July 22nd, 2024

War in Gaza casts shadow over an Oscars where ‘Poor Things,’ ‘The Zone of Interest’ win

By Jake Coyle, The Associated Press on March 10, 2024.

Emily Blunt, from left, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh pose for photographers at the premiere for the film "Oppenheimer" on July 13, 2023 in London. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Protest and politics intruded on an election-year Academy Award on Sunday, where demonstrations for Gaza raged outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, and early awards went to “Poor Things,” “The Zone of Interest” and “The Boy and the Heron.”

Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza snarled traffic around the Academy Awards on Sunday, slowing stars’ arrival at the red carpet and turning the Oscar spotlight toward the ongoing conflict. Some protesters shouted “Shame!” at those trying to reach the Dolby Theatre.

Jonathan Glazer, the British filmmaker whose chilling Auschwitz drama “The Zone of Interest” won best international film, drew connections between the dehumanization depicted in his film and today.

“Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims, this humanization, how do we resist?”

Several attendees, including Billie Eilish and Finneas, best song nominees for “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie,” wore pins for Gaza. Ava DuVernay and Ramy Youssef were also among those wearing pins.

“Oppenheimer,” the blockbuster biopic, was widely expected to overpower all competition – including its release-date companion, “Barbie” – at an Oscars that could turn into a coronation for Christopher Nolan.

But more than 90 minutes into the show, “Oppenheimer” had yet to win an award. Instead, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein-riff “Poor Things” ran away with three prizes for its sumptuous craft, including awards for production design, makeup and hairstyling and costume design.

Jimmy Kimmel, hosting the ABC telecast for the fourth time, opened the 96th Academy Awards with an monologue that drew a few cold looks (from Robert Downey Jr., Sandra Hüller and Messi, the dog from best-picture nominee “Anatomy of a Fall”). But Kimmel, emphasizing Hollywood as “a union town” following 2023’s actor and writer strikes, drew a standing ovation for bringing out teamsters and behind-the-scenes workers – who are now entering their own labor negotiations.

The night’s first award was one of its most predictable: Da’Vine Joy Randolph for best supporting actress, for her performance in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” An emotional Randolph was accompanied to the stage by her “Holdovers” co-star Paul Giamatti.

“For so long I’ve always wanted to be different,” said Randolph. “And now I realize I just need to be myself.”

Though Randolph’s win was widely expected, an upset quickly followed. Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” won for best animated feature, a surprise over the slightly favored “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Miyazaki, the 83-year-old Japanese anime master who came out of retirement to make “The Boy and the Heron,” didn’t attend the ceremony. He also didn’t attend the 2003 Oscars when his “Spirited Away” won the same award.

Best original screenplay went to “Anatomy of a Fall,” which, like “Barbie,” was penned by a couple: director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari. “This will help me through my midlife crisis, I think,” said Triet.

In adapted screenplay, where “Barbie” was nominated – and where some suspected Greta Gerwig would win after being overlooked for director – the Oscar went to Cord Jefferson, who wrote and directed his feature film debut “American Fiction.” He pleaded for executives to take risks on young filmmakers like himself.

“Instead of making a $200 million movie, try making 20 $10 million movies,” said Jefferson, previously an award-winning TV writer.

The Oscars kicked off an hour early, due to daylight saving time. But aside from the time shift, this year’s show went for tried-and-true Academy Awards traditions. Kimmel is back as host. Past winners flocked back as presenters. And a big studio epic wass poised for a major awards haul.

Still, much was circling around this year’s show. Aside from the Israel-Hamas war, the war in Ukraine will be on some attendees’ minds, particularly those of the journalist filmmakers behind the documentary favorite, “20 Days in Mariupol.”

“Our hearts are in Ukraine,” said Mstyslav Chernov, the Ukrainian filmmaker and AP journalist who directed “20 Days in Mariupol.”

And with the presidential election in full swing, politics could be an unavoidable topic despite an awards season that’s played out largely in a vacuum.

Kimmel didn’t mention either candidate in his opening monologue, but did take one jab at Republican Sen. Katie Britt, who gave the response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. Kimmel mentioned the much-nominated “Poor Things,” as the story about an adult woman with the brain of a child.

“Like the lady who gave the rebuttal for the state of the union,” said Kimmel.

Hollywood also has plenty of its own storm clouds to concern itself with.

The 2023 movie year was defined by a prolonged strike over the future of an industry that’s reckoning with the onset of streaming, artificial intelligence and shifting moviegoer tastes that have tested even the most bankable brands. The academy, while also widely nominating films like “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Poor Things,” embraced both “Oppenheimer,” the lead nominee with 13 nods, and Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” the year’s biggest hit with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales and eight nominations.

With the forecasted “Oppenheimer” romp, the night’s biggest drama is in the best actress category. Emma Stone (“Poor Things”) and Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”) are nearly even-odds to win. While an Oscar for Stone, who won for her performance “La La Land,” would be her second statuette, an win for Gladstone would make Academy Awards history. No Native American has ever won a competitive Oscar.

While “Barbie” bested (and helped lift) “Oppenheimer” at the box office, it appears likely it will take a back seat to Nolan’s film at the Oscars. Gerwig was notably overlooked for best director, sparking an outcry that some, even Hillary Clinton, said mimicked the patriarchy parodied in the film.

Historically, having big movies in the mix for the Oscars’ top awards has been good for broadcast ratings. The Academy Awards’ largest audience ever came when James Cameron’s “Titanic” swept the 1998 Oscars.

Last year’s ceremony, where a very different best-picture contender in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” triumphed, was watched by 18.7 million people, up 12% from the year prior. ABC and the academy are hoping to continue the upward trend after a nadir in 2021, when 9.85 million watched a pandemic-diminished telecast relocated to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

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AP’s Ryan Pearson and Krysta Fauria contributed to this report

___ For more coverage of this year’s Academy Awards, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/academy-awards

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