At the end of the 92nd Academy Awards last night, over three hours into the ceremony, Jane Fonda spoke the immortal words “and the Oscar goes to”. She opened the envelope, looked up, paused, and then spoke the word that unleashed a cheer incomparable to other Best Picture winners. It was a yelp of delight that sounded more like a sporting celebration than a reaction to an award win. The word that sparked this was “Parasite”, the name of the film that everyone in that audience (and everyone at home) truly wanted to win.
That’s simply because it was the best film of last year. It seems simple enough, but too often that isn’t enough to be rewarded by the Academy. The years have taught us that the typical crowd pleaser is more likely to win over some of the best movies of any given decade. This time yesterday, it was looking like that would happen again. The good, but not fantastic 1917 was looking to be the big winner, something that looked and felt similar to many others that have come before, and inevitably others that will come in the future. We had reason to think that the current state of the Academy, despite constant reassurance that they’re diversifying their membership, was unlikely to deviate from their tendency to award the safe movies. Green Book infamously won last year, despite being a very racially backward film, and the lack of nominees of colour and female directors meant that their was no indication of a new direction this year.
But the big winner of the night paved the way for a more hopeful outlook.
The seeds were sewn early on in the night. One of the earliest awards was Best Original Screenplay, where Parasite picked up its first win. From this point, a glimmer of hope emerged. Bong Joon-ho had beaten Golden Globe and Critics Choice winner Quentin Tarantino, becoming the first foreign language writer to win a Screenplay Oscar since Pedro Almodovar and Talk to Her. Green Book won that award last year, and was the moment it proved popular with the Academy. The same can be said for Parasite. The fact that a Korean screenplay was embraced so heavily signalled indications for a strong night ahead.
Its second win for International feature was the opposite of surprise. It was arguably the biggest lock of the night, being the only film in the category also up for Best Picture. Like with Roma last year, this was the safe win that could then be used as compensation for the lack of Best Picture.
This could have easily been a repeat, but then Best Director happened. The moment that Bong Joon-ho’s name was read out by Spike Lee, it became Parasite’s night. Sam Mendes had been the overwhelming favourite to win. He had taken the Golden Globe, DGA and BAFTA, and was a sure fire win for the technical feat that was 1917. Bong winning Director was proof that the Academy were going all in on Parasite, and its success was due to passionate support rather than it being the least hated.
Looking back, the Best Picture win was all but confirmed after Bong took to the stage, but there was still a shade of doubt. Preferential ballot means a whole new set of rules, and 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit all had an outside chance of taking it home. But the moment Parasite’s name was read, it made sense and brought its triumphant night to a climax. It’s rare that a film is so successful at the Oscars these days, winning two thirds of its nominations. This was the year of Parasite, one of the best Best Picture winners in recent memory. Knowing the Academy, they’ll make up for it next year with probably an equally big disappointment.