The 2020 Oscars ended on a triumphant note, with Parasite becoming the first non-English-language film to take home the trophy for Best Picture. The history-making moment felt as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might be moving forward from its often hidebound traditions, albeit incredibly fitfully. (This was still a year when diversity was discussed more than it was actually displayed, lest we forget.)
But Parasite’s unprecedented win also capped off a show that was weird and unfocused far too often, with a long running time that only added to the aggravation. Yes, many of the winners were cool, and Parasite’s Best Picture win retroactively gave the entire evening an air of historic importance. But in the moment, it was dull, dull, dull to watch.
So who were the winners of this year’s ceremony, beyond Parasite? And who were the losers — beyond Netflix, which tossed tons of money after what ended up being two Oscar wins? Well, the Vox culture team has analyzed the awards and come away with these six winners and five losers from the 92nd Academy Awards, starting with the biggest winner of them all …
Parasite went into the night with six nominations, and ended up winning four major awards: Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, International Feature Film, and the biggest award of the night, Best Picture. It also made history, becoming the first South Korean film to win the Best International Feature Film category (which was previously known as Best Foreign Language Film) and the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture. Topping off the night was seeing Parasite’s humble and very gracious director and co-writer Bong Joon-ho thank his cast, his supporters, and his fellow nominees at every opportunity. —Alex Abad-Santos
Netflix, by some estimates, spent well over $100 million on its 2020 Oscar campaigns. Though the streamer refuted that number, it was clear that the company — which joined the Motion Picture Association of America prior to the 2019 Oscars, solidifying its position as one of Hollywood’s biggest players — was pouring resources into its awards slate. Last year, the company proved it could be a heavy hitter at the awards, with Roma winning three of its 10 nominations.
But this year, Netflix wanted more, and released a hefty pool of possible awards contenders. Typically, studios will back a movie’s awards campaign to the tune of $5 million to $20 million. Industry insiders estimated that Netflix was spending at least $20 million apiece on its two biggest contenders: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Netflix also nabbed nominations for Klaus, I Lost My Body, American Factory, and The Two Popes.
But it only took home two Oscars: one for documentary American Factory, and one for Laura Dern in Marriage Story, who was considered a lock to win the Supporting Actress category from the start of awards season. The Irishman was shut out (even though Parasite director Bong Joon-ho gave a lengthy shoutout to Scorsese in his Best Director speech, resulting in a standing ovation for Scorsese).
There are probably a few reasons Netflix couldn’t overcome the Oscars hurdle this year, despite its massive spending. One was simply the unusually good slate of nominated films it competed against in many categories. The other is the likelihood of lingering anti-Netflix bias from Academy members who see Netflix’s attempts to disrupt the filmmaking industry as harmful to the artform and the movie business.
Still, Netflix seems bent on winning big awards in the future, including the elusive Best Picture win — and we’ll be hearing from it in future awards seasons. —Alissa Wilkinson
Winner: Jokes about Hollywood advocating for representation and diversity without making real change
Without a host, the Oscars opened with Steve Martin and Chris Rock taking the reins and delivering an opening monologue of sorts. While most of the jokes revolved around Martin’s age and him not knowing any of the 2020 Oscar nominees, the duo did roast the Academy for not nominating any women directors and the lack of nonwhite actors recognized in the acting categories.
Later in the evening, the trio of Brie Larson, Gal Gadot, and Sigourney Weaver presented the award for Best Original Score but preceded it with a nice speech about how important it is to recognize the strong women in our lives and in our world.
“We just want to stand here together and say all women are superheroes,” Weaver said — a nod to how she, Larson, and Gadot have all played superheroes and action heroes onscreen.
The Oscars also nodded toward inclusivity by bringing out international actresses who voiced Elsa in international translations of Frozen 2 to sing “Into the Unknown” in their respective languages. It felt like the Academy did recognize its blind spots in representation, and while the night was full of positive gestures, these moments of cognizance won’t really mean much if the Oscars don’t improve so that these jokes and moments of ribbing itself don’t have to exist. —AAS
Loser: Cats, and its once-vibrant hopes and dreams for cinematic respect
It’s strange to remember now, long after we all made our jokes about how Cats is a hallucinatory fever dream and the most surreal immersive art experience ever made and how there’s a scene in Cats where Rebel Wilson unzips her cat suit to reveal a smaller cat suit underneath and then goes on to dance with monstrous human/cockroach creatures (that last one’s not a joke, it’s just a summary of a scene in Cats) — but Cats and its cast of stars did once have Oscars hopes. It had a For Your Consideration page on Universal’s website and everything.
Things did not quite work out for Cats as anyone involved might have hoped. Instead, the film’s only moment of import at the 2020 Oscars came when a shame-faced Rebel Wilson and James Corden took the stage in full cat regalia to offer a cautionary tale on the importance of good visual effects.
Probably the poor CGI artists behind Cats did not appreciate that one. But it’s a toss-up as to whether Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy — who won the Visual Effects Oscar for 1917 — felt it stepped on their moment. What do you think? —Constance Grady
Winner: The tiny distributor Neon
The 2020 Best Picture nominees were dominated by giant corporations. Netflix released The Irishman and Marriage Story. Disney released Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari through its various subsidiaries. (Jojo Rabbit was released via Searchlight Pictures, a boutique label with a substantial degree of autonomy but still one owned by Disney.) Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood came from Sony. 1917 came from Universal. Joker came from Warner Bros.
So eight of the nine Best Picture contenders were distributed by either one of the big six studios or a scrappy upstart named Netflix. Which is to say: After much of the 2010s’ Oscar narrative was dominated by smaller distributors, the 2020 Oscars seemed like a return to the days of big studios dominating everything.
