Matt at the Movies: Awards Season News as New Reviews Give Matt a Case of the “Feels”
Matt recaps the Oscar Nominations and reviews "American Fiction" and "All of Us Strangers"
Bring on Awards Season
Breaking: Oscar Nominations
The day has finally come! Actors Zazie Beetz and Jack Quaid announced this year’s Academy Award nominees via live stream at 8:30 AM. The nominees will battle out for industry supremacy at the 96th annual Oscars on Sunday, March 10th. It’s my favorite time of the year.
Oppenheimer leads the way with thirteen nominations, and Poor Things comes second with eleven. It’s important to note that individual guilds are in charge of the Oscar nominees while the larger Academy voting body determines the winners. Often voters don’t have enough time or can’t be bothered to watch all nominees, so they often lean on their various guilds’ opinions while making selections.
Let’s take a quick look at the selections the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences get to choose from.
Best Picture Nominees
"Anatomy of a Fall"
"Killers of the Flower Moon"
"The Zone of Interest"
Zero surprises in the Best Picture category. Nice to see Past Lives hold on for a nomination over May December. Both foreign entries have been praised since their film festival screenings and are well deserving. Oppenheimer should take the big prize.
Justine Triet, "Anatomy of a Fall"
Martin Scorsese, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Christopher Nolan, "Oppenheimer"
Yorgos Lanthimos, "Poor Things"
Jonathan Glazer, "The Zone of Interest"
Justine Triet seemed to take Greta Gerwig’s (Barbie) spot for her work directing Anatomy of a Fall. Easily the most controversial selection of the day and will lead to many warranted tweets and social media posts in her defense. Martin Scorsese was nominated for the tenth time as best director making him second to only William Wyler (12), but this is Christopher Nolan’s race to lose.
Bradley Cooper, "Maestro"
Colman Domingo, "Rustin"
Paul Giamatti, "The Holdovers"
Cillian Murphy, "Oppenheimer"
Jeffrey Wright, "American Fiction"
I think the Academy got the Best Actor category correct, but you could easily make a case for Andrew Scott from All of Us Strangers (see our review below) instead of either Bradley Cooper or Colman Domingo. This “snub” was the most heartbreaking for me - it’s a great performance in a mesmerizing film. Leonardo DiCaprio was left out for Killers of the Flower Moon, but he served more as the story's vehicle than its star.
Annette Bening, "Nyad"
Lily Gladstone, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Sandra Hüller, "Anatomy of a Fall"
Carey Mulligan, "Maestro"
Emma Stone, "Poor Things"
Emma Stone vs. Lily Gladstone is officially on.
Also great to see Sandra Hüller get her due with Anatomy of a Fall, where she plays a mother trying to exonerate herself from her husband's death. Many will say Margot Robbie deserved a nod for Barbie, but it’s not as big a snub as leaving Gerwig out of the Director race.
Finally, is Annette Benning the new Glenn Close? She most likely took Julianne Moore’s spot for May December with her work in Nyad (both streaming on Netflix).
Best Supporting Actor
Sterling K. Brown, "American Fiction"
Robert De Niro, "Killers of the Flower Moon"
Robert Downey Jr., "Oppenheimer"
Ryan Gosling, "Barbie"
Mark Ruffalo, "Poor Things"
Excellent choices for Best Supporting Actor and great to see Sterling K. Brown getting his shine for American Fiction. The Academy went with Ruffalo over DaFoe from Poor Things which was the correct choice as Ruffalo was fabulous as well as off the wall. Sad to see Paul Mescal shut out for All of Us Strangers.
Best Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt, "Oppenheimer"
Danielle Brooks, "The Color Purple"
America Ferrera, "Barbie"
Jodie Foster, "Nyad"
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, "The Holdovers"
Nice mix for Best Supporting Actress with some love for The Color Purple’s Danielle Brooks. Look for Da’Vine Joy Randolph to reign supreme.
Best Adapted Screenplay
"American Fiction" - Cord Jefferson
"Barbie" - Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
"Oppenheimer" - Christopher Nolan
"Poor Things" - Tony McNamara
"The Zone of Interest" - Jonathan Glazer
Best Original Screenplay
"Anatomy of a Fall" - Justine Triet, Arthur Harari
"The Holdovers" - David Hemingson
"Maestro" - Bradley Cooper, Josh Singer
"May December" - Samy Burch, Alex Mechanik
"Past Lives" - Celine Song
Both the Adapted and Original Screenplay categories are litanies of worthy films. These will easily be the two toughest categories to predict in my eyes.
