Friday, February 23, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: The Martian (2015)

And we're back with yet another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at Enuffa.com!


Set your time machine for 2015, because we're going all the way back to Ridley Scott's sci-fi drama-comedy(?), The Martian, starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor and a host of other recognizable supporting actors.  Essentially a desert island movie set in space, The Martian tells a simple and familiar story but does so with great attention to detail, a lighthearted sense of humor, and some stunningly convincing special effects.  The film is set in the not-too-distant future where NASA has begun sending manned missions to Mars, and during one such mission a dust storm sends an AV unit crashing into one of the astronauts, presumably killing him.  His team evacuates the planet before the storm disables their ship, and heads back toward Earth.  But Mark Watney is still alive and now must figure out how to survive on a barren planet until the next Mars mission arrives in four years.  Through video diary entries and fun montages we watch Damon's character try to tame this hostile environment, supplementing the team's food stores with potatoes he grows inside the habitat, fertilized with the team's frozen excrement.  Back on Earth though, NASA uses satellite images to deduce Watney is still alive and scrambles to plan a rescue mission.

Oscar Film Journal: The Zone of Interest (2023)

Nine down, one to go!  Welcome to another Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com....


Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest is unlike any other film you'll ever see about the Holocaust.  Told entirely from the point of view of Nazi Commandant Rudolph Höss (Christian Friedel) and his family, stationed in an affluent home adjacent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, the film is startlingly dispassionate in its depiction of the most heinous of war crimes.  Höss takes his family swimming, goes horseback riding, gets a boat for his birthday, throws backyard parties, leads a typical well-to-do suburban lifestyle.  And just over the garden wall plumes of smoke float up from the incinerators next door.  Höss's young son mimics the mechanical furnace sounds they hear all night, his daughter has trouble sleeping and watches the orange glow of the fires through a hallway window, but aside from his wife pilfering the occasional stolen fur coat and his older son examining his collection of gold teeth, this family scarcely acknowledges the unfathomable horrors taking place in their own backyard.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

WWE Elimination Chamber 2024 Preview & Predictions

Sigh....I'm not sure why I'm still covering WWE PPVs right now given how much awful shit has come out about that company and some of the people still working there, but here we go....


This Saturday the Elimination Chamber emanates from Perth, Australia, and like the Royal Rumble the card consists of the two gimmick matches plus two other matches.  As usual the Chamber matches will be a rather toothless affair since there's no blood allowed and the company substitutes weapons and occasional high spots for brutality, but there's enough talent in both matches that they should be pretty entertaining.  Aside from that we have a women's title match with a forgone conclusion, and a tag title match with a forgone conclusion (though that one should be excellent).

Let's take a look.



WWE Tag Team Championship: Finn Balor & Damian Priest vs. Pete Dunne & Tyler Bate


Thank Christ Pete Dunne gets to use his real ring name again.  That "Butch" stuff was fucking stupid.  Because most of Vince's creative ideas are fucking stupid.  Fuck that guy for all eternity.  Sorry, back on track.  This should be a helluva match; the challengers are fantastic wrestlers and the champs aren't too shabby either.  In fact I'd be shocked if this doesn't steal the show.  Give these guys 15-20 minutes and let 'em fly.

Pick: Champs obviously retain


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Don't Look Up (2021)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com!


Plugging away at the list of 601 all-time Best Picture nominees, I'm now ten away from the halfway point, having just watched Don't Look Up, the sociopolitical satire from Adam McKay, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.  The two leads play a pair of Michigan State astronomers who discover a comet somewhere between five and ten kilometers wide, which they've calculated will collide with Earth in just over six months, causing an extinction-level event.  When they present this information to the vapid, unqualified US President (Meryl Streep), her response is predictably dismissive and she cares more about how this will affect her polling numbers than the near-certainty that the world is going to be destroyed.  And even after the government's scientists confirm the data, the POTUS is nonchalant about formulating a plan to divert the comet, aborting the mission after an obscenely wealthy industrialist (a creepily soft-spoken Mark Rylance) informs her the comet contains ultra-rare minerals that can be mined for a massive US profit.  The story plays out as something in between a satire and a farce, I guess?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Mank (2020)

The Oscars are only a few weeks away, so let's revisit a recent Best Picture nominee in this installment of the Oscar Film Journal!


