Oblique and powerful takes on the Second World War dominate at the Oscars, reports Adrian Pennington.

Christopher Nolan’s biopic of nuclear genesis took best picture and six other honours, but there was an arguably more potent anti-war perspective in The Zone of Interest (Britain’s first international film winner). The great animator Hayao Miyazaki also recalled the darkness of being bombed in Japan in The Boy and the Heron, something he experienced as a child. The biggest upset of the night was the best visual effects win for micro-budget Japanese movie Godzilla Minus One but this is also an exploration of post-traumatic stress that that country still feels decades after Oppenheimer’s bombs destroyed two of its cities.

R6_0079_IMAX_R34_01_V01_DKP_bt1886.0003665 (2)

Oppenheimer won seven Oscars with awards for best editing, original score and cinematography

Source: Universal Pictures

Read more The Oscars 2024 Nominations: Editing, cinematography and VFX

A closer look

The exploding of the test bomb in the New Mexico desert is the centrepiece of Nolan’s opus, and a crucial narrative pivot.

“This is what makes this movie special and not just another biopic,” Oscar-winning editor Jennifer Lame told CinemaEditor. “When the bomb goes off we still have another third of the movie to run. It is this experimental form I found so amazing when I read the script. We’ve spent time building and building to this moment… it’s a great release for the audience but then we have the fallout.”

In the next scene, as the trucks carrying the bombs are driving away from Los Alamos, Oppenheimer asks Matt Damon’s US Army major, ‘Do you want me to come to Washington?’ He is met with the cold response, ‘Why?’.

“It’s devastating,” Lame says, “a great punch to the gut, and one of the great break-up scenes of all time,” she says.

The last third of the film becomes more about Lewis Strauss, the Machiavellian politician played by Best Supporting Actor winner Robert Downey Jnr.

“Strauss is my favourite character,” Lame says. “What he did to Oppenheimer certainly wasn’t chivalrous but it was almost immature and that humanises him in my eyes. This is the way that power and politics work. These guys backstab each other.”

Oppenheimer is possibly the first drama shot on IMAX film cameras, a feat for which Dutch-Swedish director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema is honoured. It is his fourth collaboration with Nolan, following Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Tenet. He shot the picture on Kodak colour and custom-made black and white film stocks, explaining to British Cinematographer that his challenge was to shoot large format for a film that is effectively all about faces.

“To make close-ups consecutively interesting as a filmmaker is one of the biggest challenges you can have because with action scenes you can bring out the big guns, but to shoot emotions and faces and to do that for three hours and still be able to have enough talking power in your last close-up is the biggest challenge.”

Best Sound

Writer-director Jonathan Glazer devised The Zone of Interest as two films; the one we see and the one we hear.


The Zone of Interest

“We never go inside the [concentration] camp, but we had to figure out how to depict the camp only in sound,” Oscar-winning sound designer and regular Glazer collaborator Johnnie Burn told IBC365. “I panicked at the beginning since to have it all hinging on an enormous layer of sound felt an incredible responsibility. We wouldn’t know if the film was actually going to work until late in post-production.”

Burn scoured the Auschwitz archive for witness testimonies that had used descriptive language to describe what they had experienced and drawings left behind by survivors.

For the ‘family drama’, Burn hid dozens of mics around the house which had been built to the exact specification of the camp commander’s house by production designer Chris Oddy.

Burn said, “Normally in a film you want to capture the dialogue but here it was about capturing the sound of people in a house, their footsteps, teacups rattling.”

Read more Behind the Scenes: The Zone of Interest

After six months in post, a test screening led to some significant tweaks. “We had scenes which sounded quite pastoral with the sound of the crematoria only on in a couple of shots. Chris suggested that it didn’t sound as industrial as it should. He said, ‘You’ve undersold the scale of what is going on.’

“We went back and put in more sound of the crematorium constantly operating like a machine in the background. It’s not only historically accurate but provides a shorthand that circumvents the need for more sensationalised sound.”

Animated Feature

The darkness and shadows in Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-winning animation are a departure for director Hayao Miyazaki and give a glimpse into the 83-year-old’s personal story.

The Boy and the Heron draws from Miyazaki’s childhood memories of being evacuated from bombed-out cities and of his tuberculosis-stricken mother.

The muted colour palette at the beginning of the movie explodes into a fantastical world filled with vibrant creatures and characters.

“This is a film filled with a lot of Miyazaki’s own personal ideas,” Atsushi Okui, Miyazaki’s long-time director of photography told Letterboxd. “Until now it was all about capturing the liveliness and freedom that came with the characters, whereas with this film it’s more about expressing their innermost thoughts.”

In any other year, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse would have been a worthy winner for the animation gong. Its animators spent a lot of time developing tools to break the photoreal CG look and mimic the handcrafted line drawing of the original comics.


Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki was the surprise win for leading the VFX on Godzilla Minus One. The film cost just £10m and has recouped 10 times that amount, becoming the most successful Japanese film at the US box office. Yamazaki told Collider that just 35 people were responsible for 610 VFX shots over eight months, hinting at a sequel.

Read more Behind The Scenes: The Creator

Oppenheimer. Oscars

Oppenheimer also won best picture, best director for Christopher Nolan, best actor for Cillian Murphy and best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr.

Source: Universal Pictures

“When you have movies that feature kaiju battles, I think it’s very easy to put the spotlight and the camera on this massive spectacle, and it detaches itself from the human drama component. I would need to make sure that the human drama and whatever’s happening between the kaiju both have meaning, and both are able to affect one another in terms of plot development.”

The bookies’ favourite was special effects expert Britain’s Neil Corbould, nominated for three of the five shortlisted films, Napoleon, Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 and The Creator He told The Wrap that he’s grateful that special effects craft are still recognised, albeit under the banner of VFX. “For a while, we tried to get our own separate category, for practical effects, because we thought there was a timeline for when practical effects would be phased out, but in the last five or six years, practical effects have come on stronger than ever. People realise that you can’t do everything with CGI, or it looks like a cartoon and audiences lose interest.”

Read more Behind the Scenes: Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Production Design

There was an early plan to film Poor Things on location in cities like Prague before director Yorgos Lanthimos decided to construct Bella Baxter’s fantastical world inside Origo Studios, Budapest.

Production Designers James Price and Shona Heath took inspiration from the satirical drawings of Albert Guillaume made during the Belle Epoque era in Paris. “We always tried to imagine that this story was set in a past time, but with the vision of the future,” Heath explained.

Baxter’s house became Heath’s favourite set piece, which was inspired by the architect John Stone. Stone cut into walls and opened designs up, an idea which seemed to resonate with how Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) would treat his own home. “If you are a world-leading surgeon, you are going to create what you want. Baxter is a creator who has done something that no human being has done before, so his house is a manifestation of that,” Price adds.

If there was a category for Best Film Marketing then Barbie would have won hands down. Buzz was ramped up before release when production designer Sarah Greenwood ‘leaked’ the news that the world was running out of pink paint because it was all being used to create Barbieland at Warner Bros Leavesden.

Read more: Behind the Scenes: Poor Things