It never seemed like it was going to happen.
Even when it scored an impressive amount of nominations – six – for a foreign film. Even when it won the Screen Actors Guild's top prize to a rousing ovation. Even with some of the world's biggest celebrities, like Ryan Reynolds and Chrissy Teigen, praising it on Twitter. And even when it won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay on Sunday night – two clear bellwether categories for a Best Picture win.
It wasn't until Jane Fonda opened the final envelope of the night and took a short but telling pause before saying the name out loud that it was to be believed: "Parasite" became the first international film to ever win the Academy Awards' top prize. (And even then, I was half-waiting for a reverse "Moonlight" scenario to break out.)
The South Korean thriller is a truly one-of-a-kind winner for the Oscars, but it was far from the only winner on Sunday night – and as we all know, the most important winners and losers are usually not the ones found in the envelopes. So who really won at the Oscars? Who really lost? And who's still trying to figure out what Eminem was doing there?
Let's talk about the real winners and losers of the 92nd Academy Awards.
Winner: Bong Joon-ho
As L.A. Times critic Justin Chang excellently wrote last month, "Parasite" director Bong Joon-ho won well before Sunday night's ceremony. His Korean thriller was already a critical darling and, even more incredibly, a true hit. Don't let people say "Parasite" winning is evidence of Oscars' out-of-touch pretentious snobbery; the movie's made well over $100 million worldwide, and as anybody who's seen it can confirm, it's a banger of a thriller, not some stodgy awards bait. This isn't some "Shakespeare in Love" victory of campaign strategy; "Parasite" won four Oscars Sunday night because people just genuinely really love "Parasite."
Along the way to Sunday night's surprise, he and the "Parasite" cast became utter awards season darlings thanks to their delightful press tour and quotes, sweetly honored and scathingly honest in equal measure. (He smacked the Oscars by saying they were essentially a local film award – and THEN WON ANYWAY!) No matter what, the writer-director was guaranteed to be the hottest name in Hollywood, with the Academy earning much more cred and respect from rewarding Bong Joon-ho than the other way around.
But why stop at moral victories when you can claim actual victories too?
Bong Joon-ho ended leaving the Oscars with four total trophies – Best International Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture – tying the legendary Walt Disney for the most golden men won by a single person in a single night. His movie's primed to make even more money with the Best Picture bump, and suddenly there's a growing audience craving more of his work. (Good news, new #BongHive members: "Parasite" is great, but I don't even think it's his best movie. Get eyes on some "Snowpiercer" and "The Host" ASAP.) He broke ground for international films everywhere – as well as his native Korea, which had never even received a Best International Film nomination before this despite plenty of deserved work – and pulled off a win that, overall, everyone just seems really happy about, even if they were pulling for another film.
And he did it all while still being as meme-ably charming, affable and unfazed as before the Oscars ever noticed him, giving Martin Scorsese a standing ovation after his Best Director win and doing what any of us would do: looking forward to drinking heavily after the event.
Find yourself a person who'll look at you the way Bong Joon-ho looked in astonished awe at his first Oscar last night. Hopefully after this massive win, he finds himself a studio that looks at him the same way – or not! Again, as "Parasite" – and his entire career – has shown, he's never needed them to be outstanding.
It's hard to say the war movie should be disappointed considering it came away with the second-most awards of the night, but when you're the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture – and at least certainly Director – for most of this awards season, and you come away with neither, something went wrong. (Or very right, if you weren't a fan of the one-take war drama.)
The vote ended up playing out much like the "La La Land" versus "Moonlight" year, with a more traditional, simpler and technically accomplished frontrunner losing out late to a smaller but more buzzy, exciting and of-the-moment underdog. Maybe we should've seen this coming after the response "Parasite" received at the Screen Actors Guild awards, with a standing ovation for the cast and a unprecedented Best Picture win there, but it was easy to argue the odds were still against the Korean thriller since "1917" wasn't even nominated there – and "Parasite" was still a foreign film trying to win when it already has "its own category."
