As FilmInk posited recently, opting to go hostless instantly puts the Oscars behind the eight-ball. Last year, it stripped the event of a sense of purpose and identity, and this year was exactly the same. Yes, as always, there were big names aplenty doing good things in the presenting stakes, but the lack of a guiding voice meant that this already long ceremony felt even more drawn out. But as usual, the starriness and general import of the occasion meant that there was enough to amply entertain for its duration. All through the recent Golden Globe Awards, you were on the edge of your seat, wondering who or what host Ricky Gervais would apply the blowtorch to next. At this year’s Oscars, it was more a case of hoping that something memorable would happen…and it more than occasionally did.
The ceremony certainly opened with a bang, as Janelle Monae – complete with dancers inspired by Joker, Us, My Name Is Dolemite, and Midsommar (!!!!), we think, amongst others – lit up the stage (and the audience) with a rousing take on “Welcome To The Neighbourhood” that served as the ceremony’s opening salvo against its own lack of diversity in the nominations. Monae proudly announced herself as “black and queer” and celebrated all of the (non-nominated) women making films.
Former hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock delivered the opening monologue (“What a demotion!” opined Martin), which was very, very funny indeed. All of the elephants in the room (lack of racial diversity, lack of female director nominees, the length of The Irishman) were addressed in amusing fashion, and only served to prompt an obvious question: why didn’t Rock and Martin (a great odd couple if ever there was one) just host the whole thing? “Twitter,” was Rock’s reason. “Everyone’s said things on Twitter…myself included.”
The diversity issue was a current theme of the night, with presenters representing all spectrums of the racial rainbow, from Kelly Marie Tran and Spike Lee through to Mindy Kaling and Lin Manuel Miranda. Since the whole #Oscarssowhite controversy, the Oscars organisers have balanced their continually whitebread nomination lists by featuring diverse presenters, which is great, but aren’t the people in the audience essentially the ones that voted? Aren’t they responsible for the nominations? Actors are by far the biggest voting group in the Oscars, aren’t they?
They all clap and cheer along with the jokes and commentary, but why don’t they do something about the Oscars’ lack of diversity by actually voting differently? Why didn’t all the other actors (yes, the ones that actually vote in the acting categories!) cast their vote for Eddie Murphy in My Name Is Dolemite? Or Awkwafina in The Farewell? Or anyone in Parasite? If they want the look of the Oscars to change, they have the power, don’t they? And also, it’s great to talk all night about how no women were featured in the Best Director category, but who do they think should have been bounced from the list of nominees to make way for Greta Gerwig or Lulu Wang? After all, someone has to go to make way for someone else. But then, everyone in the room would probably like to work with these guys in the future, so don’t expect anyone to make those kind of big calls. Anyway…
A few real surprises amongst the award winners applied jolts of electricity to the ceremony. A visibly surprised Bong Joon Ho beat out 1917 favourite Sam Mendes as Best Director for Parasite (which also picked up Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature), and delivered great shout-outs to Marty and QT (a longtime fan and supporter) during his humble and entertaining acceptance speech. The critically acclaimed drama also delivered one of the biggest Oscars shock in years when it took home the Best Picture gong, making it the first foreign language film in the awards history to ever do so. Now that’s a massive win for diversity…
All of the winners in the acting categories, however, were as popularly predicted, but this year, it was actually great to see the favourites take home the gold. Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance in Joker is a truly staggering piece of work – transformative, deeply moving, uninhibited, and richly physical – and it was affirming (and a little disturbing) to see this true outsider artist embraced (as was his buddy and co-conspirator, Casey Affleck, years earlier for Manchester By The Sea) by the Hollywood system. His speech, meanwhile, was one of the few overtly political (though it was actually more philosophical in tone) of the ceremony, and will be much discussed. His mere mention of his late brother River was truly heartbreaking.
Though less celebrated in the media, the same words of praise (transformative, deeply moving, uninhibited, and richly physical) could be applied to Renee Zellweger’s superb title performance as tragic Hollywood figure Judy Garland in the equally underrated biopic Judy. The irony of the fact that Judy Garland was essentially ruined by Hollywood itself was probably lost by most in attendance. Zellweger’s acceptance speech, meanwhile, was an enjoyable ramble.
In the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, the winners were gold-plated Hollywood favourites who were likely receiving gongs for their past works as much as the films that brought them their awards. Clearly emotional (and momentarily political) Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood winner Brad Pitt was the first to mention Trump’s impeachment, before switching gears with a heartfelt speech in which he thanked QT, Leo and (per his fantastic fading action man character, Cliff Booth) Hollywood’s cohort of stunt performers. Like Pitt, Laura Dern has done brilliant work in Hollywood for years, and her score for her sensational performance as a fiery divorce lawyer in Marriage Story was richly deserved. Her acceptance speech, meanwhile, was eloquent and very touching, especially with her acting legend mum, Diane Ladd, in the audience.
The Best Adapted Screenplay (Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit) Award, meanwhile, was a nice consolation for one of the most original films of the year, while Waititi’s shout-out to the world’s indigenous storytellers was a very nice touch.
Musically, the Oscars is usually a mixed bag, and 2020 was no different. Most of the interpretations of the Best Song nominations were pretty dull affairs (it was good to see Elton John perform and win though), but a big surprise came in the form of, um, Eminem, who followed a goosebump-inducing clip package highlighting the importance of songs in movies with a rousing performance of his Eight Mile theme song, “Lose Yourself”? Why? Hell, why not? The audience absolutely loved it (except for Marty, who looked like he was asleep), and hopefully, this will kick-start a trend. Could next year’s ceremony see Berlin reform to perform “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun? Or maybe Kenny Loggins could belt out “Danger Zone” or “Footloose”? Gifted rapper, Utkarsh Ambudkar, meanwhile, delivered a great half-way point rhyme recapping the night’s winners…though, with the length of the ceremony, do we really need a recap? And it-girl Billie Eilish smashed it with her stellar performance of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” on the always moving in-memorium sequence.
The presenters all did strong work, with undeniable highlights coming from the very, very funny duos of Kristen Wiig & Maya Rudolph; Will Ferrell & Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (who bounced off each with aplomb, hilariously playing dumb about what editors and cinematographers do); an hilariously in-costume James Corden and Rebel Wilson (“As cast members of Cats, we know the importance of visual effects”); an f-bomb dropping Ray Romano and Sandra Oh; Shia LaBeouf & Zack Gottsagen (and no, Shia was NOT laughing at his Peanut Butter Falcon co-star, you idiots on Twitter); and envelope-dropping Diane Keaton & Keanu Reeves (come on, haven’t we all been crying out for this Something’s Gotta Give reunion?)
Oh, and unsurprisingly, there were no jokes about one-time Hollywood Oscars hunter and all-round movie industry pal Harvey Weinstein…mmmm, too soon?
For a full list of Oscar winners, click here.