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Oscars 2024 Review Roundup & My Awards Picks

Tonight is the who careseth Academy Awards where Hollyweird gets together to conclude Awards Season with the biggest show of self congratulations. As I've done in recent years I attempted to watch as many of the nominees in the Best Picture, Best Director, and the two screenplay and four acting categories in what I've termed the Oscars Death March as there are frequently movies I had no interest in that, in the name of wanting to make informed judgements and know where Oscar blew it or got it right, I had to see.

This year with the fixed number of Best Picture contenders at 10 that meant there were 45 nominees to slog through and in my best ever performance, I saw 43 of them including ALL the Best Picture nominees AND managed to get reviews posted for all but one (Barbie) which I viewed too long ago to properly review and want to revisit to properly evaluate.

What follows is who I would've voted for if I had an Academy ballot. (In tribute to Siskel & Ebert's traditional "If We Picked The Winners" show.) I will count down from #10 to my ultimate vote getter (I think Oscar uses ranked voting, so this is the inverse of how they'd tally) and then run through the individual awards with comments.

But enough of my yakking. Let's boogie!

#10 - Killers of the Flower Moon (Score: 3/10) - Martin Scorsese's interminable story of white oppression and murder of the Osage Indians in the 1920s was a team up with his two biggest muses, De Niro and DiCaprio, and it was 2 hours of movie dragged out for 3-1/2 hours. The only Skip It review of all nominees.

#9 - The Zone of Interest (5/10) - The banality of evil gets an extended remix in this odd dry film about living next door to Auschwitz with the sounds and ashes of genocide wafting into a Nazi family's idyllic life. Great sound design, but drones on too long.

#8 - Past Lives (6/10) - One of three foreign language films and the smallest in scale that I have no idea why it's in the running with it's frustrating story of unrequited pining. Greta Lee deserved to be nominated Best Actress, though.

#7 - Oppenheimer (6/10) - The odds-on favorite to win big is Christopher Nolan's first movie that I haven't actively hated since Inception. Not that it's a particularly good movie as it manages to sound and fury the impression of something substantive for three hours while being maddeningly sparse. Congrats for not sucking, Chris. Enjoy your career makeup Oscars - this is your The Departed.

#6 - Maestro (7/10) - Bradley Cooper's Oscar bait tour de force has the look and performances, but is undercut by a screenplay that chooses to look at the periphery of the Leonard Bernstein's life thus requiring viewers to come in with too much knowledge of his music on their own. He should've been nominated for direction over screenwriting.

#5 - Anatomy of a Fall (7/10) - An interesting psychological legal drama that lands with a splat due to an ambiguous, choose-your-own-ending-and-meaning conclusion that leaves the viewer high and dry and unsatisfied.

#4 - The Holdovers (7/10) - An odd retro-styled throwback to the way movies were in the early-1970s with a somewhat shaggy story propelled by nuanced performances by Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The script is somewhat unsatisfying in the end, but has a lot of rich moments throughout which liven up the stock plot.

#3 - Barbie (7.5/10 pending review) - Considering the political firestorm around the blockbuster #1 movie of 2023 with one side calling it the greatest feminist triumph ever and the other calling it a misandrist hate crime and some contrary opinions in between, I was surprised that I mostly enjoyed Greta Gerwig's plastic fantastic toy commercial. While the score may change, the ranking is unlikely to move other than perhaps switching with The Holdovers.

#2 - Poor Things (8.5/10) - Yorgos Lanthimos' absolutely bonkers take on Frankenstein is the year's most original movie, weird, wacky, wild and what movies are supposed to do: Show you people and places you've never seen. Emma Stone gives a career best performance and should win her second Oscar for it.

Which leaves us my vote for Best Picture....

#1 - American Fiction (9/10) - Lost behind the generic title (seriously, how many "America [Second Word]" movies are there? American Psycho, American Sniper, American Gangster/Pie/Graffiti/Made/Beauty/Etc.) is one of the sharpest satires in memory running along with a surprisingly layered and warm family drama that mocks white liberal racism while telling a story about people who are black, but not Hollyweird's stereotypical Magical Negro or Helpless Victim framing. Writer-Director Cord Jefferson has created something special and I hope he doesn't fall off like Jordan Peele did after Get Out. Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown are excellent.

This is the first Best Picture vote that I'd be enthused to cast in a long time as even the "best movies in past years were flawed like Parasite or Nomadland. It doesn't stand a chance this year - or any year - but at least it was nominated. Go watch it. (It's currently on Fubo and MGM+; hopefully it will migrate to a more common service.)

