A few comments on Parasite

Readers of this blog may recall that I named Parasite as one of my favorite films of 2019.  It’s recently been in the news due to its winning a Best Picture Oscar.

I’ve seen some reviews that didn’t seem to understand the film.  Some argued that it was unrealistic, not seeming to understand that it’s supposed to be unrealistic; it’s a black comedy.  Some pointed out that it commented on inequality in South Korea, without mentioning what sort of “comments” it made.  Whereas a Hollywood film on inequality would portray the poor as wholesome and hardworking and the rich as corrupt and lazy, this film did almost the opposite.

I read that this is the first foreign language film to win a Best Picture Oscar.  There’s also an Oscar for “Best Foreign Language Film.”  That raises the question of why this film won best picture.  While it’s a fine film, I’ve seen several dozen other Korean films of comparable quality.  Indeed it’s not even the best film by this director (I’d vote for “Memories of Murder”.)

Perhaps Hollywood is beginning to feel guilty about its past nationalism (especially now that we are in the Age of Trump.)  It’s not just that no foreign language film had won in the past, even worse, a number of them were nominated and lost.  If none had been nominated, then you could treat the two awards as separate categories, best English language film and best foreign language film.  By nominating some foreign language films for Best Picture, but never giving them top honors, Hollywood was saying, “we’ve looked around the world and never seen a foreign language film as good as what America produces.”  Ouch!  In 2020, that’s too jingoistic for even Hollywood.

I’d actually prefer they not allow foreign language films in the best picture category, as they’ll never be judged on a level playing field.  Alternatively, have three Oscars; best high-brow film, determined by highbrow critics. best middlebrow film, determined much like the current Best Picture, and best popular film, determined by box office receipts.  The same film would be allowed to compete in all three categories.

The Godfather would have won all three, but I’m not sure any other film would have (Birth of a Nation?,  Lord of the Rings III?)

Rear Window would have won highbrow and popular, but it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture.  LOL.  Middlebrow people are the worst.



6 Responses to “A few comments on Parasite”

  1. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    22. February 2020 at 17:13

    I’m not a movie watcher so I defer to S. Sumner’s synopsis. It seems pretty well argued. I did watch some of Sumner’s film suggestions and found them pretty good (that French avant-garde film where every protagonist died in the jungle was good). Parasite sounds like a cheesy horror film but I’ll read the Wikipedia entry on it right now …hold on ..haha pretty clever. Kind of like a Korean version of “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, a movie I ‘watched’ on a plane once, but with more sub-plots and characters.

  2. Gravatar of harryh harryh
    22. February 2020 at 18:53

    FWIW here are all of the combination Best Picture & Box Office winners:

    2003: Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
    1997: Titanic
    1988: Rain Man
    1876: Rocky
    1972: The Godfather
    1965: The Sound Of Music
    1959: Ben Hur
    1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai
    1939: Gone With The Wind
    1929: The Broadway Melody

  3. Gravatar of harryh harryh
    22. February 2020 at 19:00

    After further googling there appears to be some debate about which movie was “highest grossing” in various years. Being a little more liberal some others make the list:

    1973: The Sting
    1971: The French Connection
    1964: My Fair Lady
    1962: Lawrence of Arabia
    1944: Going My Way
    1938: You Can’t Take It with You
    1935: Mutiny on the Bounty
    1934: It Happened One Night
    1930: All Quiet on the Western Front
    1927: Wings

    It’s interesting how much more often Best Picture lined up with the box office in the earlier days of film.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. February 2020 at 09:13

    harryh, Thanks. Lawrence of Arabia might have been the highbrow choice. Perhaps one or two others.

  5. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. February 2020 at 11:18

    “Rear Window would have won highbrow and popular, but it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. LOL.”

    My first thought was that yeah, but this is a crowded category, going back to the early days of film. Hitchcock’s best. Buster Keaton. The Marx Brothers. Sergio Leone. Hawks? Preston Sturges? Tarantino and Rodriguez? And maybe ultra-popular things like Princess Bride, Die Hard and Terminator 2 aren’t considered “great” films, but I think you could argue they crush a lot of the middlebrow stuff (i.e. BP nominated) from the 80’s and 90’s.

    Or consider some popular comedies – how many highbrow critics, sent to the proverbial desert island, would take 3 BP winners chosen at random over an Airplane/Caddyshack/Animal House 3-pack?

    “The Godfather would have won all three, but I’m not sure any other film would have (Birth of a Nation?, Lord of the Rings III?)”

    harryh’s list offers one possibility, which is Lawrence of Arabia. My impression is not a lot of “High” status with the rest of them. Maybe The French Connection? It Happened One Night?

    If you go through the list of BP winners and nominees, i.e. the “Middlebrow Certified” films, I can see a few more possibilities:

    42nd Street (1932/33)
    The Thin Man (1934)
    Top Hat (1935)
    The Philadelphia Story (1940)
    The Maltese Falcon (1941)
    Casablanca (1943)
    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    West Side Story (1961)
    Dr. Strangelove (1964)
    Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

    There’s several others that are obviously very highly regarded films, but I’m not sure whether they were popular enough to qualify for true “Lowbrow” excellence. And actually some of the ones I’ve listed, I’m not at all sure of their exact “Low” or “High” status – these are just throwaway suggestions, really.

    Casablanca and IAWL seem like obvious winners of the L/M/H trifecta – if not huge hits at the time, massively popular in the long run, won or nominated for BP, and highly regarded.

    I stopped listing for the 1970’s because if you look at the BP winners and nominees for that period, there’s too many to list! The two Godfather films, Chinatown, many others. That seems like the era of the L/M/H film.

    Here’s some post-1970’s throwaway suggestions:

    Goodfellas (1990)
    No Country for Old Men (1992)
    Pulp Fiction (1994)
    Babe (1995)
    Fargo (1996)
    Unforgiven (2007)

  6. Gravatar of Daniel R. Grayson Daniel R. Grayson
    24. February 2020 at 08:53

    Thanks to your recommendation, we watched the film a couple of weeks ago, on DVD at home. My theory about the awards is that the committee is woke, thinks that inequality is the most important issue of our age, and wants to reward the portrayal of a vast chasm between rich and poor, while regarding the dystopian darkness and humor of the film as just a device to make it popular.

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