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Top 10 highlights of Oscar night – Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

A day later, and I still feel sick about Lily Gladstone not winning the best-actress Oscar.

Nothing against Emma Stone. I love Emma Stone, and, most years, her performance in “Poor Things” would be trophy worthy.

But, aw man … Lily. She gave a performance for the ages in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” It’s one of my favorite performances ever, as moving as it is understated. (Another recent all-time favorite: Carey Mulligan – nominated this year for “Maestro – in 2020’s “Promising Young Woman.”)

Worse, Gladstone was the expected winner, having taken most of the awards leading up to the big one. I imagine one reason Stone looked genuinely stunned Sunday night when her name was announced was because she probably figured Gladstone would win, too. Meanwhile, unlucky Lily had to applaud and look happy.

Hey, these things happen, and, unlike a certain political poor sport who shall be mentioned below, I accept the decision of the voters. (I’m sure the academy voters are all letting out a sigh of relief about that.)

But it did put a damper on what was a mostly enjoyable Oscar ceremony.

Sure, there were a few misfires, including the “In Memoriam” segment. The honored dead seemed an afterthought, with Andrea and Matteo Bocelli, front and center, singing a beautiful rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye,” and a large group of dancers doing their thing in front of images of the deceased. The Bocellis were great, but should have been off to the side, and the dancers should have been at home in front of their TVs. Who comes up with this stuff?

That said, here are 10 highlights of this year’s Oscar night:

1. Chernov’s acceptance speech for “20 Days in Mariupol.” When his film won best feature-length documentary, director Mstyslav Chernov said, “This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, and I’m honored, but probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I never made this film.” He went on to say he’d gladly trade the award “for Russia never attacking Ukraine,” then elaborated on the suffering caused by the invasion. Nothing Chernov said was surprising, but it still needed to be said, especially given that the purpose of his documentary was to bear witness, at a ground level, to that suffering.

2. Cena in the buff. One of the funniest moments in Oscar history occurred 50 years ago, when David Niven was at the lectern and a streaker ran across the stage. (Niven’s quip: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”) After host Jimmy Kimmel showed the Niven/streaker clip, pro-wrestler-turned-actor John Cena was – supposedly – going to steak across stage, but chickened out and got chastised by Kimmel for blowing the bit. Super-buff Cena then awkwardly shuffled sideways onto the stage, holding “the envelope” to cover his privates. It was hilarious, thanks to Cena’s willingness to look ridiculous.

3. Nic Cage being Nic Cage. The ceremony had former Oscar winners (Jessica Lange, Sally Field, Sam Rockwell, etc.) take turns introducing the acting nominees, which was a highlight in itself. When Nicolas Cage introduced Paul Giamatti of “The Holdovers” in the best-actor category, he said: “This past year Paul Giamatti was so committed that, for the character to have a lazy eye, he wore a soft contact lens during the entire shoot, which made him blind in that eye while filming. Would I have done that? Hell, yes.” (At this point, I lost it.) “But the point is, you did it, Paul.”

4. Cillian Murphy for the win. Of course, watching actors – and others – receive their due is what the night is all about, and Murphy certainly deserved his best-actor win for his portrayal of Robert Oppenheimer. It’s especially gratifying when the winner doesn’t turn the acceptance into a theatrical performance in itself (which sometimes happens) or an opportunity for expressing self-love (ditto). Murphy beamed and seemed genuinely grateful. “I’m a very proud Irishman standing here tonight,” he said, and you couldn’t help but feel good for him.


Cillian Murphy, left, and Robert Downey Jr. appear in a scene from “Oppenheimer.” Both actors earned Oscars for their performances, with “Oppenheimer” winning seven trophies in all. (Universal Pictures)

5. Jimmy takes on you-know-who. Kimmel, who good-naturedly kept the show rolling the whole night, toward the end read a social media post slamming him and his performance as host. After revealing that it came from Donald Trump, Kimmel continued: “Well, thank you, President Trump. Thank you for watching. I’m surprised you’re still – isn’t it past your jail time?”

Gotta love Jimmy Kimmel.

6. Gosling is “just Ken.” “Barbie” only won one Oscar – while “Oppenheimer” took seven and “Poor Things,” four – but it certainly made its presence felt during the evening. Best-supporting-actor nominee Ryan Gosling provided one of the highlights in a comically over-the-top production number of “I’m Just Ken,” one of two “Barbie” tunes nominated for best song. Backed by musicians Mark Ronson and Slash – and “the Kens” – Gosling went all-out, and the celeb audience rightfully responded in kind.

7. Gosling vs. Blunt. Onstage to discuss stunt work, Gosling of “Barbie” and supporting-actress nominee Emily Blunt of “Oppenheimer” spoofed the “Barbenheimer” rivalry with good-natured digs at each other. Blunt had the best line: “The way this award season has turned out, wasn’t that much of a rivalry.” Ow.

8. Robert Downey Jr. for the win. As Downey himself has pointed out, he’s in many ways the comeback kid. Though he’s been long regarded as one of the best actors of his generation – or, at least, as having the potential to be one of the best – his substance-abuse issues landed him in jail, threatened to ruin his career and, presumably, could have killed him. His success as Iron Man has made him a superstar, but his great performance as Oppenheimer nemesis Lewis Strauss is his career capper: so far. His speech? Forthright. “I’d like to thank my terrible childhood …,” he began.

9. Billie and Finneas. I’m a fan of Billie Eilish. She’s unique, she sings with emotion, and, well, I just like her offbeat personality and her songs. So it wasn’t a surprise that her performance, accompanied by brother Finneas O’Connell, of “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” was one of the best parts of the show. “What Was I Made For?” earned Eilish and O’Connell an Oscar for best song, making Eilish, at 22, and O’Connell, at 26, the two youngest two-time Oscar winners.

10. Emma Stone for the win. I know, I know. How could this be a highlight when her winning over Lily Gladstone made me sick? I’m conflicted. But Stone continues to take chances with her roles and deliver excellent performances, her work in “Poor Things” among her best. Besides, there’s something very endearing about the actress. How can you not celebrate someone who ends her acceptance speech with: “And, most importantly, my daughter who’s gonna be 3 in three days and has turned our lives technicolor: I love you bigger than the whole sky, my girl.”

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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