Like a good movie, the Academy Awards have had some dramatic endings lately. Not many have been dramatic as last night’s awards, when Parasite became the first foreign film to win Best Picture.
I had a feeling it was going to happen. I put all of my chips in on the Korean film — the “dark horse” candidate of this year’s nominees. But it wasn’t all too drastic to bet on Parasite. In fact, it was the smart choice, not the bold choice. I was the only one in my family to make the correct prediction (everyone else went with the popular pick in 1917), but I could see this one coming from a mile away.
Where exactly did my hunch for Parasite come from? I credit it to my awful habit of perusing comments on the internet (and if you ever dive into the depths of Twitter, you know what I mean).
Albeit a much different situation, I remember doing the same thing on the day of the 2016 presidential election, which let a concerning possibility sink in: that Trump is actually way more liked than I thought. In this case, 1917 was way less liked than I thought. Now, the electoral college and the Academy’s preferential ballot (ordering your choices from first to last) are vastly different, but the same logic applies. There was enough push to send Parasite over the top — or enough pull to bring 1917 down to second place.
Let me preface this by saying my reaction to 1917 was nothing but praise. How someone could sit through a Roger Deakins-shot, one-take-style masterpiece that puts you headfirst into French countryside amid World War I and come out with the word “boring” is beyond me. Yet, a broad exit survey brought a slightly critical take. Scroll through comment sections of websites and social media, and you’ll see these bite-sized reviews of the Sam Mendes war epic: snoozefest, dull, uninteresting.
Clearly Sam Mendes’ approach with the film wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. It was highly focused, putting grit, realism, and technicality over memorable one-liners and standout characters. That’s certainly not the war epic we’re used to (Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge come to mind).
Combine this outspoken minority with the way the Oscars choose the Best Picture winner, and it’s no surprise that Parasite won — in fact, it should’ve been expected.
The preferential ballot has its pros and cons. It can reward “safe” films that get a lot of third- and fourth-place votes, like last year’s Green Book. But it can also reward “consistent” films that don’t land at the bottom of many voters’ lists. In the battle between 1917 and Parasite, it makes sense, then, why the latter won the prize: Who in their right mind would put a film as good as Bong Joon-ho’s latest effort at number eight or nine in their list?
Since there was an outspoken public minority that disliked 1917, you can bet there were a handful of ballots that had the war flick near the bottom. Parasite, on the other hand, hardly ended up with any negative opinions to its reputation. Perhaps the only negative was the fact that it required you to read subtitles — a chore so thoughtless in a movie this instantly likable that it’s as natural as brushing your teeth. God forbid that “one-inch tall barrier,” as Bong referred to it, would cause you to dislike any film.
The roar when Bong’s film won Best Picture proved that it was the favorite not simply in terms of odds, but also in in terms of adoration. Bong is treasured by critics, actors, and — four awards later — clearly the Academy too. His speech and celebration last night only sold everyone on him more, as he matched his well-spoken reactions with his urge to drink later in the night — and drink he did. How can you not love this man?
Perhaps the only person not big on Parasite’s win was my dad, who semi-jokingly called 1917‘s defeat a slight against our city of Kansas City, home to the largest World War I museum in the country (poor KC can’t win, except the Super Bowl I guess).
But then there’s this dude.
Imagine having an opinion so ignorant that even Hollywood takes time out of its busy night to condemn you for it. (It’s fine to want another film to win, but the fact that his main criticism of Parasite is that it “stokes the flames of class warfare” shows he’s more focused on shallow politics than multi-layered artistry).
Anyway, if there’s anyone we should’ve been pointing fingers at this year, it’s the Academy. These are folks who, after all, were content with Green Book as the 2020 Best Picture winner. But they did choose a critical darling in Moonlight a few years ago, and now they’ve repeated the trend with another choice of timeless art over Oscar bait we’ll forget about by next year.
Critics liked both Moonlight and Parasite more than La La Land and 1917. Rotten Tomatoes critic scores both were firm predictors of the Best Picture race. This year, an audience score of 92 percent should’ve made Parasite an even bigger favorite — something that Moonlight (at 79 percent) didn’t exactly have going for it in 2017.
With Moonlight as a precedent, the result shouldn’t be as shocking in 2020, but it’s certainly still unprecedented. A foreign language film had never won Best Picture until last night. In fact, a Korean film had never even won Best International Film, and it went home tied with 1917 with four total awards, including two categories where it was also up against Mendes’ film: Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay.
But history and odds are different things, and all of the odds should’ve pointed to Parasite and Bong Joon-ho.
Featured Image Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters