Sweeps and Losses: Recapping the Oscars


Alexandra Pullen (she/her) and Vanessa Romero (she/her) rehash the 96th Academy Awards

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By Alexandra Pullen and Vanessa Romero

On the night of the 10-11 of March, Hollywood’s elite gathered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the culmination of the 2024 film award season: the 96th Academy Awards.

The show started with comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who was hosting the event for the fourth time, inserting himself into a pivotal scene of this year’s box office hit Barbie. Kimmel sits next to Barbie, telling her he has starved himself to be “beautiful” for this year’s awards. This seemed like a very odd choice, as in the original scene, the theme is self-acceptance. Later, Kimmel ditches the fatphobic undertone and continues into a lukewarm opening monologue that sets a standard for the rest of the evening. He references the outrage about the lack of nominations for female contributors to Barbie, Greta Gerwig being left out for Best Director and Margot Robbie for Best Actress, while Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The financial success of Barbie, compared to its rather mediocre achievement during this year’s award season, is thematised throughout the night but did not appear to ruffle any feathers. However, it is worth noting that Robbie, who had donned entirely Barbie-inspired clothing during Barbie’s promotion, was dressed in a simple black Versace dress that departed from the fashion of Mattel’s doll. It has been suggested that this black dress is reminiscent of a revenge dress or a potential funeral for Barbie, indicating some underlying dismay of the Barbie team. However, Robbie might have just wanted to appear unobtrusive and let her nominated castmates, America Ferrera and Ryan Gosling shine.

It was no surprise to anyone that the latter half of the internet nomenclature Barbenheimer took home the most awards at this year’s ceremony. We are, of course, referring to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The film won the biggest award of the night for Best Picture, which was an extremely competitive category this year, but this didn’t seem to be a shock to anyone because of the film’s success at previous awards shows this year. Cillian Murphy won Best Actor for his role in the film, a success which was certainly deserved after his presentation of the complex mind of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Murphy took to the stage to accept his first ever Academy Award and highlighted his Irish heritage in his speech; he described himself as a “very proud Irishman here tonight” before ending with “Go raibh míle maith agaibh.” – Irish Gaelic for “thank you”. Murphy’s co-star Robert Downey Jr. also won his first Oscar Award for Best Supporting Actor, after previously being nominated for his roles in Chaplin and Tropic Thunder. In a lineup of nominees with big names such as Robert De Niro and Ryan Gosling, we were quite surprised by the success of Downey Jr during this award’s season but maybe a  rewatch of his performance in Oppenheimer is in order. Other wins for the film include Christopher Nolan taking home Best Director, Ludwig Göransson being awarded Best Original Score and Hoyte van Hoytema taking the award for Cinematography, which some believed should have gone to Robbie Ryan for Poor Things.

Speaking of Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’ film also had great success on the night of the Academy Awards, winning the second most awards overall. The film took home the awards for Costuming, Makeup and Hairstyling and Production Design but possibly the most disputed win of the entire night has been Emma Stone taking the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Having previously won an Academy Award for La La Land, Stone won another for the role of Bella Baxter in Poor Things. Playing a woman with the brain of an unborn baby would be an extremely difficult task for anyone, but she was absolutely amazing in the role and blew me away when we watched the film. Despite this, many thought that Lily Gladstone should have won the award for her role in Killers of the Flower Moon. If she had won, Gladstone would have been the first Native American person to win Best Actress, so many thought this was more reason to give her the accolade. Even without winning, it’s safe to say that Gladstone’s nomination is a historically important first.

One emotional moment during the night was undoubtedly Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s Best Supporting Actress win for her powerful performance in The Holdovers. In the film, Joy Randolph plays a cafeteria manager at a boarding school who is grieving her son, whom she lost in the Vietnam War. When accepting the award, she tearfully stated, “I’ve always wanted to be different, but now I realise that I just need to be myself. Thank you for seeing me.” Moreover, she emotionally complimented her publicist Marla Farrell, a rather unorthodox choice as publicists are usually not thanked during award speeches: “I have to give a special shoutout to my publicist, and I know you all said, ‘Don’t say nothing about no publicist.’ But you don’t have a publicist like I have a publicist.”

American Fiction and Anatomy of a Fall took home Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay respectively. Intriguingly, they are two films whose storylines concern themselves with the power of the written word. American Fiction follows a defeated Black novelist who writes a satirical novel based on Black stereotypes and tropes, which is taken seriously by the liberal elite and becomes a bestseller, while Anatomy of a Fall follows the fatal marriage of two writers, tackling themes of plagiarism, lingua francas, and literary self-insertion. The latter had quite a lot of buzz during the award season, having won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. An Anatomy of a Fall star was highlighted during the award ceremony: Messi, the border collie who marvellously portrayed the guide dog Snoop. The recipient of the prestigious Palm Dog Award was shown sitting among the guests and completely stealing the show. Messi has become the mascot of the film during its press circuit, attending, for instance, the Oscar nominee's luncheon, which was met with backlash from some attendees who felt like the dog would give the film an unfair advantage. Luckily, the Anatomy of a Fall team was not dissuaded by the criticism, and Messi got to be part of the ceremony.

