The Oscars is a night for celebration, but it is just as often a time for reflection, as it was for Cillian Murphy backstage during Sunday's ceremony. "You know, I did a screen test for Chris when I was a kid," the actor remembered. "I thought that would be it and it would be enough just to be in a room with him for a couple of hours. And here we are."

Here is the 96th Oscars, where Oppenheimer was the winningest film of the year. Christopher Nolan's IMAX-sized biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer took home seven Oscars in total, including the night's top prize: Best Picture. (The latter was awarded to Nolan and fellow producers Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.) But even before the Oppenheimer cast and creative team took to the stage to accept the final award of the night, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie amongst the so-called "Oppenhomies."

That feeling was evident as soon as the film's first winner of the evening, Robert Downey Jr., accepted his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. "Here's my little secret: I needed this job more than it needed me," he said onstage at the Dolby Theatre. "Chris knew it. Emma made sure that she surrounded me with one of the great casts and crews of all time... I stand here before you a better man because of it."

"You know, what we do is meaningful," Downey added in a moment of unabashed earnestness, "and the stuff that we decide to make is important."

Robert Downey Jr. with his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Shortly following Downey's win, Oppenheimer editor Jennifer Lame won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. "Talking about editing is not one of my strong suits," she admitted with a laugh backstage. Instead, she echoed her appreciation for Nolan's stewardship and the collaborative partnership she formed working on this film, specifically.

"When Chris hired me, I was in shock because it was so out of my comfort zone on so many levels," she told A.frame. "I did things I never thought I would be able to do, so actually having a spotlight on this film is really great for me to just thank everybody for opening these doors that I never thought would open for me. So, it's actually been quite incredible."

The Oppenheimer wins continued throughout the ceremony, with Hoyte van Hoytema winning for Best Cinematography, Ludwig Göransson winning for Best Original Score, Murphy winning for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Nolan winning for Best Directing. Backstage, Hoytema further commended the filmmaker for the closeness that he fosters on his sets.

"One of the beautiful things [about] working with Chris is that he really tries to maintain a specific intimacy around the camera," the cinematographer explained, Oscar in hand. "He really loves the set to feel small and personal. I always have the feeling that filming with him is like making a tiny film on a very grand scale."

Jennifer Lame, Ludwig Göransson and Cillian Murphy together at the 96th Oscars.

Over the past 22 years, Nolan has received eight Oscar nominations; on Sunday, he finally won his first Oscar. Still backstage after winning Best Actor, Murphy watched from the wings as his director accepted the Oscar for Best Directing. On the stage, Nolan appeared humbled by the recognition.

"Movies are just a little bit over 100 years old. I mean, imagine being there 100 years into painting or theater," he remarked while accepting his Oscar. "We don't know where this incredible journey is going from here. But to know that you think that I'm a meaningful part of it means the world to me."

Nolan had only just returned to his seat, Oscar in hand, when presenter Al Pacino opened the envelope containing the winner of Best Picture. "My eyes see Oppenheimer," he announced. Nolan and Thomas became only the second married couple to win for Best Picture, following Driving Miss Daisy producers Richard D. Zanuck and Lili Fini Zanuck in 1990. Following previous nominations for Inception (2010) and Dunkirk (2017), this marks each of their first Best Picture wins.

"I think any of us who make movies know that you kind of dream of this moment — you know you do," Thomas said in the final moments of Sunday's show. "I could deny it, but I have been dreaming about this moment for so long, but it seemed so unlikely that it would ever actually happen. The reason this movie was the movie that it was is Christopher Nolan. He is singular, he is brilliant, and I am so grateful to you."

Looking back on the journey he's taken with Oppenheimer since it first hit theaters in the summer of 2023, Nolan later told A.frame, "When you make a film on a large scale, obviously, you have to believe there's some audience for it out there. But starting with the release of the film in July, the response from people around the world far exceeded anything that I imagined possible. Winning this recognition from my peers is just the icing on the cake."

"It's very important to me," he said. "It's really a wonderful finish to what's been an incredible year."

Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan backstage after winning Best Picture.

Oppenheimer is a blockbuster in both scope and scale, a 3-hour historical thriller that broke box office records (it is the highest-grossing World War II film of all time) and became a cultural phenomenon on its way to winning its seven Oscars. But, when listening to the people who made it, the experience sounds nothing short of intimate. For Murphy, winning the Oscar was made all that much more meaningful because he did so side by side with Nolan, who has become the most important collaborator of his career.

"It's very, very special," said the actor, who himself made Oscars history as the first Irish-born performer to win in his category. "We've been working together for 20 years, and I think he's the perfect director. He's an extraordinary writer. He's an extraordinary producer. I just can't believe my luck."

The aforementioned screen test — the one that first got a young Murphy in the room with Nolan — was to play Batman. He wasn't quite right for the role that ultimately went to Christian Bale, but the filmmaker instead cast Murphy as one of the film's villains, Scarecrow, in 2005's Batman Begins. Murphy never thought he would have the chance to make one more with Nolan, let alone six total. And now, he's an Oscar winner.

Mere minutes after winning his Oscar, Murphy could only conclude, "I'm just so humbled and thankful."

By Alex Welch


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