Ben Proudfoot Earns Second Oscar, Amongst Other Satisfying Wins at 96th Academy Awards

“Well, that was something,” is not a phrase I’ve used in recent years when it has come to the Academy Awards, that is unless they somehow manage to announce the wrong winner for Best Picture (but hey, it’s only one of the biggest awards of the night). However, such a phrase is applicable in a much more positive light this year, as last night featured perhaps the best ceremony we have seen in years from the Academy, offering a much-needed boost to an industry that faltered greatly during the course of 2023.

Off the top, presenter Jimmy Kimmel delivered a serviceable (but occasionally awkward) opening monologue that features the host’s usual blend of hits and misses. Still, Kimmel kept things moving last night, and even took a moment to read out another unhinged message about the ceremony from Donald Trump, much to the host’s impish delight…and mine!

Each year the Academy Awards conveys a theme of some sort, and the more understated approach that incorporated multiple past winners in the presentation of each respective category was admittedly a nice touch, especially as they embraced this year’s winners and new fellow Academy members. And yes, I know, there was a naked John Cena presenting Best Costume Design, and as usual, his natural ability for comedic delivery was on [ahem] full display, while the bit as a whole was thankfully handled tastefully.

Of course, it’s the actual nominees and winners of the award that are at the centre of any ceremony, and this year was, for me at least, amongst the most satisfying slate of winners I have seen in recent years.

First and foremost, Nova Scotia native Ben Proudfoot won his second Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject in two years for co-directing The Last Repair Shop alongside Kris Bowers, firmly establishing himself as one of the best short-form documentarians in the industry. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before he moves to feature length! Sadly, Proudfoot was the only Canadian winner of the night, as Ryan Gosling lost his Best Supporting Actor bid against another fan-favourite actor (more on this in a moment), while Celine Song, who was nominated for her impressive screenplay Past Lives, and the late Robbie Robertson, nominated for scoring Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, also failed to land statues despite being in with a chance, though competition was particularly strong in all three categories. 

Further Canadian nominees also included Nisha Pahuja, whose acclaimed feature-length documentary To Kill a Tiger earned a nod; Vincent René-Lortie’s nomination for Best Live Action Short for his production Invincible; Troy Quane, who was nominated in the Best Animated Feature category for his work on Nimona; and Jeff Sutherland and Stéphane Ceretti, who were nominated for Best Visual Effects for their work on Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, respectively. 

Of course, Oppenheimer was the big winner of the night, having landed seven wins for a slew of deserving artists. Christopher Nolan finally got the Oscars that had eluded the filmmaker his entire career, despite delivering some of the best feature films of the 21st century, next to his wife and longstanding producer, Emma Thomas, with whom he shared Best Picture (along with Charles Roven), while Nolan also deservingly won Best Director. Perhaps the greatest instance of wish fulfilment for audiences, though, is Robert Downey Jr. finally earning an Oscar after three nominations, in this instance for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the film’s villain, Lewis Strauss. However, given that I’m Irish (and thus, quite biased), the biggest win of the night for me was Cillian Murphy landing Best Actor,  made all the more special by the glee of each of the past winners onstage as they congratulated Murphy on his win, particularly Ben Kingsley, who seemed to be very impressed with Murphy’s performance in Oppenheimer.

There were also some standout speeches during the night, with Best Supporting Actress winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, delivering a humbling, heartfelt speech that described her sincere appreciation for the opportunities afforded to her, and those who supported her throughout. Yet, undoubtedly the most powerful speech of the night came from director Mstyslav Chernov, who won Best Documentary Feature Film for 20 Days in Mariupol, which covers the brutal ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia. Chernov silenced the crowd, and unspokenly dared the Academy to play him off the stage with music as he admitted, “Probably, I will be the first director on this stage who will say, ‘I wish I never made this film.’”

There were also other notable wins and losses throughout the night, with Emma Stone’s performance in Poor Things beating Best Actress favourite Lily Gladstone, who was nominated for her widely acclaimed performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, making this Stone’s second win in the category, placing her in the rarified company. Speaking of which, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell earned their second award for Best Original Song for Barbie’s “What Am I Made For?”, despite the fact that the duo are only 22 and 26 respectively, making them the youngest two-time winners ever. And while we’re on the topic of two-time winners, Ludwig Göransson, who is seemingly becoming the John Williams of his generation, landed his second Best Original Score statue for his work on Oppenheimer, having previously won for the iconic score of Black Panther.

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