The Oscar Nominees: The Ones I Liked Less

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.

The Oscar Nominees: The Ones I Liked*

I may have aged another year, but I remain in the same state of arrested development that holds dear a decade-long obsession with the Academy Awards. This year, at least, has been an uncharacteristically good year for the kind of prestige awards fodder that ends up nominated, and though (as always) I didn’t like everything, I found a lot of really enjoyable bits in almost all the best picture nominees, even the bad ones. I’ve already reviewed Killers of the Flower Moon, The Zone of Interest and Barbie/Oppenheimer for The Sun (not to mention the excellent reviews of the last two from other Staff Writers), but there are six more Best Picture nominees that are worth talking about. Although the distinction is arbitrary, I’ve split them into two articles, one covering the ones I liked (or reservedly recommend) and another the ones I liked less (or think might merit a skip). Without further ado, here are the ones I liked: 

American Fiction 

Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction, adapted from the 2001 novel Erasure, attempts to simultaneously satire the current state of Black literature and backdoor a compelling family drama in the space of two hours.

‘The Zone of Interest’ and Creeping Desensitization

Content Warning: Genocide

Adapted from a Martin Amis novel, Jonathon Glazer’s The Zone of Interest follows the inner lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolph Höss and his wife Hedwig, focusing its attention on family strife and workplace politics rather than the unspeakable horrors happening on the opposite side of the camp’s walls. Constantly breaking the 180-degree rule, diverting into avant-garde infrared sequences and displaying long, would-be boring depictions of domestic life, the film sets out to put off its own audience, confronting both the ability of cinema to narrativize evil and the startling comfort of an audience in engaging with it. Nearly every scene is set against a vomit-inducing soundscape that combines the machinery of death with the human reactions that it inspires (and the subsequent gunfire and dog barks part and parcel to the repression). It’s one of last years’ most difficult films but also one of its most essential, a treatise on the ease with which horror is tuned out just as its modern analogue is more visible than ever. 

The obvious comparator text for The Zone of Interest is Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, possibly the definitive visual document of the Holocaust and a film most notable for its refusal to show a second of archival footage. Glazer, who isn’t painting with a documentary canvas, must represent Auschwitz as an operating camp, but he too restrains his camera from ever actually depicting images either of genocide or those doomed to it.

I LOVE IT | Ode to Long Movies

Not every film can be enjoyed in a single evening. As you get into cinephilia, downloading Letterboxd and looking at their Top 250 (or perhaps those of Sight and Sound or AFI), you may come across those select few movies with runtimes that look like mistakes: Jesus Christ, how many hours even is 317 minutes? Some people end up shutting those movies out, excluding them from any potential watchlist for the obscene commitment they ask of audiences. Others, like me, set them aside as projects on a bucket list… I knew I couldn’t avoid Jacques Rivette my whole life. Earlier this month, I made that bucket list a whole lot shorter, watching a dozen or so of these ultralong “project” movies over break.

Movies to Get Through a Breakup

Alright. You’ve read the headline. You get what’s happening here: I went through a breakup; I watch a lot of movies; now, I’m looking back and attempting to confer upon them some sort of rhyme and reason to distinguish the ones that helped from the ones that hurt and all that jazz. Movies are a super cool window into universal experience, and there’s a lot that they can do in helping you take steps towards feeling better. But even the most hardcore cinephile will tell you that there are limits to the healing powers of movies.

The Blood-Curdling Sadness of All of Us Strangers

I took my mom to see All of Us Strangers over the break, after American Fiction had sold out and Poor Things had seemed a bit explicit for a family viewing. She liked the movie but noted that the conclusion had confused her: Why wasn’t Adam sadder in the end? After all, the final “twist” of the film is unambiguously devastating, and he does seem to take it fairly well. I found it less frustrating from a narrative perspective, but nonetheless troubling for the film’s conclusion. Sold as this year’s  “most likely to make you cry” film, All of Us Strangers does not simply tug at the heartstrings or offer a moment of cathartic melancholy, but rather renders in its viewer a sense of unshakeable loneliness, as necessary to the human condition as is its denial to a peaceful existence.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’: Waning Hope, Aging Masters and the Moment

This article spoils Killers of the Flower Moon, though it should be noted that the nature of the film renders the spoilers somewhat benign. 

TW: Genocide

I’ve spent the weekend caught between two entirely contradictory thoughts, each reflected in a piece of media from the week before. The first is the conclusion to Arielle Angel’s article on the Hamas attacks and Israel’s genocidal response, articulating in a moment of truly devastating hopelessness a vision of possibility to hold close. There has never been a period in U.S. history of greater solidarity with Palestine, nor of greater Jewish participation in that solidarity. The other is the concluding moments of Martin Scorsese’s new masterpiece Killers of the Flower Moon: Both bitterly satirical and somehow earnest, a vision not just of evil’s inevitability, but of the function of art as a commodity to fetishize it, and all spoken by a man who’s dedicated his life to the rejection of evil and embrace of art. Scorsese’s exclamation point of bleakness comes at the end of perhaps his deepest felt tragedy to date, an indictment absent of nearly any reprieve. 

Killers of the Flower Moon adapts David Grann’s nonfiction book of the same name and follows a string of murders perpetrated against members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation by white capitalists and their manipulated lieutenants.

FATTAL | On Israel, Direction of Anger and Liberation

TW: Genocide, Anti-semitism, Islamaphobia, Sexual Violence

Getting on the bus for a weekend out-of-town on Thursday, I was already thinking about Israel. I’d stumbled upon a Jacobin article about Ken Loach (the socialist filmmaker who comes up a lot in English-speaking Europe) defending the director against longstanding claims of antisemitism as he releases his final film. I’d only seen one Loach film, and can’t speak too deeply about him, though his subjects and labor focus are to me unambiguously commendable. As for the anti-semitism, I remained unconvinced by the specific allegations refuted either in the Jacobin article or in my due diligence “both sides” readings of his accusers. I watched The Old Oak yesterday.

Travelog: ‘Made in U.S.A’

How to react. Going to listen to vaguely defined live music in Dublin only to experience an American accent, complete with a Southern Twang and frat house classics. The artists are Irish, but their vocal patterns are spot on: The accents are part of the performance, it is all imitation.  

The complaints here are twofold. On one hand, there’s that surface level frustration at a failure to experience authentic Irish music, an unfair expectation and frankly silly desire that still manages to worm its way into one’s head every time it remains either unfulfilled or fulfilled only in the most touristy context (that is to say, for Americans and Americans only). Legitimately pernicious though, and perhaps a more valid complaint, is that presentation of American music devoid of any cultural context.