The Case for Best Picture: Parasite

Written by Eoin O’Donnell

With every new year comes the inevitable period of tribalism that pits all manner of incomparable films against each other like rabid sports teams: awards season. It’s the time where great movies are reduced to one-sentence dismissals and brushed aside like dirt in the hopes of holding up your own indisputable, objectively correct choices for the gaudy, ultimately meaningless pieces of metal we call ‘awards’. In the spirit of embracing this joyous time of year, I’ll now proceed to do exactly that. 

Choi Woo Shik stars in Parasite.

Each pick for this year’s coveted best picture statuette could be (maybe unfairly) said to be in the running for one core ‘draw’; 1917 is a masterpiece of a technical achievement in cinematography, Marriage Story is an acting masterclass, Little Women is a lavishly-designed tapestry of a period piece, and so on. Almost all of this year’s picks are certainly good or great films overall, but they seem to have just that one core stand-out component that ‘legitimizes’ it. All but one, that is: Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite.

Parasite has a terrific ensemble, an ingenious original script, a dynamic visual style and a deft directorial vision at the head of it all. It’s not just an acting showcase or a terrific technical achievement, it has all of what makes its fellow nominees special and more. The film’s recent win for best ensemble cast in the SAG awards proves that you don’t need to be a sad clown or a dawdling pope to enter the acting ‘elite’, and the Academy’s failure to recognize Song Kang Ho, Park So Dam or any one of the terrific performances on-screen in Parasite just further highlights their neglect of international cinema.  

The words spoken may sound alien to many of us, but the languages of comedy, horror and ever-creeping tension are undeniably universal.

The film is certainly a uniquely personal project for writer/director Bong Joon-Ho and his perception of South Korean society. But, the experiences evoked within it are surprisingly relatable, permeating through the ‘barrier’ of international cinema. The words spoken may sound alien to many of us, but the languages of comedy, horror and ever-creeping tension are undeniably universal. The themes of social isolation, class warfare and desperation for even a taste of a better life are such globally-felt and universally resonant concepts that even with such a uniquely Korean presentation, Parasite is almost impossible not to relate to and be moved by. 

Unfortunately, it also has the one thing that Western audiences (and particularly Academy voters, it seems) are absolutely terrified of: subtitles. Anybody who has sat down to watch a film with their parents only to wait for the inevitable question of “is it all like this?” after a few minutes knows the struggles of trying to get people to put down their phones and actually look at the screen to take in a piece of international cinema. As vapid and pointless as awards season can be, recognizing a film like Parasite in the ‘main’ categories like Best Picture could go a long way in broadening the perspectives of more casual filmgoers, and legitimizing foreign cinema as simply ‘cinema’ in the eyes of unconverted skeptics. 

Parasite was the first non-American cast to win Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards.

Bong Joon-Ho’s hilariously pointed acceptance speech for the film’s best foreign language Golden Globe award made waves with its bluntness, urging people that “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”, and he’s right. So often, the best films of each respective year are left out of the awards season conversation for no reason other than laziness and ignorance, neglected to the segregating category of ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ to tick a box. Thankfully, with more widespread nominations for last year’s Roma and now Parasite, it’s looking like that’s beginning to change. 

It’s not that an imaginary Hitler or a grumpy clown don’t deserve the recognition each individual award category offers them, but in a year where Parasite exists, it gets hard to argue that anything has a more compelling and consistent ‘package’ overall. Isn’t that what the ‘Best Picture’ of the year should be all about?

The 92nd Academy Awards will take place this coming Sunday 9th of February.

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