Oscars 2020: Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, & more

Notes on representation in the Academy and the love of good filmmaking

The Academy still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity.
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After a few years of controversy over the lack of diversity in nominees and award-winners, the 2020 Oscars saw audiences reasonably content with this year’s results.

Korean director Bong Joon-ho became the first foreign creator to win Best Picture. He now shares Walt Disney’s 67-year-old record for four personal awards in one night. The post-Oscars air certainly feels different, as though greater change is imminent.  

Nevertheless, the Academy still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity. Natalie Portman’s Dior cape, embroidered with the names of female directors who were snubbed this year by the Academy, demonstrated this perfectly.   

Many have argued that the Oscars merely present the illusion of representation—satisfying the standards for diversity in nominations and detracting from change once the winners are announced.

Until changes are made for the better, here are some reasons why we should continue to celebrate great achievements in cinema, whether through directorial innovation, evocative writing, or the perfect fictional embodiment of a real-life character.

There are almost too many good films to talk about this year, so here are some notes on this year’s big winners.

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Marriage Story

An ode to the power of familial love amidst painful divorce, you’ll be surprised by the extent to which Marriage Story leaves you with a sense of cathartic acceptance. No two people are ever perfect for one another, and relationships don’t always work out the way we want them to. Director Noah Baumbach presents this narrative to us through the story of his protagonists’ divorce, sharing the message that we’re stronger once we’ve struggled. 

His hyper-realistic writing style, which plans out every punctuation, pause, and breath, creates truly embodied, humanized characters to which we can all relate.

While watching, keep an eye out for Laura Dern, who won Best Supporting Actress for her work in the movie.  

Jojo Rabbit

The winner of Best Adapted Screenplay, Taika Waititi’s dramatic comedy uses ingenious, innovating storytelling to depict the extent of the devastation the Nazis caused throughout the Holocaust. World War II and Hitler are pictured as entirely absurd, though the fatal consequences of the war remain all too real.

Protagonist Jojo, a member of the Hitler Youth, confronts his blind nationalism through his blossoming relationship with the Jewish girl hidden in his attic. In seeing this transformation, the audience is opened up to a world filled with the promise of change.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, indeed!” said Brad Pitt when he collected his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Tarantino’s ninth film.

Set in 1969, the comedy-drama captures the old-school nostalgia of Hollywood’s golden age as the industry begins to shift, all the while incorporating Tarantino’s signature gory twists and long, gritty dialogues.

Joker

This psychologically-thrilling, DC comic character makes his return under the command of Director Todd Philips and star Joaquin Phoenix, who picked up the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. 

Amidst controversy regarding the film’s depiction of mental illness, the title’s two figureheads have reaffirmed their aim to show “the power of kindness” in a modern society that lacks empathy. Phoenix certainly delivers in his powerful improvised moments, as well as through his jarring manipulation of his face and body. Hildur Guðnadóttir was also the first woman in 23 years to win the award for Best Score for her work on this film.

1917

Edited to look like it was filmed in a singular shot, Sam Mendes’ film crew and actors worked through grueling conditions and continuous rehearsal with fulfilling payoff. The nature of the film’s one-shot narrative immerses the audience in trench warfare in a manner never-before achieved.

We follow two WWI soldiers as they journey through occupied territory to prevent another battalion’s massacre. A testament to British filmmaking, 1917 ensures that we will remember the visceral tragedy of war.

Two Popes

This film is a remarkably insightful narrative between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, as the two work together to create a new direction for Catholicism in the 21st century. Both the film’s writer, Anthony McCarten, and director Fernando Meirelles have said the film’s goal is to demonstrate the dangers of modern-day polarization in politics and the power of open conversation. Retrospective narrative in the form of flashbacks keeps the continuous dialogue interesting, adding further emotional body to the imagined conversations between the two Popes.

Little Women

From her directorial debut with Ladybird in 2017, Gerwig has proven her incredible capacity to capture the female experience yet again. Her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel highlights the highs and lows of womanhood, from childhood to adulthood. In constantly flipping between past memories and current reality, Gerwig creates a narrative at once prescriptive and nostalgic. We, alongside protagonist Jo, learn what it means to love, lose, sacrifice, and compromise.  

Jacqueline Durran, famous for the green gown she designed in Atonement, won her second Oscar for Best Costume design, likely due to her incredible ability to combine classic style with new-wave chic in a manner that remains authentic and era-appropriate.

Parasite

Last and certainly not least, Bong Joon-ho’s psychological thriller has shaken Hollywood to its core. Creating space for globalization in cinema, it seems as though the Academy is showing an attempt to break down cultural barriers—notably with the renaming of the “Best Foreign Film” category to “Best International Feature.” Parasite provides commentary on the nature of class discrimination in South Korea, based on the realities of the director’s lived experiences. With wide-angle, continuous shots and dramatic set destruction, this film is ultimately better if you know nothing about it beforehand.

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