Ah, it’s my favourite time of the year again, the Oscars season! With my new local cinema membership, I hope to catch up on the films nominated for the prestigious Best Picture award. I will admit, being located in the UK, the British equivalent of the BAFTAs is also on my radar, but my heart will always go to the Dolby Theatre in sunny Hollywood, California. Without further ado, here are my reviews, upcoming screenings and predictions for the 2024 Academy Awards!
I haven’t seen this yet, so expect a review to be coming very soon! I did however catch a trailer before watching Maestro at the cinema, and I was very interested in what the story has to tell in the film. The film focuses on a struggling novelist who is frustrated at the Black entertainment industry that profits from tired and offensive tropes. To prove his point, he writes an equally outlandish book under a penname which soon becomes a breakout hit, pushing him into the madness that he tries to critique. Provoking, yes, with probably an equal amount of comedy in the situation that this educated writer has found himself settled in.
Quick review: fantastic film that does have a good amount of comedy attached to it. I felt the main narrative played more in the background of the drama surrounding the characters, but it was a great balance, done much better than something like Dream Scenario. One scene in particular made me smile as a writer and it was sad not to see more of the scenes in that direction, but the ending does make up for it. Great performances and right up there as one of the best films on the nominations list. If Hollywood felt the need to pat itself on the back, like they usually do, this would be a top contender for Best Picture.
Anatomy of a Fall
This was the first Surprise Film that I saw at my new local cinema with my membership and boy, a French film was certainly a surprise to fall into! I was debating whether or not to write a review here for an international piece of cinema but with it being rightfully nominated for Best Picture, I have to mention it here. While a good portion of the dialogue is in French, about a quarter of it is also in English, so one does get a break from the subtitles now and then if that’s not your thing. The film is about a writer who is suspected of the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s death and their visually impaired son is conflicted, being the only witness to the lead-up to the event. With a narrative gripping you to the edge of your seat and an equally compelling courtroom sequence after the investigation, I would say this is one of the best films I saw in cinemas last year for sure.
Of course, we can’t talk about 2024 without mentioning the Barbie movie. Thinking that Mattel and Warner Bros. had gone off the deep end by making a movie about a girl’s dress-up doll and casting Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as the lead Barbie and Ken, respectfully, it’s amazing that they got anyone in cinemas, much less earn a Best Picture nomination. Still, with talented director Greta Gerwig at the helm, (I’m in the camp that she should have been nominated for Best Director as well) Barbie is much more than the pink-coloured production that it shows off on the surface. It’s not a deep film and it can get a little hostile toward the patriarchy at times, but it plays both sides well enough in the narrative for an entertaining two hours. Is it the best film of the year? Probably not, but it deserves the recognition of the nomination if only for the cultural impact that Barbie left on everyone. If you want to talk about the saviour of cinemas, she’s wearing high heels and looking fabulous.
The most recent film I saw in cinemas which, given the UK’s release schedule, felt out of date since this is a holiday Christmas movie. The Holdovers is from a director that I can confidently say is not my favourite, but seeing the trailer, I was captivated by the 1970s aesthetic on display and was ultimately thrilled that the same effect was highlighted in the full feature. It’s not your typical heartwarming holiday film, but it is a film with a lot of heart in between the depression and hard-to-swallow parts of the Christmas season. Paul Giamatti’s performance was a pleasure to watch and Da’Vine Joy Randolph matched just as strongly in this entertaining ensemble. I didn’t see it in 2023, but it certainly started my 2024 strong.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Before my local cinema opened its doors, I did manage to catch a preview screening of Martin Scorsese’s latest epic in theatres. Boasting a three-and-a-half-hour runtime, not unlike Scorsese’s past Oscar nomination, The Irishman, this was going to be a challenge to watch in one sitting. (At least with The Irishman, it was a home release on Netflix.) Still, the story of the Osage Nation and a series of murders investigated by the FBI kept me on the edge of my seat with the grand performances of Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio, boosted by Robert De Niro in the ensemble as well. The only major critique I have is the film’s ending, which gave a very strange way to wrap up the historical fiction that is based on the true story of the native American Osage community. Length does not necessarily lead to a Best Picture award, and while it is a solid film, it’s not the best that the year had to offer.
