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Christopher Nolan Oscar Getty.jpg

The 2024 Oscars Were Great Right Up Until the End

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | March 11, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | March 11, 2024 |

Christopher Nolan Oscar Getty.jpg

The Academy Awards are done for another year. Oppenheimer won Best Picture, it was Stone over Gladstone, Messi the dog stole the spotlight, and Maestro went home empty-handed. And best of all? Thanks to daylight savings and the earlier start time, we Brits got to go to bed at a relatively reasonable hour for once! If only the ITV pre-show wasn’t utterly excruciating, but that’s a rant for another day.

Jimmy Kimmel was on hosting duties again, probably because nobody else wants this job as it’s the most thankless gig in Hollywood. He was fine. Some jokes landed better than others. Robert Downey Jr. had no time for those drug jokes and Emma Stone seemed weirdly peeved by a rather mild Poor Things gag. There was, of course, a gag about movies being too long, although there was also a fun one about Bradley Cooper and his mother, and a great one on the DGA. A lot of deserved love - and a standing ovation - was given to the picketers and organizers of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, with many of them brought onto the stage to get their dues. Support your local Teamsters, kids. Given how often they have Kimmel and his team doing this job, I’d say his performance was solid. He’s Billy Crystal without the weird musical numbers where he sings about Seabiscuit to the tune of ‘Moon River.’

This awards season was an interesting one in that, while it wasn’t especially surprising, it was pretty satisfying in terms of nominees and winners. Yes, there were some omissions that got the Discourse going, but the slate that carried us through these past few months was met with general enthusiasm. This was a year where we got Barbenheimer, Anatomy of a Fall, The Zone of Interest, and Poor Things, and who could be upset over that?

The acting awards were handed out by a collective of previous winners in each category, a callback to the 2008 ceremony. It was pretty cool to see the likes of Mary Steenburgen on the broadcast. It was also clearly a touching moment for many nominees, who were celebrated in a more specific manner than merely reading out their names can convey. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, the biggest lock of the night, was very moved by Lupita Nyong’o’s words, and it made for the perfect lead-in to her win for Best Supporting Actress. Robert Downey Jr. had clearly been preparing for his moment all year but hey, he’s also had perhaps the greatest comeback in Hollywood history, so why not revel in it? Did these intros make the ceremony longer? Yeah, but this is also meant to be a celebration of cinema and all too often the show itself seems to forget that. Personally, I appreciated letting those nominees have a few seconds to shine, and for the real appreciation of their work. You could definitely tell which moments were more personal than others, but the spirit was there throughout. Frankly, I want the Oscars to have more montages, more discussions of the process, and less hacky sketches. But naked John Cena was, admittedly, very funny.

Jonathan Glazer offered an eloquent and appropriate speech regarding the war in Gaza while accepting Best International Feature for The Zone of Interest (and made history by becoming the first British film to win in this category. Go us.) The director of the Best Documentary Feature winner, 25 Days in Mariupol, talked of keeping alive the memory of those killed in the war against Ukraine and how he wished he hadn’t made the film because it would mean his country hadn’t been invaded. Awards season is often a stage for political commentary, but it has been somewhat glaring how little Gaza or the people of Palestine have been mentioned over these past few months. It was a surprise to me that so many big stars, like Mahershala Ali and Billie Eilish, were wearing Artists for Ceasefire pins, but there was still an air of hesitation over the evening. I get it but still…

Poor Things did very well in the tech categories, winning for costume, production design, and hair and makeup. The voters tend to go for the flashiest and most lavish work in these fields, so it made sense that Yorgos Lanthimos’ surreal Victorian aesthetic fared well with voters, although one couldn’t help but wonder why Barbie was so overlooked there. When opulence takes on opulence, I suppose the more ‘serious’ film will always take it. but the moment of the night was surely Barbie’s, as Ryan Gosling took to the stage for a performance of ‘I’m Just Ken’ that included guitar and bass shredding from Slash and Wolfgang Van Halen as well as Busby Berkeley dance homages, and so much pink. By the end of it, you couldn’t help but wonder if maybe RDJ could hand his Oscar back. And Billie Eilish, for that matter, who beat the song to win Best Original Song with ‘What Was I Made For.’ No offence to her and her lovely song, but damn, ‘I’m Just Ken’ could have had it all.

But the night, of course, belonged to Oppenheimer. A three-hour biographical drama mostly comprised of scenes of men in rooms talking about physics was a cultural phenomenon and Christopher Nolan made it happen. For a long time, Nolan was cited as the main example of an endlessly snubbed filmmaker, a director who made an indelible impact on modern cinema but wasn’t taken seriously by the Academy because he made Batman movies. The love in the room was palpable as the second half of the ceremony saw Nolan and Oppenheimer pick up trophy after trophy, and that extended to Best Actor victor Cillian Murphy. In many ways, it was the ideal Best Picture winner: a critical and commercial success, a biopic, an ensemble piece, a film concerned with big ideas and displays of major technical prowess, and they blew stuff up.

There was also immense love in the room for Emma Stone as she won her second Best Actress Oscar for Poor Things. I don’t begrudge her that win for such a great performance, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t sting like hell that Lily Gladstone went home empty-handed. For me, what Gladstone did in Killers of the Flower Moon was momentous, and not simply because of the historical implications of her nomination. She deserved that trophy. And it sucks that the Academy had to Academy it up. Again, no offence to Emma Stone, but Lily effing Gladstone. It couldn’t help but take the wind out of the night’s sails. Well, that and the weird Al Pacino bit. What was going on there?

And so, it is over for the 2023 season. The Academy continues to be an excellent example of ‘two steps forward, one step back.’ It can take big swings but clearly prefers not to, and while it sets itself up proudly to make history, they shy away from committing to the process. The real change in cinema happens on the ground level, and Lily Gladstone has been doing that for years, working in independent cinema to amplify Native voices and bring the spotlight to Indigenous pop culture. I hope she gets more high-profile opportunities like Killers of the Flower Moon and is also supported in her indie efforts where Indigenous creators are the majority of the cast and crew. That’ll be the step forward we need, far more than a gold statuette.

But still, she should have won.