I've seen this film a few times now and it's paradoxically both immersive and emotionally distant, it's David Fincher's Mank, starring Gary Oldman as infamous screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, the man who co-wrote Citizen Kane.  Jumping back and forth between Mank's 1930s heyday and his early 1940s exile, this unusual biopic tackles his self-destructive alcoholism, his touchingly sweet friendship with actress Marion Davies, his tangental involvement in the Upton Sinclair gubernatorial election bid, and his alienation of newspaper magnate William Randloph Hearst via the Kane script.

Recovering from a car crash at a southern California ranch and accompanied only by his secretary, Mank is recruited by Orson Welles (Tom Burke, doing maybe the best Welles impression I've heard) to pen the script for his debut feature film, for which Welles was famously given creative carte blanche (the only time the studio would ever entrust the young iconoclast with such control).  Deprived of alcohol by the ranch owner's "dry house" policy, Mank suffers writer's block until having booze smuggled into the house.  From here his script comes together quickly, a scathing indictment of Hearst that threatens to ruin Mank's career if the film is allowed to be made.  

Friday, February 16, 2024

Top Ten Things: Oscar Snubs, Best Picture Edition

Welcome to another Oscar-themed edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  The big Academy shindig is just days away, so why not take this opportunity to do more complaining about stuff they ignored over the years?


You may have seen my previous Oscar Snubs list, which centered on individual performances Oscar failed to recognize, but this time I'm talking about entire films that flew under the radar in the all-important Best Picture category.  So many great films both mainstream and otherwise have come and gone with little or no attention paid by the Academy, and some of them seemed tailor-made to garner award nominations.  But for whatever reason (in some cases political) they garnered large quantities of the shaft instead.  Here are twelve such examples, in chronological order...




1. City Lights (1931)


Only one of Charlie Chaplin's classic films, The Great Dictator, was ever nominated for Best Picture (partly because much of his work predated the Oscars), but here's a second film that should've been included.  City Lights is the delightfully touching story of Chaplin's Little Tramp, who falls in love with a blind flower girl, happens upon some money, and gives it all to her so she can get her eyes fixed.  Such a simple plot, but executed in the signature Chaplin style that earns both laughs and tears throughout.  The Academy was still finding its legs in 1931 (the release window was split over calendar years at this point), but surely there must've been a slot for what is widely considered one of Chaplin's greatest films.

Key Scene: The finale in which the now-seeing flower girl hands the Tramp a flower, touches his hands, and realizes he's the one who helped her see, remains one of the most genuinely touching in cinema history.  If this doesn't choke you up, you're a monster.






2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)


Walt Disney's first full-length animated film broke box office records and blew everyone's mind-holes upon its release.  Disney had gambled basically his entire career and studio on this ambitious, expensive project, hoping to revolutionize animation, and it paid off in truckloads of cash and a cartoon feature dynasty.  An art form that had previously been aimed at entertaining children for 5-10 minutes in front of "real" movies was now looked upon as a true artistic achievement, and just about every animated feature since owes something to the success of Disney's first homerun.  But the Academy more or less viewed the animated film as something of a cheat, not to be judged alongside live-action movies.  Thus when it came time for awards season Walt Disney was given a somewhat begrudging Honorary Oscar instead of a bona fide Best Picture nod.  It wasn't until 1991 that an animated feature was given the big nomination (Beauty and the Beast), and not until 2001 did the Academy create a separate category for animated features.

Key Scene: Hard to pick just one, but I always loved the Queen's transformation into the old hag, reminiscent of Jekyll & Hyde.  Kids back then must've freaked the fuck out.



Thursday, February 15, 2024

Top Ten Things: Oscar Upsets

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  It's a list of ten things that stand aTOP all other things.  See?


Well we are in the midst of movie awards season, which for me means a mad dash to catch up on all the Oscar bait I haven't seen yet.  Thus when the Oscars roll around I'll be much more educated and opinionated about the winners and losers.  Over the years we've seen some pretty shocking winners; some pleasant surprises, some bile-churning outrages.  Very often it seems Mr. Oscar suffers from acute myopia, as literally dozens of Best Picture winners fail to make much of a lasting impression on the American lexicon, while many of the losers are universally lauded as masterworks for decades to come.  The same can be said of individual performances and the actors attached to them.  Sometimes an actor or actress can win the gold statue and go on to do literally nothing of note, while perpetually snubbed thespians continue to impress critically and commercially despite the lack of Academy love.

