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2024 Best Picture Nominees Ranked


This year's crop of Oscar Best Picture Nominees is an outstanding bunch, with one glaring exception for me. At the time of viewing, I graded 9 of the 10 nominees with either an A or an A+!

The outlier for me in the Academy's choices is "Poor Things", a visually interesting waste of time that I gave a D. Gareth Edwards "The Creator" would have been a much better tenth nominee than Yanthimos' beautiful production design in search of a movie.

Ranking the Top six took some serious thought, as they all scored A+ grades! Even the hugely popular hit in my ninth position scored an A, more evidence of just how terrific last year was at the movies.

I've added a poster for each that was either an international one, or alternative artwork to what you probably saw at the theater, or in my original review.

Let's start at the bottom of the nominees and talk about the ONLY bad film among them for me.

10. Poor Things

OK, I officially don't get Director Yorgos Lanthimos. I tried with "The Favourite", hated "The Lobster", but felt like I had to see his latest POOR THINGS due to the critical acclaim and lavish raves pouring down over it non-stop.

This week I've seen it on many "Best Film of the Year" and "Top 10 of 2023" lists.

I almost walked out after 30 minutes due to near fatal boredom, but the film's visuals, which are fantastic, held me in my seat.

This is the twisted, gory, adult and graphic tale of Bella Baxter, a female Frankenstein monster created by Dr. Godwin Baxter (a terrific Willem Dafoe). Using the body of a pregnant woman who leapt off a bridge to her death in the river below, he transplants the brain of the unborn child into the woman's head and voila, creates Bella. Emma Stone is as committed to her performance as any actress I've seen this year, baring all physically and emotionally as the baby in a woman's body.

As she begins rapidly mentally aging, I couldn't help but lose focus and start thinking about another awful movie with the same concept, "Embryo" back in 1976 with Rock Hudson.....oh wait, OK, back to this thing.

As Bella enters her teen and adult years mentally, Lanthimos gives subtle cues this is happening, like having her stuff fruit into her orifices at the breakfast table as the Doctor's animal hybrid experiments wander around the room, including a chicken/pig.

The movie takes giant leaps forward from an entertainment perspective when Mark Ruffalo enters the picture as cad about town Duncan Wedderburn. Lusting after Bella, he convinces her to runaway with him and experience the finest things in life.

Which is basically sex in every position imaginable, interrupted by meals in high society in which Bella spits all her food out and asks old ladies when the last time they got laid.

Their dance scene is the one laugh out loud moment in the film.

Ruffalo is the highlight of the film, sparring with Stone and generating big laughs.

Their adventures take place in a Steampunk, technicolor version of Victorian Europe that is jaw dropping to look at in every scene. The sky is fantastic. This was my favorite section of the film, right through and including Bella's revelation about the poor.

Alas, she then takes a job in a brothel to take ownership of her sexuality AND make some coin at the same time. The tiny Madame of the house is a fascinating character named Swiney, perfectly played by Kathryn Hunter.

Lanthimos has no desire to let you get comfortable with anything resembling a conventional film. He cuts to graphic autopsies when you least expect it, has a Father come in with his two young sons to watch him have sex with Bella as an education, shows Dr. Godwin belching up tennis ball sized bubble of gas that float over the dinner table and explode.....

Jerskin Fendrix's music score fits the film perfectly, atonal, punishing and grating, it's nearly impossible to listen to outside the context of the film.

Where many see incredible, visionary beauty, I just see Lanthimos pushing buttons and throwing a ton of crap against the frame to see what sticks.

To me, he's a David Lynch wannabe constantly pushing the limits of American puritanical attitudes about sex and empowerment. I get it. I got it the first time.

I want to go back and watch Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" again to cleanse my palette from this overstuffed, overpraised mess.

For me, POOR THINGS describes the audience.

The guy that sat next to me in the theater yesterday must have gasped out loud (loudly) in wonderment at least twenty times, adoring every shocking moment.

I wanted to ask him if he'd been to the movies before.

This will be the last time I waste my time on a Lanthimos film, three strikes, you're out.

POOR THINGS gets a D, due solely to the visual creative team, along with Dafoe, Stone and especially Ruffalo, working wonders in the middle of this ridiculous mess.


9. Barbie

Right before the lights went down in our theater for BARBIE, a guy showed up with his son & daughter in tow, both about 4 years old. Oops.

Writer/Director Greta Gerwig's smart, funny and observant new movie is many things, but it's definitely NOT a movie for young kids.

Opening with a sequence that pays hilarious homage to Kubrick's 2001 while simultaneously introducing us to Helen Mirren's wise narration, you realize immediately this isn't a brand driven kiddie flick.

I wasn't surprised as Gerwig had already stunned me once with her 2017 directorial debut, "Lady Bird", one of the most confident, funny and intelligent films about mothers and daughters ever made. Gerwig brings that same attitude to BARBIE, packing it with big laughs and the best kind of smart writing that makes you think about the world while you laugh.

Margot Robbie is perfect as Barbie, bringing her to life in the incredibly detailed Barbieland that surrounds her. The production and set design team does superb work, filling every corner of the screen with screaming pink details.

