The oscars

Oscars 2024: It had Kenergy and professionalism, but not enough thrills

Author: Editors Desk Source: BBC News:
March 11, 2024 at 14:48
Getty Images
Getty Images

After years of mistakes and bad behaviour, this year's ceremony was smoothly done. But while Ryan Gosling's I'm Just Ken was a highpoint, it needed more showstopping moments.

When Emma Stone won an Oscar for her lead performance in Poor Things, it felt like a shock. It certainly seemed to shock Stone herself, judging by how overwhelmed she was, and by how much she kept fretting about her dress coming undone at the back. Presumably, like many commentators, she expected Lily Gladstone to win the Oscar for Killers of the Flower Moon. She may even have hoped that Gladstone would win, as Stone had an Oscar already, whereas Gladstone would have made history by being the first Native American to receive one. But, really, it was a long way from being a major upset. Gladstone and Stone had been neck and neck throughout awards season, and when the time came to hand over the best actress Oscar, Poor Things had just won awards for make-up and hair, production design, and costumes, so it should have been obvious which way the wind was blowing. The only reason the decision felt shocking was that it was mildly surprising, whereas so many other parts of the ceremony were reassuringly, cheerfully predictable.

More like this:

– The one thing Oppenheimer gets wrong

– The hidden meanings in Poor Things' costumes

– How American Fiction wades into the culture wars

As expected, there was a nice spread of prizes across an exceptionally strong field of films, including wins for The Zone Of Interest (international film, sound), The Holdovers (supporting actress), Anatomy Of a Fall (screenplay), American Fiction (adapted screenplay), Barbie (song) and Godzilla Minus One (visual effects). And, as expected, Oppenheimer and Poor Things split most of the Oscars between them: Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer was the big winner of the night, with trophies for film, director, actor, supporting actor, editing, score and cinematography. Not every category went the most obvious way, of course. But in general the results were those which Caryn James and I predicted for BBC Culture. (All right, all right – my co-critic did better than I did, because she picked The Boy And The Heron in the best animated feature film category.) Essentially, the Academy stuck to a well-rehearsed script.

The staging of the event didn't have many twists, either. Jimmy Kimmel was hosting in Los Angeles's Dolby Theatre for a fourth time, and he seemed so relaxed and confident that he could have been one of the Rat Pack welcoming guests to the Sands Casino in Las Vegas before introducing Frank Sinatra. He had given up on the elaborate stunts he tried when he first hosted in 2017, and was content instead to make weak puns and gentle jibes at the length of the films. Many of the other attendees were almost as laidback: it was notable how many men at this black tie event weren't wearing ties – and then there was John Cena who, in one skit, wasn't wearing anything at all. Robert Downey Jr accepted his first Oscar with the insouciance of someone accepting their seventh. ("I'd like to thank my terrible childhood," he quipped.) Wes Anderson didn't turn up to accept his Oscar for best live-action short film. And several of the jovial British recipients behaved as if they weren't at a globally televised awards ceremony but at an office Christmas party.

That's not to say that the Oscars didn't have serious undercurrents. Da'Vine Joy Randolph, winner of the best supporting actress prize for The Holdovers, made a moving speech about the ways in which acting had changed her life. Mstyslav Chernov, the director of 20 Days In Mariupol, the best feature documentary, didn't waste a word when he condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine while The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer referenced the Middle East conflict in his speech picking up best international film, describing those killed in both the 7 October attack on Israel and the war in Gaza as victims of "dehumanisation". Cord Jefferson, who won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for American Fiction, pointed out that for every $200m blockbuster that Hollywood had made, it could have made 20 $10m films instead. But there wasn't much that could be called controversial, scandalous, daring or momentous.

The closest thing to a disaster was Al Pacino appearing to be half asleep when he presented the best film Oscar

The closest thing to an audacious outfit was Ariana Grande's duvet-frock: she seemed to be attempting to embody Barbenheimer by dressing as a pale pink mushroom cloud. The closest thing to a disaster was Al Pacino appearing to be half asleep when he presented the best film Oscar. And the most radical change to the format was to have each of the four acting prizes presented by five previous winners of the award, and to have each of these previous winners make a speech about one of this year’s nominees. That's a terrifying number of speeches – but even these came across as personal and appropriate. Most of the acceptance speeches were polished, while the various comic interludes were breezy and well-judged. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito compared notes on being killed in Batman films, and Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt bickered over Barbie vs. Oppenheimer. Gosling's performance of I'm Just Ken, alongside numerous other Kens, was a showstopping high point, even if he struggled to hit the low notes.

But that, too, was just as we expected. Almost everything was. After so many years of wrongheaded ideas, embarrassing mistakes and pathetic misbehaviour, it was a relief to see an Oscar ceremony which was so smoothly professional. It was a competent, convivial, back-to-basics event – meaning that it was a million miles better than the woeful mess we were subjected to just two years ago. But still... would some thrills and spills, some real excitement and proper laughs be too much to ask for? We're four years away from the 100th Oscar ceremony, so maybe the organisers can hit on a winning formula by then.

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