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February 21, 2024


It’s Oscar season!

Typically, around this time of year, the conversation is centered around what movie or performer got snubbed. For example, how many articles have you read about Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie in the past few weeks? However, what you rarely see from critics like us is a discussion…or in this case, a light head-to-head debate…about the movies and performances that were nominated. Not so much in a negative, “that movie sucks” way, but from a “uhh…why? I really don’t understand the love for that nominee” perspective.

Having said that, in an effort to not be entirely negative, we wanted to give equal time to show our respect too. We aren't looking to be disrespectful or take away from someone’s career achievement. So, for each writer who picked a nominee they “didn’t get,” we allowed a separate writer to come to the defense of that nominee. This way, you get the good and the bad, and the information to make your own decisions. Sounds like a good plan, right? It was almost perfect... until Annette Bening.

Several writers didn’t understand why Bening was nominated for Best Actress in Nyad, which led to a bit of a competition to write “against” her. As well, no one was ready and willing to defend Bening's nomination, which complicated things because we didn’t want a writer to defend a performance they weren't passionate about. None of this is to say anything negative about Bening, by the way, who is about as close to Hollywood royalty as one can get without being named Meryl Streep, but…hey, it is what it is. Points for honesty?

In any case, let’s get to our near-perfect plan, and talk about a few certain Oscar nominees that are on trial. What’s your verdict?


Prosecution: Paige

The adoration for Jonathan Glazer's work on The Zone of Interest is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, from a technical perspective, the movie is excellently made; however, it lacks depth and substance entirely. The role of a director is to tell an audience a tale that they can either… A. connect with, or B. find entertaining. This movie falls short on both counts. I especially found it difficult to relate to any of the characters or the plot, and I felt cold and emotionally cut off from its outcome. That's because Glazer's direction (and his script, for that matter) failed to pique my interest in the film’s subject matter. There is just no weight to this Nazi drama, which leaves me baffled that it got Glazer a Best Director nomination.

Defence: Adriano

I truly believe that once the decade is over, The Zone of Interest will be widely considered amongst the decade's absolute best films. Director Jonathan Glazer's work here truly is remarkable, not just as a writer, as he flawlessly crafts an invisible script that follows these people's lives, but the directorial tricks he pulls off are something I can't recall ever having seen before. This film is an analysis of evil and our desire to build perfect lives for ourselves in the face of said evil, which often results in us putting up walls to separate us from the horrible atrocities of humanity. Glazer explores that conflict by focusing on a Nazi family in an uncomfortably familiar way. Zone also is more colourful than your typical Holocaust drama, and the way Glazer sets the cameras up to give us an observational perspective is pretty jarring. There's no way to sugarcoat it: Jonathan Glazer’s work is masterful on this film.


Prosecution: Caleb

Barbie was a summer highlight for me, but this particular nomination is a bit of a head-scratcher. America Ferrera’s performance is serviceable, but I’d hardly call it Oscar-worthy. Sure, her monologue in the third act is noteworthy, but it’s actually one of the only muddled moments in an otherwise tight script. If she was up against some lighter competition, then maybe I could understand, but you’re telling me she deserved that nom over THE Julianne Moore for May December? That’s insane. It’s equally insane that we live in a world where America Ferrera got an Oscar nod for Barbie, but Margot Robbie didn’t. Ferrera’s nomination reminds me of Jamie Lee Curtis’ from last year - it may be a decent performance for what it is, but she’s wildly out of place amongst the other nominees.

Defender: Nick

As good as America Ferrera's noted monologue is, this performance is far more than just a single scene. Ferrera is the heart of Barbie and the bridge between the world of toys and reality. Where Margot Robbie's reaction to the real world provides many cute and funny moments, it's the realism and authenticity Ferrera provides as the only "adult" woman that makes the film work. She is a working-class woman, a mother, and the link that makes Barbie relatable to women of all ages, which she does with determination and poise. Much like the straight man in a comedy duo, she's not flashy, but she's just as important as her counterparts.


Prosecution: Adriano

Much has been said about Bradley Cooper's seemingly desperate desire for an Oscar, but not enough has been said about how it truly does bleed into Maestro and his performance…not in a good way, either. There is nothing easy about a biographical performance, but when done right, it can truly transport us into the mind of a historical figure. However, when done wrong, it can come off as a cheap impression. As Leonard Bernstein, Cooper sadly leans towards the latter. He isn't bad, but much of his performance relies on the impressive makeup, and in terms of actually acting, Cooper's performance feels like a put-upon performance instead of a real human being. There is more to a performance than just how loud you are. The best performances can convey emotion with merely a look, something Cooper's fellow nominees and even his costar, Carey Mulligan, pull off, but it seems like Cooper was more interested in the in-your-face aspects of Bernstein than authenticity. 