Best International Feature Film
"Io Capitano" (Italy)
"Perfect Days" (Japan)
"Society of the Snow" (Spain)
"The Teachers’ Lounge" (Germany)
"The Zone of Interest" (United Kingdom)
Best International Feature did not play out the way France had hoped as A Taste of Things failed nomination while Anatomy of a Fall would have been a lock to be nominated and possibly win. Should be The Zone of Interest’s to lose.
Best Visual Effects
"Godzilla Minus One"
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"
"Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One"
Best Original Song
"The Fire Inside" from "Flamin’ Hot"
"I'm Just Ken" from "Barbie"
"It Never Went Away" from "American Symphony"
"Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)" from "Killers of the Flower Moon"
"What Was I Made For?" from "Barbie"
Hoping to see The Creator pick up visual effects and god willing “I’m Just Ken” take home Best Original Song from Barbie.
Finally, we’ll have our Oscar email exchange with friend of Matt at the Movies Dana Gillis in the next few weeks.
Oppenheimer Conquers Golden Globes
The 81st Golden Globe Awards had few surprises in store on January 7.
After the recently dissolved Hollywood Foreign Press Association took a year-long break to restructure themselves after myriad controversies, the voting body of 300 international journalists is more diverse and seems to be more in line with the mainstream Hollywood consensus.
Comedian Jo Koy, who took the gig no one wanted only ten days before presenting, had a very tough night as Hollywood did not seem to gel with his brand of comedy from the opening monologue until end credits. Koy went as far as to throw his writers under the bus on live broadcast for jokes not hitting with the audience.
The presenters themselves were mixed as some bits hit while others tried too hard or went on too long. 6.25 million viewers tuned in, which is a 10% decrease from the last telecast in 2021 according to The Hollywood Reporter. They probably need a more recognizable face to host next year, and this often breezy inebriated affair should be back to full steam in the coming years. Onto the awards themselves.
Oppenheimer reigned supreme, winning the head-to-head with Barbie. Of the twenty film and TV awards handed out only one, Anatomy of a Fall for Best Screenplay, was considered an upset. The first or second choice by most critics and prognosticators picked up every other award with Oppenheimer garnering five trophies. Barbie, The Holdovers, Poor Things, and Anatomy of a Fall left with two apiece in the film categories, splitting the consensus.
Left out in the cold were Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, American Fiction, Zone of Interest, and Killers of the Flower Moon, which only won an acting award for Lily Gladstone despite many other nominations. Will this awards season be a repeat of last year’s Everything Everywhere All at Once domination for Oppenheimer or will other awards shows create an even distribution of winners (which has been the normal trend for years)?
Even More Awards Shows
Elsewhere, The Critics’ Choice Awards results are also in with similar results to the Globes. Without the separate acting categories for comedy and drama, Giamatti beat out Murphy for Best Actor and Stone bested Gladstone for Best Actress with Oppenheimer still taking home best picture.
The Screen Actors Guild has also released their nominees for their awards show, which will stream live on Netflix on February 24th.
Now for the Reviews
The must see list for Oscar’s best pic race of 2024 is officially shrunk. The final most likely nominated film, Zone of Interest, will begin playing on January 25th at the Independent Picture House.
This week Matt at the Movies checks off the Jeffrey Wright-led examination of culture stereotypes comedy American Fiction (currently playing at IPH) and the gut wrenching fantasy romance All of Us Strangers. There is no way to tie these two stories together other than to note they both feature loss, grief, and deep exploration of each protagonist's station in life as writers. What does it mean to live through the black or gay experience in contemporary society? This is a key tie into both stories that feature sadness and joy. It’s time to get a case of the “feels” with two wildly different but touching films.
In a Nutshell
Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a modestly successful novelist and literature professor on the West Coast. His department puts him on leave after several disastrous run-ins with students, who often get put in their place by the professor. Ellison is trying to get his higher-brow novels bought by various publishers. His literary agent Arthur (John Ortiz) has little success, so Monk decides to travel home to visit his family in Boston.
The family's patriarch was a successful doctor who has recently passed, and their mother is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and recently divorced, outed brother Clifford (Sterling K. Brown) are both doctors in their own stages of personal turmoil when another family tragedy hits. Monk must now take the lead to grieve with his remaining family, find care for his quickly deteriorating mother, and work on his own anger issues.
