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Oscars 2024: Emma Stone and the big bomb

Emma Stone picked up her second Best Actress Oscar last night. The humdrum, lackluster ceremony wasn't worthy of her

Emma Stone accepts the Best Actress Oscar for 'Poor Things'. Photo via AFP

By Raja Sen

LAST PUBLISHED 11.03.2024  |  03:55 PM IST

Ten years ago, Emma Stone was nominated for an Oscar. In Birdman, Stone played a recovering drug addict who was not only the daughter of the film’s deluded ‘superhero’ protagonist, but was also assisting him during a theatre production. It was a messy, nuanced part that didn’t get the prize. Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s film rightly won several awards including Best Picture, but Stone — through whose massive, baffled eyes the film takes flight — deserved to win Best Supporting Actress.

Stone, with her anime expressions and vivid eyes, is a stunning performer. From Easy A to The Favourite, from Battle Of The Sexes to La La Land — the singing, dancing, lamenting role that got her an Oscar for Best Actress — Stone has been completely fearless. This year, she won her second Best Actress trophy for her singular work in Poor Things.

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This, quite frankly, is wild. At 35, she already has as many awards as Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and Betty Davis. The 96th Annual Academy Awards shouldn’t just be a celebration of Emma Stone, but a coronation.

If only the show was worthy of the star. This year’s Oscars (streaming in India on Disney+Hotstar) were so humdrum, so lackluster, so devoid of drama and surprise, that I feel I have forgotten them already. There were stray moments — chief among them Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger joshing about having played Batman villains and snapping at former Batman (and Birdman) Michael Keaton in the audience, who looked back with an intense enough glare to suit the Caped Crusader — but overall the Oscar’s made a case for their own extinction. No wonder the ratings are plummeting.

Also read: How I stopped worrying about loving ‘Barbie’ and 'Oppenheimer'

The problem starts with host Jimmy Kimmel who is simply not big-screen enough to shoulder this show. Kimmel is competent and inoffensive, but watching him monologue or joke with stars feels like yet another night from his television talk show where he, um, monologues and jokes with stars. He makes the Oscars feel like TV. He kidded that AI could write the screenplay for a Transformers film, and I wager it could also come up with Kimmel’s worn-out and tedious material.

The Oscars went back to one of its finest ideas, having winning actors of the past talk about this year’s nominees before giving the award. This is superb, leading to special moments as Best Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell talking about Robert Downey Jr and bringing up Tropic Thunder — the true film for which RDJ deserved the prize — or Best Actor winner Nicolas Cage hailing Paul Giamatti for his insane commitment to the craft. This is special, but the four acting categories only came around once every hour. 

Even as Kimmel derides the films of the year for their length, the Oscars are much longer. There is no escaping all the categories, but commercial breaks felt too egregious this year as they started popping up after every two segments — which feels particularly unbearable in the age of streaming. Netflix showed the Screen Actors Guild Awards, advert-lessly and featuring the F-word, neatly done in 2 hours. Disney is a giant — who owns ABC, that telecasts the awards (while throwing in jarring mentions of an Abbott Elementary episode to be watched afterward) — but it is time another giant wrested it from them. (Come on Apple TV, do your thing.) 

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Moments were few and far between. A nearly naked John Cena paid homage to an Oscar streaker from 1974; Ryan Gosling wore head-to-toe pink (including shiny pink gloves) while performing Barbie song I’m Just Ken alongside the legendary Slash Rose; the song PIMP was played for Anatomy Of A Fall writers Justine Triet and Arthur Harari; famed production designer Nitin Chandrakant Desai smiled at us during the ‘In Memoriam’ montage. Great speeches came from Stone, Da’vine Joy Randolph of The Holdovers, and the visual effects team of Godzilla Minus One.

Oppenheimer won most of the awards. Christopher Nolan’s morally questionable biopic — designed to manipulate us into feeling sorry for the father of the atomic bomb — is a massive achievement, a film about physics that earned nearly a billion dollars. This cannot be ignored, and neither can Nolan. Now that he has won Best Picture and Best Director, however, I do fervently wish that the Fast And The Furious fan will now turn to funner work. Like that James Bond film he’s rumoured to be interested in. Bring on those bombs. 

The problem is not that the wrong films won. They frequently do. The problem is that this time — with all the awards following the who-will-win odds and refusing to buck any trends — it was hard to care. Of course Celine Song should have been nominated for directing Past Lives. Of course Killers Of The Flower Moon is the best American film of the year. Of course Sandra Hüller of Anatomy Of A Fall should have been up for Best Actress. Of course Robert De Niro in Killers Of The Flower Moon was better than Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer. But how to get riled up when the entire show felt so predictable and stale?

At one point, Kimmel paused the show to read out a social media post. “Has there EVER been a WORSE HOST than Jimmy Kimmel at the Oscars?", Donald Trump had posted on the Truth Social network. “Isn’t it past your jail time?" Kimmel teased on stage. Despite the easy laughs he got, it looks plausible that Trump is not only “former President", as Kimmel introduced, but may be “future President" as well. The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is diversifying its ranks, but as of 2015, 92% of its members were white and 75% were male. No wonder they vote for the loudest things.

Streaming Tip Of The Week:

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) is about an actor who once played a superhero, and is now trying to adapt a Raymond Carver play. The showbiz satire is as beautiful as it is breathless, and can be rented now on Apple TV.

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