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Oscars Snubs and Surprises: Emma Stone Is Shocked She Won, ‘Maestro’ Is Shut Out — and Al Pacino’s Awkward Best Picture Reveal


The Academy Awards unfolded pretty much as expected, with “Oppenheimer” dominating, and the only real shocks coming in the — wait, there weren’t any huge ones, actually. As predicted, “Oppenheimer” steamrolled, getting seven Oscars in total. It won the top prize for picture, as well as Christopher Nolan winning for director, Cillian Murphy for actor and Robert Downey Jr. for supporting actor — along with Hoyte van Hoytema winning for cinematography, Jennifer Lame for editing and Ludwig Göransson for score.

READ MORE: See all the 2024 Oscar winners here.

Leaving the “Oppenheimer” juggernaut aside, the across-the-board excellence of this year’s nominees made for a good Oscars! Jimmy Kimmel — hosting the proceedings on ABC for the fourth time — mostly focused his opening monologue’s jokes on A-list talent close to the stage, especially roasting supporting actor winner Downey Jr. He also addressed the writers and actors strikes of last year, and acknowledged the IATSE negotiations that began recently. “The reason we were able to make a deal is because of the people who rallied around and beside us,” Kimmel said as he invited the Oscars’ below-the-line crew members to join him onstage. “And before we celebrate ourselves, let’s have a very well deserved round of applause for the people who work behind the scenes: the teamsters, the truck drivers, sound engineers, gaffers, grips, all of the crew.”

Other highlights of the night included Ryan Gosling’s full-throated, delightful performance of “I’m Just Ken” (as well as Greta Gerwig’s joyful reaction to it), presenter John Mulaney’s riotous and out-of-nowhere deconstruction of “Field of Dreams,” and John Cena’s near-nude envelope-as-figleaf approach to presenting (in an homage to the streaker who stole the show at the 1974 Oscars).

Despite the pundits’ mostly accurate predictions for the night’s winners, the 96th Academy Awards never felt like a forced march — meaning, Oscar producers Raj Kapoor, Katy Mullan, Molly McNearney and Rob Paine did a nice job not only highlighting this year’s great movies, but also moving things along. And the show’s innovation of former acting winners presenting to the current nominees both gave a personal touch to those honors, while also appropriately slowing down the final categories so they didn’t go by in the blink of an eye as they usually do. 

Here’s what surprised us at the Oscars (and yes, we’re starting with Al Pacino).

Al Pacino’s Bizarro Presentation of Best Picture

Just getting this out of the way quickly, before we get to the awards: Al Pacino’s presentation of the night’s most important award will forever be remembered for its… brevity, is really the kindest way to say it. Pacino took the stage, and without any recitation of the 10 nominees, he just opened the envelope and said “Oppenheimer.” It confused everyone! Surely, there was a plan that wasn’t this one? Involving clips, maybe? Kind of more fun this way, actually — and not since John Travolta’s “Adele Dazeem” moment, which just turned 10, has there been such a wonderful flub at the Oscars.

Best Actress: Emma Stone Is Shocked She Won

Going into the evening, the actress category was perceived as a two-woman race, with Lily Gladstone and Emma Stone — “the Infinity Stones,” as Gladstone has said they call themselves — representing the best picture nominees “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Poor Things.” Both had picked up their share of precursor awards (a Golden Globe apiece, along with the SAG Award for Gladstone and the BAFTA for Stone).

But, in the end, it was Stone who pulled out the win. It’s 35-year-old Stone’s second Oscar, after 2016’s “La La Land” — an honor that speaks, perhaps, to just how undeniable her work as burgeoning genius Bella Baxter is. Stone seemed stunned to notch the win, not least because — as she mentioned at the top of her speech, before mentioning her creative collaborators and the journey her character Bella underwent — her dress had broken on the way to the stage.

Best Actor: Cillian Murphy v. Paul Giamatti

Even though several of the major awards have been foregone conclusions for months, it’s been fun that the winners in both lead acting categories have been question marks. Would Cillian Murphy win best actor, for his chilly embodiment of J. Robert Oppenheimer, told over decades, as one well-deserved element of the night’s overall coronation of “Oppenheimer”? Or would character actor Paul Giamatti, so wrongly overlooked years ago for “Sideways” — even for a nomination! — get his due for playing Paul Hunham, an angry boarding school teacher who’s cracked open after he bonds with a bratty student (Dominic Sessa) over Christmas break?

Murphy did win, for his sixth collaboration with Nolan — and his first leading role in one of his films.

“Barbie” Loses Its Best Chance for a Major Oscar 

Adapted screenplay — one of the most competitive, up-in-the-air categories going into the ceremony — was absolutely stacked. The category contained eventual best picture winner “Oppenheimer” (written by Christopher Nolan, who also won for director), “Poor Things” (Tony McNamara) and international feature winner “The Zone of Interest” (Jonathan Glazer). On top of that, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s “Barbie” was in here — and it was initially thought to be a frontrunner after the backlash against Gerwig’s omission in director. There were some issues figuring out where exactly “Barbie” should be slotted, since the story was based on already existing toys, but adapted was where it ended up — and where the movie lost its best chance to win a major award. (“Barbie” will have to settle for having made more than $1.4 billion, and being a cultural phenomenon.)

