Inside the 96th Annual Academy Awards Plus a Journey thru the parties

When I caught up with him and wife Emma Thomas at the Governors Ball after their big seven Oscar win for Oppenheimer Christopher Nolan was clearly relieved. “I was genuinely nervous tonight, ” he told me. “Even after all the awards shows we’ve been to this year, this one sitting there at the Oscars was just different.”

Oppenheimer producer Charles Roven at the Universal Oscar party

‘Oppenheimer’ producer Charles Roven at the Universal Oscar party Sunday night

Pete Hammond/Deadline

In the end he really didn’t have to worry about it. All the pundits (including me) predicting a sweep for Universal’s blockbuster about the man who created the atomic bomb were right. But Nolan’s veteran producing colleague Chuck Roven, who brought him the book in the first place, also confessed to a real sense of nervousness nonetheless about the fate of the film that came into the Dolby with a leading 13 nominations.

“Was it because the movie didn’t win a single award until 95 minutes into show, as another contender, Poor Things, had already racked up three wins, all of them in categories where Oppenheimer was also nominated?.” I asked when I caught up with him at the big Soho House Universal after party Roven replied that was exactly why he was worried. He didn’t have to be. It was just the way the Academy had structured the presentation that put things like Production and Costume Design and Makeup in the first half of the ceremony.

Christopher Nolan and family after the Oscars

Christopher Nolan and family after the Oscars

Pete Hammond/Deadline

“So do you get to have some rest now? ” Nolan asked me. Unfortunately no. The Emmys, believe it or not, are already in full force with FYC events and Deadline’s Contenders TV happening in the next month. No rest for the weary, but maybe tomorrow. Nolan said he at least is getting some time off now. Awards seasons are fun but they can be grueling, and this one started for him back in April when he opened Universal’s presentation at CinemaCon. By the way Nolan was anxious to share a rather amusing anecdote about his son’s outfit that he wore to the Oscars. It was a hand-me-down from Dad, and apparently it hadn’t been worn in 22 years since in the inside pocket were still two tickets for the premiere of Nolan’s 2002 film, Insomnia. As I asked them to pose with the tickets while I took a snap, I also pointed out to Thomas that apparently the suit had never been dry cleaned. Major Oscar winners – they are just like you and me.

Among the others from Oppenheimer celebrating at the Universal party was Best Supporting Actor winner Robert Downey Jr. actually standing in a line in the hallway at Soho waiting to get into the garden room there with the rest of the revelers. He said he was very happy when I asked if winning the Oscar was what he thought it would be. I also complimented him on another great acceptance speech. He wins the award for consistently the best speeches all season long. Universal marketing head Michael Moses was holding court near the bar. He is heading for SXSW with two films on Monday (including The Fall Guy whose stars Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt presented a Oscar tribute to Stunt people). He said he hopes the studio will be in business with Nolan again, and certainly Chairman Dame Donna Langley has forged a strong relationship with the filmmaker after he took this unlikely material for a billion dollar grossing film to her.

Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas (Photo by Kevin Mazur/VF24/WireImage for Vanity Fair)

Kevin Mazur/VF24/WireImage for Vanity Fair

For the past few days I have been asked if I could tell what might be the biggest surprise at the Oscars and I always answered, “the only surprise to me would be if there actually was a surprise”. With all its precursor wins at other awards shows few doubted that Oppenheimer would be the big winner overall. I also had confidence Golden Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA winner Emma Stone would prevail for Poor Things grabbing her second Best Actress Oscar for the film that was the second biggest winner of the night with four wins overall, this despite Lily Gladstone’s historic win at SAG for Killers Of The Flower Moon. That film went 0 for 10 sadly reflecting the exact same kind of shut out Martin Scorsese suffered with The Irishman. At the Governors Ball the Searchlight and Disney teams were ecstatic over the Poor Things wins, especially Stone’s.

Getty Images)

I correctly called 8 for 8 among the top 8 categories for the Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Acting, Screenplays). The Academy spread it around. As he walked into the Dolby Theatre for the show, I told American Fiction first time screenwriter/director Cord Jefferson that I thought he would have a very good night. Catching up with him afterwards at the Ball, he was holding his Adapted Screenplay Oscar and said he was thrilled with the win, and he made a point of thanking the journalists talking to him for their support early on.

