Less than a month after the announcement of this year’s nominees, the 92nd Academy Awards are now behind us, but far from a thing of the past. Commemorating easily the best year for movies of the last decade, this year’s Oscars made history, with multiple first-time winners, including the first ever Best Picture winner not in the English language.
For the second year in a row, the Academy opted to forgo a host. Instead, presenters – including Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, Keanu Reeves, Mahershala Ali, Brie Larson and Sigourney Weaver and more – were invited to stay onstage a little longer to introduce the categories and nominees. This led to some entertaining moments – most notably from show openers Chris Rock and Steve Martin who jokingly called the new format a “huge demotion” from their previous hosting gigs in the early 2000’s. As well, show opener Rock, Martin, and show opener Janelle Monae were quick to point out the lack of diversity among nominees – the all-male directorial category, and the lack of people of colour among acting nominees getting particular attention.Additional celebrities were invited to introduce the presenters, including Beanie Feldstein, Kelly Marie Tran, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. While the rotating cast of celebrities kept the evening exciting, it did at points come across as C-listers introducing B-listers introducing A-listers to talk about Hollywood superstars. The Academy has embraced the no-host format, and while it’s mostly paying off, Hollywood has yet to completely master it.
This year also saw several more musical performances than last year. All nominees for Best Original Song were performed, as well as special performances by Utkarsh Ambudkar and Billie Eilish (who performed The Beatles’ “Yesterday”). The biggest musical surprise came from rapper Eminem, who performed his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself” for the first time at the Academy Awards this year. Perhaps the best musical story of the night went to long-time Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin, who scored his first ever Oscar win for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (alongside his partner, John). While this is John’s second win, this is the first win for Taupin, who helped write the song for musical biopic Rocketman. Telling the story of John and Taupin’s long, detailed relationship, Rocketman certainly could have gotten a little more attention at the Oscars, but the win for Taupin and John was well-deserved.
As for the other winners, this year saw a few expected wins, and several surprises. Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Joaquin Phoenix, and Renée Zellweger won for Supporting Actor and Actress, Lead Actor and Lead Actress, respectively – a first for all but Zellweger (who won in 2004), and awards each had already won at the Golden Globes and a few other awards shows. Similarly, 1917 and Ford v Ferrari were well-represented in technical categories: 1917 took Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Visual Effects, while Ford v Ferrari took Film and Sound Editing. Best Animated Feature – often called the “Disney Award” – went to Toy Story 4 (the only Disney movie nominated).
In the most surprising upset of the night, South Korean film Parasite was awarded Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, and Best Picture. This makes Bong Joon-ho’s scathing social commentary (which we reviewed here) the first ever movie not originally in the English language to win Best Picture. Additionally, since Bong Joon-ho accepted each award, this feat ties Bong with Walt Disney as the only person ever to receive four Academy Awards in the same night (Walt Disney accomplished this in 1954).
Lest they be overshadowed, Taika Waititi and Hildur Guðnadóttir also made history at this year’s Oscars. Waititi’s Adapted Screenplay win for Jojo Rabbit makes him the first Maori person to win an Oscar. During his acceptance speech, Waititi notably also gave the first land acknowledgement speech in Oscars history, noting that the ceremony was being held on the ancestral grounds of the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash, as well as dedicating his award to indiginous people around the world. Meanwhile, Guðnadóttir is the first woman to win in the Original Score category for her work on Joker. While it’s worth noting that 1998 also saw a woman win Original Score, the category was at the time split between Musical or Comedy and Drama, making Guðnadóttir the first female winner since the categories were combined.
While snubs certainly occurred, none were particularly surprising. Little Women was ignored in Adapted Screenplay but won Costume Design. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh were thought to be potential upsets for Best Leading Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, but lost to more obvious choices (mentioned above). The Irishman was completely ignored, though it was pitted against better options in almost every category (its visual effects snub is a small surprise).
In summary, the 92nd Oscars ceremony honouried films from one of the best years in recent memory, and did so with the Academy’s best awards show in recent memory. Despite a notable lack of diversity in many of the nomination categories, the choices the Academy made this year did reflect a willingness to look outside of Hollywood’s typical box, and demonstrated an appreciation for non-American, non-white nominees. With any luck, this is the harbinger of a change in attitude in Hollywood, which just might foreshadow more diversity and internationality among North American films and audiences.