Two winners were unable to attend the ceremony. The presenters accepted their awards on their behalf: Hayao Miyazaki, whose film The Boy and the Heron won for Best Animated Feature, was unable to travel from Japan due to old age, and Wes Anderson, whose short adaptation of Roald Dahl’s work The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar won for Best Live Action Short Film was in the midst of filming a new project in Germany.

Although it was an event with many politically active celebrities, only a few winners chose to speak about current geo-political issues in their speeches. Most notably, the British director Jonathan Glazer who won Best International Feature with his Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest, spoke about the Israel-Palestine conflict: “Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza”. This statement has been met with praise and criticism from both sides of the conflict.

highlight of the night were the performances which took place during the ceremony. Starting with Billie Eilish and Finneas’ emotionally poignant rendition of ‘What Was I Made For?’ from the Barbie movie. The pair were revealed to the audience slowly with a pink curtain slowly rising to show them on a rotating stage: Billie on the microphone and Finneas on the piano. The latter joined in with vocals during the second course and added a more powerful voice to Billie’s softer sound. Together, and alongside an entire orchestra above them, they sounded beautiful and brought a tear to my eye. The award of Best Original Song deservedly went to Billie Eilish and Finneas. The pair took home their second Oscar, and the only one of the night for Barbie, after previously winning in the same category for their song ‘No Time To Die’. Next came another nominee for Best Original Song, ‘Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)’ from Killers of the Flower Moon. This was performed by Scott George and the Osage singers for whom it was a historic night as George was the first Osage writer to be nominated for an Oscar. The beating of the drum, chanting from the singers and the traditional outfits of those on stage were fascinating, and the performance was met with a huge standing ovation.

Jon Batiste performed ‘It Never Went Away’ which features in American Symphony. It’s been a huge year for Batiste with the release of this documentary about his wife Suleika Jaouad’s battle with cancer as well as his Grammy-nominated album World Music Radio. His showing, while rather short, was incredible as he pointed out to the audience (presumably at his wife) while clips from romance films such as Shakespeare in Love and Brokeback Mountain played in a moon on the backdrop. Becky G delivered a rendition of ‘The Fire Inside’ from Flaming Hot which was dramatic and empowering but was probably my least favourite performance of the night. The singer was joined on stage by a chorus of young women and was dressed in a long black dress, engulfed by flames on the screen behind her. The “In Memoriam” segment featured Andrea Bocelli and his son Matteo singing ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ which was a lovely tribute to those who have passed away.

Finally, the standout performance for myself and for many others has to be the Kens’ performance of ‘I’m Just Ken’. Ryan Gosling began the song sitting in the crowd wearing a full pink, sparkly suit and black cowboy hat. He was behind Margot Robbie and in front of Billie Eilish who could not keep themselves together during this part of the show. Gosling then took to the stage and joined Mark Ronson up there before joining some dancers on some pink stairs. It was here that it really ramped up as he was joined by his fellow Kens including Simu Liu and Ncuti Gatwa as well as an incredible guitar solo from the one and only Slash. Nearing the end of his time singing, Gosling actually left the stage to hand the microphone over to his Barbie co-stars Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig and America Ferrera slightly. However, what came next was thrilling for many, including me as a die-hard La La Land fan, when he gave Emma Stone a turn to sing a lyric of the song.

Another thing which has been a talking point during this award’s season is the idea of award etiquette when it comes to accepting awards. After this year's Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift received some criticism for the way in which she “snatched” the award from Celine Dion. In fact, the matter has even resulted in British Vogue producing somewhat of a guide on how to accept awards, focusing on balancing excitement with gratitude. Many believed that there were issues with how Emma Stone and Robert Downey Jr. accepted their awards during the Oscars. With Stone, people thought that she completely bypassed Michelle Yeoh in order to get to her good friend Jennifer Lawrence, but this matter was cleared up by Yeoh on Instagram: “Congratulations Emma!! I confused you, but I wanted to share that glorious moment of handing over Oscar to you together with your best friend Jennifer!!” However, the case still stands with Downey Jr. who has been called “disrespectful” for ignoring Ke Huy Quan while taking his award. However, the case still stands with Downey Jr. who has been called “disrespectful” for ignoring Ke Huy Quan while taking his award.

Among previous Oscar recipients, this year's presenters included actors who will star in potentially Oscar-nominated movies the following year. For example, presenters Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth will star in George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad May Saga, a prequel to his 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road, which received six Academy Awards. Comedian John Mulaney’s presenting skills were highly lauded. Mulaney is not starring in any Oscar contenders, but it appears like the Academy is teasing a potential future Oscar host.

Overall, the 96th Academy Awards ran in a smoother way than other award ceremonies this season but it seemed to be rather disappointing, or predictable.  This being said, many of the awards given were deserved and the night saw several actors, who have been recognised by nominations in the past, winning their first Oscar.