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‘Oppenheimer’ breaks through ‘science ceiling’

The docu-drama became the first science-based film to take the Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

In a historic night for science on the silver screen, Oppenheimer emerged on Sunday as the winner of the 2024 Academy Award for Best Picture, along with six other Academy Awards.  This groundbreaking biopic, chronicling the life and struggles of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, marks a turning point for the Oscars, becoming the first demonstrably science-based film to claim the ceremony’s top prize.

In recent times, science fiction films have flirted with the Best Picture category a number of times, with films like The Shape of Water – some would argue it is fantasy – winning and Arrival getting a nomination in 2017. In 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once became the first overtly science fiction movie to be named Best Picture. 

As a rule, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which chooses the Oscars, has leaned towards emotionally resonant stories with a strong human element. Oppenheimer shattered this mold.

Directed by the visionary Christopher Nolan, the film delves into the complexities of scientific discovery and its ethical dilemmas.  Critics lauded the film’s portrayal of Oppenheimer’s internal conflict as he led the Manhattan Project, ultimately unleashing the atomic bomb.  Nolan’s meticulous attention to detail ensured scientific accuracy, from the intricate machinery of the labs to the theoretical discussions driving the narrative.

This win signifies a growing appreciation for the power of science-based storytelling. Oppenheimer doesn’t shy away from the complexities of scientific progress, showcasing the human triumphs and tragedies intertwined with groundbreaking discoveries.

The victory has sparked discussions about the future of science in film. It is impossible to say, for now whether Oppenheimer will pave the way for a new era of science-driven Best Picture contenders.  However, the 2024 Oscars have cemented Oppenheimer as both a cinematic triumph and a watershed moment for science on the big screen.

Oppenheimer, along with several of the Oscar winners and nominated films are currently showing on circuit, and still being screened at Ster-Kinekor cinemas across South Africa.

The film was awarded in four of the top six categories, walking off with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (the first Oscar for celebrated filmmaker Christopher Nolan), Best Actor for first-time nominee Cillian Murphy for his outstanding portrayal of the brilliant but troubled scientist Oppenheimer, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. The film also received golden statues for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.

Lynne Wylie, chief marketing officer for Ster-Kinekor, says: “Following its multiple Oscar nominations and now being a multi award-winning film, Oppenheimer has been brought back to the big screen to be seen as Christopher Nolan directed it to be seen. This outstanding film is now showing at select Ster-Kinekor cinemas.”

The other big winner on the night was Poor ThingsThe film walked off with four Oscars, including Best Actress for Emma Stone, who shines in this incredible tale about the fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter. The film also won Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Production Design. The film is also currently showing on the big screen at select Ster-Kinekor cinemas.

Another award-winning film on circuit is The Holdovers, with Da’Vine Joy Randolph taking home the Best Actress golden statue for her role in the drama about a cranky history teacher at a remote prep school who is forced to remain on campus over the holidays with a troubled student who has nowhere to go.

The Oscars for Best International Feature Film and Best Sound were scooped by The Zone of Interestthe dramatic film about the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, who strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden alongside the horrors unfolding within the concentration camp.

Ster-Kinekor has also announced that the winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, The Boy and The Heron, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, will be released in select cinemas from 19 April. This critically acclaimed film centres around the psychological and emotional growth of a young man, Mahito Maki, and is a semi-autobiographical adventure fantasy about life, death, and creation from the mind of Miyazaki.

The full list of the 2024 Oscar winners is available here.

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