So let's take a look at the ten most noteworthy upsets in Oscar history.  This list includes nominees for Best Picture, Director, and acting awards.




10. Crash over Brokeback Mountain


One of the most infamous recent shockers took place in 2006, as Paul Haggis's ensemble piece about racial tensions in America took home the gold despite the outpouring of support for Ang Lee's touching cowboy love story.  Almost immediately Crash suffered something of a backlash, and few people today recall it as an all-time classic, while Brokeback Mountain helped launch the serious acting careers of Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and of course the late Heath Ledger.  For the record I enjoyed both films but I didn't consider Crash a multiple-time watch.




9. Bob Fosse (Cabaret) over Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)


Speaking of memorable vs. not-so-much, in 1973 choreographer/musical theater director Bob Fosse won the Best Director award for Cabaret, despite Francis Ford Coppola seeming a shoe-in for his masterful work on The Godfather.  The epic mafia drama has since become an essential part of any cinephile's collection, while Cabaret is.....well, not so much.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Top Ten Things: Oscar Snubs, Acting Edition

Hello and welcome to a special Academy Awards edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!


Today I'll be talking about some of the great acting award snubs in Oscar's long and glorious history.  Every year it seems there are at least one or two major films or performances that either go ignored by the Academy or lose to inferior competition.  I can think of several films now heralded as all-time classics that were shown little Oscar love back in the day - Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, and the original Star Wars for example. 

Then there are the baffling upsets like Shakespeare in Love beating out Saving Private Ryan, Ordinary People being chosen over Raging Bull, Kramer vs. Kramer over Apocalypse Now, and of course Forrest Gump trouncing both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption.

Additionally certain universally-acclaimed films over the years have simply been shut out of the proceedings.  Hoop Dreams for Best Documentary in 1994, The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature in 2015, and for me, Boogie Nights for Best Picture in 1997.

But maybe the most common examples of the Academy failing to recognize deserving achievements fall into the acting categories.  So many great performances have gone unnoticed by the myopic Oscar over the decades.  I can name many more than ten, but this being a Top Ten Things column I've narrowed it down to what I feel are the ten most egregious snubs in Oscar history.

***Note*** Given how difficult it is to rank acting performances I'll be presenting these in chronological order.



1. Miriam Hopkins - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)


As fiery dance hall girl Ivy Pearson, Hopkins delivered a performance on par with her Oscar-winning co-star Frederic March.  Their onscreen chemistry was phenomenal and helped elevate this version of Stevenson's classic novella into much more than a typical 1930s monster movie.  Throughout the film Hopkins' character is horribly victimized by the sadistic, abusive Hyde, and she amazingly conveys Ivy's desperation and hopelessness. 

Key Scene: Ivy visits Dr. Jekyll for help, unaware that he and Hyde are one and the same.  As she implores Jekyll to save her she erupts into tears while he looks on, overwhelmed by guilt at being the cause of her torment.  This is a heartbreaking scene.




2. Jeff Goldblum - The Fly (1986)


Another horror film that didn't require an Oscar-worthy performance per se, David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly is largely remembered for its gross-out makeup effects, as its protagonist Seth Brundle gradually deteriorates into a repulsive larva-man.  But underneath all that disgusting makeup is Jeff Goldblum, who went above and beyond to make Brundle into a three-dimensional character we simultaneously fear and pity.  The film is essentially an AIDS parable; Brundle's condition is presented as a cellular disease that both breaks down his body and strips him of his humanity.

Key Scene: Late in the film Brundle's ex-girlfriend Veronica (Geena Davis) visits his apartment one final time.  By this point Brundle has become a lumpy brown mass with insect mannerisms whose human side has almost totally receded.  He warns her to stay away, delivering a tragic monologue about the brutality of the insect brain.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: American Fiction (2023)

Welcome to the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com - eight Best Picture nominees down, two to go!


