Oscars viewership plunges to record low
Without a host or a great deal of pizzazz, the Academy Awards reached its smallest audience ever.
LOS ANGELES >> In a milestone win that instantly expanded the Oscars’ horizons, Bong Joon Ho’s masterfully devious class satire “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards.
“Parasite” took Hollywood’s top prize on Sunday night, along with awards for best director, best international film and best screenplay. In a year dominated by period epics — “1917,” “Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood,” “The Irishman” — the film academy instead went overseas, to South Korea, to reward a contemporary and unsettling portrait of social inequality in “Parasite.”
True to its name, “Parasite” simply got under the skin of Oscar voters, attaching itself to the American awards season and, ultimately, to history. The win was a watershed moment for the Academy Awards, which has long been content to relegate international films to their own category. But in recent years, to diversify its membership, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has invited many more overseas voters.
Multiple standing ovations greeted Bong’s several wins. “I am ready to drink tonight,” Bong said, prompting roars from the crowd. Unexpectedly called up again for best director, Bong saluted his fellow nominees, particularly Martin Scorsese, and concluded: “Now I’m ready to drink until tomorrow.”
After the Dolby Theatre had emptied out, the “Parasite” team still remained on the stage, soaking in their win. Backstage, Bong was still gobsmacked. “It’s really f—-ing crazy,” he told reporters, clutching his awards.
The victory for “Parasite” — which had echoes of the surprise win by “Moonlight” over “La La Land” three years ago — came in a year when many criticized the lack of diversity in the nominees and the absence of female filmmakers. But the triumph for “Parasite,” the Palme d’Or-winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, enabled Hollywood to flip the script and signal progress, nevertheless. No Korean film had ever won an Oscar before.
In doing so, the film academy turned away another history-making event, again denying Netflix its first bestpicture win despite two contenders in “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” and a big-spending awards campaign blitz.
Sam Mendes’ audaciously conceived World War I film “1917,” made to seem one continuous shot, had been the clear favorite heading into Oscars, having won nearly all the precursor awards, including top honors from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. In the end, “1917” went home with three awards for its technical virtuosity: Roger Deakins’ cinematography, visual effects and sound mixing.
All of the acting winners — Brad Pitt, Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix and Laura Dern — went as expected. While Pitt, notching his first acting Oscar, had regaled audiences with one-liners in the run-up to Sunday, he began his comments on a political note.
“They told me I have 45 seconds to speak, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said, alluding to the impeachment hearings before mentioning director Quentin Tarantino. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it.”
Pitt said the honor had given him reason to reflect on his fairy-tale journey in the film industry, going back to when he moved to Los Angeles from Missouri. “Once upon a time in Hollywood,” said Pitt. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Zellweger completed a comeback, winning her second Academy Award for her fragile but indomitable Judy Garland in “Judy.” Dern won for her performance as a divorce attorney in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” Accepting her first Oscar, Dern thanked her in-attendance parents, “my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.”
Phoenix, long one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, took best actor for his limber but morose Joker. In his acceptance speech, Phoenix spoke deliberately about a host of issues, including sexism and racism in the film industry, ecological disaster and vegetarianism.
Bong Joon Ho, right, reacts as he is presented with the award for best picture the Oscars on Sunday in Los Angeles.