None of this is meant to shade the category’s winner, Cord Jefferson for “American Fiction,” which he adapted from Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure.” First-time feature director Jefferson’s film became a surprise hit of awards season, and was nominated for the top prize, as well as for Jeffrey Wright’s lead performance, Sterling K. Brown’s supporting role, its score — and then winning adapted screenplay. 

“Anatomy of a Fall” Swoops in for Original Screenplay 

Two previous Alexander Payne films have won adapted screenplay Oscars — “Sideways” and “The Descendants” (Payne wrote both) — and “The Holdovers” (written by David Hemingson), a well-loved movie, went into the night as a favorite. 

But not so fast! In swept Arthur Harari and director Justine Triet’s screenplay for “Anatomy of a Fall,” which counters the Payne film’s cuddly vision of an unlikely family coming together with a bleak take on a marriage that finally and conclusively falls (as it were) apart. While Triet and Harari had been honored by the Golden Globes, this win on Oscars night still feels like a surprise in part because of the film’s toggling between languages — English, French, and German. Before “Parasite’s” win in this category in early 2020, only one other winner this century, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” was written in a language other than English. It’s a stunning reversal for a small film that began its Oscar run with a snub: “Anatomy of a Fall” wasn’t even chosen as the submission to the international feature film category, as France’s Oscar committee chose culinary drama “The Taste of Things.”  That omission in a category “Anatomy of a Fall” could have entered made this win all the sweeter for its growing legion of fans.

(Oscars voting had closed before the publication of Variety’s story about how the screenwriter Simon Stephenson has accused “The Holdovers” of plagiarizing his 2013 screenplay “Frisco,” and has been lobbying the Writers Guild to take up his cause.)  

“Killers of the Flower Moon” Shut Out  

Remarkably, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is Martin Scorsese’s third film to go zero-for-10 at the Oscars, following “Gangs of New York” and “The Irishman” in this dubious achievement. (This brushes very close to the record shared by “The Color Purple” and “The Turning Point” for most Oscar nominations without a win, which is 11.) Scorsese’s “Killers” had the bad luck of being the other grand epic taking on themes of American nihilism in a field led by Nolan’s unstoppable “Oppenheimer,” and, going into the night, it seemed the best shot at recognition was in the actress field. When Emma Stone ended up beating Lily Gladstone, its fate was sealed.

“Maestro” Also Shut Out!

Alas, Bradley Cooper. The maestro who made “Maestro” is now zero-for-12 across his career Oscar nominations. (He still doesn’t have a directing nomination for either 2018’s “A Star Is Born” or for “Maestro” — perhaps a sign that the Academy was cool on it.) And he personally lost all three of his nominations for acting in, writing, and producing “Maestro.” It’s a sad coda for a film that began the season as Netflix’s show pony, playing highly touted runs at the Venice and New York Film Festivals. And after doing a limited amount of painfully halting press for “A Star Is Born,” Cooper was everywhere banging the drum for his Leonard Bernstein biopic, all with a smile on his face and a story to tell about the six years he spent learning to conduct. The film even failed to notch a win for its makeup, despite the remarkable transformation engineered by acknowledged master (and two-time winner) Kazu Hiro — it lost to “Poor Things.” This simply wasn’t Cooper’s year — as has been said several times before.

Best Animated Feature Film: “The Boy and the Heron” Wins

Hayao Miyazaki, considered among the most transformative figures in the history of animation, had won only one competitive Oscar previously, for “Spirited Away.” (He also won an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in 2014.) But his latest contribution to the medium had, before the ceremony, been considered a likely also-ran to the latest “Spider-Verse” installment, a box-office smash that had been considered by some a potential best picture nominee. 

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” had won the Annie for best animated feature before the ceremony, but it was Miyazaki’s surrealist vision that won the prize — even as the Studio Ghibli co-founder was not there to accept the prize himself. His legion of fans will likely accept this as a consolation for his many unrewarded films in past years.

Diane Warren Continues to Be the Susan Lucci of the Oscars 

Diane Warren continues two remarkable streaks. Since coming back to the Oscars after a 13-year gap with her song “Grateful” from 2014’s “Beyond the Lights,” she’s been nominated every year but one, racking up nine nominations in a decade. (She also earned an honorary Oscar during this stretch.) And this year, once again, the nomination was the reward. It was hard to imagine anyone beating the juggernaut that is Billie Eilish’s “Barbie” theme “What Was I Made For?,” and harder still to conceive that the potential victor could have been the song from Hulu/Disney+ original “Flamin’ Hot.” (While Warren’s recent track record has been astounding, the movies for which she writes songs are often most notable for having a Diane Warren song in them.) It’s not a surprise, but it does represent the extension of a snub; one of these years, surely, it’ll be Warren’s turn.