Main image: "Academy Award Winner" by Dave_B_ / CC BY 2.0

The 96th Annual Academy Awards® were Sunday, March 10. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, it was one of the best Academy Awards® shows in years. It had the right combination of deserving winners, show-stopping performances, moving acceptance speeches, and comedy bits, which landed with audiences both at home and at the show. It felt like an awards show produced by people who love movies and the people who make them. 

A few highlights: Kimmel’s monologue (which was sharp, and acknowledged the tough year of strikes in Hollywood); Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s speech; Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt arguing about Barbenheimer; the “I’m just Ken” performance by Gosling, Slash, and 72 other Kens; Kate McKinnon and America Ferrera; John Cena in the buff; Robert Downey Jr’s speech; and John Mulaney’s Field of Dreams riff (he’s my vote for next year’s host). One poorly executed moment was the In Memoriam segment, where the camera kept the stage in view with distracting dancers and close-ups on singers, while background screens showed the honorees in barely-visible size. It didn’t give the honorees their due respect, in my opinion. 

2023 was the year the public went back to the movie theater to see Oppenheimer and Barbie. Those films were also the heart of the awards show, as Oppenheimer had 7 wins, including Best Actor for Cillian Murphy and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. It also took biggies Best Director and Best Picture, and almost all the technical awards. Poor Things had four wins: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and the only suspenseful race of the evening — Actress in a Leading Role, for a stunned Emma Stone. (Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon and Stone had traded awards all season, and no one was sure who would take the little gold man.) Da’Vine won Best Supporting Actress, the only Oscar® for The Holdovers. Her acceptance speech was emotionally powerful and set the tone for the show. Barbie only won one award: Original Song (What was I made for?) by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. This made the duo the youngest people to have won two competitive Oscars®. Zone of Interest won International Feature Film and the Sound category.  

Three other award winners were a bit of a surprise: Animated Feature Film, Adapted Screenplay, and Visual Effects. The Boy and the Heron is widely accepted as probably Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse crushed the box office and impressed critics. They were neck and neck and most thought Spider-Man would win but The Boy and the Heron took the Animated Feature Film award.

For me, the writing categories are always the most interesting of the year. Adapted Screenplay was a treasure trove of the best the year had to offer, including an international offering for Zone of Interest. Barbie and Oppenheimer went head-to-head in the category, as well as indie films American Fiction and Poor Things. American Fiction writer Cord Jefferson took the award and gave an exceptional speech. Original Screenplay went to international feature Anatomy of a Fall.

Visual Effects went to the exuberant team of Godzilla Minus One, beating out industry heavyweights The Creator, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, and Napoleon.

Although sadly Killers of the Flower Moon and Maestro went home empty handed, all in all, it was what it was supposed to be: a fun night and a celebration of movies and the folks who make them.

Alanna Smithee is a former employee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and a lifelong movie fan.