The win and Best Picture nomination for this crowd pleaser was just further proof of the importance of the Toronto Film Festival’s People Choice award. It put the MGM/Orion film on the map. Kris Bowers, who with Ben Proudfoot, won Best Documentary Short for the inspiring The Last Repair Shop, handed me his Oscar at the Governors Ball. “Did you know it was this heavy?” he asked.

Cord Jefferson accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for

Cord Jefferson accepts the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “American Fiction”

Rich Polk / PMC

As she walked through the Govs Ball, Barbie’s Greta Gerwig told me that watching, and even singing along in the audience, during the sensational Ryan Gosling performance of Song nominee “I’m Just Ken” was just about the best thing about the whole season for her. It rivals anything else in terms of sheer bigness for any past production number on the Academy Awards with a tip of the hat to Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” staging in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The year’s number one movie managed just one Oscar for Best Song for Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” but Gerwig looked as ebullient as any of the winners in the room. This was her third solo directorial effort and third film to win a Best Picture nomination. Not bad at all.

Sam Hunt, Simu Liu, Mark Ronson, Ryan Gosling, and Slash perform ‘I’m Just Ken’ from “Barbie” onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

When you look at the season as a whole, and the absolute astonishing quality of the 10 Best Picture nominees you realize it was a very good year indeed. The audience at the Dolby was certainly hyped and clearly happy to be there after rocky years of pandemics and strikes. And as I noted in our live blog we posted on during the show, this show had to set a record for standing o’s. This crowd got up on their feet more times than Kamala Harris did during Joe Biden’s State Of The Union speech.

Disney’s new film division head (replaceing Sean Bailey) David Greenbaum told me he is excited for their future. “We are going to make some big pictures, and others but the emphasis no matter what is on quality, ” he said as he too was celebrating the success of Poor Things, developed under his watch at Searchlight with co-President Matthew Greenfield who continues to run the division for Disney. The group was at the Governors Ball also praising another important member of the Disney family, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel who, of course, was the host of the Oscars again this year for the fourth time, the perfect presence needed for this kind of show.

Jimmy Kimmel at the Governors Ball after the 2024 Oscars

Jimmy Kimmel after Sunday’s Oscars – Photo Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond/Deadline

When I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago about taking the show on again I asked if he was going to avoid political humor, especially Trump jokes. He said he felt the material should be about the movies and that it would have to be something he just couldn’t resist. Well, he certainly couldn’t resist when a Donald Trump truth social post blasting Kimmel turned up late in the show. It appears the former President was watching and trashed Kimmel’s performance. Executive Producer (and Kimmel’s wife) Molly McNearney told me she advised him to just ignore it, but Kimmel told me he was informed the show was running 2 1/2 minutes short, a highly unusual situation for the Oscars, and so he decided to go for it, reading the entire rant and then commenting.”I am happy he’s watching the show but isn’t it past his jail time?” Earlier the most political Kimmel got was making Alabama Senator Katie Britt,whose disastrous post State Of The Union rebuttal has been catnip for comedians, the butt of a joke about Poor Things when he described it as a movie about a person with a hot woman’s body but the mind of a five year old, “kind of like that woman who spoke for Republicans after the State Of The Union”. The original line was Marjorie Taylor Green but it was changed.

Christoph Waltz, Robert Downey Jr., Ke Huy Quan, Tim Robbins, Sam Rockwell and Mahershala Ali are seen backstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards after Best Supporting Actor presenation.

Overall, at least on the inside of the Dolby Theatre, I found this to be a refreshing Oscar show full of good moments and powerful speeches (I am looking at you Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a quality effort reflecting the quality of the movies it was awarding. It also proved original movies and ideas rule, at least they did this year and the Academy recognized it. And the presentation with all those past winners to this year’s acting nominees was a more than welcome and spectacular return to what Bill Condon and Larry Mark did on their landmark Oscar show in 2010. It worked brilliantly again this time as each nominee got a deserving tribute from one of the past nominees before the new winner was named. The production value was stunning. Mark had called me last week after I first wrote they were going to do this, and he said it was always his and Condon’s hope this could be something done every five years or so. AMPAS past President David Rubin told me he thought it worked beautifully and hoped this won’t be the last time.

For me it was like the last day of school. On this beat you get to spend a lot of time with those in the Oscar hunt, and it feels kind of sad to realize that this was the end and soon it will start all over again, but with a whole new cast of characters to take us through the next grueling season.

See you all down the road and thanks for some nice memories. And great movies.

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