Courtesy of Netflix

February 22, 2024

The Oscar Nominees: The Ones I Liked Less

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Well, it can’t all be great. As good as this year’s Oscars slate is in comparison to say, 2021, it still isn’t quite able to escape the inadequacies or odd choices befitting any body of wealthy West Coast liberals and reactionary octogenarians. There isn’t a Green Book this year, or any other film whose victory might call into question the value of the exercise itself, but (unless you suffer from the same brand of brain rot as me) watching all the nominees is never a necessity to cover the best of this year in movies. Here are the ones you can skip: 

The Holdovers 

I hate to be the curmudgeon unable to find much of the joy in this film about a curmudgeonly old man finding joy, but — alas — The Holdovers was not for me. I’m incredibly sympathetic to its warm nostalgia for ’70s aesthetics, even if the specific genre its cribbing from has never particularly appealed to me. And, as with each of the other films on this list, I can’t help but love some of the performances, particularly one from Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who significantly elevates the film in every single one of the startling few moments she spends on screen. Otherwise, the saccharine nostalgia of the whole exercise feels in service of nothing, merely an attempt to goad an emotional reaction out of a viewer who has inevitably also felt lonely at one time or another. The film telegraphs itself beat-by-beat in its opening moments, and it feels as though it could largely be reconstructed by a chimpanzee with a general familiarity with genre tropes. For all of its predictability, it still manages to stretch itself into a two-plus hour runtime with a final quarter that is nothing if not excruciating. I’ll confess to a bit of bias here — I generally reel at the notion of a movie offering me a warm hug — but if you do find yourself wanting a feel good movie, you can do much better than The Holdovers, a film only worth watching for a viciously hilarious joke at the expense of the average Cornell legacy (and stoppable after that point). 

Poor Things 

One can’t help but be disappointed by the fact that Poor Things, billed as a feminist Frankenstein film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and starring an eclectic collection of Hollywood’s most exciting character actors and stand-up comedians alike, doesn’t really amount to much more than an overlong, undercooked mess of boredom, save for the occasional eye-popping performance. What starts promising, with some fairly funny sequences of Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter rapidly ascending through various mental ages, soon gives way to toothless shock value and empty philosophizing. For a film so obsessed with foregrounding constant sex scenes, there doesn’t seem to be any interrogation of where or why that sex differs in the fantasy setting than in an actual societal context. Sure, it’s silly that we’ve formed such taboos and stigmas over conversations around pleasure, but if the silliness is as far as you’re willing to go, you lose a lot of the more startling realities that both undergird and contribute to this stigmatization. Worse still, the film obsesses itself with the carefree exaltation of buzzwords: Socialism, nihilism and various other slivers of ideology find themselves jammed in the script devoid of both meaning and context. The film desperately wants to establish Bella’s journey as one of exuberant self-discovery, beginning in childlike innocence and ending with “true” maturity; yet, by the end, there is little indication that Bella’s achieved anything other than the intellectual ammunition to conceal her vapidity in fancy language. Ultimately, though, the failure of Poor Things boils down not to ideology (or lack thereof), but to a thinly stretched narrative that trudges on far longer than a viewer’s attention span. The greatest sin of Poor Things is that it’s extremely boring: No transformative performance or exciting color palette can fix that. 


My most radical take on Maestro, given the film’s discourse on Twitter and elsewhere, may not actually be that it isn’t good, but that it’s not that bad. For all of its weird, semi-adherence to biopic norms and half-baked, largely failed deconstructions of Great Man theory , it still features two legitimately impressive Acting performances from Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper. The decision to frame the story around the two, and center Bernstein’s sexuality gives the film its greatest moments and prevents the whole affair from congealing into anything more than a few entertaining scenes. Maestro opens (after an in media res generic biopic end-of-life interview) with an extended black-and-white sequence of Bernstein wooing his future wife, complete with magical realist touches and sweaty, this-is-Cinema filmmaking flourishes. As the film goes on, it shifts into a drearier mid-century Americana color scheme, plants the camera more firmly in place and dutifully performs the boring biopic’s domestic drama beats with the twist that they now occupy the film’s central plot. It isn’t devoid of fun — I quite enjoyed an unbroken scene depicting Bernstein’s flirtation —  and the third act’s emotional beats occasionally succeed, but Maestro is a collection of exciting moments in search of an exciting film. By the end, the great scenes and the bad ones end up lying forgotten alongside Cooper’s dashed Oscar dreams and absurd campaign trail anecdotes. 

 Max Fattal is a junior in the School of Industrial Labor Relations. They can be reached at [email protected]