“Oppenheimer” wins at Oscars

Cillian Murphy won Best Actor at the 96th Academy Awards for his performance as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s 2023 film, “Oppenheimer.” Christopher Nolan won Best Director at the Oscars, as well. // Photo courtesy of USA Today

The 96th Academy Awards came to a close Sunday night, drawing its highest ratings in four years — and for good reason. It was an electric night, packed to the brim with awards for movies that had genuine appeal with audiences, with several Best Picture nominees being the highest-grossing
movies of the year. 

The night opened with host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue, followed shortly by the first award of the night, Best Supporting Actress. It was one of the only awards that seemed like it had a definitive winner before the show even started, with Da’Vine Joy Randolph receiving the award for her performance
in “The Holdovers.”

“I didn’t think I was supposed to be doing this as a career,” Randolph said tearfully. “I started off as a singer, and my mother said to me: ‘Go across that street to that theater department, there is something for you there.’ And I thank my mother for doing that. … For so long I have always wanted to be different. And now I realize, I just have to be myself.” 

Randolph wasn’t the last first-time winner of the night, either. Robert Downey Jr., won Best Supporting Actor in a highly competitive category for his performance in “Oppenheimer,” an especially meaningful award after his over ten-year run as Iron Man in the Marvel
Cinematic Universe. 

“I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the academy, in that order. I would like to thank my veterinarian – I meant wife, Susan Downey, over there – you found me, a snarling rescue pet, and you loved me back to life. That’s why I’m here, thank you.” Downey said in his acceptance speech. “Here’s my little secret, I needed this job more than it needed me,” he said about working on “Oppenheimer.” “It was fantastic, and I stand here before you a better man because of it.”

Arguably the most hotly contested categories of the night, however, were the two awards for Best Actor and Best Actress. Best Actor was a competition mainly between Cillian Murphy for his acclaimed performance in “Oppenheimer” and Paul Giamatti for his turn in “The Holdovers.” Jeffery Wright was close behind for his role in “American Fiction,” and all three would have been first-time Oscar winners. In the end, Murphy recieved the award, a hint at how well-liked “Oppenheimer” was among the Academy. Murphy was also the first Irish-born actor to ever win Best Actor.

For Best Actress, many predicted the award would be a toss-up between Lily Gladstone for “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Emma Stone for “Poor Things.” After “Poor Things” nearly swept the below-the-line categories like Best Production Design, Emma Stone won Best Actress for the second time in her career, with her first Best Actress Oscar for “La La Land.” Her gratitude was radiant.

“The other night I was panicking, as you can kind of see happens a lot, that maybe something like this could happen,” Stone said, “And Yorgos said to me, ‘Please take yourself out of it,’ and he was right because it’s not about me. It’s about a team that came together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.”

In between awards, Kimmel entertained the celebrity audience with a monologue and sketches, including one with a seemingly nude John Cena. Awards presenters were also engaging, with a new acting award format having previous winners introduce each nominee, bringing more stars than ever onto the stage. Before one award, Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both having portrayed Batman villains, singled out former Batman actor Michael Keaton, with all three doing a bit in character. Comedian John Mulaney also gave a memorable introduction to sound design, taking the moment to do a short stand-up routine about “Field of Dreams.” 

“Some people say the silent movie era is the golden age of cinema. Those people are difficult and insane,” Mulaney said in his distinctive style. “What about that moment in Field of Dreams when we hear, ‘If you build it, he will come’? And then [Kevin] Costner does it, he builds a baseball field. But I guess he doesn’t build it, he mows down the corn and then there is a field and then he’s like, ‘I’m gonna watch ghosts play baseball.’” 

As the night came to a close, though, the real winner of the night emerged: “Oppenheimer.” Best Director went to Christopher Nolan for the film, giving the prolific filmmaker his first career Academy Award, notably winning over Yorgos Lanthimos for the night’s second-most awarded movie, “Poor Things,” and Martin Scorsese for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” 

And after Murphy won Best Actor and Nolan won Best Director, it seemed all but inevitable that “Oppenheimer” would win Best Picture. Oscar-winner Al Pacino read the winner aloud, glancing at the card and saying, “And my eyes see ‘Oppenheimer,’” so casually that the audience initially didn’t react. Quickly, though, the theater erupted in applause, celebrating one of the most popular Best Picture winners in years. 

The night, from presenters to winners, was a magnificent celebration of film, lovingly capturing what movies mean to us all.