The 96th Academy Awards: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? . . . or, at least, on Tuesday?

| March 10, 2024

Oscars 2024: Updates from the Academy Awards in Los Angeles

The 96th Academy Awards are now in the history books.  Are they one for the ages?  Nah.  You’ll talk about it tomorrow, but by Tuesday you’ll have mostly forgotten about it.

There was no physical violence.  The host shenanigans were mostly held in check.  The winners stuck more or less to the predictions (out of 24 categories, I got five wrong – I really thought Lily Gladstone would win).  The ‘In Memoriam’ tribute bit the big one, favoring interpretive dance instead of letting us mourn the likes of Alan Arkin and Carl Weathers – In truth, TCM did a way better job with their memorial roll call. 

Lily Gladstone did not win Best Actress for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which followed in the tradition of The Irishman and The Wolf of Wall Street as Scorsese films that get multiple nominations and win doodily-squat on the big night.  As the final awards were given out and it became clear that the 81-year old director’s film would walk away empty-handed, the camera held on Scorsese’s sad, but not unsurprised reaction to the whole thing.

The Best Actress prize was a second win for Emma Stone who won for playing Bella Baxter in Yorgos Lanthamos’ reframing of The Bride of Frankenstein called Poor Things.  Stone seemed genuinely surprised and was shaking as she thanked her director for “The part of a lifetime.”

Stone’s win was a surprise because in a year that favorite a lot of dead locks, the Best Actress category was the only place where there was any real drama.  Cillian Murphy won, as expected, for playing the lead in Oppenheimer.  Da’Vine Joy Randolph won, as expected, for Best Supporting Actress in The Holdovers – the film’s only win of the night.  Jonathan Glazer won the Best International Feature award for the eerie holocaust drama The Zone of Interest.  And Robert Downey Jr. won, as expected, for Best Supporting Actor for playing Lewis Strauss, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission who makes it his mission to destroy Robert Oppenheimer’s career and reputation.

Downey has been the great comeback story after years of personal problems  beginning in 1999, when his career seemed to be over (he was sentenced to a three-year prison term) he had few friends and only a small group of people who believed in him – mainly his friend Rob Lowe.  But since that time, he has been on the climb back out of the scandalous pits of self-destruction.  His was the great comeback from a path that could have put him on one of Oscar’s memorial reels, right up there with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger.

But the journey that began with Iron Man has topped off with a win for Oppenheimer.  There was a lot of love in the room, but Downey saved the best kudos for his wife.  “She found me a snarling rescue pet and she loved me back to life,” he said, “That’s why I’m here.”

Tear-stained and shaking possibly more than Emma Stone was Da’Vine Joy Randolph who won Best Supporting Actress for playing the grieving mother of a son that was killed in action in Vietnam in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers.  Randolph has had a difficult climb in her career.  In her speech, she said that she started off a singer, but her mother encouraged her to join the theater department where she was the only black woman.  Backstage, she ruminated on that difficult climb.  “In many ways, while it can challenge your mental health, it can also strengthen it.”

The Best Actor prize was expected to go to Cillian Murphy who occupied the title role in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and becomes the first Irish-born actor to win that honor.  “I’m a very proud Irishman standing here tonight”, he said, and sang the praises of his director Christopher Nolan with whom he has collaborated on seven films.  This was an odd night for the usually reserved and private Murphy who doesn’t normally trek the celebrity scene.

The night was expected to be dominated by Oppenheimer, and it was.  The film won seven awards including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Score, Film Editing and Cinematography.  But early on, it seemed like a very good night for Poor Things which, along with Best Actress, also won honors for Make-up & Hairstyling, Production Design and Costume Design.

The writing awards were in the crosshairs this year as the industry was still feeling the rattle of the recent strike.  This was capped by a wonderful moment in which host Jimmy Kimmel pulled a great number of behind-the-scenes craftspeople on the stage to take a bow, and also to announce that the Academy, in a year or two will have a new category for casting.  Given the later tribute to stunt persons, it seems that the Academy might want to honor those artists too.

The writing honors went in unexpected places.  Instead of Oppenheimer, the drama Anatomy of a Fall, about a woman accused of having a hand in her husband’s death picked up an award for Best Original Screenplay.  Meanwhile, the Best Adapted Screenplay award went, not to Barbie, but to American Fiction, a comedy about a black writer who refuses to write about the black experience but writes a degrading “hood novel” on a fly that becomes a best-seller.

The current state of the world was represented by a lot of things at the Oscars this year, but probably no more current than the documentary 20 Days in Mariupol, a documentary that becomes the first Oscar winning film in Ukrainian history.  It tells the story of the last team of international journalist trapped in The Ukraine’s port city Mariupol when the Russians begin attacking.  Struggling to keep working, they eventually documented some of the most harrowing and revealing images of the entire conflict.  Upon receiving the award, director Mstyslav Chernov reflected [to paraphrase], “I wish I’d never made this film.  I wish I could exchange it for Russia never attacking The Ukraine.”

Out of the darkness comes the light.  And with that, what of Barbie?  The best-selling film of 2023 was nominated for eight awards and picked up one Best Original Song for the tender “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.  The film’s success and, its daffy subject matter gave the 96th Oscars its levity, especially since – in a stupid movie – Margot Robbie wasn’t nominated for Best Actress and Greta Gerwig did not get a nod for Best Director.  Jokes led to some flirtation between host Jimmy Kimmell and co-star Ryan Gosling, especially after the actor brought down the house with the rendition of the film’s nominated song “I’m Just Ken.”  The night needed it because this was not an Oscar show for the books.

It wasn’t really anything that you could complain about, save for the In Memoriam section, which has always been a source of growling and consternation.  This year it reached a new low.  Interpretive dance was added in front of the scrolling tributes and the camera largely remained at the back of the Dolby theater so that we couldn’t see who was being memorialized.  I might have liked to have a moment to reflect on Glynnis Johns or Carl Weathers or Matthew Perry or Richard Roundtree or Andre Brauer but it was more important, apparently, to focus on the two guys singing and the interpretive dance then to the people who should have been at the center.

As I said before, this award show will quickly be forgotten.  There were great moments, but there was no physical violence, no over-the-top stunts by the host, no embarrassing speeches, no hacky liberal politics, save for a lame Trump-in-jail joke by Kimmel that brought down the house.  If you didn’t win an Oscar this year, it won’t remain in your memory by the time you get back to work on Wednesday.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2024) Filed in: The Oscar Nominees