Or, how Bong Joon-Ho made me believe again.
Nothing renews faith, interest, and importance in the Academy Awards like having something truly and deeply unexpected occur.
Something that makes you say, “…is that Eminem?”
OK, so maybe that thesis needs to be amended. Let’s add “meaningful.”
Meaning is something the Oscars have a hard time with, I think.
The conversation surrounding the Oscars seems to live in constant contradiction. When Green Book wins, we decide it doesn’t matter, because the large body of mostly older white men cannot confer onto us their opinion and declare its truth.
Yet, in the same moment, Gerwig can be snubbed for a Best Directing nomination, and that is said to be meaningful, despite that decision coming from the same people.
So which is it?
This is the feeling I grapple with every year while laboring over a stupid spreadsheet (named Jenkins after the great Barry Jenkins).
I love the Oscar season. I love the awards shows and pomp and speeches. I love the competition, the celebration of it all.
In an effort to beat the system and “win” the predictions (I assume my therapist would say that it is an effort to feel superior), I compile 25 years’ worth of Oscar data and pour over it for a month.
I input the data all over again, telling myself I did it wrong the year before. Just one more category, just one different variable, and I’ve got it! Golden Derby has nothing on me; bookkeepers are fools. For I, a guy with a laptop, has his spreadsheet. I win.
Then I sit in front of the TV and stress out for 3 hours. I’m very on edge. I prefer not to be spoken to.
Inevitably, I get some right. There is a high that goes with it, especially with one I’ve heard others describe as “a toss-up,” etc. Fools. If only they had numbers.
Inevitably, I get some wrong. It’s crushing. How could I have missed that?! Of course Denzel wouldn’t win Best Actor, he’s already won, and nobody wins twice in 25 years. Fool. If only I had ignored the numbers.
Or I go against Jenkins, and it beats me. How could I not trust the numbers?! Fool. If only I listened to the numbers.
I (and Jenkins) usually end up correctly predicting 60-75% of the categories.
And that’s how I choose to enjoy this arguably meaningless event, with my arguably meaningless spreadsheet. And my certainly meaningless stress.
It doesn’t help me answer the question, though. It’s personally satisfying, but whether I’m right or wrong rarely confers some idea of meaning to the larger event. I can tell you The Shape of Water is going to win Best Picture. It doesn’t mean anything beyond that.
So that brings me to last night. Because last night, even more so than Moonlight (whose deserved win was soured by the mishandling of it all), it felt like there was actual meaning in who the Academy chose, and my inability to predict it.
Parasite, undoubtedly the best film of the year, actually won the prize. It’s the first South Korean movie to do it. It’s the first International Feature to do it.
But even that win was predictable. A longshot, yes. But it was the likely other-choice (behind 1917) for weeks now.
Bong Joon-Ho for Best Director? Undoubtedly the biggest upset in recent Oscar history. Completely out of left field. Utterly deserved. But still unexpected.
Sam Mendes had won everything. The Director’s Guild Award, the BAFTA, the Golden Globes. He was a sure thing. And then he wasn’t.
Bong wins it. And in his acceptance speech, he thanks Tarantino for his constant support. He thanks Mendes and Phillips.
And then, Bong gives a quote that has guided his career. A quote, it turns out, that is from Scorcese himself, his fellow nominee. And everyone stands to give a standing ovation to a master. It was incredibly moving.
More than that, it did the thing so hard to do at the Oscars – it conferred meaning. A fantastic artist thanking a master for their inspiring them. A celebration of that inspiration, of the effect that film can have on individuals and the world. The passing of a torch.
The nominations remain a disappointment. I’m sure we have a long way to go until they’re “right.” But Bong’s win proves that these awards can still have meaning. They won’t always – and maybe that’s a good thing.
But as for last night?
I’ve never been quite so happy to have predicted something incorrectly.