Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer leads with 13 Oscar nominations
Iain Blair
February 1, 2024

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer leads with 13 Oscar nominations

At the serious end of the Oscar nominations spectrum is Oppenheimer, a tense drama directed by Christopher Nolan that tells the story of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, and follows the work of his team of scientists during the Manhattan Project, leading to the development of the atomic bomb. Starring Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, it features an all-star ensemble cast, including Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Kenneth Branagh. It dominated the competition with 13 nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director.

Oppenheimer, the de facto frontrunner, ticks all the boxes. It’s a prestige project with an all-star cast that also boasts a stellar creative team, including Nolan’s go-to director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema ASC, FSF, NSC (Dunkirk, Tenet) and editor Jennifer Lame ACE (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Tenet), who were both Oscar nominated for their work on Oppenheimer, along with Nolan. Despite his career total of eight nominations, the director has never won. But this year looks likely to change all that.

The film shot in five major locations, with Nolan filming mostly in New Mexico, including shooting most of the interiors at the real Los Alamos. Oppenheimer marks the fourth collaboration for Nolan and van Hoytema, who says, “My biggest challenge with Oppenheimer rests in the way it is very different from the other films I’ve made with Chris. In Interstellar, Dunkirk and Tenet, there’s an emphasis on action. Oppenheimer is more like a psychological thriller; it’s reliant on the faces of its characters.” 

Adds Nolan, “It’s a story of great scope and great scale and great span. But I also wanted the audience to be in the rooms where everything happened, as if you are there, having conversations with these scientists in these important moments.”

To this end, Nolan and his DP filmed in a combination of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film photography including, for the first time ever, sections in IMAX black & white analogue photography. With the large-format film, and different kinds of stock, the challenge of creating Oppenheimer with multiple formats continued into post production, as the film had to be edited, color-corrected and printed for IMAX, digital and standard presentation. 

Nolan and cinematographer also worked closely with special effects supervisors Scott Fisher (a Nolan vet who won Oscars for Interstellar and Tenet) and Andrew Jackson (who also won an Oscar for Tenet) on VFX, depicting everything from the first atomic test in the New Mexico desert to physical phenomena, ranging from subatomic particles to exploding stars and black holes. As the film’s sole VFX partner, Dneg delivered over 100 shots, crafted from more than 400 practically-shot elements, to help create some of the film's most important and explosive sequences, including recreating the nuclear tests and showing the terrifying scale of an atomic blast. For the Trinity test sequence, Jackson and Fisher captured a wide spectrum of explosions using IMAX technology, including huge detonations, as well as smaller and underwater detonations. For the plasma ball atomic test, featured in the high-speed archive footage, the team used underwater micro explosions combined with a massive explosion, and then did extensive compositing work to seamlessly integrate the elements.