And also much like "La La Land," time will likely be kinder to "1917" now that it's lost. The weight of "Best Picture winner" can be a heavy burden, especially if another nominee is seen as the superior option – just ask "The Shape of Water," which went from a deserving and unexpected favorite to the predictable pick that had the gall to beat "Get Out" and "Lady Bird." "1917" works best as solely an exercise in spectacle – and now that it's lost Best Picture, it doesn't have to be anything more. So maybe it's a winner after all.
Winner: The future
There should've been medical warnings on the Oscars last night, because my neck is ruined from the whiplash of the Academy going from anointing "Green Book" its Best Picture to handing the first international film its top prize in less than 365 days. For movie fans worldwide, though, it's the most pleasurable pain imaginable, as the Academy has now (all too delayed) opened its parameters for what can be the Best Picture of the year, with no more of the condescending head-patting of "oh, that's nice, but you have your own little category." Or at least we can hope; we thought things were changing after "Moonlight" won too and ... well, "Green Book."
But hey, progress is progress – and moving forward a generally old, white and male gaggle as large as the Academy was always going to be a shaky and slow process. Even this year, there were "brave" and "honest" anonymous voters speaking out against the idea of an international Best Picture winner. But hopefully now that the pickle's out of the jar, rewarding foreign films outside their designated category won't feel like such a foreign concept.
And why stop there? Let's start fully recognizing the craft that goes behind documentary filmmaking and storytelling while we're at it (one of the greatest fields for diverse directors and voices in the medium at that, too). How about an animated movie as well? Do we really want to keep pretending these types of films aren't as much of an artistic feat or accomplishment, that they can't tell incredible stories that captivate audiences? The only limit to what a Best Picture can be is voters' imaginations.
Loser: "The Irishman"
While "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and "Joker" had rough nights as well, scoring only two wins each despite 22 nominations combined, nobody lost more than "The Irishman," earning ten nominations but not a single trophy. The record is 11 nominations without a win (1977's "The Turning Point" and 1985's "The Color Purple"), but Scorsese's latest got as close as a movie could to joining that undesirable company as it could.
Last year, "Roma" could point to the Netflix Effect for icing it out of Best Picture, but with every other studio now getting into the streaming game, I don't think that's as much the case this year. I do think people watch streaming movies differently than theatrical releases, less captive and engaged in the material, which might explain why the Big Red Streaming Monolith flopped Sunday night overall, only winning twice (Laura Dern in "Marriage Story" and "American Factory" for Best Documentary) despite 24 total nominations.
In the end, the three-and-a-half hour gangster epic was just too long, too depressing and too familiar – from the story to the cast and crew, all previous winners in no "due for an award" narratives to push them forward. (Only Pesci had a storyline to his nomination, but he ran into the Brad Pitt buzzsaw AND had to split votes with a co-star.) It's what it is.
Winner: Billie Eilish
The pop star's fairy tale awards season run continued into the Oscars, where the "Bad Guy" singer made good on her in memoriam performance of "Yesterday." (For Eilish's fans, no, "Yesterday" is not a new song.) Most importantly, however, Eilish scored one of the memes of the night when she was, uh, perplexed by Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig's rendition of "Lady in Red" during their impromptu song break.
One thing, though: Billie Eilish has to cut the following right the hell out:
I feel like I just picked the wrong Holy Grail at the end of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Loser: The in memoriam
Though the in memoriam section was well-performed and tastefully done, of course there were some distasteful snubs as well. Horror icon Sid Haig missed the montage, for instance – disappointing if unsurprising since it's not like the Academy recognized him in life either. Most bizarre, though: How do you leave out Luke Perry? He was IN one of the year's Best Picture nominees for Lancer's sake!
Winner: "Due" actors
Normally having the winners in all four acting categories locked up seemingly months ago and going exactly to plan on Oscar night would be a boring bummer – especially when more than a few of the winning turns weren't exactly the kind of powerhouse performances in impressive movies that merited a season-long sweep. (*looks over in Renee Zellweger's direction*) But even so, nobody complained too much Sunday night because, even if the actors' generally weren't putting forward their finest in their winning roles, the Oscars make more sense with them finally having awards.
