By Ari Mattes, University of Notre Dame Australia; Alison Cole, University of Sydney; Bronwyn Carlson, Macquarie University; Harriette Richards, RMIT University, and Tom Clark, Victoria University

Like most biopics, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer – which won seven awards, including the big one, Best Picture – seems kind of silly, an exercise in dress up. We watch “serious” actors like Robert Downey Jr. (who won Best Supporting Actor) and Cillian Murphy (Best Actor) go to extraordinary lengths to essentially imitate real life people, inevitably failing to be 100% true to life.

Similarly, the narrative – tracing the involvement of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb that would eventually devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki – plods along in a way true story narratives often do.

There’s none of the precision and wit that often characterise genre films, their entanglement with questions of narrative and aesthetic form necessitated by their highly formulaic nature.

Yet Oppenheimer winning Best Picture is no travesty; in fact, it makes a lot of sense.

It works well as an engaging exercise in image and sound, a viscerally charged and hypnotic spectacle shimmering on the big screen shot in glorious 70mm film.

Typically for a Nolan film, it is pretentious and heavy-handed, and seems to think it is more important than it actually is. But as a fun romp through the 1950s – that perennially fetishished period in American cinema and culture – it works splendidly.

It was certainly not the best film nominated, nor the best film of 2023, but it does work as a piece of cinema.

There’s something refreshing about this fact alone: the Academy has eschewed the tedium of the usual didactic, message-driven cinema that has dominated recent years and have rewarded a technically and formally accomplished work, something that actually considers its medium and effectively works within it.

Ari Mattes

On the red carpet: red pins and black gowns

Awards ceremonies are often taken as opportunities to make political statements through dress. At the Oscars, these statements usually take the form of subtle pins or ribbons. In 2021, multiple attendees wore blue #withrefugees ribbons in support of Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

This year, in response to the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, numerous attendees, including Billie Eilish (in Chanel) and Finneas O’Connell, Ava DuVernay (in custom Louis Vuitton), Ramy Youssef (in a chic black thobe by Zegna), Mahershala Ali, Riz Ahmed and Mark Ruffalo donned red Artists4Ceasefire pins.

Other statements are made through design itself.

For Lily Gladstone, the first Native American to be nominated in the Best Actress category, this meant wearing a chic black Gucci column dress featuring a stunning midnight blue train with beading by Indigenous Mohawk, Cree & Comanche artist Joe Big Mountain of Ironhorse Quillwork.

Despite the political nature of these examples, the Academy Awards is conventionally a rather conservative affair. This year was no different. The dominant colour choice for all genders was black, sparkles abounded, and silhouettes were chic, albeit predictable.

Some of the standouts in this sea of monochrome predictability were ensembles by Jonathan Anderson at Loewe. Greta Lee oozed easy elegance in a black and white draped gown straight from the Fall 2024 runway, Celine Song continued her commitment to tailoring in a sharp skirt and blazer, and Andrea Riseborough broke through the shine and shimmer with a long-sleeved plaid dress unlike anything else on the red carpet.

Other highlights included Sandra Hüller in custom Schiaparelli, with sharply winged sleeve detail reminiscent of a gown by Gilbert Adrian worn by American socialite Millicent Rogers in 1947, Emma Stone in mint green Louis Vuitton with a peplum that recalled the exuberant sleeve detailing of her Best Costume Design award-winning costumes in Poor Things, and Wim Wenders in the same Yohji Yamamoto outfit he modelled on the catwalk back in January.

Harriette Richards

The power of First Nations voices

In a truly historic moment, the Oscars included a powerful performance by Osage musician and composer Scott George with the Osage Tribal Singers performing Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People) from Killers of the Flower Moon.

Wahzhazhe is a song for public consumption, not for ceremonial purposes, and with it George is the first Native American man to receive an Oscar nomination for best original song, losing out to Billie Elish.

The Oscars requires music be submitted for consideration in written form. However, the Osage do not generally keep written music — rather, it is kept in memory. George told Billboard it took “three or four days” to write the work down in musical notation.

