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Christopher Nolan Wins First Oscar, Thanks Academy for Thinking He’s a ‘Meaningful’ Part of Cinema History

Christopher Nolan is officially an Oscar winner.

After eight nominations across two decades, the filmmaker took home the first Academy Award of his career, for directing “Oppenheimer.” Shortly after, he won a second Oscar as “Oppenheimer” was named best picture. He’s been nominated in the past for 2000’s “Memento” (screenwriting), 2010’s “Inception” (best picture, screenwriting) and 2017’s “Dunkirk” (best picture, directing). But the Academy snubbed his biggest blockbuster, 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” an omission that prompted the organization’s voting body to increase the number of best picture contenders from five to 10.

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“To the Academy — movies are just a little bit over 100 years old,” he said during his first acceptance speech of the night. “We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here. But to know that you think I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

In this year’s director race, Nolan was nominated against Justine Triet (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Martin Scorsese (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”) and Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”). Despite the stacked competition, Nolan has been the odds-on favorite to win because he’s been feted at nearly every precursor ceremony, including the DGA Awards and Golden Globes.

From the stage, he thanked a laundry list of names, including his wife (“the incredible Emma Thomas, producer of all our films and all our children”), his cast (“Matt Damon, Robert [Downey Jr.], Emily [Blunt], Florence [Pugh]… so many others, all the top of their game, led by the incredible Cillian Murphy”) and Universal Pictures chief Donna Langley (“for seeing the potential in this”).

“Thank you to those who have believed in me my whole career,” he concluded.

Nolan also wrote and produced “Oppenheimer,” a three-hour historical epic about the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II. The story follows the career of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), from his efforts at Los Alamos to build the weapons of mass destruction that ended the war to his eventual fall from grace during a security clearance hearing.

“Oppenheimer” became a box office phenomenon with $957 million globally to stand as the third-biggest movie of 2023. It scored 13 Oscar nominations (including best picture), the most of any film at this year’s ceremony. It also received nods for best actor (Murphy), supporting actor (Robert Downey Jr.), supporting actress (Emily Blunt) and adapted screenplay. It took home seven awards in total and became the highest-grossing film to win best picture in more than two decades.

“Any of us who make movies know you dream of this moment,” Nolan’s wife and longtime producing partner Emma Thomas said while accepting the best picture prize. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for so long. It seemed so unlikely it would ever happen.”

Throughout his career, Nolan has crafted critical and commercial hits like the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Interstellar.” Still, he said he’s been stunned by the reception to “Oppenheimer,” the rare big-budget drama to connect with critics and audiences in a big way.

“With certain films, your timing is just right in ways that you never could have predicted,” he previously told Variety. “When you start making a film, you’re two or three years out from when it’s going to be released, so you’re trying to hit a moving target as far as the interest of the audience. But sometimes you catch a wave and the story you’re telling is one people are waiting for.”

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