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96th Academy Awards Recap

March 11, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Contrary to all the hullabaloo beforehand, the 96th Academy Awards turned out to be a surprising affair. First and foremost, the show itself was actually quite strong, vastly improving upon the downright disastrous productions that have been put on in the past few years. The opening start time - pushed up an hour - was delayed a few minutes due to a pro-Palestine protest outside the Dolby Theater caused some attendees to arrive late. Host Jimmy Kimmel delivered yet another signature safe, yet reliable opening monologue filled with playful jabs at the nominees and the strikes. The mandatory Gerwig/Robbie snub remark wasn’t as groan-worthy as expected, Robert Downey Jr. remained the king of host banter, and Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster gave great reactions to the joke about Foster being twenty years too old to be De Niro’s girlfriend.

Best Supporting Actress was the first award of the night. The revival of five previous winners introducing the nominees was a nice idea on paper, and it still mostly was in practice. Seeing legendary winners back on the stage made for a regal feeling, but there was no way to avoid the sense that everything was being dragged out. And there were no clips, neither when each nominee was introduced nor as a whole package afterward. It’s a little ironic that these performances in a visual medium were only heard, and never seen throughout the entire broadcast.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph unsurprisingly took home the first acting award. But her win there didn’t begin an uneventful night of frontrunner domination as we all expected. Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron upset Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to win Best Animated Feature a few minutes later, and so did Poor Things over Maestro in Best Makeup & Hairstyling. In fact, Poor Things won two more consecutive awards after that: Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. Those three victories in quick succession made the already tight race for Best Lead Actress even closer.

Godzilla Minus One became one of the most charming winners ever in the category of Best Visual Effects, and so did Robert Downey Jr. in Best Supporting Actor. One of the biggest benefits of having the previous winners present was seeing the newly crowned winner walk up and be congratulated on joining the club. The only slip-up Oppenheimer had from then on was in Best Sound, where The Zone of Interest won for its ingenious hellish soundscape of Auschwitz. It’s fitting that both Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest were birthed at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, and now end their awards season paths with Oscars in hand. Justine Triet and Arthur Harari won for their intricately layered original screenplay. The Zone of Interest winning Best International Feature gives me another opportunity to mention that the director does not personally win the award but simply accepts it during the ceremony. It’s a stupid rule that needs to be revised to accurately reward the person most responsible for the achievement.

Also a bummer was not seeing Wes Anderson accept his first competitive Oscar in the form of Best Live-Action Short. Based on his awards trajectory over the past decade, this seemed like the best (and probably only) chance to reward him. The one-two punch of Cillian Murphy winning Best Lead Actor and Christopher Nolan for Best Director was quite nice considering the pair’s loyalty to each other over their careers. Having Spielberg be the one to present the award to Nolan was a great choice by the producers.

While not a shock considering the awards it pulled in earlier in the evening, Emma Stone’s “upset” over Lily Gladstone came after several speeches and rounds of applause were made for the Killers of the Flower Moon actress. Her befuddlement on stage was mirrored by Al Pacino a few minutes later when he presented Best Picture. His aloofness can be slightly excused since there was no suspense about who the ultimate winner was going to be.

A perfectly fine-tuned Oscar ceremony should run about 195 minutes, with this one coming in a tad over that. A large chunk of that excess can be attributed to the acting presentations, which likely won’t be continued regularly, largely because they’d run out of previous winners pretty quickly. There were no minutes-long skits where Kimmel walked up and down the aisles, nor any embarrassing pre-taped bits. The presenters all did a wonderful job, especially John Cena going fully nude, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito commiserating their deaths at the hands of Batman. The only questionable choice was having dancers during the In Memoriam segment, which took attention away from those who were supposed to be honored.

All in all, this awards season ended with some predictable victors, but it also gave us enough surprises to be entertaining. There have been twists and turns since last January when Past Lives premiered at Sundance, with movies of all shapes and sizes being represented. And after no Best Picture winner taking home more than five Oscars in over a decade, it’s a little refreshing to see both Everything Everywhere All at Once and Oppenheimer come away with seven. I guess all eyes will be on Dune: Part Two next year to continue the trend…

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