But then the smallest distributor in the race — Neon (which is affiliated with the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) — won the biggest prize of all with Parasite, which also picked up three additional awards to win four in total, the most for any movie of the night. To whatever degree the Oscars are headed for a future where it’s, say, Netflix vs. Disney vs. Universal vs. Warner Bros. (an incredibly likely scenario within the next few years), that future didn’t arrive in 2020.
What’s more, Neon managed to pull off a campaign where Parasite stood as the underdog candidate everyone generally liked all season long. Even if it wasn’t any given voter’s favorite movie of the year, it frequently landed in their top three — a powerful position to hold in a preferential ballot race, where marginal contenders fall by the wayside with every new count.
Whatever the strategy, Neon figured out a way to make an unlikely South Korean thriller about class conflict the Best Picture winner in a year when it felt like a giant corporation would waltz to the top prize without much trouble. Count one up for the underdog. —Emily VanDerWerff
Winner: Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s audition tape (plus all our GIF libraries)
As we’ll get into below, this hostless Oscars struggled a bit to find its voice. But Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, who presented the awards for Production Design and Costume design, offered us all the personality and direction this listless ceremony needed for just a few precious minutes.
“There are a lot of directors here tonight,” Wiig began with a knowing smirk, and with that in mind, she and Rudolph demonstrated to the rest of us that they were weren’t just onstage to present. They were there to audition.
Wiig and Rudolph could do it all! They could cry! They could yell in anger! They could sing! And in showing off that last accomplishment, they gave us perhaps the night’s greatest gift of all: a truly immortal reaction GIF in Billie Eilish’s utter befuddlement at what was happening:
Looking forward to using this one for years to come. Thanks, Maya and Kristen — and, of course, Billie. —CG
By many indications, 1917 — Sam Mendes’s World War I drama seemingly shot in two separate long takes — seemed like the prohibitive favorite going into the evening. It had won the Golden Globe for Drama, as well as the top prizes from the Producers Guild and Directors Guild.
Normally, those three prizes together indicate a Best Picture win to come, especially with a major box office hit, as 1917 has turned out to be. But not this year. Instead, 1917 won three Oscars, but all for technical categories — Sound Mixing, Cinematography, and Visual Effects.
It’s hard to say precisely why 1917 seemed to lose just enough steam to allow Parasite the win. It never endured, for example, a major backlash beyond a vague sense that its central idea was a little gimmicky. (Best Picture winners have overcome far worse. Just look at 2019 winner Green Book.)
What probably took it down in the end was a vague sense that it spoke to the distant past — not just because it talked about World War I, but because it felt like a throwback to All Quiet on the Western Front, literally the third Best Picture winner ever (and a terrific movie). Parasite, if nothing else, is about the right now, about a world where capitalism and income inequality seem to have choked out anything good in this life. And that was enough to push it to the win. —EV
Winner: Eminem, for a 17-year-old award
Eminem won the 2003 Oscar for Best Song for his hit “Lose Yourself,” from 8 Mile. But either because he was taking a professional hiatus that year (he also skipped the 2003 Grammys) or because the Oscars were “reportedly nervous” about him performing the song and slipping in profanity, Eminem didn’t attend. And thus he never got to perform.
On Sunday night, he finally got his Oscar moment — 17 years after his win — with a solid albeit bizarrely presented performance that followed a stilted montage of Oscar-winning songs throughout Hollywood history. The audience in the Dolby Theatre was a hilarious mix of baffled and hyped — reaction GIFs abound — but Eminem walked away with a standing ovation, looking stunned. Better never let it go, Marshall. —Aja Romano
Loser: The hostless Oscars and their many (many, many, many) presenters
The buildup to the 2020 Oscars involved speculation about the awards’ decision to go hostless for the second year in a row. Last year’s ceremony, which pressed on without a host after original choice Kevin Hart stepped down, went off without a hitch. But it remained unclear whether this year’s ceremony would be the start of a new normal.
How much could a host really add, you might ask? Plenty, it turns out. At this year’s ceremony, the production decided to swap out one host for a seemingly endless, time-consuming litany of presenters — about half of whom were just there to present … other presenters.
One of the presenters even called it out. “Time is of the essence, which is why I’m here to introduce myself before introducing someone else who will in turn introduce someone else,” quipped 1917 star George McKay, just as the show started to exceed its scheduled three-hour run time (the awards ultimately ran about 30 minutes long).
Presumably, this pageantry was at least partly about showcasing industry diversity and inclusion, in a year where — despite Parasite’s history-making four wins — the nominees list didn’t really reflect much diversity or inclusion. But the actual effect was a strange, bloated, disjointed, unfocused parade of people introducing each other for three and a half hours straight. Didn’t Cats get panned for exactly the same reason? —AR
Winner: Non-American directors
At the 10 Oscar ceremonies honoring movies made in the 2010s — those from 2011 to 2020 — only one American director won the Best Director prize: Damien Chazelle for La La Land in 2017. The other nine directing awards of the decade have gone to a British director (Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech), a French director (Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist), a Taiwanese director (Ang Lee for The Life of Pi), three Mexican directors (Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity and Roma; Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman and The Revenant; Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water), and now a Korean director (Bong Joon-ho for Parasite).
It’s the first decade in which that’s ever happened, and an indication of just how dominant directors from all over the globe have become in 21st-century cinema. Who knows what might happen in the 2020s? —EV
Loser: The Irishman
Sure, it lost 10 Oscars (Martin Scorsese’s second film to have this dubious distinction after 2003’s Gangs of New York accomplished the same). But what really stings is that The Irishman was the only one of the nine Best Picture nominees to not win a single Oscar. Really, Academy? You couldn’t have tossed it a random Production Design win or something? Oh, well. Marty will probably sleep just fine having directed several cinematic masterpieces. He still might have liked another Oscar, though. —EV