Plenty nachas at Jewish Oscars

Actor Joaquin Phoenix eulogized his late brother, River, in his Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech for his role in Joker.

cover - Oscars 2020 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cover - Oscars 2020
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jews in the film industry made their usual big splash at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix eulogized his late brother, River, in his Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech for his role in Joker.
“When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, ‘Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.’” River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993.
In a heartfelt speech about cruelty to animals and other causes, he also found a moment for a kind of personal tikkun olam, acknowledging his past difficult behavior and thanking the Academy members for not giving up on him.
“I’ve been a scoundrel in my life,” said Phoenix, whose mother was born Jewish. “I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with. Many of you in this room have given me a second chance.”
Jojo Rabbit writer/director Taika Waititi, whose legal name is Taika Cohen and who is of mixed Jewish/Maori descent, won the award for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit.
He referenced his ancestors on both sides upon accepting the award, as he became the first person of indigenous descent to win a screenwriting award. He also thanked his mother, who is Jewish, saying, “Thank you for being my mother and for many other reasons. For giving me the book I adapted. This film wouldn’t have existed without you doing that!’
Vanity Fair reported that in a press conference following his win, he said the film, about a German boy in the Nazi era whose imaginary friend (played by Waititi) is Adolf Hitler, is “a response to a resurgence of hate.” Pointing out that after World War II, Nazi hate speech was illegal, but today, “If you’re a Nazi, feel free to have a rally in Times Square... Something’s not right and we have forgotten the rules... and I feel the film has become more important and more relevant today. Which is a sad thing – but also good for me!”
Waititi was presented with the award by two of Hollywood’s most prominent Jewish actors, Natalie Portman, who is starring in Waititi’s upcoming film, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Timothée Chalamet, one of the stars of Little Women.
Gal Gadot also presented an award, for Best Song, along with Brie Larson and Sigourney Weaver. The three actresses, known for playing superheroes and strong women, joked about a starting a fight club where men would be welcome. The loser of fights, said Gadot, would have to answer questions such as “how it feels to be a woman in Hollywood.” It was she who announced that the award for Best Original Song went to Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman.
Shia LaBeouf, Beanie Feldstein and Julia Louis-Dreyfus also presented awards.
Idina Menzel, whose name was famously mispronounced by John Travolta at the 2014 Oscars, got to sing “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2.
Quentin Tarantino, a Tel Aviv resident and husband of pregnant singer Daniella Pick, did not win the Best Director or Best Screenplay awards for Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood and so was not able to thank Pick again in Hebrew, as he did at the Golden Globes.
The biggest story of the night was the win for Korean film Parasite, the first foreign language-film to win Best Picture, which gladdened the hearts of many Israeli filmmakers, who see this victory paving the way for wider exposure for movies not in English. Said one Israeli director, who preferred not to be quoted by name, “This is the dream, that a movie made here could break through even though it’s not in English, and the win for Parasite brings this dream that much closer... It’s also significant for us that it’s a movie in a non-European language – like Hebrew!”