**Here there be spoilers**

Today's subject is Cord Jefferson's feature directorial debut American Fiction, starring Geoffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown and a host of strong supporting actors.  Part family drama, part sociopolitical satire, American Fiction is about a struggling black writer who can't seem to sell any of his books to a publisher because they aren't "black" enough.  Thelonious "Monk" Ellison is an intellectual and a literature professor, and unfortunately the literary marketplace seems to only have room for black voices if they convey the usual stereotypes - poverty, broken families, violence and oppression.  Case in point a fellow novelist Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) publishes a novel called We's Lives in Da Ghetto to widespread critical acclaim and massive sales.  So Monk decides to write a similar novel under a pseudonym (Stagg R. Lee) as a middle finger to the publishing industry, a pandering, cliche-ridden downer called My Pafology, and much to his surprise and chagrin, his agent is able to sell the book for a whopping $750,000, plus a $4 million offer for the movie rights.  

Monday, February 12, 2024

Top Ten Things: Well-Deserved Oscars

Welcome to another Oscar-related edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!


Taking a break from reviewing Best Picture nominees, here's a list of acting performances that absolutely deserved to win Oscars and rightly did.  I've talked before about times the Academy snubbed a great performance, and about shocking upsets, but there have certainly been times the right person won for the right role.  In fact there have been years when I've decided, "Regardless what wins Best Picture and all the others, as long as this person wins this award I'll be happy."  Below are sixteen such examples, in chronological order.




1. Rita Moreno (West Side Story)


Steven Spielberg's West Side Story may have defied expectations for a remake of a beloved classic, but said beloved classic still holds up all these years later, and one of the main reasons is because of the supporting turn by Rita Moreno as the strong-willed, sassy firecracker Anita.  Torn between her independent streak and her loyalty to boyfriend Bernardo and his gang, Anita reluctantly supports her best friend Maria's romantic pursuit of sworn enemy Tony, while at the same time trying to instill upon Maria how futile such a relationship really is.  Moreno lights up the screen every time she appears, bursting with effortless charisma and drawing all eyes to her.  When I discovered this film at age 13, it was Anita, and not Maria, whom I had a crush on.

Key Scene: I've never been a huge musicals guy, but for some inexplicable reason the "America" musical number brings a tear to my eye whenever I watch it.  This scene is just so spectacularly executed, plus the song itself so organically expresses the conflicting viewpoints of the American immigrant experience.  Bernardo and his friends long for Puerto Rico, a place where they aren't treated as second-class citizens because of their ethnicity, while Anita and the girls love the opportunities America affords them.  Such a neat little microcosm of this country's advantages and drawbacks.
   



2. Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull)


The Academy may have dropped the ball in many other categories from 1980 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor), but one award that absolutely went to the right guy was the Best Actor statuette.  Robert DeNiro's tormented, violent turn as middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta remains his most noteworthy performance, and it's also the most famous example of an actor altering his body shape for a film (DeNiro gained about sixty pounds for the later scenes in which LaMotta lets himself go and becomes a seedy nightclub owner).  Had anyone else walked away with this award it would've been a crime.

Key Scene: Probably the most purely visceral scene is the one in which LaMotta goes to prison and throws a self-loathing-induced fit, pounding the crap out of the cement wall and wailing like a madman.  I can't imagine an actor having to endure more than a single take of this scene.




3. Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda)


A rare case of a comedic performance outshining the competition, Kevin Kline's brilliantly hilarious turn as Otto provided dozens of quotable lines and managed to steal the show from comedy legends John Cleese and Michael Palin.  Kline brought to life a dimwitted character in the smartest way possible, with an amazingly nuanced, uproarious delivery.

Key Scene: Probably my favorite moment (and my favorite to quote) is the profanity-laced chain of insults Otto hurls at Archie (Cleese) after catching Archie with Wanda.  Such a magnificent tirade.




4. Kathy Bates (Misery)


Stephen King's thriller about a crazed fan taking her favorite author hostage was skillfully adapted by Rob Reiner in 1990, and the main reason the movie version worked so well was the performance of Kathy Bates.  A relative unknown at the time of her casting, Bates adeptly alternates between matronly warmth and terrifying emotional instability.  She is totally effective as this obsessed manic-depressive, but in a very realistic way, making the whole ordeal that much more harrowing.

