The South Korean class satire Parasite made history at the Oscars on Sunday, becoming the first non-English language film to win best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards.
It was also the first movie from South Korea to win an Oscar — period — but in addition to Hollywood’s top prize, Parasite clinched the awards for best director, best international feature film and best original screenplay.
In a year dominated by period epics, including 1917, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood and The Irishman, the film academy instead went overseas to reward Bong Joon Ho’s contemporary and unsettling portrait of social inequality.
True to its name, Parasite simply got under the skin of Oscar voters, attaching itself to the American awards season and, ultimately, to history. The win was a watershed moment for the Academy Awards, which has long been content to relegate international films to their own category.
Multiple standing ovations greeted Bong’s several wins.
“I am ready to drink tonight,” Bong said during one of his early wins of the night, prompting roars from the crowd. Unexpectedly called up again for best director, Bong saluted his fellow nominees, particularly Martin Scorsese, and concluded: “Now I’m ready to drink until tomorrow.”
After the Dolby Theatre had emptied out, the Parasite team still remained on the stage, soaking in their win.
The win for Parasite — which had echoes of the surprise victory of Moonlight over La La Land three years ago — came in a year when many criticized the lack of diversity in the nominees and the absence of female filmmakers. But the triumph for Parasite enabled Hollywood to flip the script and signal a different kind of progress.
In doing so, the film academy turned away another history-making event, again denying Netflix its first best-picture win despite two contenders in The Irishman and Marriage Story and a big-spending awards campaign blitz.
Sam Mendes’s World War I film 1917, made to seem one continuous shot, had been the clear favourite heading into the Oscars, having won nearly all the precursor awards, including top honours from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs.
In the end, 1917 went home with three awards for its technical virtuosity: Roger Deakins’s cinematography, visual effects and sound mixing.
All of the acting awards — won by Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt — went as expected. While Pitt, notching his first acting Oscar for his supporting actor role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, had regaled audiences with one-liners in the run-up to Sunday, he began his comments on a political note.
“They told me I have 45 seconds to speak, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said, alluding to the impeachment hearings for U.S. President Donald Trump. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it.”
Pitt said the honour had given him reason to reflect on his fairy-tale journey in the film industry, going back to when he moved to Los Angeles from Missouri. “Once upon a time in Hollywood,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Zellweger completed a comeback in winning the best actress prize (her second Academy Award) for her fragile but indomitable Judy Garland in Judy.
Dern won the supporting actress award for her performance as a divorce attorney in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Accepting her first Oscar, Dern thanked her in-attendance parents, “my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.”
Phoenix, long one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, took best actor for his limber but morose portrayal of the title character in Joker. In his acceptance speech, Phoenix spoke deliberately about a host of issues, including sexism and racism in the film industry, ecological disaster and vegetarianism.
“I’ve been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times and hard to work with. But so many of you in this room have given me a second chance,” Phoenix said. When people guide each other toward redemption, he said, “that is the best of humanity.”
His voice full of emotion, he concluded his speech by quoting a lyric of his deceased brother, River Phoenix: “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”
No women were nominated for best director this year, a subject that was woven into the entire ceremony — and even into some attendees’ clothing. Natalie Portman wore a cape lined with the names of female filmmakers who weren’t nominated for best director, including Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Mati Diop (Atlantics).
The ceremony was song-heavy. Some performances, like Eminem’s performance of Lose Yourself, were unexpected (and drew a wan response from Scorsese). All of the song nominees performed, including Elton John who won with his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin for their Rocketman tune.
The hostless ceremony opened on a note of inclusion, with Janelle Monae performing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and her own song, Come Alive, with an assist from Billy Porter.
“I’m so proud to be standing here as a black queer artist telling stories,” Monae said. “Happy Black History Month.”
Two former Oscar hosts, Chris Rock and Steve Martin, provided the opening monologue. “An incredible demotion,” Martin called it. Martin also reminded that something was missing from this year’s directing nominees. “Vaginas!” Rock replied.
In winning best adapted screenplay for his Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit, New Zealand Māori filmmaker Taika Waititi dedicated the award to “all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art, dance and write stories.”
“We are the original storytellers,” said Waititi.
Joker composer Hildur Gudnadottir became only the third woman to ever win best original score. “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music opening within, please speak up,” said Gudnadottir. “We need to hear your voices.”
“To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear music bubbling within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices.”
Awards were spread around to all of the best-picture nominees, with the lone exception being Scorsese’s 10-time nominee The Irishman. When Bong mentioned his admiration of Scorsese, an impromptu tribute broke out, with the Dolby Theatre giving Scorsese a standing ovation.
The car racing throwback Ford v Ferrari was also honoured for its craft, winning both editing and sound editing. Gerwig’s Louisa May Alcott adaptation Little Women won for Jacqueline Durran’s costume design. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won an award for Barbara Ling’s production design.
Netflix didn’t go home empty handed. Aside from Dern’s win for Marriage Story, the streamer’s American Factory won best documentary. The film is the first release from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.
Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release. https://t.co/W4AZ68iWoY
Pixar extended its domination of the best animated film category, winning for Toy Story 4. It’s the 10th Pixar film to win the award and second Toy Story film to do so, following the previous 2010 installment.
Kirk Douglas, Kobe Bryant remembered
The In Memoriam segment of the Oscars began by remembering Kobe Bryant and ended by paying tribute to Kirk Douglas.
Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age, died on Wednesday at the age of 103.
Kobe Bryant, a 2018 Oscar-winner for the short film Dear Basketball, died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
Before the award show, Spike Lee honoured Bryant on the red carpet by wearing a purple suit trimmed in yellow and adorned with the basketball star’s No. 24 on the lapels and on his back. Lee also wore a pair of Bryant’s Nike sneakers.
Lee walked the red carpet in a purple suit last year, too — a nod to late musical artist and close friend Prince.