Courtesy of Pixabay

February 11, 2020

The Oscars: Hits and Misses

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From reacting to philosophizing, Nick Smith ’20, Ruby Que ’20 and Zachary Lee ’20 discuss the results of the Oscars.

Smith: If you took my “Idiot’s Guide to Sounding Smart While Watching the Oscars” to heart before your viewing party, I owe you an apology: I went five for nine on my picks. That said, I can’t remember a time I’ve been happier to be wrong, as three of my four misses went to Parasite, a film that — while it was the best I’d seen all year — seemed too out-there for the Academy’s traditionally outdated sensibilities. Wrong is wrong, though, and as a result of my failure, I’ve been kicked off The Sun’s Oscars coverage for the foreseeable future … so here are my fellow Arts writers Ruby Que and Zachary Lee with more on the show.

Que: As Nick said, Parasite’s quadruple-win shocked everybody. I do wonder if it deserved every single award it had won though … For one, I wish Original Screenplay had gone to Marriage Story or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, because Parasite’s storyline definitely fell apart towards the end. I mean, a letter-reading scene with ominous Morse code blinking in the dark? Felt like the screenwriters were just too desperate to deliver the message rather than wrapping up the narrative properly. This forced and on-the-nose conclusion reminded me of last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, ending with an interrogation scene where characters literally yell out their grievances against the unjust society. And yes, I am aware that my personal favorite Marriage Story did end with a letter-reading scene too — it was just way more natural!

Lee: Granted, Bong’s past filmography, particularly Snowpiercer, had “all the subtlety of an axe fight” (to quote Josh Larsen from the podcast Filmspotting) but to me, the “happy ending” was mere verisimilitude for its more haunting implications. That final shot of Ki-woo promising to rescue his father seemed more ominous than endearing. But at this point, any criticism leveled towards the nominees seems like we’re being picky over the hors d’oeuvres when we’ve been given a five course meal; all (male) directors were operating at the peak of their powers and this speaks to the strength of the nominees. It still is so surreal that in a year when both Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino offered some of their most critically acclaimed movies, Parasite was able to stand above them all. Hopefully this opens the door to people discovering more Korean (and international) cinema. As big a night as it was for my motherland, though, I think there were some painful omissions in the Best Picture (Uncut Gems, Us, The Farewell), Best Director (Greta Gerwig, Safdie Brothers) and Best Actor/Actress (Ana de Armas, Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, and Zhao Shuzhen) categories whose exclusion felt more pronounced given the talent that did make the cut.

Que: Yes! I can’t believe Gerwig didn’t get a Best Director nomination because she’s so damn deserving — for reimagining the story, choosing to shoot on crisp 35mm and directing a stellar ensemble nonetheless. And of course the Safdie brothers, who somehow managed to make a film more intense than Good Time, are off to great things.

Also, what’s up with all the acting awards? As much as I love Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech — which brought me to the brink of tears — Adam Driver’s subdued and realistic performance in Marriage Story would be my choice. In contrast, Laura Dern’s character in the same film is quite flat and doesn’t compare to Florence Pugh in Little Women at all. Amy March has a full character arc and moments when she wasn’t just being pretty or sassy. Nora, on the other hand, is just the worst version of an evil divorce lawyer through and through — or perhaps best if she’s on your side.

Lee: I am with you on both fronts. Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck never materialized as a character and the random bursts of laughter felt like sharp interjections to remind the audience:“hey you’re watching a comic book movie — Joker laughs right?!” instead of a natural facet of his identity and character.

I do think the Academy missed an opportunity to give an Oscar to either Driver or Johansson (if one won over the other, that would really drive the divorce theme home). Or maybe Scorcese played a role … the last thing he’d want is for a Marvel movie to boast “Academy Award Winners Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh” come the next Black Widow trailer. And my goodness, Pugh’s Amy. I will gladly listen to Jo’s monologue over and over, but the dissonant mix of pain and longing Amy imbues in her confession to Laurie on how she’s always been second best to Jo gets me every time. She has a disarming wit about her, but you also get the sense that she is wise beyond her years while retaining youthful zeal. Little Women may be Jo’s story, but Pugh’s performance made me think that it is just as much Amy’s as well.

Que: What do you think about the technical awards? I was bummed that Little Women didn’t get a nomination for editing. I have a friend who went to a test screening in May and reported back that it was a mess, but Gerwig and her editor really brought the tired story back to life with the nonlinear editing. I thought it was fresh and engaging, and the ambiguous conclusion of Jo and Frederic’s romance kept me guessing for sure.

Lee: To me, though, the strength of Little Women’s presentation is largely chalked up to its screenplay; the way Gerwig subverted and deconstructed Alcott’s original novel should have received more recognition. The editing, while fantastic, only brought forth a vision that she had already had crystallized in her mind.

Que: That’s a good point. But again, Gerwig was snubbed of the Adapted Screenplay award, too! Jojo Rabbit is such an easy story — just insert turning points wherever convenient. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Taika Waititi, so I went into the theatre with high hopes after absolutely loving Hunt for the Wilder People and What We Do in the Shadows (but please, don’t ever mention Thor: Ragnarok to me), and I can’t quite say that my expectations were met.

Lee: I’m just happy Joker didn’t win. Philips was trying so hard to say that “this wasn’t a comic book movie” and that the connections to Batman did not in any way help it at the box office. You can’t have it both ways.

Que: I’m sure you can’t be as happy as Scorsese when Avengers: Endgame didn’t take home the one award (Visual Effects) it was nominated for. Let’s give it up for Marty.

 

Ruby Que is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Escape runs alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at rque@cornellsun.com. Nick Smith is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nks53@cornell.edu. Zachary Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at zlee@cornellsun.com.