In an evening when most of the winners seemed like foregone conclusions, the final award — best picture — remained very much in doubt until presenter Jane Fonda, after a long pause, said it: “Parasite.”
The first South Korean film ever nominated for Oscars, the drama about a clash between a wealthy family and their poor doppelgängers took home a total of four trophies, including the big one.
It’s the first film in a foreign language to win best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards (not counting “The Artist,” a French film that had almost no dialogue).
That made writer/director/co-producer Bong Joon-ho a three-time winner on the evening. (He also accepted the prize for best international film but that award goes to the country that produced it.)
“I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now,” said co-producer Kwak Sin-ae while the audience begged a reluctant Bong to return to the microphone to give what would have been his fourth speech of the night.
Renée Zellweger won best actress for “Judy,” in which she played Minnesota legend Judy Garland near the end of her brief life. A previous supporting actress winner for “Cold Mountain,” Zellweger was handed her award by Rami Malek, who won last year for playing another music legend, Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Her discursive speech noted that Garland mever received an Oscar (although she did get a special Oscar) but Zellweger included her on a list of “heroes” that also included Harriet Tubman, Serena Williams and another Minnesota legend, Bob Dylan.
Best actor Joaquin Phoenix, following in the heels of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” became the second actor to win an Oscar for playing the Joker. Phoenix, who has used his Golden Globes, British Academy and other awards speeches as a platform to preach against injustice, went well over his 45-second limit, quoting his late brother, actor River Phoenix, and speaking about movies as “the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.”
Brad Pitt won best supporting actor for playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s stuntman in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” It’s Pitt’s second Oscar, but his first for acting. (He was a co-producer of “12 Years a Slave.”) After chiding the U.S. Senate for the recently concluded impeachment trial, Pitt thanked stuntpeople, quoted his own character — “Look for the best in people. Expect the worst but look for the best” — and thanked his also-nominated co-star, whom he has been joshing throughout an awards season in which his own wins became increasingly inevitable: “Leo, I’ll ride on your coattails any day, man. The view’s fantastic.”
Laura Dern brought a lot of Oscar history to the podium when she accepted her best supporting actress trophy. Her godmother, the late Shelley Winters, was a four-time nominee and double winner. Dern sat Sunday next to her mother, Diane Ladd, also a three-time Oscar nominee. Dern, who won for “Marriage Story,” described the drama about the pains of divorce as “a film about love.” She saluted her children and cited the common warning about the dangers of meeting your heroes but countered, “If you’re really blessed, you get them as your parents. I share this with my acting heroes, my legends, Diane Ladd and [two-time nominee] Bruce Dern.”
Bong, who won the original screenplay award with collaborator Jin Won-han, thanked his ensemble of actors as they beamed in the audience. Bong will be at Walker Art Center Wednesday evening for a sold-out dialogue about his films. His “Snowpiercer” will be screened Tuesday night.
A chortling Bong also accepted the international feature film prize for “Parasite.” In that speech, he pledged to begin drinking but he was soon back onstage to pick up the trophy for best director, of which he said, “I would like to get a Texas chainsaw, split the Oscar into five and share it with all of you.”
In particular, he saluted fellow nominee Martin Scorsese, whose words inspired him in film school: “The most personal is the most creative.” (Scorsese’s film, “The Irishman,” was nominated for 10 awards but went home empty-handed.)
Like Bong, the winner for adapted screenplay hails from outside the United States. New Zealand’s half-Maori Taika Waititi thanked his mother for giving him “Caging Skies,” the book he turned into the film “Jojo Rabbit,” which is largely about the relationship between a boy and his mom.
In a sometimes politically charged evening, moms were a popular, noncontroversial choice in speeches. Marshall Curry, accepting his award for live-action short “The Neighbor’s Window,” also saluted his mother and Chrissy Metz ended her performance of best song nominee “I’m Standing With You” with “I love you, Mom.”
“1917,” set during World War I, won for its sound mixing, visual effects and cinematography. Roger Deakins, longtime cinematographer for Joel and Ethan Coen, accepted the latter award, his second in a row after losing 13 straight times. (He also won for “Blade Runner 2049.”) “Ford v. Ferrari” notched two craft awards, for sound editing and film editing.
The makeup and hair styling team from the #MeToo-themed “Bombshell” won for transforming Charlize Theron into a Megyn Kelly look-alike, John Lithgow into a Jabba the Hutt-esque Roger Ailes and Nicole Kidman into Minnesota native Gretchen Carlson.
At least three Twin Cities animators worked on “Hair Love,” which won for best animated short film. Bloomington native Pete Docter was an executive producer on “Toy Story 4,” which followed the lead of 2010’s “Toy Story 3” in winning best animated feature.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367 • @HewittStrib