Defence: Quentin

Way back in September at Venice Film Festival, I witnessed the glory of Maestro, a film I called “exquisite.” What did I mean by “exquisite?”  Well, for starters, it has since been nominated for seven Oscars, and none of its nominees are more important to the film’s success than Bradley Cooper’s lead turn as Leonard Bernstein. Hell, even in September, I called Cooper’s performance Best of the Fest. Why? Because this Best Picture contender simply doesn’t work if Cooper can’t sell you on his portrayal of Bernstein. Truth be told, I had no connection or personal interest in the real-life composer or his love life, but Cooper’s performance made me care. He disappears so fully into the role that I often forgot I was even watching Cooper, one of the most handsome and recognizable actors in Hollywood. Do you realize how hard that is? If rendering yourself unrecognizable, giving yourself fully to a character, and driving an uncaring viewer to become wholly invested in the story being told isn’t the stuff Best Actor performances are made of, what are we even doing here? 


Prosecution: Preston

If the only criteria for “Best Animated Feature” are fantastic animation and a decent (but forgettable) score, then I would agree with The Boy and the Heron’s inclusion in this year’s nominees. The issue is, however, that the story itself is completely disjointed, which leads to extreme pacing issues…and then sleepy eyes. Most problematic though, is that our traumatized boy is portrayed as an almost non-reactive, robotic puppet whose actions only work to move the story along and completely undermine the audience’s desire to care. His intuitions regarding the Heron are inexplicable, and the main inflection points injected through his mother and father are abandoned; what we are left with is a barely sensical narrative that tries too hard to be artsy for its own sake. Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki’s accomplishments are renowned, and this movie in no way takes away from either’s legacy, but it simply falls short of the mark (that they, themselves, have set).

Defence: Caleb

Alright, I know I wasn’t that hot on The Boy and the Heron either, but it’s not exactly up against stiff competition. Hayao Miyazaki is a titan in this industry, and if his new anime epic didn’t grab a nomination, then what would have? Wish? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem? The Super Mario Bros. Movie? Heron is a little messy, sure, but I’d still rather see an ambitious, hand-drawn, original fantasy story make it in over another American IP film. That aside, Studio Ghibli’s latest is drop-dead gorgeous, and while it admittedly stumbles at points, it’s at least attempting to tackle some thought-provoking themes. If I had to give any of these nominees the boot, I’d set my sights on Nimona or Elemental sooner than I’d go after Heron. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but considering this could very well be Miyazaki’s last outing, I’m alright with it getting some love. 


Prosecution: Nick

I'm not here to make the claim Lily Gladstone is just ailing throughout Killers of the Flower Moon (although it is a fairly stationary performance), and I'm not here to make the claim that Lily Gladstone should've been nominated for Supporting Actress instead (although it's a case I'd listen to). I'm certainly not here to say it's a bad performance, either. But... A performance some are calling the best of the year, even going as far as to say it's an all-time showing? I just don't get that. In a film with an admittedly stacked cast giving varying levels of terrific performances, Gladstone is never able to match or outdo them. Even when she does get her big moments, they're solid, yet fleeting. What she supplies is a good, one-note performance that works for what is needed within the film. That’s it. Culturally, I understand the significance, and the progression towards more diversity in film is necessary; however, when you line it up against the other contenders, it's not the "Best" anything. As a matter of fact, I think Cara Jade Meyers is the female performance in Killers of the Flower Moon worthy of accolades.

Defence: Amarú

I keep hearing that Lily Gladstone is “outdone” or “outshone” or “overshadowed” by the very talented cast surrounding her, including the underrated Cara Jade Meyers, but I would agree only with the first half of each of those words. Everyone else in the film is going “over (the top)” and “out(ward)” with their acting choices, leaving Gladstone’s subtlety standing out in this extravagant crowd. She emotes more in her eyes than the rest of the cast does in more than three hours of showy (yet amazing) dialogue. You can be drawn to the bigger performances if that’s your thing, but Lily Gladstone’s marvelous turn proves the old adage, “it’s the quiet ones you need to look out for.”


