Well, that was amazing.
What an entirely vindicating evening. To feel the excitement and palpable groundswell of support in the room! Do you know that spine-tingly feeling of history happening now, not tragic history but joyful, a thing that changes your field, your world, forever? The recognition of what was happening then, that it might really get the Big One but who among us would dare to hope... It was a thought we had but did not speak, as we expected the expected. But what a treat instead to see the endearing figure 봉준호 go up time and again, running out of things to say and coming with ever more heartfelt words of gratitude.
Thank goodness he isn't the sort to just list a series of names. Upon winning Screenplay he remarked on how although no film is written with an entire country in mind, it's worth celebrating this being the first Oscar South Korea has ever won; later he'd note his excitement at winning International Film in the first year that category had been renamed as such, in his appreciation of what that name change signifies; then, well, everything about that Director speech; and finally his stepping out of the spotlight in favor of other of the film's voices for the Picture award.
My favorite moments were 봉씨 recalling a formative quote by an inspirational filmmaker who turned out to be in the audience– his nominated colleague Martin Scorsese, who looked clearly moved in response; 봉 turning his Director speech into an appreciation of each of his nominated colleagues; his decision to speak in Korean, not adjusting for the event but having us adjust to him; Joaquin Phoenix's unbridled honesty, also on display at the BAFTAs last week; the surprised silence on presenters Spike Lee and Jane Fonda's faces in the seconds before each read what the Director and Picture envelopes contained.
Somewhere along the course of the evening things transitioned from being an event about showbiz involving cinema to an event about cinema period, with only a smattering to do with glitz and glamour. Surfaces receded in importance, and the room, entirely unlike last year's disastrous final results, revealed itself for what it was– less stars with dresses who work in entertainment than, for at least the trembling now, thespians and craftspeople supporting their passions and peers, hidden from time to time under the flashy patina of well-tailored garb. The enthusiasm visible in the spontaneous standing ovations for these entirely unexpected wins.
It was the night of the underdog in a way the whole room could be seen to feel great about. There were no losers last night, not when Sam Mendes grinned that grin at 봉 calling out his name, not with Marty's look of profound gratitude, not with QT's delight at being recognized as an advocate of lesser-known masters. The look on Todd Phillips' face, period. Not with this much seismic change happening.
It was infiltration of genuineness, and I would argue it began with Icelandic cellist and Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir taking Score. See the entirely unaffected and authentic truth in her enthusiasm. People with less fame, like her, are better at doing this than those who've become Hollywood stalwarts. But we respond to truth no matter our place in life, we humans.
Joaquin's words further reoriented the room toward unstylish, uncommercial and heartfelt sincerity, the sincerity of diffcult truths but also, more crucially, of forgiveness and joy and leaning toward goodness. In a few eloquently chosen sentences he steered us away from the well-meaning toxicity of cancel culture, knee-jerk reactionism, the jumble of pet celebrity causes and championed nothing more than the advocacy of constructive movements not through negativity, but through positivity. The kindness that comes from working together.
He unwittingly but perfectly positioned our minds to appreciate everything that was appreciable about the legendary wins that would follow. What a thing it is, to see a room not expecting such historic change, but nevertheless reacting so naturally with such excitement and joy.
It's been an incredible year for film. For more, check out my 14,500 word, 114-picture series of essays (index here) on 25 notable films of 2019.