The Big Five at Oscars 2024

The 96th Academy Awards unfolded at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Sunday night. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the awards ceremony was lit up by glittering red carpet entrances, anchored by emotional acceptance speeches and not without the odd surprise twist. Having had a significant influence on the awards show patter with his irreverent Golden Globes style roast, the evening started with a toned down Ricky Gervais light take from Kimmel.

Starting with a clever video sequence where he interacts on a bench opposite Barbie in the hit film of the same name, Kimmel arrived on stage to a “partial standing ovation” as he put it. Kimmel paid tribute to Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig who weren’t nominated in the Best Actress and Best Director categories this year. From this point, Kimmel began a hit-and-miss routine starting with Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie’s genetics and ending with quips about how long the show was going to be.

While his jokes verged on the edge with comments about Bradley Cooper dating his own mother, he did touch on a few points of interest like Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster both being nominated on the night for Killers of the Flower Moon and Nyad after sharing the same honour for their parts in Taxi Driver in 1977. Or that Lily Gladstone is now the first Native-American to be nominated for Best Actress.

The big news story over the last year was the double feature for the meme-inducing Barbenheimer as Barbie and Oppenheimer, two of the biggest movies of 2023 that shared the same release date. Essentially on opposite sides of the movie spectrum, they were also headlined by two of the most discussed stars in Hollywood today, Margot Robbie and Cillian Murphy. This talk-of-the-town sentiment was echoed on Oscar night as Oppenheimer pulled some of the night’s biggest awards from a pool of awards often described as the Big Five.

Best Director

Christopher Nolan was nominated for Best Director for his work on Dunkirk with his first nomination coming for writing Memento. A filmmaker who seems able to create commercially viable films of critically-acclaimed artistic merit, the auteur’s dark, immense and immersive visions have captivated audiences for decades now. Receiving the award from another great in Steven Spielberg, Nolan has managed to win an award that Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock never received… the coveted honour of an Oscar for his craft as a director. Christopher Nolan thanked his wife, cast and team for their contribution in making the epic biopic, Oppenheimer.

Best Picture

Oppenheimer tells the story of the enigmatic atomic bomb architect J. Robert Oppenheimer. The winner of Best Picture over the weekend with 13 nominations, Oppenheimer impressed both as a commercial and critical success. Having brought another powerful historical drama to the Academy Awards, the win underscores Nolan’s legendary filmmaker status, described as “singular and brilliant” with a dedication to collaboration and teamwork. Receiving the award from another film legend in Al Pacino, the producers thanked everyone who worked on and believed in their project with a special mention to the people at IMAX.

Best Actor

The Best Actor win for Cillian Murphy’s brilliant and thoughtful take on J. Robert Oppenheimer is testament to his series of strong performances across film and television over the last decade. This was duly noted in his acceptance speech as he thanked his director Christopher Nolan for the “wildest, most exhilarating, most creatively satisfying journey you’ve taken me on over the last 20 years”. Able to showcase his talent and range as Oppenheimer, this performance gave the understated Irish actor a full opportunity in a leading role and more than enough screen time to truly shine.

Best Actress

One of the most talked about feature films of the year is Poor Things. One of Yorgos Lanthimos’s not-so-secret weapons in this unconventional period dramedy is Emma Stone. Winning Best Actress in a year where Lily Gladstone was tipped for the win after her remarkably graceful performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, Stone’s darkly comical take on an innocent in a adult’s body stole the show. Balancing on this tightrope, she managed to convey reckless abandon and delve into the sinister with a refreshing lightness of touch in a bold, fearless and challenging role. Having won an Oscar for her turn in La La Land, this win was something of a surprise. Arriving on stage with a gown that was broken, her emotional acceptance speech was just as unfettered as her performance, sharing the win with her fellow Best Actress nominees.

Best Screenplay

Having wowed audiences throughout its extensive festival run, Anatomy of a Fall eventually won Best Original Screenplay for its well-balanced and see-sawing courtroom drama. A multi-lingual effort requiring the mastery of several languages and the nuance of this interplay, this complex yet elegantly woven script offers a taut, thought-provoking and haunting film.

Other Awards

Another strong performance in Oppenheimer managed to snatch Oscar gold on the night as well as a standing ovation for Robert Downey Jr. whose infectious performance style has entertained audiences across the spectrum. Playing a confidante to J. Robert Oppenheimer, this supporting performance was a clean break from what we’ve come to expect from the livewire talent. Pulling back for a more steady performance, he wowed everyone – following up his SAG award with an Academy award.

Then for the Best Supporting Actress award, it was Da’Vine Joy Randolph who’s won a number of awards this season already, who took home the golden statuette for her turn in The Holdovers. A full-range performance alongside Paul Giamatti, her emotional speech capped off a well-deserved win.

Taking home Best International Feature it was a good evening for Jonathan Glazer’s haunting and unconventional The Zone of Interest. The visionary director read his acceptance speech, making a statement about the Gaza conflict in which he spoke of the “dehumanisation” of victims on both sides of the conflict. Then, shifting to another timely conflict situation in the Ukraine the heart-wrenching on-the-ground war documentary 20 Days in Mariupol landed Best Documentary.

Snubs and The Rub

In terms of snubs, one would have to look to Barbie, Maestro, Past Lives and Killers of the Flower Moon, four fine films with high hopes that didn’t deliver in the nominee selection and on award expectations on the night. While the evening itself was diverse, representation has plagued the Oscars in recent years and it became a talking point especially around the best actor and actress award nominees. While all awards shows are political by nature, this year’s ceremony wasn’t derailed by controvery and offered audiences a welcome night of celebration after a year with many fantastic films.