Parasite Feeds On Oscar Buzz

What a win. Parasite took the Best Picture Oscar in one of the great upsets. I had its director Bong Joon Ho down to win Best Director, which he duly did and which was surprise enough, but I didn’t think the film itself had quite the momentum enough to topple 1917. How wrong. (really screwed my ballot paper up, too, leaving with just 17 right.

I hope Parasite’s victory proves as breakthrough a moment as it’s being heralded, and that ‘subtitled’ movies now regularly compete for the Best Film – as they have done at Cannes for the last 70 or so years. I’ve often been asked if a ‘foreign’ film could ever win Best Picture. I do point out that The Artist was a French film but as it was silent, that seems not have officially counted when it won in 2012. So my answer was that, yes, the right foreign film could do it.

I thought that might have been ROMA last year, but that fell at the last to an infinitely inferior film, Green Book, voters in a studio town being put off by a number of factors, including subtitles, black and white, length and the Netflix factor.

So as soon as Parasite won the Palme d’Or last May (over the Tarantino and Pain and Glory and Les Miserables against which it was again competing at the Oscars), it had a chance. And its box office popularity in France, Korea and the US suggested it had more commercial clout than many a subtitled film before it.

I think just the right number of people fell in love with it just at the right time. I think 1917 was leading in the final weeks but the buzz of excitement around Bong as a film maker, on twitter and in adverts around LA, pushed voters who wouldn’t normally take part in the ‘International Film” watching to have a look, and to be wowed by it.

Parasite doesn’t have anything that would put a Hollywood traditionalist off. It’s slick, shiny, perfectly scripted, tightly paced and totally entertaining, a mix of farce, satire and genres that translate easily into the Western vernacular, just as Bong’s own quips and speeches have translated beautifully into English via his ever-present interpreter Sharon Choi.

I do think she helped in the win. Bong may have been part of the derided all-male line-up of directors but he was the only non-white and, via Sharon, he spoke with a female voice on TV and at Q&As, which was endearing and showed a gentle side. 

He charmed that Oscar out of Sam Mendes’ hands to do what was beyond classics such as La Dolce Vita, Bicycle Thieves, Rashomon, Amour, Cinema Paradiso, All About My Mother, The Lives of Others or The Great Beauty. He also succeeds where Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, MASH, Tree of Life, Wild at Heart, Taxi Driver, The Conversation or The Mission failed in winning the Palme d’Or and the Best Pic Oscar. Only Marty has done it before, in 1955.

And yes, why not? Parasite is a pretty flawless film, and highly accessible while being a multi-layered mystery with a social message. Will that open the door for more global outlooks among Oscar voters? Is this a director result of the Academy opening up its doors to a wider membership around the world? Will there be a backlash now? Not to Parasite itself whose legend is now assured, but to an “America first” policy among voters next year? 

How much, I wonder, is there now a reaction to the BAFTA winner – it seems more and more that the Oscar voters wait to see what BAFTA annoints, and then does the opposite – from Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Atonement and the Queen,  to more recent trends – now six years consecutively – starting with Boyhood, The Revenant, La La Land, Three Billboards and ROMA.

I do feel a pinch of sadness for 1917, which would have been a perfectly fine Best Picture winner, if a slightly obvious choice. Parasite is certainly a more cultured pick, though I’m a big admirer of The Irishman and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, too.

As for the night itself – Parasite wins despite there being no host – it started brightly with a great Janelle Monae performance which included a brief duet with Billy Porter and featured former hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock doing a nice ‘bit’. I still think Chris Rock should come back. Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig were OK, if a bit silly and the Best Songs were all unmemorable, including the winning Elton John/Bernie Taupin number, I’m Gonna Love You Again, which was just a way of recognising the scarcely nominated Rocketman, a film far superior to last year’s Oscar-gathering Bohemian Rhapsody.

What of Joaquin’s acceptance speech? I guess one should be kind about a man who plays Joker, therefore much admired by younger fans, getting up there and preaching vegan doctrine to save the planet. I’m not against the sentiment of what he said, just not sure it all made sense in the context. Make a film about it, maybe, Joaquin – although as the old saying goes: if you want send a message, use Western Union.

Renee went on a bit too long, but was nice about Judy Garland – her performance just about found the heart and humanity in Judy to elevate it above an impression and I think she deserved it, much as I don’t fancy watching the whole film again.

I was thrilled that Jaqueline Durran got the Costume award for Little Women – she brought that film alive and modernised it, making the clothes desirable, wearable, palpable. They told part of the story of the characters and their inter-relationships and they added to the performances, bringing nuance and moods to the film’s palette. It was excellent, intelligent work rewarded.

The Adapted Screenplay award which went to the ( I reckon) cringe-inducing Jojo Rabbit. This can surely only be judged if one knows the source from which it was adapted in the first place but I have no desire, having seen the film, to seek out Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. Little Women should clearly have won this  category, for its novel take on the famous novel, although clearly there were purists who disagreed with the Gerwig structural amendments. In which case The Two Popes  or The Irishman would still have been a better choice that Jojo.

All in all, this was a landmark Oscars in the end, a bit of history leaving the night with a sting in its tail and a headline to energise the flagging awards season on its last legs, despite having been cut short. Will the public have the appetite for a return to a longer awards calendar next year? They might – after all, with Parasite’s win, things just got interesting again.