This family drama, while the heart of the movie, is only half of the story of the film. The other half is a wickedly funny dark comedy that sees Monk hit back at the publishing establishment, skewering editors who exploit stereotypical Black stories written by Black authors to profit from mostly white audiences. As Monk attends a yearly writing workshop with various authors, he walks into a reading by new best-selling author Sintara Golden (Issa Rae). Her novel is all the worst parts of the industry that he disdains - stories he feels reduce the Black experience to the trauma porn of crime, drugs, poverty, “feel good” stories, and police violence with the most egregiously offensive cliched formulas imaginable. Monk is inspired to prove a point to the literary world by unmasking this trend.
One drunken night he writes the most over-the-top, reductive novel about Black life in America he can imagine and gives it to Arthur to pitch to the publishing houses under the pen name “Stagg R. Leigh.” Within days, he has multiple large advance deals for his story and production companies offering millions for the rights to adapt to films.
On his conference call with prospective publishers, Monk decides to raise the stakes, proclaiming that Stagg R. Leigh is a fugitive on the run. The media eats up this invented narrative and promotes the story - along with Monk’s fake persona- to the public at large. Monk now has himself in a pickle: cash out and take the money in hopes of providing care for his ailing mother, or preserve his integrity and expose the hypocrisy that led him to write the novel in the first place.
Time is money, why should I go?
The number of times I chuckled at the absurdity of Monk’s conversations with various publishers and Hollywood producers - all completely oblivious to his farce - was as funny as it was sad. American Fiction is a biting but melancholy movie that serves as both a family drama and an excellent critique of the arts from the eyes of minority artists. Monk says it himself: “I don’t need to be a Black author to sell books. Why can’t I just be an author who happens to be Black?”.
Spill the Tea
Writer/director Cord Jefferson is coming off a Best Adapted Screenplay Critics Choice Award win for his job adapting Percival Everett’s (The Trees) 2001 novel Erasure. In a The Big Picture podcast interview with Jefferson, the director tells the story of how he made a successful pitch on a phone call with Everett - who often is not in the business of lending out his work - which secured the rights to adapt the material.
Jefferson also reveals he always had Jeffrey Wright in mind to play “Monk.” In turn, Wright’s performance has been lauded by fans and critics alike with Best Actor nominations in every major awards show this season. The film won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Star of the Show
Friend of Y’all Weekly Jeffrey Wright began on Broadway, earning a Tony and later Emmy Award for his work in Angels in America. He has made a career of pursuing more artistic roles like Basquiat or The French Dispatch while also starring in major franchises like James Bond, The Hunger Games, or The Batman reboot from last year.
He often plays a confident and erudite character, like in his multi-season role as Bernard in HBO’s Westworld. He’s the perfect fit for Monk as an overeducated, angry-at-the-world author fed up with the phoniness surrounding him. Wright gives Monk’s character a lot of depth. His reactions and mannerisms when seeing or experiencing Black stereotypes are some of the funniest moments in the film. Wright expertly conveys the feeling that everyone else should be in on the joke as the media titans remain oblivious.
Don’t Sleep On
Sterling K. Brown plays Monk’s plastic surgeon brother Clifford, who is recently divorced and recently outed. His children won’t talk to him as he dives into his newly exposed identity. His conversations dealing with his now-public sexuality with his mother provide an extra layer of comedy as well as sadness to the story.
Best Ten-Minute Stretch
After Monk’s farcical manuscript My Pafalogy becomes the toast of the town, he and Arthur sit in on conference calls from publisher heads. The corporate, white, and out of touch executives are overjoyed to cash in on another blacksploitation opportunity. Monk who is portraying his fictional author in an over the top exaggerated “hood” voice decides to push things further but saying he’ll only publish with them if the book’s name is changed to Fuck which with litter consternation quickly agree to. The whole scene is funny, sad, and absurd all at the same time.
Oscar bait ranking (out of 5): 🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆
Best Pic, Best Actor, and Adapted Screenplay
MatM Score: Recommend - 8.0
An excellent dark comedy that is as melancholy as funny)
Pieces together the overall “vibe” this movie brings from other releases.
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All of Us Strangers
In a Nutshell
Screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) lives alone in a beautiful but desolate London apartment tower. He lives a very regimented life of writing and loneliness until a chance encounter with fellow neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal) during a fire alarm leads to a budding deep romance between the two men.