And now onto the rest of the categories with my votes in bold and comments:

Justine Triet - ANATOMY OF A FALL
Christopher Nolan - OPPENHEIMER
Yorgos Lanthimos - POOR THINGS
Jonathan Glazer - THE ZONE OF INTEREST

Nolan is going to win, but Lanthimos is the best director in a weak field where three of the nominees could've been replaced by others like Bradley Cooper or Greta Gerwig. He made the most original and stylistic film of the year. It's on Hulu now. Go watch it.

Bradley Cooper in MAESTRO
Colman Domingo in RUSTIN
Paul Giamatti in THE HOLDOVERS
Cillian Murphy in OPPENHEIMER
Jeffrey Wright in AMERICAN FICTION

Giamatti gives his most Giamatti performance here, but it's not just more of the same. I just wish the script had resolved more satisfactorily. It's a toss-up between him and Murphy to win, but my 2nd choice would be Wright as he's been so good for so long and this is his first real leading showcase and he kills it.

I didn't see Domingo in Rustin because the movie didn't interest me, the reviews were bad, and he wasn't going to win.

Annette Bening in NYAD
Sandra Hüller in ANATOMY OF A FALL
Carey Mulligan in MAESTRO
Emma Stone in POOR THINGS

Stone delivers the boldest and bravest performance of the year (and not just because she sailed into Mr. Skin's "Great Nudity" ranking with her overload of sex scenes here which weren't that sexy which was the point). She's always been a very subtle actor thanks to her giant Na'vi-sized eyes - just watch the audition scene in La La Land as she realizes they're not paying attention - but here she has to arc Bella from a toddler's mentality to a bright woman's with matching physicality and an English accent to boot.

If Gladstone beats her because the Academy wants to Make History, it'd be a traveshamockery. Greta Lee (Past Lives) should've been nominated over her and perhaps Hüller.

Sterling K. Brown in AMERICAN FICTION
Robert Downey Jr. in OPPENHEIMER
Ryan Gosling in BARBIE
Mark Ruffalo in POOR THINGS

A stacked year with all deserving contenders that edged out some other good performances. Downey is going to win and should win both as a lifetime achievement award and being the only really recognizably human character in the clinical Oppenheimer. 2nd choice would be Brown or Gosling.

Emily Blunt in OPPENHEIMER
Danielle Brooks in THE COLOR PURPLE
America Ferrera in BARBIE
Jodie Foster in NYAD
Da'Vine Joy Randolph in THE HOLDOVERS

 The surest bet of the night and deservedly so as she had the most to do and nailed it. 2nd choice would probably be Foster who's making a comeback lately and this was far better than her turn in True Detective: Night Country. Ferrera is here solely because of her thesis statement rant about how persecuted women are which was pure agitprop and the worst moment in the movie.

Brooks was the only other performance I missed because I haven't seen the original The Color Purple since it was in theaters and I recently bought it in 4K and wanted to revisit that before watching the musical remake. As the sole nomination from the movie, she has no chance and was thus deprioritized, but I'll catch it eventually.

BARBIE - Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach
OPPENHEIMER - Christopher Nolan
POOR THINGS - Tony McNamara
THE ZONE OF INTEREST - Jonathan Glazer

Best pictures start with best screenplays, so this is the gimme. My 2nd pick would be Barbie because while it's stuck in the Adapted category due to it being based on the dolls, it's not as if there was a source book like every other nominee had to draw from and what Gerwig and Baumbach did was quite unique.

ANATOMY OF A FALL - Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
THE HOLDOVERS - David Hemingson
MAESTRO - Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer
MAY DECEMBER - Screenplay by Samy Burch; Story by Samy Burch & Alex Mechanik
PAST LIVES - Celine Song
As noted, Barbie should be here, and frankly I'm not super enthused about any of the nominees, so I'm going with The Holdovers for being the least flawed of the lot. Based on my issues with the rest, no 2nd pick. Weakest category of the Death March.

So that's it for this year's Oscars Death March other than catching The Color Purple (2023) and rewatching Barbie. With the exception of Killers of the Flower Moon, there weren't many movies that were too much of a chore to get through and for the most part the nominations and likely winners aren't worth burning a city down over. There could be a few upsets if the Academy decides to spread the wealth around as they've tended to do, but as long as Gladstone doesn't beat Stone (that would merit a small riot) I'll allow it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.


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