Ryan Gosling has his funniest role since "The Nice Guys" as Ken. He only has eyes for Barbie, but it's hard to get her attention when every dude in sight is also named Ken and they all have the same perfectly sculpted abs that you do. Every night is ladies night and that leaves very little room for Ken. Hmmmmmm....

Once Gerwig cleverly establishes all the rules of Barbieland, she almost immediately challenges them as Barbie begins to question her life and death. Why are these thoughts entering her head? Isn't everything perfect in Barbieland AND the Real World?

She visits "Weird Barbie" perfectly played by Kate McKinnon in her best film role to date. McKinnon is such a talented comic and sketch artist but for me, her talent has never fully been taken advantage of in her many screen roles. Here, she nails every scene, including the line, "Come in to my Weird House! Hi, I'm Weird Barbie, I am in the splits, I have a funky haircut and I smell like basement."

Weird Barbie sends Barbie off to visit the Real World and Ken sneaks along to join her. What could have been a run-of-the-mill "fish out of water" tale becomes something much more thanks to the screenplay by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Marriage Story).

Ken immediately senses that the real world is very different and soaks up every bit of masculinity, immediately determined to bring it back to Barbieland.

Barbie heads off to Mattel headquarters to meet with the CEO, played by Will Ferrell.

The Real World and Barbieland collide with plenty of fallout, especially for the CEO's assistant Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha, played by Ariana Greenblatt (65, Avengers: Infinity War).

To say anymore would be to spoil the fun and surprises. Some of the greatest surprises for us were the tender moments touching on mothers & daughters, growing up and relationships. Having lost one of our daughters, those moments ring hard and true.

"We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back and see how far they've come."


There has been push back, as there always is from one faction or another when something is this popular. With over $775 million at the worldwide box office in its first 10 days, BARBIE isn't a hit, it's a phenomenon. So of course, talking heads are screaming that the movie is woke propaganda that smashes the male ego every chance it gets.

Is the average man in America really so fragile that an intelligent comedy forcing us to look at ourselves and the world suddenly is deemed worthy of such outrage? If so, that kind of proves the point of the film, doesn't it?

In the words of Sgt. Hulka from "Stripes", "Lighten up, Francis!"

There are plenty of great actors as Ken's of every stripe, I'm not giving anything away. Issa Rae (Insecure) is a standout as the President of Barbieland, she lands every punch line to perfection and Michael Cera (Superbad) delivers laughs as Allan, a lone character amongst a sea of Kens.

The music score by Mark Ronson is a standout, featuring the likes of Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, HAIM, Billie Eilish, Khalid and Ryan Gosling's hilarious ballad "I'm Just Ken".

Smart and funny is a rare and dangerous recipe to brew perfectly. Gerwig, Robbie and Gosling serve it up to perfection in BARBIE, earning an appreciative A. That's three A's in a row for Gerwig, one of the most exciting writer/directors on our American film landscape.


8. The Zone of Interest

The opening moments of THE ZONE OF INTEREST make clear that the film is going to provoke discomfort.

An ash gray screen reveals the film's title as Mica Levi's discordant music crawls its way under your skin and assaults your ears. For what must be two minutes, the screen goes dark and the aural assault ramps up, an overture of pain.

Then the film opens on a pastoral scene of a family, clad in white, lounging by the side of a beautiful river. Nearly dialogue-free, we watch the family picnic and them enjoy the water before eventually boarding two cars to return home.

They settle in for the night, with the father walking room to room to shut off the lights. As day breaks, we see that the two story home is located on beautiful grounds, behind which sits the enormous Auschwitz Concentration Camp, its high walls and barbed wire not containing the loud voices, occasional screams and frequent gunshots from within.

The father is Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel). We watch as he benignly gets ready for work, then mounts a horse outside their nearly literal white picket fence and rides the less than 25 yards to the front gates of Auschwitz.

His wife Hedwig (played by Sandra Huller, so brilliant in this year's "Anatomy of a Fall") manages the Höss home with efficiency, an ever circling group of young women who are Polish captives obeying her every word.

Writer/Director Jonathan Glazer, Oscar nominated for both best screenplay and Director here, creates a challenging piece that may appear to be benign, almost placid on the surface. The Höss family seems almost blissfully unaware of their role in the wholesale extermination of an entire race.

Unlike Spielberg's brilliant "Schindler's List" which detailed every aspect of the unbearable terrors within those high walls (I admire that film greatly, but have never been able to watch it again after seeing it opening night on the big screen), Glazer tortures you with what is unseen.

Hedwig receives bags at her back door and goes through them, choosing a fur coat stolen from the Jewish people upon their arrival at the camp. She spreads other items out across the dining room table and tells all the girls working for her that they can choose one item each to keep. The older Hoss boy looks at horrifying relics of the camp with a flashlight under the sheets the way most would steal glances at comic books.

Rudolf takes meetings in which mass oven designers describe how they can move more people through the mass crematoriums faster, quicker and more efficiently. Death is discussed in terms of production.

The Hoss children seem mostly unbothered by the noises over the wall.

But those noises.