Killers of the Flower Moon was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Actress for Piegan Blackfeet and Nez Perce actor Lily Gladstone who plays Mollie Burkhart. Unbelievably, Gladstone is the first Native American woman to be nominated for best actress in a leading role, but unfortunately missed out on the Oscar, to Emma Stone of Poor Things.

Indigenous communities globally were waiting with bated breath – but regardless of no Oscar, everyone was excited to see her nominated.

Stories like Killer of the Flower Moon, about the “Reign of Terror” where dozens of Osage were brutally murdered, need to be told so that they don’t get to be forgotten. It is both overdue and exciting to see more Indigenous peoples taking leading roles in films, and the success of Killers of the Flower Moon should make Hollywood pay attention that people want these stories to be told.

Even without winning big at these Oscars, Killers of the Flower Moon includes a wonderful cast of Native American actors including Tantoo Cardinal who plays Lizzie Q, mother to Gladstone’s character Mollie Burkhart, and her sisters who are played by Cara Jade Myers (Anna), JaNae Collins (Reta) and Jillian Dion (Minnie).

– Bronwyn Carlson

Four nominees for Most Impassioned Speech

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Da’Vine Joy Randolph gave the first acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars ceremony, awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Holdovers, and she led it with thanks to God.

The ceremony’s 45 second limit on acceptance speeches gives more opportunities for meaningful comment to the presenters than the winners.

Host Jimmy Kimmel’s opening roast was generous towards the Barbie movie, a nod to its gender-inclusive feminism that drew loud applause. He unloaded on Donald Trump near the show’s end, to politically aligned chuckles. More striking, the In Memoriam section led with a cameo from Alexei Navalny that epitomised what polemic can put at stake to move us.

I counted four nominees for the Most Impassioned Acceptance Speech.

Cord Jefferson (Best Adapted Screenplay for American Fiction) advocated that movie financiers be more ready to take risks by backing less experienced movie-makers.

Jonathan Glazer (Best International Feature Film) positioned his film about Auschwitz, The Zone of Interest, as a call for an end to the mutual dehumanisation that sustains the long war in Israel and in Palestine.

Mstyslav Chernov (Best Documentary) wished he had never had the cause to make a film so successful as 20 Days in Mariupol, his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These were passionate and heartfelt speeches, while Randolph’s was passionate, heartfelt and mesmerising.

For the rest, it was largely acceptances by the numbers. There were variously entertaining, grandiose, self-deprecating and anecdote-rich versions of “thank you” from people who make it their life’s work to imbue set-piece moments with meaning.

Tom Clark

Powerful songs and mesmerising performances

Ryan Gosling’s performance of I’m Just Ken, written and produced by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, was the definite standout Best Original Song performance of the 2024 Oscars.

I’m Just Ken was one of two songs nominated from Barbie, alongside Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s What Was I Made For. They were joined by Becky G’s The Fire Inside from Flamin’ Hot, Jon Batiste’s It Never Went Away from American Symphony, and Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People) from Killers of the Flower Moon.

Becky G celebrated her Mexican American heritage with a passionate performance of The Fire Inside, accompanied beautifully by a choir of Latino children and a blazing visual backdrop.

Jon Batiste’s mesmerising performance of It Never Went Away from American Symphony brought home the deep love and devotion he has for his wife, Suleika Jaouad.

Billie Eilish’s ballad What Was I Made For ultimately won the award for best original song. Her performance was emotional, with her co-writer and producer brother, Finneas O’Connell, accompanying her on the piano. A beautiful orchestral arrangement that brought flair and gravitas to the stage.

Scott George and the Osage Tribal Singers performance of Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People) from Killers Of The Flower Moon was a powerful statement of the strength of what energy collective singers and percussion bring to a performance.

But as the Oscars performances reminded us, sometimes the intimacy of quiet drama sends the loudest message.

– Alison ColeThe Conversation

Ari Mattes, Lecturer in Communications and Media, University of Notre Dame Australia; Alison Cole, Composer and Lecturer in Screen Composition, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney; Bronwyn Carlson, Professor, Indigenous Studies and Director of The Centre for Global Indigenous Futures, Macquarie University; Harriette Richards, Lecturer, Fashion Enterprise, RMIT University, and Tom Clark, Chair of Academic Board, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.