Christopher Nolan poses in the press room with the awards for best director and best picture for “Oppenheimer” at the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Emma Thomas, winner of the award for best picture for “Oppenheimer,” looks on from the right. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

There was talk of war — past conflicts, and current ones — and pleas for peace. There was a painful reminder of the recent death of Alexei Navalny. There were protests outside the Dolby Theatre, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. And there was a bit of election-year politics, too, from host Jimmy Kimmel.

But the Oscars telecast is always a chaotic mix of moods and tones, and so even on a night ruled by somber themes, where the academy crowned a film about the the atomic bomb, there was also a jolt of joyful silliness when Ryan Gosling took the stage (with a slew of fellow Kens) to sing “I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie,” causing what could only rightly be called “Ken-demonium.” Ken may not have his own house in Barbie Land, but he sure owned this one.

The night, though, belonged not to “Barbie” but to its partner in the cultural and marketing phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer.” Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” won seven Oscars and cemented Nolan’s place in Hollywood history. The film’s haul also included a satisfying win for longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy, who won best actor, and an emotional win for Robert Downey Jr., his first Oscar in an up-and-down career.

Those wins were expected, but there were still a few surprises. In the closest race, Emma Stone won her second Oscar for her hugely inventive performance in “Poor Things,” a victory that denied Lily Gladstone a chance to make history as the first Native American to win an Oscar.

And lest anyone forget this is an election year, Kimmel, back for the fourth time, came onstage late in the show to read out a critical social media post from Donald Trump.

“Thank you for watching,” said Kimmel, a zealous critic of the former president. “Isn’t it past your jail time?”

More of the night’s notable moments:


Viewers tuning in at the beginning may have been perplexed to find commercials instead. When he came on, Kimmel noted the show was already running five minutes late. His monologue was perhaps a little snark-heavy — it’s OK, maybe, to joke about the length of “Killers of the Flower Moon” (so long you could drive to Oklahoma and solve the case yourself ) but maybe less OK to joke about a Holocaust-themed film being considered “rom-com” material in Germany. Still, he warmed hearts by introducing the beloved dog Messi from “Anatomy of a Fall,” and earned a standing ovation when he brought out film crews and truckers, hailing them for refusing to cross the picket line during the recent labor strikes by actors and writers.


By 30 minutes in, only one award had been presented, but luckily it was to Da’Vine Joy Randolph. She’d been favored all along to win best supporting actress for“The Holdovers,” but she reduced many to tears with a poignant speech about her road to triumph. “For so long I’ve always wanted to be different,” said Randolph. “And now I realize I just need to be myself.” She thanked a mentor, saying “when I was the only Black girl in that class, you saw me and you told me I was enough.” And she thanked her publicist, saying she knew that was unusual “but you don’t have a publicist like I have a publicist!” Randolph added toward the end: “I pray to God that I get to do this more than once.” Hear, hear.


Downey Jr.’s supporting actor victory for “Oppenheimer” may also have been expected, but that didn’t make his speech any less moving. It was his third nomination in a long Hollywood career marked by highs and lows. “I’d like to thank my terrible childhood,” Downey said, pausing – “and the academy, in that order.” He acknowledged that he had “needed this job more than it needed me,” and thanked not only Nolan but his stylist, his publicist and, finally, his entertainment lawyer of many years, who spent half that time “trying to get me insured” — a reference to a series of arrests for drug-related charges and a year in prison that followed Downey’s first Oscar nod 30 years ago.


Associated Press journalist Mstyslav Chernov, accepting the best documentary Oscar for the searing “20 Days in Mariupol,” noted proudly that it was the first Oscar in the history of his country, Ukraine. He said he was honored – but then added: “Probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I’d never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this to Russia never attacking Ukraine.” The film, a first-person account of the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, was a joint production of the AP and PBS’ “Frontline,” with awards going to Chernov, producer and editor Michelle Mizner and producer Raney Aronson-Rath. Chernov called on Russia to cease aggression in Ukraine. “We can make sure that the history record is set straight and the truth will prevail, and that the people of Mariupol, and those who have given their lives, will never be forgotten,” he said. “Because cinema forms memories and memories form history.”


Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” may be about World War II – a chilling depiction of the family of a Nazi commandant living next to the Auschwitz death camp — but it was a current war that the writer-director spoke about when accepting his Oscar for best international film. “Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst,” Glazer said, before addressing the conflict in Gaza. “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,” he said. “Whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist?”


“If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong.” Those words from the mouth of Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, began the in memoriam segment, a devastating reminder of his death last month in a Russian prison. Navalny was the subject of last year’s winning documentary, “Navalny,” and his wife had stood on the stage that night and spoken to him directly: “Alexei, I am dreaming of the day when you will be free and our country will be free,” Yulia Navalnaya had said. Stay strong, my love.”


Many were anticipating a historic win for Gladstone for her subtle and affecting work as an Osage wife in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone would have become the first Native American to win an Oscar and had won several precursor awards, but it was Stone’s masterfully physical comedic performance in “Poor Things” that won instead, with the actor making some history of her own as one of the few to win the best actress category multiple times – and at only 35. Stone told Gladstone that she shared the award with her. She also confessed to the crowd that she had a “broken” dress — a back that had unraveled, apparently during the evening’s most high energy moment…


… namely, the delightfully raucous “I’m Just Ken” performance, in which Gosling proved yet again that he can do almost anything (drama, action, comedy, song and dance) without breaking a sweat. It was a moment that was highly anticipated by “Barbie” fans and, well, practically everyone, and it did not disappoint. Gosling, in shocking pink and sequins, began his performance in the audience, singing into the ears of co-star Margot Robbie, and then headed to the stage, where he joined Mark Ronson, executive producer of the “Barbie” soundtrack, and a gaggle of dancing Kens, including Simu Liu. A surprise guest was Slash on guitar, but the best moment was when Gosling went down to the front row to sing with a delighted Greta Gerwig, Robbie, and America Ferrera, who sang with him: ”I’m just Ken and I’m enough, And I’m great at doing stuff!” Yes, he was great at doing stuff.


Like many of the evening’s prizes. Nolan’s award for best director — and best picture for “Oppenheimer,” along with his producer wife Emma Thomas — may have been a forgone conclusion. But it was still thrilling to behold the coronation of a filmmaker who many thought was long overdue. Winning his first directing Oscar, the 53-year-old Nolan remarked that cinema is just over a hundred years old. “Imagine being there 100 years into painting or theater,” said Nolan. “We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here. But to know that you think that I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”


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Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press