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Renée lifts gong for 'Judy', Joon-ho sweeps the board, and Saoirse claps politely again

Oscars 2020 were lacking in diversity, but managed to make history just the same


Renée Zellweger with her best actress Oscar for ‘Judy’. Picture: PA

Renée Zellweger with her best actress Oscar for ‘Judy’. Picture: PA


Renée Zellweger with her best actress Oscar for ‘Judy’. Picture: PA

The Academy Awards has been pilloried for several years now over its lack of diversity and inclusivity, and virtually everyone who walked onstage at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night gave the organisers a lecture.

During a mildly caustic rap, singer Utkarsh Ambudkar made a pointed reference to "winners who don't look like me", while the most reverend Joaquin Phoenix yet again called out what he sees as endemic racism in cinema. Mwanwhile, opening presenter Chris Rock made a typically tactful reference to the lack of vaginas among the Best Director nominees.

The Academy gets lots of stuff wrong, no question, but on Sunday night the 9,000 or so voters got something spectacularly right, and ought to be congratulated for it.

Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' won six Oscars, including the big two - Best Director and Best Picture. This was the first time a story not told in the English language has won Best Picture, and at previous awards ceremonies Bong Joon-ho had joked about overcoming "the one-inch barrier of subtitles". The Academy members certainly managed that.

Sam Mendes' fiercely focused war film '1917' had been tipped to win Best Picture and Best Director, but voters looked beyond its rather arid technical achievements towards the dark comedy and bracing social commentary of 'Parasite'. It's a magnificent achievement for a truly great film, and a sign perhaps of changing times.

'Parasite' aside, however, it was very much business as usual at the 92nd Academy Awards, with most of the other categories running to form.

Joaquin Phoenix, in his well-worn tux, won Best Actor for 'Joker', while, as expected, Renée Zellweger was awarded Best Actress for 'Judy'.

Once again, Saoirse Ronan had to clap politely and pull her well-honed runner-up's poker face: she and 'Little Women' had never gained much impetus during the awards season, and she will have known she had only an outside chance. At 25, she already has four Oscar nominations to her credit, and a win is surely just a matter of time.

Best Supporting Actor Brad Pitt made another pithy appearance on the podium, joking that his 45-second acceptance speech was 45 seconds longer than the time that had been afforded to John Bolton during the Trump impeachment trial. It's hard not to be happy for Brad, but he was very fortunate indeed to win for 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' in a category that also included Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Disappointingly, they - Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' - came away empty-handed, though Bong Joon-ho lavished praise on Scorsese during his good-­humoured Best Picture acceptance speech.

Laura Dern was a worthy winner of Best Supporting Actress for 'Marriage Story', but it was the only Oscar won by Noah Baumbach's film, which had once been tipped to dominate the awards. Sam Mendes and his team had to content themselves with technical awards, though it was entirely fitting that the old master Roger Deakins won Best Cinematography.

The vegan hors d'oeuvres served to guests at the lavish ceremony were not enough to mollify Mr Phoenix, who during his lengthy acceptance speech moved on from the theme of racism in cinema to his other bugbear - the meat and dairy industries. Many of us, he said, had "an egocentric worldview", and believed that "we're the centre of the universe. We go into the natural world and plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that's intended for her calf and put it in our coffee and our cereal." He's quite the orator.

In her comparatively demure winner's speech, Zellweger thanked Judy Garland, an acknowledgement that the woman she played in 'Judy' never won an Oscar herself.

In choosing 'Parasite', the Academy's voters showed the kind of courage and imagination that's been sadly lacking at these bashes of late. But a lot done, more to do, as a canny politician once said. The fact that only one actor of colour (Cynthia Erivo) was nominated in the four acting categories is not a ringing endorsement of progress, nor is the absence of a woman nominee for Best Director, despite the fact that many very fine female-directed pictures appeared this year.

Irish Independent