Key Scene: Upon learning her guest Paul Sheldon has been out of his room, she ties Paul up and drugs him, and explains both her discovery, and his punishment.  The calmness she conveys as she prepares to hobble him is truly chilling.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Tàr (2022)

Welcome to yet another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at Enuffa.com!


Backtracking a bit to last year's field and one of the three films I missed at that time, today it's the psychological drama Tàr, starring Cate Blanchett in yet another Oscar-nominated masterclass.  Directed by Todd Field - shockingly only his third feature as a filmmaker - Tàr is a character study about an acclaimed orchestra conductor whose life begins to come apart at the seams amid accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power.  As public opinion turns against Lydia Tàr, her mental/emotional state spins out of control and she alienates everyone in her circle.  

Despite being centered around a fictional character, this film plays very much like a biopic, namedropping several real-life figures (Lydia was mentored by Leonard Bernstein) and structuring the narrative as an episodic series of events.  The first act is elegantly written, dumping lots of exposition about Lydia - her accomplishments, her views on music - in the form of an interview with Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker.  We learn that she's set to record an album performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony in Berlin, where most of the film ends up taking place.  

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Past Lives (2023)

Seven 2023 Best Picture nominees down, three to go....


Today it's the debut feature from director Celine Song, a romantic drama called Past Lives, about two childhood friends who were separated at age twelve just as they were developing feelings for each other, now reunited after 24 years.  Na Young (renamed Nora after her family immigrated to Canada and then the States) and Hae Sung find each other on social media in their twenties and develop a very close virtual courtship, but their respective situations preclude them from meeting in person.  Another twelve years pass, and they finally have a chance to see each other, but now Nora is happily married.  Thus the major theme of nostalgic romance vs. a practical, loving marriage is explored.

Past Lives stars Greta Lee in a delicate, understated performance (Lee has a particular gift for conveying so much character insight and emotion with just her eyes), Teo Yoo as her would-be forever partner, still so unsure of himself after two-plus decades he almost seems in a state of arrested emotional development, and John Magaro as Nora's husband Arthur, a successful writer who is self-aware to a fault, acknowledging that in a traditional rom-com he would be the villain in this love triangle.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

Still rolling along with this year's Best Pic nominees, it's time for another entry in the Oscar Film Journal!


Today's subject is the procedural drama Anatomy of a Fall, from French director Justine Triet, about a woman unexpectedly put on trial after her husband is found dead from a three-story fall out a window.  Did he fall by accident or was he pushed?  The government suspects it was the latter.

Sandra Hüller stars as the wife (coincidentally named Sandra), a famous novelist who lives with her husband Samuel and their visually-impaired son Daniel.  The married couple has a strained marriage, in part due to her infidelity but probably even moreso because of her success as a writer where he failed.  Sandra is being interviewed by a female student when her husband, working in the attic, begins blasting music so loud the interview has to be rescheduled.  Sandra takes a nap while Daniel goes out to walk his dog Snoop, and on his return Daniel finds his father unresponsive and bleeding on the ground.

This sets in motion an investigation in which it feels like the authorities have already determined Sandra's guilt and at the ensuing trial it seems the burden of proof is on her rather than on the prosecution.  In one alarming moment the state's lawyer is actually allowed to present character dialogue from one of her novels as evidence Sandra herself was inclined to murder.  Throughout the trial we're given an increasingly clear picture of a crumbling marriage, leading up to a climactic flashback sequence (via secret recording) where Sandra and Samuel have a fiery conversation that dissolves into a shouting match and worse.  But of course the problem with the prosecution's case is that no one's life can be distilled down to a random five-minute recording, and Sandra insists her husband had become suicidally depressed in recent years, in spite of what his therapist claims.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Oppenheimer (2023)

Welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal here at Enuffa.com!  We're five weeks away from this year's awards ceremony, and coincidentally here's the fifth entry about one of this year's nominees....


The overwhelming favorite to take home the Best Picture trophy (and likely several others) this year is Christopher Nolan's epic biopic, Oppenheimer, chronicling the development and realization of one of the most important and terrible inventions of the 20th century, the atomic bomb.  Starring Cillian Murphy as the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer and a veritable who's who of a supporting cast, Nolan's three-hour opus is a cinematic tour-de-force, covering not only the American team's race to harness atomic weaponry before the Nazis did, but the far-reaching consequences of the bomb's World War II-ending implementation.

