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Column: War theme wins across the board

An opinion piece on latest Academy Awards ceremony.

I've never been a fan of the Oscars ceremony, but I always kept a close eye on it.

It was one of the first, and for years the only event, that allowed audiences to see our favourite actors and movie creators in realistic and emotional settings. Besides, there are those unbelievable costumes, beautiful decorations and of course some drama – a reality show with the greatest cast, which no one would ever be able to afford.

(I think that reality show resonance was what kept me from being all into the Oscars – I prefer my favourite characters to stay in the movie world).

But two things keep me interested in the Academy Awards, which became pretty predictable lately. Oppenheimer won the most awards with seven, including some of the most coveted ones, like best picture and best director. Robert Downey Jr. and Cillian Murphy were named best supporting actor and best actor; the movie also took home awards for cinematography, editing and score. But did we have doubts about this triumph?)

First, the ceremony gives me a list of the best new movies, saving time researching to find something to watch. (And that list is usually widened by most nominees as well).

Through the years, many Oscar-recognized movies didn't make my top list, but I'd say all of them were worth watching, as they offer a new perspective, unique emotions, interesting visual imaginary, creative music elements, strong acting, inspiring costumes, great and appealing plots, and always something on top to take away. The movies that make it to the Oscars shortlist, each and every one of them, have at least one, but most times many elements making them worthy of everyone's attention. 

Second, the Oscars serve as a bright and stylish artistic mirror, which captures the main themes and tendencies of here and now.

What's interesting about the 96th ceremony, is that all the main movies recognized with statuettes this year were one way or another exploring the theme of war. That theme was the base for the biggest winner of 2024, Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan, and, of course, 20 Days in Mariupol by Mstislav Chernov (outstanding documentary feature), and The Boy and the Heron by Hayao Miyazaki (best animated feature film), and the harrowing Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest by Jonathan Glazer (best international feature film).

It was as if the award ceremony was telling us the story of a global timeless war and its seats smouldering or fully burning in different manners here and there.

A part of last year's Oscar-winning documentary Navalny, which opened the memoriam segment of the ceremony, paying tribute to all filmmakers who passed away last year, became a nice epilogue to that central theme. The pull quote was, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."  It felt like an artists' and filmmakers' motto in the world of war moving into the future.

Of course, many will remember 2024 as the year of Oppenheimer, with Nolan finally receiving his well-deserved Oscars. But for others, it was the year of Ukraine's first-ever Oscar and the strong speech by the director. Chernov started off with a unique statement, "This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history. And I'm honoured. But probably I will be the first director on this stage who will say I wish I had never made this film."

He called on "some of the most talented people in the world" to ensure that "the history record is set straight, and that the truth will prevail and that the people of Mariupol and those who have given their lives will never be forgotten, because cinema forms memories and memories form history."

And then there was Poor Things directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Another big winner (four statuettes) was a contrast to the main theme – bright, colourful and giving hope somewhat.

It seemed like there were no surprises again this year. There was a bit of a closer competition in the best actress category, which saw Emma Stone (Poor Things) and Lily Gladstone, the first Native American woman nominated for best actress (Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese, who by the way was left with nothing once again) as the top two. I didn't have any questions about Stone's victory but wish there were two statuettes for this category this year.

After all, the 96th ceremony had a good proportion of humour, politics and glamour. Winners looked excited and made nice speeches. Some non-winners seemed upset, like Martin Scorsese. Some winners didn't show up at all, like Miyazaki. Some seemed surprised and embarrassed, like Stone, whose dress zipper broke when she was dancing with her former co-star Ryan Gosling during his fancy I’m Just Ken performance.

All in all, the last Academy Awards felt like a nice Hollywood movie with a solid plot, beautiful costumes, a nice soundtrack and an all-star cast, all of whom played their roles well. And thanks to it, now we have a confirmed list of the greatest films of today to enjoy.