Oscars 2020 – Asian talent reigns but being hostless, woke and way, way long leaves viewers cold

Cow man: Joaquin Phoenix gives a shout out to cows while accepting his Best Actor award for ‘Joker’ at this year’s Oscars.

OSCARS WRAP 2020 – some notes

Say what you like about the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony being too long and longing for the return of a host, you can’t deny the historic fact that this year’s Oscars was a banner year for cows.

Joaquin Phoenix gave a hoot of a Best Actor acceptance speech for Joker, and it was perfectly fine of him to speak about our shared values and to push back against cancel culture. We all make mistakes and we all deserve a shot at redemption. Yay!

But when he started going on about artificial insemination of cows and stealing their milk and their babies you had to wonder whether he was suffering a method actor relapse and had started channelling the Joker.

It was one of many violations of the decree issued by Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, that the privileged and the ultra-wealthy are in no position to lecture the public, so award winners should just thank their agent, their God and then promptly desert the podium. (not his exact words)

Brad Pitt, on taking out Best Supporting Actor for Once Upon A Time in Hollywood had a go at Trump while co-director Julia Reichert, accepting her Best Documentary doorstop for American Factory, pushed the envelope by yelping “workers of the world, unite!”, the famous closing line of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Perfect timing in an election year, babe.

Continued carping about the lack of women at the Oscars appeared unfounded.

Though Greta Gerwig not getting a best director nomination for Little Women was a genuine anomaly given how many other awards it was up for, women seemed to spend a lot of time accepting awards.

Aside from the obvious biggies, women won for score, costume design, production design, documentary short, make-up & hairdressing and animated short.

It seems Chris Rock was wrong after all. There were plenty of women represented. (not his exact words.)

The triumph of the South Korean film Parasite was well-deserved, taking best film, director, original screenplay and best international film.

Still, it’s important to keep the obvious importance of this in perspective.

Though Parasite was the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture, non-English language films have long been eligible for the award. The earliest nomination on record is 1997’s Life is Beautiful, with last year’s Roma nearly winning the gong.

Director Bong Joon Ho said lots of lovely things during his many visits to the podium – including his standing ovation-triggering tribute to Martin Scorsese, the true winner of the night – but he did slip when saying how the Oscars was changing to a new direction to be more inclusive.

The more subtle truth is that the Oscars has long been evolving to be ever more inclusive, with its focus chiefly on merit. Yes, politics, mood and lobbying can affect Oscar voting and we all still wince at those times when the wrong film seems to have won.

By and large, however, the Oscars have never really pushed a “Hollywood First” agenda, and the winners list prove that over and over across the decades.

Remember when Billy Crystal joked in the mid-1990s about how Oscar was now America’s biggest export? He was cracking wise about the fact that studio films were missing the mark with audiences while films from elsewhere, including the independent sector, were nailing it.

Non-English language films have long been eligible to vie for other awards – including best picture – provided they meet certain screening conditions.

That door has been opening ever wider for decades. The renaming of the Best Foreign Language Film to Best International Film is the latest step in an evolution, not a sudden change.

Even the plethora of South Korean people on the stage this year is consistent with the growing recognition of Asian talent at the Oscars.

So, well done Parasite, a film that didn’t so much open a new door but walk through a doorway that was already jammed open.

Oscar’s two-year trial of having a hostless ceremony can now officially be considered well-and-truly over and a resounding failure. The variety of one-off presenters was nice and novel for a while, but the spectacle of people introducing people introducing people bordered on farce.

Let’s face it, the Oscars need the spine of a host. You can’t have all that stuff going on without a centre of gravity to pull it all together, even when it goes off the rails.

Think back to the stellar work of Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, prime examples of how good hosts can give the sprawl of a ceremony cohesion and character. As for the wit of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, their examples still shine.

And while everyone jokes about how the acid-tongued Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais would never be invited to host the Oscars, getting somebody with a bit of edge, a bit of bite, just the right amount of snark, could do the trick.

Because the Oscar has to do something. The US rating figures for the 2020 ceremony are a disaster – at 23.6 million, it’s a record low, a massive 20% fall from last year’s soiree, which got 29.6 million.

So, what accounts for the growing disconnect between the ceremony and the public? People clearly love the films nominated, but not the ritual that honours them. What gives?

Perhaps the infiltration of woke culture is proving a huge turn off for regular people. Calls for diversity, the #OscarsSoWhite whining, the sight of winners preaching to the public – a practice disparagingly known as “virtue signalling” – leave people cold.

For all his bluster, maybe Ricky Gervais is right. Having the richest, most famous, most beautiful, most privileged, most adored people on earth telling the rest of the earth how to be good make for bad optics.

And that’s why people aren’t watching as much as they did.