Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots

The Pioneer looks at the Oscar’s 2024 Best Picture nominees

Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots(Mar. 6, 2024) — After years of declining quality of the Best Picture Nominees, last year demonstrated an uptick. I thought that my top seven of the ten nominees were all worthy; and number seven won Best Picture!

I’m pleased to say that this year’s crop is of similar value. It was anyone’s guess who was going to win it last year, but this year, “Oppenheimer” is as sure a bet as there has ever been. It is so far superior to the rest of the bunch; it will be a stain on the Oscars if it does not win. Yet, many of the other nominees are definitely worth watching.

1. Oppenheimer – Christopher Nolan has made some of the best films of the last 20 years. While this one is not my favorite among them, it is the best. This is that rare three-hour film that feels short. Nolan’s direction is sharp and Cillian Murphy is transcendental as the title character.

2. The Holdovers – “Sideways,” the previous collaboration between director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti was a pretty good movie about a boring subject. “The Holdovers” is an excellent movie about a boring subject. As a curmudgeonly teacher forced to watch over a handful of private school boys during Christmas break, Giamatti shines. Da’Vine Joy Randolph delivers a start turn as the lonely cook while newcomer Dominic Sessa is fantastic as an angry teen. They prove to be a lovely group that I would not mind spending a winter vacation with.

3. Past Lives – Do any relationships we make in the first dozen or so years of our lives matter at all? Perhaps it is not the people with whom we connect, but the way our relationships with them shape our view of the world. First time writer and director Celine Song truly nails the emotions that come with hanging onto a crush years past its sell-by date. Even with some possible lost-in-translation moments, this one will bring up all kinds of nostalgia.

4. Zone of Interest – Does a person responsible for the deaths of over a million people have any shred of humanity? Apparently, Auschwitz Commandant Rudolph Hoss did. “Zone of Interest” focuses on Hoss and his lovely family while they go about their lives down the street from the horrors of Auschwitz. Director Jonathan Glazer uses an incredible soundscape to make sure we are always aware of what is going on, even if the family, and the audience, never see any of it. Hoss (Christian Friedel) does his best to shield his family from the constantly-raining ash, body parts floating down the river, and the blood tracked in on his boots. Friedel, and Sandra Huller as wife Hedwig imbue their characters with just enough humanity to endear them to the audience.

5. American Fiction – Angry at the lack of a true Black voice in the book community, Monk Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) fakes his way through a novel under the pseudonym of a wanted criminal. To his shock, publishers gobble it up. It all snowballs from there. Meanwhile, his family consisting of a crazy brother (Sterling K. Brown), angry sister (Tracee Ellis Ross) and demented mother (Leslie Uggams). There are two excellent storylines here. The only problem is, they would have been better served if separated into two movies.

6. Poor Things – Emma Stone steps well outside her usual comfort zone to play a Frankenstein-ish creation. Awash in sexuality and depravity, two things director Yorgos Lanthimos does not shy away from, “Poor Things” is a wholly unique film. There is absolutely nothing about this film to make the viewer think, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this before.’

7. Killers of the Flower Moon – A plea to Mr. Scorsese: stop making your movies impossible to watch in one sitting. Watching this film in the theater should not have felt like such a chore. Films over 200 minutes, as great as they may be, should really be a four-part miniseries. Some epic performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro and a story demanding to be told are not enough to turn this into a masterpiece. As it is, it is merely a fine film.

8. Barbie – Look, I get it, “Barbie” was a phenomenon that movie theaters desperately needed. I fully appreciate the fanaticism revolving around it. I just didn’t buy in to the film itself. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (and all the other Barbies and Kens) are great. Will Ferrell is his usual annoying self. The look of the film is fantastic; it reminds me exactly of the bedrooms of classmates whose houses I was forced to visit during parental get togethers. The film is all over-the-place. It was like they had so many ideas and could not pick just one, so they threw them all into one movie. I wish it had leaned into the sentiment delivered by Billie Eilish’s theme song “What Was I Made For?” “Barbie” deserves all the acclaim for being far better than a movie about a doll should ever be. However, it is not Best Picture material.

9. The Maestro – I do not care if characters smoke in films. There is almost always a valid reason for them to do so. Famed composer Leonard Bernstein may have been a walking chimney, but seeing Bradley Cooper huffing on a cigarette in nearly EVERY scene in “The Maestro” is extremely off-putting. Cooper’s skills as a director are top notch, but he hardly ever even lets us see Bernstein conduct or compose. Cooper is great, while Carey Mulligan is even better as his wife.

10. Anatomy of a Fall – Sandra Huller delivers her second great performance in an Oscar-nominated film this year. Accused of shoving her husband out an attic window, she must contend with a ruthless prosecutor, her nearly blind son, and the media. There are some excellent scenes, no doubt, but most of it is just too boring. Best Picture Nominees need to be great movies, this is merely good.

Personal Top 10 of 2023:

When I see a film, especially in the theater, I want my emotions to be stirred in all directions. Rare is the film that evokes laughter, tears, anger, and joy. (“The Orphanage” is the only one I’ve ever seen to evoke those four as well as fear.) Just a couple movies hit the quadruple this year. I will not say they are the best films of the year, that title clearly goes to “Oppenheimer,” but they are my favorites.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy 3
  2. Dungeons & Dragons
  3. Oppenheimer
  4. The Holdovers
  5. Past Lives
  6. Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse
  7. Sisu
  8. Zone of Interest
  9. Ferrari
  10. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning

Honorable Mentions: Cocaine Bear, Thanksgiving.

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.