'Oppenheimer' wins best picture at Academy Awards, Emma Stone takes best actress

“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.
“Oppenheimer” - Best picture at Oscar
“Oppenheimer” - Best picture at Oscar

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 Nolan's blockbuster biopic, including best actor for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr. and best director for Nolan.

In anointing “Oppenheimer,” the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts did something it hasn't done for more than a decade: hand its top prize to a widely seen, big-budget studio film. In a film industry where a cape, dinosaur or Tom Cruise has often been a requirement for such box office, “Oppenheimer” brought droves of moviegoers to theaters with a complex, fission-filled drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb.

“For better or worse, we're all living in Robert Oppenheimer's world," said Murphy in his acceptance speech. "I'd like to dedicate this to the peacemakers.” 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. Sunday's 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.

The most closely watched contest of the Academy Awards 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, Stone won over Lily Gladstone of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone would have become the first Native American to win an Academy Award.

Instead, Oscar voters couldn't resist the full-bodied extremes of Stone's “Poor Things” performance. The win for Stone, her second best actress Oscar following her 2019 win for “La La Land,” confirmed the 35-year-old 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 Katherine Hepburn, Frances McDormand, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis.

“Oh, boy, this is really overwhelming,” said Stone.

Nolan has had many movies in the Oscar mix before, including “Inception,” “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight.” But his win Sunday for direction is the first Academy Award for the 53-year-old filmmaker.

In his acceptance speech, Nolan noted cinema is just over a hundred years old.

“We don't know where this incredible journey is going from here,” said Nolan. “But to think that I'm a meaningful part of it means the world to me.” Protest and politics intruded on an election-year Academy Awards on Sunday, where demonstrations for Gaza raged outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, and awards went to “Oppenheimer,” “The Zone of Interest” and “20 Days in Mariupol.” Sunday's broadcast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, had plenty of 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. A sea of Kens swarmed the stage.

The lead winner, as expected was “Oppenheimer,” the blockbuster biopic. Though not quite the clean sweep that some expected, “Oppenheimer” was overpowering all competition — including its release-date companion, “Barbie” — winning awards for its cinematography, editing, score and Robert Downey Jr.'s supporting performance.

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