I didn’t know too much about this film other than it was in black-and-white and it was starring Bradley Cooper. Still, that was enough to get me into the cinema to watch it and I wasn’t disappointed. Controversy aside, the film is about the life of famous orchestra conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and the dram with his relationship with Felicia Montealegre. Overall, the narrative was interesting enough to follow the drama about a man that was in a sense, divided between the two halves of himself. It’s great for a film to highlight a main subject that appears to be bisexual, but aside from that, it doesn’t have much to break away from the rest of the Oscar contenders. A fine film with an interesting narrative, but not Best Picture worthy, I’m afraid.
The other half of the cultural phenomenon poised to bring people to the cinema, I sadly haven’t seen Oppenheimer as of yet. My gut pick went to Barbie before I had access to my local cinema’s affordable pricing. The long run-time, not unlike Flower Moon, also had me a bit weary to cut out the time needed to watch it. Still, I do hear it is a great film and probably well-deserving of its nomination. If the courtroom sequence is anything like Anatomy of a Fall, then those three hours will probably fly by in the final stretch. I will eventually get around to watching it, most likely at home so I can pause it if needed.
Another film that I did not get around to watching. I did see a trailer for it and it looked interesting. Past Lives is about two childhood friends from South Korea who are split apart, only to be reunited when they are older for a week in New York City. It sounds like sort of my type of movie, but it wasn’t a high priority on my radar. I hope I can find some way to watch it before the Awards ceremony.
Ah, the duality of an Oscar nomination. I did want to watch this film, but sadly, some of the graphic details prevented me from buying a ticket to a screening. Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo, all involved in a Frankenstein-esque narrative full of adventure and self-discovery? Sounds like a great time, aside from the things that I am easily sensitive to, the horror and graphic pieces to the composition if you will. I do wish I could watch this film since I do hear it’s fantastic and deserving of the nomination, but alas, it’s not in the cards for me. Even if it wins Best Picture, this may be one thing that will escape my reach.
The Zone of Interest
On the opposite end, a historical drama film about the family of a commander of a Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz, does not sound like a film I want to watch. But with a Best Picture nomination, it might find its way to me watching it at some point. I’m all for international cinema, but when it comes to those guys from World War II, it’s a hard sell in my book. Still, with a 12A (PG-13) certificate, it can’t be that bad, can it?
Quick review: It was that bad. Not from like an offensive or disturbing material perspective, but out of all the films on this list, this was one I just plain did not like. It’s not a bad film in its direction or composition, but the overall movie is just so dull. Sure, I don’t expect non-stop action from something revolving around the Holocaust, but I wanted to be engaged enough to feel like I didn’t waste two hours seeing how far the juxtaposition between Nazi atrocities and family life can go. To me, who has been exposed and taught of the intolerance demonstrated in this period of world history, this brought nothing new to light. It’s great that it’s enlightening to those in society who might not have been aware of the darker details of these men, but I can’t say this was anywhere close to the best film of the year. The Academy would be well off the mark to recognise a film like this as Best Picture, given how much of it doesn’t meet the standards in my books.
And that’s all of the films nominated for Best Picture that I’ve seen, so far. If I had to put a wager, I’d say Oppenheimer has the best chance to win the award, but my personal favourites have to be American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, and The Holdovers. What I would want to see win the award? Anatomy of a Fall has all of the pieces I consider a Best Picture to be, thrilling from start to finish. Yes, a good portion of it is in French, but as Academy Award-winning director Bong Joon Ho once said, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” That’s not to say that most of these films are all amazing in their own right and deserve to be recognised.
The 96th Academy Awards will be televised live, coast-to-coast, on March 10th, 2024 at 7 pm EST/4 pm PST on ABC.