of the day. Stars are just like us! They too are terrified of pissing off too many rich people and becoming unemployable. (Necessary caveat here for American Factory co-director Julia Reichert, battling terminal breast cancer, saying “we believe things will get better when workers of the world unite” while collecting her best documentary Oscar.)

In the midst of all this, Parasite single-handedly saved the entire evening. Bong Joon Ho’s movie was a dark horse that ended up winning in every major category in which it was nominated — picture, international feature, director, and original screenplay (it lost production design and editing). Its wins offered not only surprise, but pleasant surprise (richly deserving of every win), and the movie itself said everything many of the night’s winners and presenters were afraid to — that wealth inequality and material striving degrades us all.

Then there was Bong himself — humble, heartfelt, relatable, and a little goofy, a man who said relatively few words but made them count. When he collected the Oscars for best international film and best original screenplay, he mostly just said “great honor, thank you” (which would have been an amazing speech, and a contender for Joe Pesci’s achievement in minimalism, with his all-time great five-word acceptance speech in 1991), and then thanked a few other people (the Academy, his actors, his wife).

When he won best director, he managed to get a standing ovation — for Martin Scorsese.

When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is that “The most personal is the most creative.” That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese.

A standing ovation for Scorsese (who has more than earned it) during an award for Parasite (which earned its award) was about as nice a moment as you ever get at the Oscars. But Bong wasn’t done:

When people in the U.S. were not familiar with my films, Quentin [Tarantino] always put my films on his list. He’s here, thank you so much. Quentin, I love you. And Todd [Phillips] and Sam [Mendes], great directors that I admire. If the Academy allows, I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the award into five and share it with all of you. Thank you. I will drink until next morning, thank you.

A heartfelt, accurate sentiment about storytelling, due kudos for a past master, gracious thanks to the other nominees for their specific contributions, delightfully odd foreign wordplay, and a humble paean to the joys of alcohol, all in barely a few minutes of screen time despite speaking through a translator? Am I crazy for thinking this might have been the best acceptance speech of all time?

And aside from what Parasite means as a movie (easily the best of this year’s best picture crop), there’s what it meant as a symbol (ie, the first film ever to win both the foreign language/international film Oscar and best picture). It meant that, for all their usual self-serving hypocritical terminal uncoolness, the Academy, whether they even meant to or not, had acknowledged Hollywood as no longer the center of the filmmaking universe. That was pretty cool, even for a bunch of dorks.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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