Mon, May 20, 2024

Oscars Recap: Nuanced Highs and the Big Disappointment

This year’s Oscar ceremony was the shortest in years – a rapid-fire cavalcade that barely had time to breathe. Despite this, it produced some real surprises, good and bad.

Oppenheimer, unsurprisingly, won the top awards of the night, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. The film provided the path for actors, Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey, Jr., as well as director, Christopher Nolan, to finally win their Oscars. It was one of a handful of “finally” moments.

Nolan made a particularly inspired speech, emphasizing how the medium of film is still new:

“Movies are just a little bit over a hundred years old. Imagine being there a hundred years into painting or theater […] We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here, but to know that you think I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

Christopher Nolan wins Best Director for Oppenheimer.

There were a lot of other first-timers on the big night. Filmmaker, Cord Jefferson won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for American Fiction; the first award for his first-ever movie. In his acceptance speech, he rallied Hollywood to take chances on smaller-budget films. Holdovers actress, Da’Vine Joy Randolph took the first award of the night for Best Supporting Actress, declaring and repeating “God is good.” Director Wes Anderson also won his first Oscar for the short film The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a delightful Roald Dahl adaptation which can be viewed on Netflix.

While Oppenheimer won the most awards of the night, one of the more pleasant shocks was the second in show, Poor Things, which won four, including Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Makeup, and Hairstyling. The measure of Poor Things’ success is especially stunning considering that Barbie, the highest-grossing film of 2023, was seen as a near-certain contender for these awards.

In fact, fan-favorite Barbie only took home one trophy, Best Original Song, which went to Billie Eilish and Finneas’ ballad “What Was I Made For?” The film’s misses pose questions regarding public fanfare vs. institutional appreciation. At least on Oscar night.

I’m reminded of actor David Lander’s words to Penny Marshall after their hit TV series Laverne & Shirley missed out on every category at the Emmy Awards over its 8-year-run, “Only the public likes us.”

Not a bad deal for writer-director, Greta Gerwig.

Director Jonathan Glazer provided one of the few politically charged speeches of the night after winning Best International Feature for holocaust-drama The Zone of Interest, trembling as he called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. His words were met with applause from the room but expected division on social media.

Of course, the biggest upset of the night was for the Best Actress Award. Lily Gladstone was expected to be a shoo-in for her haunting role as Mollie Burkhart in Killers of the Flower Moon, but lost to Emma Stone for Poor Things. Stone herself seemed shaken to hear her name announced and paid rightful tribute to her friend, Gladstone in her speech.

Nothing set the internet ablaze quite as quickly as this decision by the Academy. If Gladstone had won, she would’ve been the first Native American actress to win. The response was a sliding scale, accusing the Academy of racism, having no taste, having not seen Flower Moon, and choosing to reward for the usual outlandish performance as opposed to a more subtle one. My opinion? It’s a minute mix of all four.

It wasn’t Stone’s win that infuriated yours truly, it was Gladstone’s loss. She is the heartbeat of Flower Moon, and she watches as her native people and family are eliminated one by one by the men who claim to love her. This loss also meant the third film in a row by Director Martin Scorsese to walk away with zero Oscars (after The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014 and The Irishman in 2020).

Martin Scorsese with cast from Killers of the Flower Moon

That room sure claims to love Scorsese and heralds him as one of America’s foremost cinema craftsmen, but they don’t like to reward him for it!

There were non-award-related moments that had people talking, such as John Cena barely nude (set up as a nod to the ‘50th anniversary’ of the “streaker” incident at the 1974 Oscars). Ryan Gosling owned the room for three minutes with his ever-entertaining and ever-pink rendition of “I’m Just Ken” from Barbie. Messi, the dog from Anatomy of a Fall, got many an “aww” from his several appearances throughout the show. Host Jimmy Kimmel had a rip-roaring monologue with one particular dig at Robert Downey Jr.’s drug-addicted past that led to some discomfort.

The “In Memoriam” segment was rather strange, with Italian singers, Andrea and Matteo Bocelli belting “Time to Say Goodbye” before a ballet ensemble. The position of the dancers led to an obstructed view of the names and faces being remembered, which included actors, Alan Arkin, Harry Belafonte, and Glynis Johns, filmmakers, Norman Jewison and William Friedkin, and musicians, Robbie Robertson and Tina Turner. Even stranger, the tribute ended with a wall of names – no faces – blinking one by one before fading to black.

I certainly have never considered doing an “In Memoriam” in the style of a hit list, but there’s a first time for everything.

All in all, the show was no more doting and no less weird than any Oscar ceremony of years past. For those who watch the show for mess and controversy, this was another stellar volume. In a post-strike Hollywood, it served as a celebration of what is possible through the power of collaboration.

On to 2025, when the Best Picture award inevitably goes to Dune 2.

Dylan James graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Dramatic Writing. He has studied both the ‘show’ and ‘business’ aspects of show business since childhood, and writes through sociological analysis, seeking relevance in the art and commerce for the moment.

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