Much of this year’s host-free Oscar ceremony was dedicated to the Academy Awards’ many shortcomings. Natalie Portman walked the red carpet in a cape embroidered with the names of women snubbed for Best Director. Chris Rock and Steve Martin, two prior emcees, mocked the lack of racial diversity in the acting categories. “Think how much the Oscars have changed in the past 92 years. Back in 1929, there were no black acting nominees.” Martin said. “Now, in 2020, we got one!” Rock replied. These were jokes at the expense of a predictable-seeming ceremony, one where the winners had supposedly been locked up for weeks.
Still, the night showed signs that something surprising could be on the horizon, the kind of underdog win that makes the Oscars still worth experiencing as live television. Think of Moonlight’s shocking Best Picture triumph in 2017, or Olivia Colman’s Best Actress victory last year. Parasite, Bong Joon Ho’s critically acclaimed South Korean thriller—a comical, heart-rending, and tense portrayal of the gulf between the rich and the poor—gained momentum throughout the evening. It won Oscars for Original Screenplay and International Film (both widely expected), and while the big favorite 1917 took three technical trophies, it lost out on a few others, missing any chance of a sweep. Then, as the night came to a close, Bong won Best Director, which several times in recent years has split with Best Picture. Each time he took the stage, Bong seemed happy, exhausted, and ready to call it a night—surely there wouldn’t be any more wins.