Murphy gives a career performance, playing Oppenheimer as a rather haughty but brilliant physicist whose political leanings are quite at odds with those of his imperialistic superiors in the war effort.  He understands that the atomic bomb is going to be invented, and that such a terrible power cannot fall into the hands of Hitler, but is also rightly haunted by the moral implications of such an innovation.  His opposite number is Rear Admiral and Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss, whose Machiavellian post-war plotting results in Oppenheimer's public disgrace once the government had gotten out of him what they needed.  Robert Downey is brilliant as this slimy, vindictive politician, quietly making moves to destroy the man who had made him look so foolish in front of the General Advisory Committee.  The third standout is Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer's wife Kitty, a sharp-witted free spirit who's able to see through the government's machinations and keeps Robert honest with himself.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com!


Today's subject is a doozy, Martin Scorsese's latest (and longest) film, Killers of the Flower Moon.  Adapted from David Grann's non-fiction book and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Deniro (together onscreen for the first time in 30 years), KOTFM chronicles an appalling series of murders against members of the Osage tribe, who stumbled onto a massive Oklahoma oil supply in the 1920s, quickly drawing the attention of white opportunists.  Chief among them was William King Hale, a cattle baron and political boss who ingratiated himself with the tribe and inserted his dimwitted nephew Ernest Burkhardt as a benefactor by convincing him to marry into the family.  Hale and others then proceeded to consolidate the tribe's exorbitant wealth by killing off several members so more and more of the headrights (shares of the oil estate) would go to Ernest and his brother Byron in the event of their Osage wives' death.  The film chronicles one of the most shameful episodes in American history, as Hale and his accomplices commit these atrocities in plain sight, knowing that the systemic racism in place at the time would shield them from consequences.  

Friday, February 2, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: The Holdovers (2023)

Time for another Oscar Film Journal entry, here at Enuffa.com!


Another of the current Best Pic nominees, this one comes from the director/star team that brought you the classic buddy/road/wine comedy Sideways, Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti.  Reunited after two decades, the pair are back with The Holdovers, a comedy-drama about a cantankerous teacher and his disobedient student, shut in together at their Massachusetts boarding school over the 1970 winter break.  Professor Paul Hunham gets stuck with this two-week assignment as punishment for failing a legacy student, while junior Agnus Tully is stranded at school after his mother cancels their planned family trip so she and her new husband can get away alone.  Both student and teacher profoundly resent each other but slowly begin to find common ground, thanks largely to a neutral third-party, the school's head cook Mary Lamb, whose son was recently killed in Vietnam.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Oscar Film Journal: Maestro (2023)

Rollin' right along with this year's Oscar Film Journal....


Today's movie is the Bradley Cooper-helmed biopic about Leonard Bernstein, entitled Maestro, in which a barely recognizable Cooper also plays the title role beneath some absolutely stunning makeup (about which there was some quite unnecessary to-do online).

The film documents Bernstein's rise to fame and prestige as one of the world's eminent orchestra conductors and composers, set as the backdrop for the film's real focus, his roller coaster relationship with wife Felicia Montealegre (an always fabulous Carey Mulligan).  Using numerous film formats (mostly 4:3) and color palettes (the first act is shot in glorious high-contrast black & white), Cooper and his cinematographer Matthew Libatique (A Star is Born) plunge us right into Bernstein's topsy-turvy world of music, parties and torrid affairs (mostly with men).  We follow the composer and his marriage from the mid-1940s to Felicia's tragic death of cancer in the late 1970s, and the camerawork and art direction really capture each era splendidly.

Less effective is Maestro's structure, which follows the tried and true biopic format - a series of important moments and episodes in the lives of these two people, almost entirely in chronological order.  Had Cooper et al found a less conventional way of assembling the screenplay it would've resonated much more strongly I think; the film keeps us a bit at arm's length, both in terms of never quite letting us past Bernstein's public persona, and via first-act dialogue that's so snappy and 1940s-esque it's hard to keep up with at times.  I did however appreciate the script's Orson Welles approach of having characters talk over each other as people tend to do in real life.