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A Recap of the 96th Annual Academy Awards

Matt O’Connor

On March 10th, the 96th annual Academy Awards were held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California. The Oscars are held each year by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to celebrate the crowning achievements in the world of film.   At this year’s ceremony, more than twenty Oscars were given to some of 2023’s biggest and best films. Hosted by the one and only Jimmy Kimmel, the 96th edition of the most important night for actors and filmmakers was filled to the brim with many memorable moments. This is what went down at this year’s Oscars ceremony.

The Oppenheimer Sweep

As one of the most successful films of last year both critically and commercially, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer was unsurprisingly nominated for quite a few categories. In total, the film was nominated for thirteen different awards, and it took home seven. Oppenheimer won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. During his acceptance speech for the award for Best Director, Christopher Nolan said “We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here, but to know that you think that I’m a meaningful part of it, means the world to me. Thank you very much.”

 Oppenheimer marked a major turning point for two of the film’s most notable actors. Before he landed the role of Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. was seemingly always finding himself in hot water. Over the course of five years, the actor had been arrested numerous times on charges of possessing multiple illegal drugs. But that all changed when Downey made the decision to turn his life around, and that dedication paid off for him when he was cast as Tony Stark a.k.a Iron Man in the film of the same name which released in 2018. This casting kickstarted a renaissance for his career, which led him to being cast in Oppenheimer as Lewis Strauss. This is the actor’s first Oscar and shows that hard work and commitment leads to great success.

The other big breakout was for the film’s main star and one of director Christopher Nolan’s close friends in the world of film and J. Robert Oppenheimer himself, Cillian Murphy. The Irish born actor has had quite the history with Nolan and his films, with his first major appearance being as the villain Scarecrow in the 2005’s Batman Begins. This year’s lineup of nominees featured some steep competition from Bradley Cooper, Paul Giamatti, and Jeffrey Wright, but Murphy was considered to be the fan favorite after previously winning the same award during the Golden Globes and Baftas. During his speech, Nolan said “We made a film about the man who created the atomic bomb and for better or worse we’re now living in Oppenheimer’s world now. So I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers everywhere.”

Strongest Showings

While Oppenheimer won the majority of the awards given out during the night, there were plenty of other award winners from multiple other films up for nomination. Poor Things took home four awards out of the eleven that the film was nominated for including Best Actress, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Costume Design. Notably, Emma Stone took home her second Best Actress award after winning in 2017 for La La Land.

After making her name known with one of the most stunning performances of 2023 as Maya Lamb in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, Da’Vine Joy Randolph took home the Best Supporting Actress award. Overcome with emotion, Randolph delivered one of the most memorable speeches of the night. In her speech, the actress talked about her past as a singer and how her mother helped her pursue a new career in acting. She closed out by thanking those who walked alongside her during her new forte. “I thank all the people who have stepped in my path and have been there for me, who have ushered me and guided me,” she continued. “I am so grateful to all you beautiful people out here. For so long, I’ve always wanted to be different, and now I realize I just need to be myself. And I thank you. I thank you for seeing me.”

The only other film that earned more than one award was Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone Of Interest, which scored the awards for Best International Film and Best Sound. The remainder of the awards were all won by different films, their stars, and their crew. Some of the highlights include The Boy And The Heron winning Best Animated Feature, American Fiction winning Best Adapted Screenplay, Anatomy Of A Fall winning Best Original Screenplay, and War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko winning Best Animated Short Film. 

Performances With (Ken)ergy

As with The Grammys a month prior, this year’s musical performances were considered to be some of the best and most immaculate portions of the entire Oscars ceremony. Even though it was nominated for a staggering eight awards, Barbie only ended up taking home one. But its lack of award wins was certainly made up for through the two fantastic live performances of two of the Best Original Song nominees. 

Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell delivered another amazing rendition of their hit song “What Was I Made For” from Barbie. The duo previously performed the song at this year’s Grammys and ended up taking home the award for Song of the Year, and that streak has continued with the pair taking home the Best Original Song award at the Oscars. Eilish also broke the record for the youngest two-time Oscar winners in history, with their previous song No Time To Die from the James Bond film of the same name winning in 2022 for the same award.

In addition to the performances of the Barbie variety, there were three other performers that took the stage. John Batiste brought about a lot of emotions with his performance of “It Never Went Away” from American Symphony, a film about the singer’s impactful career. The fire was lit when Becky G performed “The Fire Inside” from Flamin Hot. And Scott George alongside the Osage Tribal Singers had the audience engaged with a powerful rendition of “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” from Killers Of The Flower Moon.

But that wasn’t (Ken)ough. Out of everyone scheduled to sing, there was one performance that stood out among the rest with all eyes being on Ryan Gosling as he sang the iconic and hysterical “I’m Just Ken”, the other big song from Barbie and one of the nominees for best original song. Clad in a thematic brink prank suit, Gosling took the stage alongside his fellow Kens and even Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame and Wolfgang Van Halen to perform the viral sensation. Gosling brought an aura of (Ken)ergy so electric that he even took and kissed the hand of one of the event’s many cameramen. Fellow co-stars Margot Robbie, America Ferrara, and director Greta Gerwig got in on the action and sang the chorus alongside the audience. With an electric performance of this magnitude, this was more than (Ken)ough.

Live, Laugh, Naked John Cena

One aspect of the Oscar’s that’s often scrutinized is the implementation of comedy throughout the night. But this time around, most of the jokes and gags were well received. As per usual with his position as Oscar host, Jimmy Kimmel started the show by throwing around some jokes about the industry with some political spice added here and there. Similarly, John Mulaney also had a fun comedic introduction to the award for Best Sound by making fun of the critically panned Madame Web. There weren’t just human guests during the show, Border Collie and canine actor Messi (who played service dog Snoop in Anatomy Of A Fall) had the audience in awe with his snazzy black bow tie.

But then there’s the elephant in the room. For the award for Best Costume Design, actor and WWE wrestler John Cena took to the stage completely butt naked, only being covered up by the Academy Envelope that revealed the winner of the award. While presenting the award, Cena ironically said “Costumes are so important. Maybe the most important thing there is.”. Despite the fact that he nearly streaked in front of hundreds of people and thousands of at home viewers, Cena’s hilarious predicament that caught everyone off guard still emphasized how important good costumes are to film.

In Memoriam: A Touching Tribute

As a way of honoring the brilliant and talented individuals that passed in 2023 and early 2024, Set to a beautiful performance of Andrea Bocelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye”, Bocelli, his son Matteo, and a number of dancers celebrated the lives of those we lost such as Matthew Perry, Carl Weathers, Chita Rivera, Harry Belafonte, and Tina Turner. Last year, we lost so many talented members of the film industry, and their legacies will not be forgotten. 

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