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Nolan’s masterpiece ‘Oppenheimer’ wins best picture Oscar

HOLLYWOOD, United States (AFP)It is, in the words of its director, the story of the most important person who ever lived.

And on Sunday, “Oppenheimer” completed its indomitable march towards Hollywood’s most important prize, winning the Academy Award for best picture.

Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece — the story of the brilliant physicist who oversaw the invention of the atomic bomb, changing the world forever — is a grand, old-fashioned blockbuster for grown-ups.

Shot on a USD100 million budget, “Oppenheimer” spared no expense, and bucked the recent trend of smaller, indie movies winning the most prestigious Oscar.

Producers of “Oppenheimer” British film producer Emma Thomas, US film producer Charles Roven, and British filmmaker Christopher Nolan accept the award for Best Picture from US actor Al Pacino (L) onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024. PHOTO: AFP

A cast was assembled from Tinseltown’s top A-list, a replica of 1940s Los Alamos was secretly constructed on a mountain in New Mexico, and the test of the first-ever nuclear bomb was recreated with vast quantities of real explosives.

The effect was spellbinding, for audiences and critics alike.

Released last July, “Oppenheimer” immediately drew rave reviews and shattered box office expectations.

It went on to collect nearly USD1 billion around the world, and won a total of seven Academy Awards at Sunday’s gala.

US actor Robert Downey Jr. reacts onstage after “Oppenheimer” won the award for Best Picture onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024. PHOTO: AFP
‘Dream and nightmare’ 

 

Nolan, the director behind ambitious blockbusters from “Inception” to “The Dark Knight,” had recently finished making “Tenet” when he stumbled upon “American Prometheus,” the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

He was instantly inspired to bring a life of ambitious genius and hubristic tragedy, of “dream and nightmare,” to the biggest possible screen.

Oppenheimer, having attained global fame as the “father of the bomb,” soon came to bitterly regret the consequences of his invention, campaigning for nuclear disarmament and eventually having his reputation shattered due to his former Communist sympathies.

“His story offers no easy answers. But it offers some of the most fascinating and interesting paradoxes that I’ve ever encountered,” said Nolan.

While Nolan is most often associated with genres such as sci-fi, he decided to structure “Oppenheimer” along three other film tropes — hero’s journey, heist movie and courtroom drama.

The scientist embarks on a quest to race the Nazis to the bomb, assembles a crack team of experts to get the job done, and is forced to plead his case in court, with the action constantly rotating between the three.

Cillian Murphy, a frequent and trusted collaborator from five previous Nolan films, was cast in the titular role, with Robert Downey Jr as his bitter, furtive rival, Lewis Strauss.

The two men won best actor and best supporting actor on Sunday, respectively.

A stellar ensemble cast included Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman and Rami Malek.

“This was like ‘Battle of the Bulge’ or ‘Ben-Hur,’ one of those movies where you just look around and every single person in the movie is somebody that you admire,” said actor Matthew Modine, in a book accompanying the film.

Barbenheimer 

 

There is no doubt the film benefited commercially from the viral “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, which saw thousands flock to movie theaters for a double bill including the wildly different “Barbie.”

By coincidence, the two movies from rival studios had been penciled in for the same release date, with each refusing to budge.

“I’m glad neither of us did. It worked out pretty well,” producer Charles Roven later told AFP.

Even so, few could have predicted the astonishing mainstream popularity of a lengthy movie shot partly in black-and-white, about such a weighty topic, and structured largely around complex science and highly technical government hearings.

“If you’re sitting around wondering what the box office is going to be on a three-hour movie about a guy named Oppenheimer who invented the atom bomb, you’re not sitting there and saying, ‘It’s going to do almost a billion dollars,'” recalled Roven.

“So the fact that it did — and the critical acclaim — is just so rewarding.”

The movie was Nolan’s first in two decades not to be released by Warner Bros.

The director had fallen out with his usual studio over its decision to put films on streaming first during the Covid-19 pandemic, jumping ship to its rival Universal.

(L-R) Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, and Charles Roven, winners of the Best Picture award for “Oppenheimer”, pose in the press room during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Ovation Hollywood on March 10, 2024 in Hollywood, California. PHOTO: AFP

“Oppenheimer” was also disrupted by last year’s Hollywood strikes. Its cast walked out of the London premiere in solidarity with fellow actors as the walkout was called last summer.

Since then, it has been plain sailing, as the movie has scooped up the biggest prizes at every awards season ceremony, from the Golden Globes to the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The best picture Oscar is its final — and most important — reward.

Here are the winners in key categories for the 96th Academy Awards, which were handed out in Hollywood on Sunday.

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” was the big winner of the night with seven awards, while “Poor Things” — a female take on the Frankenstein story — won four.

Best picture: “Oppenheimer”

Best director: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Best actor: Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

Best actress: Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

Best supporting actor: Robert Downey Jr, “Oppenheimer”

Best supporting actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Best original screenplay: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Best adapted screenplay: Cord Jefferson, “American Fiction”

Best international feature film: “The Zone of Interest” (United Kingdom)

Best animated feature: “The Boy and the Heron”

Best documentary feature: “20 Days in Mariupol”

Best original score: Ludwig Goransson, “Oppenheimer”

Best original song: Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, “What Was I Made For?” from the “Barbie” soundtrack

Best cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema, “Oppenheimer”

Best film editing: Jennifer Lame, “Oppenheimer”

Best makeup and hairstyling: “Poor Things”

Best costume design: “Poor Things”

Best production design: “Poor Things”

Best sound: “The Zone of Interest”

Best visual effects: “Godzilla Minus One”

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