Reflections on the 96th Academy Awards: Predictable Surprises and Cinematic Triumphs

Reflections on the 96th Academy Awards: Predictable Surprises and Cinematic Triumphs

Did we expect anything different?



The night to celebrate the greatest films of the previous year finally came to an end at the 96th Academy Awards, held on March 10, 2024. And most of the results were both predictable and surprising at the same time. 


Breaking away from tradition, the Oscars this year felt refreshingly different. Aside from the unusual early start time, this year had a diverse array of nominees as the Academy sent a powerful message of inclusivity and representation, yet still failed to somehow fulfil what truly mattered. From gender and racial diversity to stories from various cultural backgrounds, the nominations themselves reflected the rich tapestry of humanity.


For starters, it’s very uncanny how the results of this year’s Academy Awards completely lined up with the BAFTA’s, matching up in all 23 categories. This has seldom happened as, typically, the Oscars and the BAFTAs diverge on certain decisions, particularly in the acting categories. This trend suggests that the international influence within the Academy is gaining strength, a development I wholeheartedly endorse. A bigger foreign presence at the academy voting body ensures a broader range of perspectives, leading to decisions that are not solely influenced by the American climate. This diversity of viewpoints allows lesser-known and underappreciated films to receive the recognition they deserve, as evidenced by this year's Oscars.


Now, let's delve into the winners. In my perspective, they can be categorized into two groups: the expected and the unexpected. Among the expected winners, Oppenheimer stands out with an impressive win of seven out of 13 nominations. Christopher Nolan's three-hour epic, which delves into the intricate psyche of the man behind the atomic bomb, resonated deeply with audiences. Predictably, many anticipated and championed its victory in categories like Best Picture, Best Director for Nolan, and Best Actor for the talented Cillian Murphy. The majority saw their wishes fulfilled as Oppenheimer clinched these coveted awards, along with four more, including Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. 


While I personally may not resonate with Oppenheimer as strongly as most viewers do, I acknowledge the overdue recognition that Nolan, Murphy and Downey have garnered from their devoted fans.



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One big factor and push for their campaign this season is that their Academy Awards were way overdue for their illustrious careers that had not yet won the major prizes. Surprisingly, this marks Cillian Murphy's first and only nomination, a fact that might astonish many. In this regard, I can certainly stand behind the recognition they've received.


As for the surprises, it was a very pleasing moment to witness Anatomy of a Fall win Best Original Screenplay. It was a well-deserved accolade for Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, who penned the script and turned a gripping yet obscure court drama into a deep examination of the dynamics of a relationship, how a woman deals with innate societal misogyny and exploration of the themes of alienation and morality. 



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The Zone of Interest wins best foreign language film. Another well-deserved feat as the film's relevance and timeliness are undeniable, delving into the depths of complicity in the face of injustice, resonating strongly with contemporary issues. Director Jonathan Glazer reaffirmed the film's powerful message during his acceptance speech, advocating for a ceasefire in Palestine. It's a stellar example of utilizing the Oscars platform to amplify important social and political messages.


But the most anticipated category of the night, without a doubt, was for Best Actress. It stood out not only because of the sheer talent in contention but also because it was the only category still considered a tight race. Both Lily Gladstone and Emma Stone were significantly favored to win, making the anticipation palpable.


Emma Stone's journey to the Oscars started with a strong showing during the televised precursor awards, where she clinched a Golden Globe, a Critics' Choice Award and a BAFTA (in a category where Gladstone was not nominated this year). However, Gladstone gained momentum as the night of the Oscars approached, emerging as the winner of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award. This victory, considered by some as the definitive mark of an impending Oscar win, was significant, as the majority of the voting body in SAG holds considerable weight at the Oscars.



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Despite Gladstone's strong campaign, there were obstacles that hindered her path to victory. Her relatively unknown status and the ambiguity surrounding her role, whether it was leading or supporting, posed challenges. Ultimately, it was Emma Stone who took home the Oscar for her remarkable performance in Poor Things, a role that I believe will define her career.


While I wholeheartedly agree that Lily Gladstone delivered a phenomenal performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, her portrayal suffered from being reserved and quiet compared to Stone's Bella, a character who was chaotic, unhinged, unpredictable and larger than life. Both performances undoubtedly deserved recognition, but in my opinion, Stone's win was sealed the moment Poor Things premiered. It's a testament to her exceptional talent and the impact of her captivating portrayal on audiences and critics alike.



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And there we have it, another year in the books. I must say that there is pride and joy in declaring that 2023 was truly a phenomenal year for cinema. I have no doubt that, in the years to come, many of the films nominated and celebrated during this period will be hailed as modern classics, etching their place in the annals of cinematic history.


It's a time ripe with cinematic gems, beckoning cinephiles everywhere to immerse themselves in the magic of storytelling on the silver screen. For those who haven't already, I highly recommend downloading and creating a Letterboxd account—a digital haven for film enthusiasts—to track your cinematic journey and discover new cinematic delights.


Here's to a year brimming with cinematic wonders in 2024! Let's raise a toast to all the cinephiles out there, as we embark on another exciting journey through the captivating world of film. Cheers to the power of storytelling, the magic of the silver screen, and the endless possibilities that await us in the realm of cinema.



Words Charles Boswell

Art Macky Arquilla

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