Prosecution: Quentin

Touching. Beautiful. Romantic. These are words that have been used to describe Past Lives. However, I struggle to reconcile those labels with the movie I saw, mostly because the story paints the main character, Nora (Greta Lee), as a sympathetic figure when she is, in fact, extremely selfish. For 12 years, Nora has been happily married to and in love with a husband that openly admits he feels insecure in their relationship. Soooo, why is she spending a week galavanting around New York with her first love - a first love who has lingered in her mind for 24 years and who flew across the world specifically to see her - while the husband (mostly) sits at home? That’s not touching, beautiful, or romantic from the husband’s perspective despite the movie hinting towards him maybe being okay with it. When a movie is a complete gaslight job like this, I can’t begin to consider it one of the year’s ten best, even when, all things considered, it’s not actually a bad movie.

Defence: Katie

The central point of Quentin’s criticism is that the film paints Nora (Greta Lee) as a sympathetic character, one we are called to identify with and relate to; however, I don’t think the film paints Nora, or anyone, as a sympathetic figure. The film is simply gentle in its approach, in every aspect, and doesn’t impose moralistic judgments on any of its characters. The question of “why is Nora spending a week with her first love whilst her husband stands by?” is one that the film acknowledges but does not wrestle with. Instead, the film is concerned with exploring metaphysical themes of fate, identity, memory, and nostalgia. Past Lives is as far from a typical love triangle situation as you can get, and Nora’s husband is not suffering from anything as shallow as run-of-the-mill jealousy, but the more nuanced notion that he cannot relate to or understand his wife as much as someone who shares her past. It’s almost unfathomable that this is writer-director Celine Song’s feature debut because the masterful camera work, magical music, and bittersweet story, combined with understated yet deeply moving performances, make this the most worthy nomination for Best Picture.     


Prosecution: Katie

Maestro is this year’s most predictable contender for many awards, and Carey Mulligan’s nomination for Best Actress is at least the film’s most deserving among them, especially when juxtaposed with Bradley Cooper’s imitative performance. However, I don’t believe Mulligan is the most deserving choice for a nomination when looking at the scope of exceptional performances this past year, much less a win. Don’t get me wrong, Mulligan’s performance was not bad in any respect, but it's a good example of the Academy favouring big and cliché acting to genuinely unique, accomplished performances. Whilst Mulligan brings pathos, I was overtly aware I was watching a performance contrived to elicit pity rather than feeling a genuine emotional connection with her character. Instead of cliché Oscar bait of the most obvious variety, I would have much preferred to have seen nominations go to Greta Lee for Past Lives, Natalie Portman for May December, or Cailee Spaeny for Priscilla, all leading performances that bring nuance, complex emotion, and subtlety.

Defence: Preston

When I am asked to conjure my overall thoughts on Maestro, two things explicitly overwhelm my memory: First, Carey Mulligan’s performance; Second, incidentally, Bradley Cooper’s makeup and vocal affect. Maestro’s stylized cinematography and the unique (and choppy) directorial framework highlight just how much Mulligan’s portrayal of Felicia Montealegre deeply enriches and, frankly, outshines all aspects of a film that is nominated for seven Oscars. Her approach as Leonard Bernstein’s wife is the exact opposite of the cliché, in-your-face performances that more often reflect simply the available leading roles within a clever film rather than how a talented actor is able to single-handedly enhance the work of art we are experiencing. Her show-stealing success lies directly in the nuance, complexity, and subtlety she brings. She is both stoic and delicate, formidable and forgiving, serving as a firmly grounded lightning rod amidst the storm. It is precisely because she shines within this frenetic environment that she sets herself apart from the competition.


Prosecution: Amarú

Y’all really thought Ryan Gosling was funny? Or unique? Or something we haven’t seen before in a film going satirically at the patriarchy? Because to me, there was nothing in Gosling’s performance that stood out as outstanding or particularly award-worthy. While the man can certainly act, and he did a fine (really, truly, just ok) job as Ken, when the man said “mojo dojo casa house,” I stared in awe wondering why everybody around me was laughing. Half the time, I felt like his role would have fit perfectly in Not Another Teen Movie, and I’m pretty sure director Greta Gerwig wasn’t trying to go that far with her satire. In all honesty, I’m very happy that the Academy is more open to nominating comedies and comedic performances, but maybe, just maybe, nominate a role that was actually funny next time. 

Defence: Paige

The part of Ken was destined for Ryan Gosling. Looks aside, the man has the acting chops and “Kenergy” to take on any role, and he sure as hell proved it in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. Sure, he has done comedies before, but none of them have quite compared to his portrayal of Ken, undoubtedly one of his best performances to date. This character could have easily been a silly sidekick, but Gosling brings genuine depth. The most remarkable aspect of his portrayal, though, is that he practically steals the movie in every scene he’s in. Not only do I think he delivered the best performance in the movie, I think he delivered the best male performance of the year!

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