Oscars 2020: A Night That Did so Much Right… and Yet...

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Hustlers, 2019
Hustlers, 2019(Film still)

Parasite may have made history at Sunday night’s Oscars, but the Academy still has a long way to go. Carmen Gray looks at three people who should have been nominated at the awards

What a night. Sad xenophobes might have gotten a little bit sadder, but my Twitter feed was awash with elation: Parasite had made history at this year’s Academy Awards. The brutal and bonkers black satire from South Korea, directed by Bong Joon-ho, became the first film not in the English Language to win the Oscar for Best Picture (it was only the 12th ever nominated in the category), as it beat out presumed frontrunner 1917. It had already bagged International Feature Film, as predicted, earlier in the evening. The fact the two even exist as separate categories tells you everything you need to know about the Academy’s attitude to most of the filmmaking planet: if a contender’s not in English, it’s usually relegated off to the side, quarantined with its foreign ways and pesky subtitles away from the Hollywood love-in of the climactic finale. Not only is Parasite in Korean, its exposure of class inequality, as its family of grifters infiltrate a wealthy household, is far more subversive than the escapist sentimentality voters traditionally plump for.

So how did this miracle happen? Geniously plotted and executed, Parasite smuggles its social commentary across with such rollicking hilarity and cliffhanger suspense, complete with audacious twist, that even those who normally break out in a hostile sweat over any whiff of subs or socialism must have been so roundly entertained they abandoned all resistance. What’s more, the entrenched bias in the Oscar race, and the industry as a whole, is becoming harder for the Academy to ignore. It started heeding calls to diversify its membership after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy erupted (2015 and 2016 saw back-to-back years of all-white acting nominees.) In other editions, the patriotic nostalgia and showy technical gimmickry of Sam Mendes’ 1917, which immerses us in the trenches of World War One, might have been irresistible.

Could this finally be the end of the white, safe and “meh” Oscars, as they reach further outward, rather than back? Before we lose our minds in complacency, let’s pay tribute not only to the brilliant coup of the #BongHive, but to those so egregiously snubbed in categories they should have been frontrunners in, that they weren’t even nominated. Now you’ve got us sitting up with rapt attention to your magic possibilities, Academy, what’s it going to be?


Deserved to be nominated: Greta Gerwig

“Did the film direct itself?” is an incredulous question we’ve been hearing more and more recently, as an industry is called on to explain – or rather, take concrete action toward changing – the travesty that women are so rarely recognised for directing, even when they’ve made a brilliantly accomplished piece of work that’s staring us right in the face. Only one has ever won the category (Kathryn Bigelow, with 2008’s testosterone-heavy The Hurt Locker) and only five ever nominated (including Gerwig, for 2017’s Lady Bird). As sharp and boldly exuberant as it is tender, Gerwig’s re-envisioning of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is her tour de force. It blew the dust off the 19th-century American classic for a deftly layered reflection on female ambition, freedom and limitation that speaks straight to modern audiences and brought out vital performances from an entire cast. At least it was in the running for Best Picture, but Gerwig was notably absent from the directing line-up, a category which took Parasite’s Oscar wins up to four. Did the Academy, which is 68 per cent male, look down on her horizon of interest as too domestic, or girlish, to be on a par with the “men’s work” (ahem) of mobster and war epics like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and 1917? We can only speculate. Natalie Portman had had enough, at any rate, and made a red carpet statement by arriving draped in a Dior cape that, in a classy dig at the Academy, was embroidered with the surnames of deserving female directors not nominated: Gerwig, Wang, Scafaria, Diop, Heller, Matsoukas, Har’el, Sciamma.

Actor in a Leading Role

Deserved to be nominated: Adam Sandler

It’s scandalous that Uncut Gems, one of the very best films of the year, bagged zero Oscar noms. Its directors, the Safdie brothers, holding the torch for grimy, street-smart indies with their nerve-shredding careens through underbelly America, may just be too small-fry in terms of box office to have made a dent in the field. It’s especially a shame, because Adam Sandler put in the greatest performance of his career as Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweller in the Diamond District of New York and fast-talking disaster zone of a man. Addicted to high-stakes risk, he must retrieve a gem to pay off his debts in a high-decibel catastrophe. Just as the Safdies helped Robert Pattinson break out of typecasting with his role of a scuzzed-up crim in Good Time, Adam Sandler dug deep for a pathos beyond the bounds of his frequent rom-com casting, infusing the scumbaggery of his character with the all-too-humanness of his personal limitations. Ratner’s eccentricity and lack of moral compass were not as theatrically spectacular as those of failed stand-up Arthur Fleck in Joker, the kind of very actor-y role the Academy loves and which won Joaquin Phoenix the Oscar, but the two should have duked it out in the shortlist. Sandler was recognised at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica last weekend, at least. While the good looks of the “feather-haired douchebag motherfuckers” cleaning up at the Oscars would fade, his personality would “shine on forever,” he said, as he collected Best Male Lead with the funniest speech of the evening. Touché.

Actress in a Supporting Role  

Deserved to be nominated: Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez brought emotional depth and smart contradictions to Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria’s dark comedy of desperation and entrepreneurship on the margins, playing Ramona, a brassy stripper operating a swindling racket with co-workers during the financial crisis, as warm as well as ruthless. But despite being one of the frontrunners at the Golden Globes, she wasn’t even in Oscar consideration, in a category that nobody could begrudge the magnificent Laura Dern winning as a breezy divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. The vision of a pole-dancer commandeering the credit cards of gullible rich men to line her own pockets might have scared some voters; or perhaps Lopez, first propelled to stardom in the music industry, is not enough inside Hollywood’s inner circle to have wooed their sentiments. Either way, it was another glaring omission that shows the Academy still has a long way to go on diversity, as a number of acclaimed performances by actors of colour were shut out of a nearly all-white slate of acting nominees this year, including Globe-winner Awkwafina for The FarewellLupita Nyong’o for Us, and Eddie Murphy for Dolemite Is My Name. She was missed at the Oscar table, but at least JLo won the Super Bowl with a sensational, pointedly Latino halftime show.