Brad Pitt's turn was probably the most deserved of the bunch; his "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" performance is exactly the kind of movie star performance we don't make a lot of anymore – and it's the Oscars appreciating a mostly comedic performance. But most of all, Pitt SHOULD have an Oscar for a career, especially with his late phase choices, that's always been way more interesting than a superstar's career has any right to be. Now he finally has a performance Oscar – and a deserved one, not just a "Martin Scorsese winning for 'The Departed'" make-good one.
Though she won in a bummer of a category (justice for J.Lo and Zhao Shuzhen), Laura Dern's "Marriage Story" performance is still solid – and the world is a better place with the phrase "Oscar-winner Laura Dern" in it. Same with Joaquin Phoenix, who put in a better performance as a violent loner living with his mother and struggling with mental health in "You Were Never Really Here" than "Joker," but he's had a trophy coming for a while, and it might as well go to a monolithic hit and undoubtedly culturally significant turn like Arthur Fleck. And sure, his speech was awkward to the level of many voters thinking, "Oh, so THAT'S why we kept him off the stage for so long" – collect your money, people who bet "artificially inseminated cows" would be a talking point on the night! – but there was something sweetly sincere to his diatribe.
And yes, no one will ever talk about "Judy" again – nor were they even talking about it that much during this awards season – but considering how Hollywood tossed Renee Zellweger out over a decade ago for your choice of sexist reasons, no one's going to shade rewarding her dedicated performance here. The far greater and grosser mistake will be if Hollywood lets Zellweger disappear again after this.
Loser: The Best Visual Effects winners
There you are: After years of perfecting your craft and months working on an immensely complicated movie shoot, you've been called on stage to accept an award for your impressive work. The crowd, filled with your industry brethren and stars you've only read about in magazines, is applauding you and your work. It is the pinnacle of your career, the moment you dream about ... and there to present you with your hard-earned trophies are two comedians dressed like humanoid cats, making sure nobody hears a word of your acceptance speech because they're too busy laughing at two huge furries standing solemnly off to the side.
Even when you least expect it, "CATS" STRIKES AGAIN!
Winner: Taika Waititi
I'll admit that I was pulling for Greta Gerwig and "Little Women" in the Best Adapted Screenplay category over "Jojo Rabbit," which comes with all the tonal landmines that you could imagine from the world's cutest Nazi movie. But like with Joaquin Phoenix, I like living in a world where a creative and hilarious mind like Taika Waititi has an Oscar. He should have a blank check movie coming his way now – or, really, ANOTHER blank check movie since "Nazi satire movie in which I play Hitler" is surely not the easiest sell – and I am all for more of unfiltered, unreserved Waititi.
And speaking of unfiltered, unreserved Taiki Waititi:
Taika Waititi jokes about what writers should be asking for in the next round of talks with producers: "Apple needs to fix those keyboards. They are impossible to write on. They’ve gotten worse. It makes me want to go back to PCs" #Oscars pic.twitter.com/vlFTSjCfZm — Variety (@Variety) February 10, 2020
What's the best way to top off a signature pointless Oscars montage – this year about music in the movies? How about a pointless performance from Eminem? Listen, "Lose Yourself" is a good song – I know because you gave it an Oscar 18 years ago in rare instance of the Best Original Song category featuring a quality song – but in a show where people near the end were stressfully wrapping up speeches and the "Parasite" crew had the lights come down on them mid-acceptance, maybe we didn't need to waste five minutes on a fine but needless and random throwback performance of a song that I can hear at literally any and every sporting event?
At least we got some very strong reaction shots from it:
How about a new Marty meme too!?
Never mind: Eminem's performance was the most essential part of the night.
Winner: Olivia Colman, again
How charming do you have to be to basically brag about winning an Oscar and victory sexing your husband in front of the whole world, and everyone's still like, "Aww, you're delightful?" Olivia Colman levels of charming, apparently. Put this woman in front of microphones forever. And also get her some red carpet security because she almost got horse-collar tackled walking into the theater.
OF COURSE she just chuckled it off. Forever a queen.
Loser: The opening number
The opening musical number of the Oscars, performed by the always-exuberant Janelle Monae and the perpetually fabulous Billy Porter, did an excellent job of reminding audiences of the terrific movies of the past year. One slight problem: Most of the featured films weren't nominated for Oscars. Always like to start my awards show by highlighting evidence of how generally poor the Oscars are in terms of honoring the diverse cultural landmarks of a year! "Us," "Midsommar," "Dolemite is My Name," and the mostly ignored "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" deserved much better than to be set-dressing.
Winner: Presenter combos
For a show apparently unable to find a host, the Oscars sure are good at finding great potential hosts to present awards. Chris Rock and Steve Martin. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even James Corden and Rebel Wilson were funny for a bit before they ruined the Best Visual Effects winners' night.
All of these – OK, but preferably not Corden and Wilson – would make very fun Oscars hosts, but the reality is we're never returning to that ever again. Oscars host is one of the most thankless gigs Hollywood can offer next to Zazie Beets' role in "Joker," and nobody wants to be the face of a long show whose ratings are dwindling (because the ratings for EVERYTHING are dwindling). It's far easier to instead not wear out your welcome in four minutes than across four hours and more enjoyable to be merely a part of a fun, fast show than the selling point of a slow, bad show.
The host may be gone forever – but if the Oscars keep coming up with these funny and pleasant combinations (Oscar Issac and Salma Hayek, yes please!), no one will miss it.
Loser: Presenters for ... presenters?
The one problem with axing a host from the proceedings: Normally he or she helps introduce the presenters to the stage. So without someone in that role, you end up with starry presenters coming out on stage ... to present another starry presenter. And in most cases, that second starry presenter is on stage to announce a winner – aka present another person. By the end of the night, even "1917" star Thomas MacKay was making fun of it. I guess there will never be such a thing as a fat-free Academy Awards; even when the Oscars are moving fast and streamlined, they find a way to be hilariously overstuffed and cumbersome. Oscars gonna Oscars.
Winner: Natalie Portman
The Oscars decided to invite not one of the excellent and more-than-deserving female filmmakers amongst their Best Director nominee ranks this year – like tragically most years, as somehow only five have ever been nominated. So Natalie "And Here Are The All-Male Nominees" Portman took upon herself to bring them to the ceremony, embroidering her cape with their names in order to literally cape for Lorene Scafaria ("Hustlers"), Lulu Wang ("The Farewell"), Alma Har'el ("Honey Boy"), Marielle Heller, ("A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood") Melina Matsoukas ("Queen & Slim") and more.
The Academy Awards didn’t honor female creators, so Natalie Portman decided to use her red carpet look to make a powerful statement. https://t.co/ZNyA5yUOII pic.twitter.com/LxzG3hqVsI — Vogue Runway (@VogueRunway) February 10, 2020
Even Edna Mode from "The Incredibles" would have to put aside her cape hate for this true fashion statement. Now, Oscar voters: Maybe next year, let's not leave the task of honoring female directors up to a garment, mmkay?
What's the only thing worse than nominating an almost exclusively white crew of acting nominees (save for a slave performance, of course)? How about getting a bunch of diverse celebrities and stars to praise that very Caucasian bunch, hand them their awards and serve as the entertainment during the night? "Parasite" winning doesn't make up for the fact that it was just about the only representative of color in any of the major categories.
The Oscars show was almost certainly well-intended in their attempt to make up for the #OscarsSoWhite 2.0 controversy by emphasizing exceptional diverse voices and faces during the night, but the resulting sweaty optics were ... suboptimal, with a real "look, we know minorities too!" vibe at best – especially considering how shoehorned certain elements felt, like the presenters presenting presenters or the mid-show rap recap. (Listen, the show's not THAT long anymore; I can remember what happened 25 minutes ago.) And as writer Ira Madison III noted on Twitter, we can keep joking and laughing off the lack of diverse nominees each year – or we could, you know, actually nominate some diverse nominees. Time for some new material, Academy voters.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.