Seven Oscars for ‘Oppenheimer,’ a fittingly foreboding film for the times

by Jake Coyle from The Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles

Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” swept the Academy Awards show with seven wins, including the Oscar for best picture. The awards show was shadowed by the backdrop of wars in Gaza and Ukraine, with pro-Palestinian protests outside the Dolby Theatre.

155130Robert Downey Jr., Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Emma Stone, and Cillian Murphy (left to right) pose in the press room with their Oscar awards on March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.Jordan Strauss/AP

| LOS ANGELES - “Oppenheimer,” a solemn three-hour biopic that became an unlikely billion-dollar box-office sensation, was crowned best picture at a 96th Academy Awards that doubled as a coronation for Christopher Nolan.

After passing over arguably Hollywood’s foremost big-screen auteur for years, the Oscars made up for lost time by heaping seven awards on Mr. Nolan’s blockbuster biopic, including best actor for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr., and best director for Mr. Nolan.

In anointing “Oppenheimer,” the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did something it hasn’t done for more than a decade: hand its top prize to a widely seen, big-budget studio film. “Oppenheimer” brought droves of moviegoers to theaters with a complex, fission-filled drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb.

As a film heavy with unease for human capacity for mass destruction, “Oppenheimer” also emerged – even over its partner in cultural phenomenon, “Barbie” – as a fittingly foreboding film for times rife with cataclysm, man-made or not.

The March 10 Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles unfolded against the backdrop of wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and with a potentially momentous U.S. election on the horizon. Awards for the documentary winner, “20 Days in Mariupol,” and best international film, “The Zone of Interest,” brought geopolitics into the Oscar spotlight.

The most closely watched contest went to Emma Stone, who won best best actress for her performance as Bella Baxter in “Poor Things.” In what was seen as the night’s most nail-biting category, Ms. Stone won over Lily Gladstone of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Ms. Gladstone would have become the first Native American to win an Academy Award.

Instead, Oscar voters couldn’t resist the full-bodied extremes of Ms. Stone’s “Poor Things” performance. The win for Ms. Stone, her second best actress Oscar following her 2017 win for “La La Land,” confirmed her as arguably the preeminent big-screen actress of her generation. The list of women to win best actress two or more times is illustrious, including Katharine Hepburn, Frances McDormand, Ingrid Bergman, and Bette Davis.

The March 10 broadcast had razzle dazzle, including a sprawling song-and-dance rendition of the “Barbie” hit “I’m Just Ken” by Ryan Gosling, with an assist on guitar by Slash and a sea of Kens who swarmed the stage.

But protest and politics intruded on an election-year Academy Awards. Late during the show, host Jimmy Kimmel read a critical social media post from former President Donald Trump.

“Thank you for watching,” said Mr. Kimmel. “Isn’t it past your jail time?”

Mr. Nolan has had many movies in the Oscar mix before, including “Inception,” “Dunkirk,” and “The Dark Knight.” But his win March 10 for direction is the first Academy Award for the filmmaker. 

Mr. Downey, nominated twice before (for “Chaplin” and “Tropic Thunder”), also notched his first Oscar, crowning the illustrious second act of his up-and-down career.

“Barbie,” last year’s biggest box-office hit with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales, ultimately won just one award: best song for Billie Eilish and Finneas’ “What Was I Made For?” It’s their second Oscar, two years after winning for their James Bond theme, “No Time to Die.”

Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza snarled traffic around the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, slowing stars’ arrival on the red carpet and turning the Oscars’ attention toward the ongoing conflict. Some protesters shouted “Shame!” at those trying to reach the awards.

Jonathan Glazer, the British filmmaker whose chilling Auschwitz drama “The Zone of Interest” won best international film, drew connections between the dehumanization depicted in his film and today.

Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol,” a harrowing chronicle of the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, won best documentary. The win, a first for The Associated Press and PBS’ “Frontline,” came as the war in Ukraine passed the two-year mark with no signs of abating.

Mr. Chernov, the Ukrainian filmmaker and AP journalist whose hometown was bombed the day he learned of his Oscar nomination, spoke forcefully about Russia’s invasion.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history, and I’m honored,” said Mr. Chernov. “Probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I’d never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this [for] Russia never attacking Ukraine.”

In the early going, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein-riff “Poor Things” ran away with three prizes, including awards for production design, makeup and hairstyling, and costume design. “Poor Things” fared second best to “Oppenheimer,” with a total of four awards.

Mr. Kimmel, hosting the ABC telecast for the fourth time, drew a standing ovation for bringing out teamsters and behind-the-scenes workers – who are now entering their own labor negotiations.

The night’s first award was one of its most predictable: Da’Vine Joy Randolph for best supporting actress, for her performance in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” 

Though Ms. Randolph’s win was widely expected, an upset quickly followed. Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” won for best animated feature, a surprise over the slightly favored “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Mr. Miyazaki, the 83-year-old Japanese anime master who came out of retirement to make “The Boy and the Heron,” didn’t attend the ceremony. 

Best original screenplay went to “Anatomy of a Fall,” which, like “Barbie,” was penned by a couple: director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari. 

In adapted screenplay, where “Barbie” was nominated – and where some suspected Greta Gerwig would win after being overlooked for director – the Oscar went to Cord Jefferson, who wrote and directed his feature film debut “American Fiction.” 

The Oscars belonged largely to theatrical-first films. Though it came into the awards with 19 nominations, Netflix was a bit player. Its lone win came for live action short: Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” based on the story by Roald Dahl.

The win for “Oppenheimer” offered Hollywood a chance to celebrate despite swirling storm clouds in the film industry. Mr. Nolan’s film debuted last year just as actors joined screenwriters in a prolonged strike over streaming economics and artificial intelligence. The actors’ strike ended in November, but little of Hollywood’s unease subsided. Streaming has proved less lucrative for most studios not named Netflix.

But “Barbenheimer” was the kind of unplanned phenomenon Hollywood needs more of. The two films could also give a lift to the Oscar telecast, which has historically benefitted from having big movies in contention. The Academy Awards’ largest audience ever came when James Cameron’s “Titanic” swept the 1998 Oscars.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP reporters Ryan Pearson and Krysta Fauria contributed to this report.

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Last edited 3/13/2024 12:43:30 PM

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