Amid the Oscar nominations sturm und drang—mainly because the Academy as a whole refuses to reckon with their own biases and do the work of overcoming them—there are a few bright spots in the nominations. Shout out to Matthew Cherry’s animated short film, Hair Love, which is one of the best family films of the year (you can watch it here). And there is Parasite, which is not only one of the best films of 2019, but also of the 2010s. Parasite garnered six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director and Original Screenplay for Bong Joon-ho.
Yes, I am bummed there are no acting nominations for Parasite. I felt pretty okay about Song Kang-ho, a legit world cinema star, snagging a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It felt like the recognition of Bong as a master filmmaker would also carry over to his muse, Song, one of South Korea’s greatest actors. But alas, as I have to keep reminding myself, the Academy is not that cool. (If the Oscars had a Best Ensemble category, Parasite would be nominated for sure.) But Parasite is also nominated for Best Production Design, which is GREAT to see as contemporary films don’t often make the cut—every other nominee in that category is a period piece—and it happens predominately in domestic interior spaces. Again: Not often rewarded. And it’s nominated for Best Editing, another good get, as Parasite is all about what we see and how and when we see it, and that kind of subtlety is often missed by the “more is more” Academy. This is well-deserved recognition for Parasite, an exquisitely made film.
However, there is the double-nomination trap of Best Picture and Best International Feature. Specialized categories like Best International/Animated/Documentary Feature exist to force the Academy, which is biased against those mediums, to recognize works outside of English language, live-action, narrative fictional film. But that also means Academy voters have an out when a film is nominated in both a Best Special category and Best Picture. Parasite is a shoo-in for Best International Film, and that will, at long last, acknowledge South Korea’s place in global cinema.
But that will become the justification for voters not ALSO selecting it for Best Picture. You know what they’ll say: “I voted for it once already.” Best International Feature will hamstring Parasite’s chances at being Best Picture. No matter what anyone from the Academy says, the specialized categories ARE a consolation prize. It’s an excuse, an out for the Academy to not reckon with a foreign-language film as a piece of cinema as worthy as anything produced by Hollywood. As Bong says, the Oscars are “local”. And their continuing stubbornness about films directed by women or centered on experiences that are not straight/white/male shows the Oscars are not interested in becoming global. Given how determined the Academy is to be totally square, we should be glad Parasite got multiple nominations at all. Come Oscar night, I will not be surprised if Best International Feature is the only trophy Parasite wins. At least we can look forward to Bong’s inevitable blasé acceptance speech.