Oscars 2020: The controversies and big winners

The History

Every year since 2016, the year where all 20 nominees in the acting categories were white and #OscarsSoWhite was trending across social media, the controversies surrounding the Academy Awards have not slowed down. Although a non-issue compared to institutionalized racism, the big news out of the 2017 ceremony was the infamous La La LandMoonlight Best Picture mistake. This flub lessened the impact of an otherwise out-of-the-ordinary pick for Hollywood that was a huge step forward for people of color and the LGBTQ community’s representation at the Oscars.

In 2018, Hollywood’s biggest night focused on Hollywood’s biggest scandal. The exposure of years of sexual harassment and the silencing of its victims cast a dark shadow over the night, but the attendees were ready to respond. The #MeToo movement was in full force at the awards, promising that changes will come: no one will be able to hide behind their fame or power to get away with sexual misconduct anymore, and victims’ voices will be heard.

The drama at the 2019 Academy Awards was more centered on the films themselves rather than any social issues within the industry. Bohemian Rhapsody won both sound categories and the Best Editing award, along with its star, Rami Malek, taking home the Oscar for Best Actor. The public was quick to point out that neither the sound nor the editing in the movie were particularly great, and it appeared as if the Academy had awarded the easy and popular choice nominee. 

The bigger debate, though, concerned Green Book, the best movie of 2019 according to the Academy. This pick came out of left field. Although it received generally positive reviews, it was not favored nearly as much as most of its competition, films like BlacKkKlansman and Roma.  Many read Green Book to be a feel-good, “sorry about racism” film that was too safe and easy to deserve the Academy’s highest honor.

The Nominations

The 2020 Oscars were no different. Racism again returned to the forefront. Cynthia Erivo, for her role in Harriet, was the only woman of color nominated in the acting categories. Lupita Nyong’o for Us, Eddie Murphy for Dolemite is My Name and Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao for The Farewell were all argued to be deserving and diverse choices but were snubbed. Taron Egerton for Rocketman, Robert de Niro for The Irishman and Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems were all snubbed in many’s eyes as well.

It was also a disappointing year for women behind the camera, as the Best Director category was exclusively populated by men, with the most confusing nomination being Todd Phillips for Joker. Greta Gerwig for Little Women and Lulu Wang for The Farewell were both top choices to receive Phillips’s nomination, but the Academy decided to follow its tradition of a male dominated directorial race, with only five women having ever been nominated for the award. However, Gerwig was acknowledged for her screenplay.

This year’s nominations skewed towards big studio films, with independent movies being largely forgotten. This has been an ongoing trend at the Oscars. Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite was the only indie film to truly get any recognition. 

Netflix struck big with its films Marriage Story, The Irishman and The Two Popes receiving attention across the board. The 24 nominations Netiflix received, more than any other studio, signal Hollywood’s continuing acceptance of the streaming service. Netflix has been gaining more and more nominations since 2017, after years of the Academy doubting its legitimacy.

The Host

2020 was the second year in a row that the Oscars went hostless in an attempt to shorten the runtime and bring back viewers after 2018’s ceremony was the lowest viewed Academy Awards of the 21st century. Going without a host worked in 2019, bringing viewership up to 29.6 million after the previous year’s disappointing 26.5 million. This plan seemed to backfire this year, though, as the Oscars topped their 2018 record and had their lowest viewer count of all time with 23.6 million viewers.

The ceremony sped by this year, stopping only for the usual unnecessary, painful musical performances (see Eminem and Utkarsh Ambudkar) and the overly-long, awkward banter between presenters. 

The Winners

It was a huge night for Parasite and Bong Joon-Ho; he took home the awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Film, Best Director and Best Picture. The Best Director and Best Picture awards came as a surprise as Sam Mendes and 1917 were highly favored, among others. Parasite is the first foreign language film to win Best Picture.

Taika Watiti won Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit and Roger Deakins was awarded Best Cinematography for 1917. Laura Dern and Brad Pitt took home the Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Actor, respectively.

Joaquin Phoenix accepted the golden statue for Best Actor with a politically charged speech on cancel culture and our treatment of animals, capping it off with a touching tribute to his late brother, River. Phoenix had a very successful awards season for his work in Joker, winning the same award at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. He was a sure bet after his SAG win; the winner of that award went on to win the Academy Award the last nine out of ten years.

A surprising choice came in the Best Actress category with Renée Zellweger winning for Judy. Scarlett Johannson seemed to be the lead choice going into the night, but Zellweger came out ahead with her turn as Judy Garland, the star of The Wizard of Oz, during the last year of the actress’s life. Zellweger also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG Best Actress award this year.

Although the nominations were full of controversy, the 2020 Oscars ceremony went without any true blunders – no envelopes were mixed up this year. The crowd seemed to be joyous for every victor. It was a celebration of the best movies of 2019 instead of the head-to-head competition it has been in past years. In fact, when the lights dimmed and cut Parasite’s Best Picture speeches short, the crowd’s chants brought them back on, giving Parasite the last word that it deserved.