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Oscars: ‘Oppenheimer’ Best Picture Win Ends Drought for Christopher Nolan

After more than two decades making cerebral, critically acclaimed films that also have mass commercial appeal, Christopher Nolan has finally taken home a best picture Oscar with Oppenheimer.

The triumph at the 2024 Oscars comes 15 years after Nolan’s The Dark Knight failed to earn a best picture nomination, a snub that was largely credited with the Academy expanding the number of best picture nominees the following year and which paved the way for a wide swath of contenders. Minutes before his win, Nolan land the first Oscar of his career, when he took the directing prize.

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The wins ended a long drought for Nolan, considered the premier director of his generation. Nolan’s Inception and Dunkirk previously were nominated for best picture, but until now, none of his films had taken home the top honor. His first Oscar nom dates back to Memento, the mind-bending film that earned the filmmaker and brother Jonathan Nolan an adapted screenplay nom in 2002.

“I think any of us who make movies know you kind of dream of this moment,” said Emma Thomas, Nolan’s producing partner and wife. “I have been dreaming about this moment for so long, but it seemed so unlikely that it would actually ever happen. …The reason this movie was the movie it was, was Chris Nolan. He is singular, he is brilliant, and I am so grateful to you.”

Thomas also thanked her partners on the film at Universal and elsewhere for “believing in this movie when maybe it didn’t make that much sense.”

Indeed, a three-hour, R-rated biopic about the father of the atomic bomb may not have seemed like an obvious winner at first glance. But the tale of Manhattan Project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer transformed into an awards juggernaut and became one of the biggest success stories of 2023. The $957 million grosser is the first blockbuster to take home the best picture prize since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King 20 years ago.

In addition to best picture and best director, Oppenheimer also took home wins for actor (Cillian Murphy), supporting actor (Robert Downey Jr.), score (Ludwig Göransson), cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema) and editing (Jennifer Lame).

Oppenheimer was based on the 2005 book American Promethus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. The rights came to producer Charles Roven by way of businessman J. David Wargo and actor James Woods, who earned executive producer credits. Though the duo weren’t really talked about during the awards campaign, Roven made a point to thank them by name in his speech “for trusting me to move this project forward.”

As for Nolan, he didn’t speak during the best picture presentation. But when he won his Oscar for directing, he noted that the filmmaking medium is around 100 years old, young for an artform. “We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here,” said Nolan. “But to know that you think that I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

See the star-studded Oscars red carpet 2024 arrivals.

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