Oscars 2020: The top moments from Hollywood's big night

'Parasite' and Bong Joon Ho conquered the ceremony, making history and electrifying the crowd.
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By Daniel Arkin

"Parasite," Bong Joon Ho's gleefully twisted tale of economic inequality, won top honors at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, closing out a ceremony that ran for more than three hours and featured a mix of splashy musical numbers and nods to real-world politics.

Here's a look at six key moments and themes from the show.

'Parasite' and Bong Joon Ho dominate the night

It's one for the history books: "Parasite" is the first non-English-language film to win best picture in the history of the Academy Awards. The celebrated social thriller conquered the ceremony, picking up three other major honors: best international feature, best original screenplay and best director for Bong, a genre-smashing master of mood.

Director Bong Joon-ho accepts the Oscar for best international feature film for "Parasite" at the Academy Awards on Feb. 9, 2020.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

In a year in which many slammed the film academy for snubbing female directors and performers of color, the triumph of "Parasite" symbolized the increasingly multinational voting body's taste for international films and the dynamism of South Korean cinema. It also signaled that the Hollywood establishment is more receptive to unconventional, button-pushing projects than some viewers might have assumed.

Bong, for his part, was responsible for a few of the most memorable moments of the telecast. (The crowd seemed electrified nearly every time he took the stage.) He drew laughs when, at the end of one speech, he quipped, "I am ready to drink tonight." In his acceptance speech for the best director award, Bong paid heartfelt tribute to living legend Martin Scorsese ("The Irishman"). In response, the audience gave Scorsese a standing ovation.

Brad Pitt assails Senate Republicans

In one of the most eye-catching and pointed moments of the show, Brad Pitt took aim at congressional Republicans. Pitt, accepting the best supporting actor trophy for his turn as a laconic stuntman in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," alluded to the fact that the Senate did not allow witnesses to testify at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

"They told me you only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week," said Pitt, 56. "I'm thinking maybe Quentin does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing."

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In an exchange with reporters backstage, Pitt elaborated: "I was really disappointed with this week," he said, presumably referring to Trump's acquittal. "When gamesmanship trumps doing the right thing, it's a sad day, and I don't think we should let it slide. I'm very serious about that."

The biggest surprise: Eminem takes the stage

The rapper Eminem, sporting a beard, seemed to jolt the crowd when he took the stage at the Dolby Theatre and performed his Oscar-winning original song, "Lose Yourself," from the semi-autobiographical drama "8 Mile." He was there to cap a clip reel featuring other Oscar-winning movie tunes.

The reactions in the audience were a mixed bag. Billie Eilish, the Grammy-winning pop superstar, appeared to drop her jaw in disbelief, while other performers — Janelle Monáe and "Star Wars" actress Kelly Marie Tran among them — bobbed their heads or sang along.

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Meanwhile, Scorsese appeared to close his eyes as cameras roamed the audience. Eminem's inclusion in the ceremony was also blasted by some on social media. "Well, you can still sing the word 'f-----' a million times and still perform at the Oscars that's about 'diversity.' Mmkay," the comedian Billy Eichner tweeted.

Joaquin Phoenix turns activist after 'Joker' win

It was widely predicted that Joaquin Phoenix would win best actor for "Joker," an unnerving depiction of the comic book villain's descent into madness and violence in Gotham City. It was also expected, at least among awards show devotees, that the acclaimed actor would deliver an acceptance speech that touched on sociopolitical themes.

In accepting the trophy, Phoenix spoke earnestly and at times haltingly about various social issues, including the misogyny and racial prejudice of the film business, as well as ecological devastation, animal rights and veganism. He also struck a confessional tone, appearing to recognize his own perceived personal failings.

Joaquin Phoenix accepts the Oscar for best actor in "Joker." Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

"I've been a scoundrel in my life. I've been selfish, I've been cruel at times and hard to work with. But so many of you in this room have given me a second chance," Phoenix said. He ended his remarks by quoting his late brother, actor River Phoenix: "Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow."

'Joker' composer notches a milestone

Hildur Guðnadóttir, who composed the haunting music for "Joker," became only the third woman to win the best original score award in the history of the Oscars. The first two were Rachel Portman for the Jane Austen adaptation "Emma" (1996) and Anne Dudley for the stripping comedy "The Fully Monty" (1997).

In accepting the award, Guðnadóttir nodded to the importance of gender equity in the arts. She also seemed to capture the feeling that female artists were underrecognized for their contributions to American film, especially in a year largely defined by male directors.

"To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music opening within, please speak up," Guðnadóttir said. "We need to hear your voices."

No host, but jokes aplenty

The producers decided to ditch an emcee for the second year in a row, kicking off the ceremony without a scene-setting monologue. But in its place, producers slotted in various A-list stars and host-worthy comedians to riff on the nominees or just to crack wise for a few minutes.

Chris Rock and Steve Martin, two previous Oscars hosts, split duties in a stand-up comedy set. Rock roasted Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos ("He's got cash. When he writes a check, the bank bounces."), while Martin reassured the crowd that there wouldn't be any "big disasters" like the famous 2017 envelope mix-up "because the academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app."

In another bit, James Corden and Rebel Wilson presented the visual effects nominees dressed in cheap-looking head-to-toe cat costumes — a nod to their performances in the critically reviled film musical "Cats." (The movie was distributed by Universal Pictures, which, like NBC News, is a unit of NBCUniversal.)

"Nobody knows better than us the importance of good visual effects," Corden and Wilson quipped in unison.