The Academy Awards 2024


The closest I have come to holding an actual Oscar was when I was staying with a great friend in Los Angeles, the Production Designer Dean Tavoularis, who won his award for The Godfather Part II (he worked almost exclusively for Francis Ford Coppola for about 30 years). He had used it as a garage door stop and it had become tarnished so he charged me with the task, while he was away on location, of returning it for re-plating to the hallowed halls of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. This I did duly, and a little later, as Dean was still absent, I went to collect it after intensive and secret refurbishment in the Academy’s laboratories. (Another quick story about tarnishing: I met a girl at a Hollywood party who alleged to have spent the night with Warren Beatty. In the morning as they parted, he presented her with a gold wristwatch. Charmed by this gesture, she was so enamoured that she decided not to take it off. That is until week two when the bracelet turned green and left a semi-permanent mark on her skin.)

To continue with Master Oscar, it was delivered to me, at reception, encased in a beautiful deep red velvet cover, and as I retreated into the toxic air of Wiltshire Boulevard and navigated the voluminous steps down to the highway, I imagined dropping it and watching it roll into a gaping nearby storm drain. This I mused would be the only occasion me and an Oscar would be linked in a newspaper column. So I gripped it tightly and managed to navigate safely back to Dean’s house where it occupied, up until he moved to France quite recently, a similar door-stopping function, only this time indoors and safe from the uncertain LA elements.

Robert Downey, Jr. poses backstage with the Oscar® for Actor in a Supporting Role during the live ABC telecast of the 96th Oscars® at Dolby® Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 10, 2024. Photography by Michael Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In terms of ceremonies, the nearest I came was as an International Emmy Finalist for a film I made (Summer Lightning with Paul Scofield, David Warner and Tom Bell) which took place in New York. The only reason I attended, not expecting to win by any stretch of the imagination, was to collar the framed plaque handed out to finalists before the dreadful executives at RAI (co-producers and financiers of the film) grabbed it for their inadequately decorated lobby. Of course, I lost out to a garlanded contender, Das Boot, only to be told afterwards by the chairman of the selection committee that I should have won, as Das Boot had disqualified itself by appearing in cinemas before its TV premiere!

This year, the unenviable task of hosting the ceremony fell to one Jimmy Kimmel, apparently a well-known chat show host in the States, but practically unknown here. Well, within the first twenty minutes or so he plunged both feet right into it, first with a tasteless joke about Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro, who had both been nominated for awards in 1976, and were there again chasing Oscars. In a veiled reference to De Niro’s 35-year age gap with his current partner, Tiffany Chen, Kimmel quipped: “In 1976 Jodie Foster was young enough to be Robert De Niro’s daughter, now she’s 20 years too old to be his girlfriend.” On camera, Jodie enacted a loud laugh whilst De Niro’s grin looked more like a rictus than a joke well received. Later, whilst introducing Robert Downey Jr, Kimmel got unpleasantly personal, so saying, in the style of Mae West: “Is that an acceptance speech in your pocket, or do you just have a rectangular penis?” Well, Robert got the last laugh as he picked up his golden figurine for Actor in a Supporting Role as Oppenheimer’s nemesis, in that film once again. Kimmel’s main quality was in feats of memory in remembering the names of performers from disparate parts of the globe. Overall I guess he was rated bland enough to be asked back again.

In 1974, during David Niven’s acceptance speech, a naked male “streaker”, one Robert Opel, who continued to perform this role up until his death, burst onto the stage and raced around the auditorium. So this year the Academy in its infinite wisdom dreamt up the idea of having a legitimate streaker in the form of John Kena (known there, not much here). In a greatly over-extended attempt at a comic duologue, Kimmel and Kena horsed around as Kimmel tried to tempt the clearly stark naked Kena out of the wings. The payoff did work (kind of) as he finally slid sideways onto the stage with a large golden Oscar’s envelope covering his privates.

Reunited: Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro. Photo by Warrick Page ©A.M.P.A.S.

All eyes were on this year’s ceremony after a difficult year seeing unstoppable wars, revolutions, major cities abandoned to gang warfare, and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. All that and a writer’s strike to boot! No wonder there was an air of nervousness both within the Academy itself, as well as amongst the participants. As unstoppable as seems to be the war in Ukraine, was the surge towards multiple victories for Oppenheimer (the final count was seven awards). This was one of those occasions where there is no way of stopping the express train hurtling up the steps of the Academy; the only question is would it make best picture or would Barbie, the biggest grossing film of the year? No contest again.

For us Brits, this was a night to celebrate, certainly, although our constant reference to Mother’s Day left many US commentators confused (they have one, but on a different day). Of course, King of the Heap was Oppenheimer’s director, Chris Nolan, an exceptional talent only just recognised as such by the Academy, and his wife, producer Emma Thomas. Also, Jonathan Glazer, winning Best International Feature for Zone of Interest, and the only real contender for political speech of the evening, one which condemned the violence in Gaza and was in turn immediately condemned by the Israelis. Poor Things rightly won an Oscar for best costume design, Brits again, Holly Waddington, and for production design, James Price and Shona Heath. I also want to mention a great talent often overlooked, the special effects creator Neil Corbould (yes, you guessed it, Brit again) winning for three films: The Creator; Mission Impossible Part 1, and Napoleon, the latter being quite rightly ignored in almost all other categories.

Ryan Gosling and Slash. Photo by Phil McCarten ©A.M.P.A.S.

It is difficult to say why the Academy gave such scant attention to the year’s biggest hit, Barbie. Even the (female) director was ignored and the only olive branch was proffered to Billie Eilish for Best Original Song, which they (she and her brother) seduced the audience with a rendition of. The fact that Ryan Gosling got to reprise his famous musical number live was a sop to Cerberus, but of course most members of the Academy would not know what the hell I’m talking about, rather be left wondering if Cerberus was the title of an Italian sword and sandal movie they had yet to hear of.

My fear that the marvellous Past Lives would be overlooked in favour of others less worthy, such as Anatomy of a Fall, proved entirely correct, the latter garnering prize for Best Original Screenplay. Past Lives was one of those miniature masterpieces which can easily slip under the radar, especially if the antenna is firmly pointed towards Korea (its country of origin). Everything about it was masterly, and in my opinion could have achieved an Oscar in most relevant categories. I urge anyone reading this with even half an interest in true cinema to seek it out on big or small screen. An elusive, questioning, understated and profoundly moving experience.

Although the flamboyant Bradley Cooper and his studio spent untold dollars publicising it, thank goodness the flawed and by now bedraggled Maestro got nothing. Probably because it failed miserably to engage in either of its hero’s (Lenny Bernstein) outstanding qualities: his ability to communicate his appetite for life and experience to everyone he related with, and his innate love and understanding for great music. A case of a worthy loser in a barrel full of potential winners, which I suspect put Bradley’s nose properly out of joint.

In summary, this was a strong year in terms of contenders for Best Film, and the plethora of actors ready to undertake even the least promising parts never ceases to amaze. But wow, even in LA when it takes place during the late afternoon into evening, it goes on forever! Either you need tons of hot coffee or a Valium, I leave that award choice to you.