Torn Between Golden Past and Thorny Present, Oscars Still Had Some Fun

Last year may have been the year of “Barbenheimer,” but this year’s Academy Awards will henceforth be known as the “Oppenbarbie” Oscars. There was plenty of bubble-gum pink to go around, but the 96th Academy Awards effectively belonged to Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” his magisterial biographical portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb. The Times’s chief film critic, Manohla Dargis, and its movie critic, Alissa Wilkinson, discuss the show, the awards, the snubs, the jeers and, yes, even movies.

MANOHLA DARGIS The movies are back … again! The survival of the medium often feels like a worrying message at the Oscars, but last night’s show felt particularly — and genuinely — ebullient. Attendees are always jazzed to be there, but you could feel the happiness radiating off people, even on TV. Or maybe it was relief. The industry is still struggling in the wake of last year’s strikes by the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA, which effectively shut it down for about a half a year even as it was still trying to recover from the pandemic.

It’s no wonder attendees couldn’t stop jumping up to give themselves standing ovations. And while there were memorable moments — the shout-out to Yoko Ono, the close-ups of Messi the dog — I was especially pleased when the host Jimmy Kimmel asked the room to join him in giving a hosanna to the industry’s below-the-line workers, or as he said: “The Teamsters, the truck drivers, the lighting crew, sound, camera, gaffers, grips — that’s right, all the people who refused to cross the picket line.” The very same folks who may soon be on strike if their negotiations go badly. Solidarity, but also fingers crossed! How did it play on your TV?

The Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel onstage with movie industry workers and crew, honoring them for their support during the 2023 Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes.Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

ALISSA WILKINSON I laughed. A lot! Usually my Oscar night is full of groans and eye rolls — remember the “cheer-worthy moment” poll of 2022? Or exhausting monologue vamps on how nobody saw any of the nominees? — but I was genuinely tickled by the bits and the jokes, by John Cena’s perfectly hammy reluctant streaker bit and John Mulaney’s breathless recap of the entire plot of “Field of Dreams.” I loved all the backup Kens, dressed up to pay tribute to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in a number full of Busby Berkeley references, and I found the introduction of acting nominees by past winners genuinely moving.

Ryan Gosling performing “I’m Just Ken” on Sunday.Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

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