Monday, April 15, 2024

Oppenheimer reigns supreme: Five takeaways from the 96th annual Oscars | Arts and Culture News

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It was an explosive night at the 96th annual Academy Awards, with the biopic Oppenheimer running away with the most trophies — and artists and protesters taking advantage of the spotlight to call attention to deadly conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.

Outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, traffic snarled to a standstill as demonstrators called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave that has been subject to a five-month-long Israeli military offensive.

And inside the auditorium, actors and artists used their wins to call for peace, drawing on themes presented in the various nominated films.

With 13 nominations, the biopic Oppenheimer was the frontrunner going into the night’s Oscar ceremony. And it made good on early predictions about its Oscar success, with seven wins in major categories.

Here are the night’s biggest takeaways.

Emma Thomas, left, and Christopher Nolan accept the award for Best Picture for Oppenheimer [Chris Pizzello/AP Photo]

Oppenheimer cleans up with seven wins

With its blistering portrayal of J Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb, the film Oppenheimer started the night slow but quickly built momentum, grabbing some of the ceremony’s biggest prizes.

Robert Downey Jr scored the first win of the night with his much-expected Best Supporting Actor trophy. But his co-star Cillian Murphy faced tight competition in the Best Actor category — and still made off with the golden statuette, prevailing over leading men like Paul Giamatti.

The film also delivered a long-awaited win in the Best Director category for Christopher Nolan, whose relationship with the Academy Awards stretches back over two decades.

Nolan was first nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 for the memory-loss mystery Memento, but while his films have earned major prizes at the Oscars, Nolan himself had consistently come up empty-handed.

That changed, however, with Sunday’s ceremony. Not only did Nolan grab Best Director, but his wife, producer Emma Thomas, took the stage with him to receive the Best Picture honour, the most-coveted trophy of the night.

Lily Gladstone on the Oscars red carpet
Lily Gladstone from Killers of the Flower Moon lost the Best Actress race to Emma Stone of Poor Things [John Locher/AP Photo]

Killers of the Flower Moon shut out

One of the final categories of the night was Best Actress — and the auditorium at the Dolby Theatre held its collective breath while the presenters unveiled the winner.

The race was one of the tightest of the evening, but Lily Gladstone was widely believed to be the frontrunner, on the cusp of delivering a history-making win for her role in Killers of the Flower Moon.

Never before had a Native American woman won the category, much less been nominated. Gladstone, a member of the Nez Perce and Blackfeet nations, played the role of Mollie Kyle, a real-life Osage woman who lost close family in a 1920s killing spree known as the Osage Reign of Terror.

It was a quietly stunning performance, with Gladstone exuding steady intelligence in every scene. But in a surprise twist, she lost the Best Actress category to another top contender, Emma Stone, who delivered a zany, off-kilter performance in the surreal comedy Poor Things.

With Gladstone’s loss, Killers of the Flower Moon was entirely shut out of the Oscar race, despite 10 nominations. Poor Things, meanwhile, picked up four wins, largely in technical categories like Best Production Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Billie Eilish and Finneas at the piano on Oscar stage
Singer Billie Eilish, right, wore a ‘Artists for Ceasefire’ pin on the red carpet at the 96th annual Academy Awards [Chris Pizzello/AP Photo]

Gaza in the Oscars spotlight with red-button pins

On stage and off, however, world events dominated the conversation. Outside the Dolby Theatre, groups like the Los Angeles branch of Jewish Voice for Peace held up placards and chanted for a ceasefire in Gaza, blocking several lanes of traffic.

Among the protesters was SAG-AFTRA Members for a Ceasefire, a group of working actors.

The demonstrators said they sought to ensure that Israel’s assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah was not ignored, even amid the glitz and glamour of the evening.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in Israel’s military offensive, which has prompted concerns over the risk of genocide and famine.

On the Oscar red carpet, appeals for peace in Gaza continued, with celebrities like singer Billie Eilish and Poor Things star Ramy Youssef sporting “Artists for Ceasefire” pins to raise awareness about the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

“I think it’s a universal message of just: Let’s stop killing kids,” Youssef told the magazine Variety. “Let’s not be part of more war.”

The director of the chilling Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest likewise lent his voice to the cause, while accepting his Oscar for Best International Feature.

“Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation that has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza,” he said to applause.

Mstylav Chernov
Mstyslav Chernov accepts the award for Best Documentary Feature film for 20 Days in Mariupol [Chris Pizzello/AP Photo]

Documentary renews calls for Ukraine peace

The war in Gaza was not the only international conflict to grab the Oscar spotlight. With a win in the Best Documentary Feature category, the film 20 Days in Mariupol renewed attention about the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine.

It has been over two years since Russia launched its full-scale military assault in February 2022. With his documentary, filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov captured the early days of that war, as the southeastern city of Mariupol faced Russian bombs.

Chernov’s win in the category was historic. He explained from the Oscar stage that he was bringing home Ukraine’s first Oscar, but that he would trade it all for peace in his homeland.

“Probably, I’m the first director on this stage who will say: I wish I had never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this to Russia never attacking Ukraine, never occupying our cities,” he said with deep emotion as he faced the crowd.

“But I cannot change the history. I cannot change the past,” he continued, appealing to the filmmakers in the audience to continue to shine a light on Ukraine.

“We can make sure the history record is set straight, and that the truth will prevail, and that the people of Mariupol and those who have given their lives will never be forgotten. Because cinema forms memories and memories form history.”

Currently, the US Congress is struggling to pass foreign aid to Ukraine, amid Republican opposition to the funding.

Jimmy Kimmel holds up a pair of pink sparkly pants.
Jimmy Kimmel holds up a pair of pink sparkly pants, similar to those worn by Ryan Gosling during his performance of the song I’m Just Ken [Chris Pizzello/AP Photo]

Host Kimmel roasts Trump from the stage

The political divides in the US — and the presidential election looming in November — also briefly coloured the night’s events.

The Oscars delivered its usual mash-up of spectacle and glamour. In one of the night’s highlights, Canadian actor Ryan Gosling took to the stage for a live performance of his Barbie-themed power ballad I’m Just Ken, dressed in a sparkly pink suit and backed by cowboy-hatted dancers.

In another eye-ball popping moment, actor and wrestler John Cena appeared naked on stage to present the Best Costume prize.

But four-time Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel couldn’t resist sprinkling a little political humour into the night’s movie-themed zingers.

He first took a shot at Katie Britt, a US senator from Alabama who recently delivered the rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech.

Kimmel compared Britt to the Frankenstein-like heroine of Poor Things, played by Oscar winner Stone.

“Emma played an adult woman with the brain of a child, like the lady that gave the rebuttal to the State of the Union on Thursday night,” Kimmel quipped.

Then, before the night closed, Kimmel reappeared on stage to read a mean social media post directed at him. Its author? Former President Donald Trump, a frequent target of Kimmel’s comedy.

“Has there ever been a worse host than Jimmy Kimmel at The Oscars?” Kimmel said, reading from his phone screen. Looking up, he addressed the president, who faces four criminal indictments, directly: “Thanks for watching. Isn’t it past your jail time?”

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