Jane Campion has become the third woman to be awarded the Best Director Oscar after being recognised for The Power of the Dog in a highly charged Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre.
Of the 10 Australians nominated, cinematographer Greig Fraser edged out countrywoman Ari Wegner to win an Academy Award for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
Fraser and Campion took to the stage on either side of an ugly incident involving eventual Best Actor winner Will Smith and presenter Chris Rock, with the former taking exception to a joke Rock made about his wife and going on to hit the comedian.
The ceremony did its best to move forwards afterward, with Campion receiving a standing ovation when she beat a field that included Kenneth Branagh, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Ryusuke Hamaguchi to claim the Best Director Oscar almost 20 years after her last win for The Piano (for Best Screenplay).
In accepting the award, she professed her love for directing as a “deep dive into story” while also acknowledging that “manifesting a world can be overwhelming”.
“The sweet thing is I’m not alone,” she said.
“On the Power of the Dog, I worked with actors I’m moved to call my friends.”
Despite being the most nominated film of the night, the Western drama – an Australian-New Zealand co-production – only mustered one win, losing out to coming-of-age drama CODA for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
CODA is the first film with a predominantly Deaf cast to win Best Picture, with Best Supporting Actor Troy Kotsur the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar. The Best Picture win also means Apple is the first streaming service to receive the honour.
As with the BAFTAs earlier this month, Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic swept the craft categories, also winning Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, and Best Visual Effects, where it triumphed over Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ Australasian contingent of Joe Farrell, Sean Townsend and Dan Oliver.
Fraser, who has been previously nominated for his work in Lion, was sought out by Villeneuve to work on the sci-fi epic, which is based on Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 novel.
The director went on to describe the Australian as his “strongest ally on set” during production.
In accepting his award, the DOP jokingly paid tribute to “master Dennis” for bringing “a whole group of unknown actors together to make an amazing movie”.
Australians did not fare as well in the acting categories, with Nicole Kidman losing out to The Eyes of Tammy Faye‘s Jessica Chastain, while Kodi Smit-McPhee was up in the Best Supporting Actor category won by Kotsur.