Adam confides to Harry that his parents died thirty years ago in a car accident. You can see in Adam’s mannerisms and conversations that he’s kind, reserved about his sexuality, and also hasn’t fully processed the trauma of his parents’ death. He decides to take a train ride out to his old house and reflect on the past when he sees his father (Jamie Bell) notice him outside a liquor store at the exact same age as when he died. He recognizes Adam, marvels at his adulthood, and invites him back home to see his mother (Claire Foy).
The couple had been expecting him to visit for years, and they are frozen in time from the last day he had with them. They recognize him as an adult and are fully aware they are dead but spend their visit together learning all about Adam’s life with enthusiastic curiosity. The joy that Adam feels in this fantastical situation coincides with his relationship with Harry as they are firmly in their honeymoon phase. As Adam makes further visits to see his parents, sometimes with only one parent present, and others as a family, he has tough conversations about growing up as well as his sexuality. The processing of these conversations then bleeds into his personal life with Harry, who also has many sorrowful repressed feelings with his family. The visits to see his parents are his therapy to deal with his lifelong trauma but have many unintended consequences in his real life acceptance of love from Harry.
Time is money, why should I go?
This movie has many layers of joy and sadness amidst gut-wrenching scenes for Adam. You can’t help but put yourself through a time machine to arrive at a dining room with your parents.
What would you say? Would they be proud of the person you’ve become? These questions and scenarios play out throughout the film as Adam often wants answers -but more so the loving touch of his parents, who he still misses deeply. You can tell he’s hurting from the alienation and loneliness he’s felt while having to grow up and discover his sexuality without their presence.
I’ve tertiarily experienced family and close friends coming out, but you never truly know how it felt unless you experienced it yourself. How many times they felt bullied, uncomfortable, or out of place as they themselves were still growing into the difficult world of adulthood.
It’s good to feel vulnerable at the movies from time to time and this would be the film for it.
Spill the Tea
Director Andrew Haigh has experience bringing LGBTQ+ stories to the big and small screen, directing Greek Pete, Weekend, and one of my favorite HBO series, Looking. Haigh, who is himself gay, was interviewed by the The Guardian and stated, “I wanted it to be very specific about a certain generation of gay person, which was our generation … It wasn't an easy time.”
The story was adapted from the recently deceased screenwriter/novelist Taichi Yamada’s book Strangers. The film has received many plaudits from Film of the Year by the London Critics Circle Film Awards to the National Board of Review winner for independent films along with Andrew Scott’s many nominations for Best Actor.
Star of the Show
It’s so hard to quantify here as to who should be praised over one another. The star of this film is the cast ensemble. I have to look back to Mike Nichols’ 2004 film Closer to find an acting quartet that puts in as great of an overall performance as this team. Andrew Scott (hot priest from Fleabag) puts in an emotional performance as Adam. Jamie Bell, who plays the father, is incredibly earnest in his love for his son. Claire Foy’s complex performance features both a mother who cares deeply for the child she left behind, and a parent who misunderstands and judges her son. Paul Mescal is charming, seductive, and mysterious playing Harry, who has many demons of his own.
Don’t Sleep On
I can’t help it, I love Paul Mescal. An injury derailed his Gaelic football career and he went to Trinity College in Dublin to pursue acting. He played Connell in 2020’s mini-series Normal People (I’ve watched it at least three times), which won him a Best Actor Emmy nomination. He followed that up with one of the most sincere portrayals of a divorced father I’ve watched in last year's Aftersun, securing him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Later this year, he’ll star beside Denzel Washington as the main lead in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2. He exudes a contained gravitas that shines through every scene I’ve ever watched him in. Without a doubt he is my favorite young actor (sorry Barry Keoghan) in Hollywood today.
Best Ten-Minute Stretch:
Adam goes home for Christmas night and spends his favorite holiday with his parents. They do all normal routines he remembered as a child and he is truly joyful. Worried that they will leave that night like they did thirty years ago, he jumps into bed with them as he did as a young boy. He and his mum have a heartfelt and sweet conversation that would make even the toughest cynics tear up.
Oscar bait ranking (out of 5): 🏆 🏆
Best Actor and Adapted Screenplay
MatM Score: Highly Recommend - 9.5
The film has lived rent-free in my head since I watched it.
Pieces together the overall “vibe” this movie brings from other releases.