An almost nonstop humming, churning noise permeates the background of every scene as huge smokestacks burn day and night. Gunshots, always single shots, pop hundreds of times during the film, usually distant but always there. Screams, shouts, terrified voices are raised. Always out of sight, but no less disturbing.

Glazer then fills some of the quieter moments with disturbing imagery. One of the most brilliantly staged shots in the film features the Höss family and their guests at a garden party in the lush green backyard with a pool, elegant tables set out. As the camera pulls back and slightly up, you hear a train approaching Auschwitz and the smoke stack, just out of visibility behind their greenhouse and the camp walls pours a long line of billowing smoke into view.

The trains don't stop coming. You hear them arriving day and night.

In my mind, I kept thinking about how many Jewish people were on each of those trains. How many trains a day? (1.1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz alone.)

In one scene in the middle of the night, the children's bedroom is lit up a bright red as fireballs emerge from the smokestacks.

Glazer also drops in several nighttime sequences that are shot with infrared cameras as a young woman leaves apples all around the camp, hiding them for prisoners. The night vision camera highlights the girl against the blackness of night in the same way that Spielberg's little girl in the red dress served as the only color in his masterpiece. It's jarring, even more so when Levi's music score invades loudly, swirling around your head to disorient you further.

Tarn Willers and Johnnie Burn are nominated for an Oscar this year for best Sound Design and I think they should win. I admire what the sound designers did on some of my favorite films of the year like "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning", they are fantastic. But what Willers and Burn create in THE ZONE OF INTEREST is another world that never lets you relax, ignore or feel comfort. Their work is nothing short of brilliant & unexpected.

Friedel is very good as Rudolf. It's the opposite of Ralph Fiennes incredible portrayal of Amon Goeth in "Schindler's List", where Fiennes was an unhinged madman who unleashed horrors at the snap of his fingers for three hours, Friedel's Rudolf is a family man trying to keep his wife and children happy at home while he blithely oversees mass genocide at work. He's a monster, the true vision of which only comes to true light during a phone conversation with his wife after a meeting in a stunning opera house.

Similarly, Huller is a contained beast as Hedwig, with her true nature only revealing itself in several comments to the Polish girls working in her home.

We left the theater in kind of a quandary, as did the surprisingly large audience we saw it with yesterday. Walking out in silence, we started talking in the lobby about the film. It took a solid 12 hours before we could start to wrap our mind around the experience. And that's probably the best description of what the film is. An experience designed to discomfort, to provoke thought and force consideration of one of the darkest chapters of humanity.

I felt like a comment I read from Glazer last night helped me "unlock" his film. He said that "THE ZONE OF INTEREST is actually two films, the one you see and the one you hear".

If you've seen it, that makes total sense. Especially when you think about his visual choices in some of the most aurally disturbing moments.

That startling flash-forward near the end of the film also challenges.

As it should.

Powerful and disturbing, THE ZONE OF INTEREST is not meant to entertain.

Glazer's two films on display, what you see and what you hear, are both challenging in their own unique way. Together, they are a nightmare that haunts long after the lights come up, earning a respectful A.

(In German, English subtitles)


7. The Holdovers

The perfect showcase for Paul Giamatti's one-of-a-kind quirk, THE HOLDOVERS reunites Director Alexander Payne and Giamatti for the first time since "Sideways" nearly 20 years ago.

From the opening frames, an old-style R rating announcement and ancient Focus Features logo, Payne immerses you into 1970, even layering old film pops and scratches into the opening moments. It takes you back to a different time.

Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a venerable and very grumpy History teacher at a high school populated by sons of the very rich.

He's hilariously rude, swooping in to drop finals papers on each desk with grades slashed across them in huge red letters. F+ is my favorite.

At the last minute, he's selected to stay at the school and oversee the Holdovers, the kids that, for whatever reason, wont be going home for Christmas holiday.

The kids range in age from about ten to high school seniors.

They're a real life mix of cocky, lonely, brainy and sad.

Senior Angus Tully stands out. He's the quiet, best student in Hunham's class, an emotional powderkeg. Newcomer Dominic Sessa is fantastic as Angus, driving huge laughs as he goes toe-to-toe with his teacher.

More Dictator than educator, Hunham berates and destroys, insulting the boys in Latin and comparing their ambition to Greek history.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph (The Lost City) is terrific as lead cook at the schools, Mary Lamb. She's recently lost her son in the Vietnam war and Hunham offers the softer side of his personality up to her exclusively. She, in turn, tries to inject just a fragment of humanity in him, introducing him to "The Newlywed Game" and sharing a glass of bourbon with him in a quiet moment.

Writer David Hemingson unwinds the two weeks of holiday break with realistic dialogue, many emotional twists and turns and some brilliant choices, setting up a path for Hunham, Angus and Mary to take a "field trip" to Chicago.

Moment after moment surprises, offering a very different take than a predictable "grumpy teacher softens up" story.

As great as Giamatti is, Sessa and Randolph equal him. There isn't a false move in Randolph's performance as Mary, catering to sons of the rich after losing her own son in a meaningless war.

This is Sessa's on-screen debut. Before filming, he had only acted on stage in college plays. He's a find. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt) continues his legacy of creating seamless blends of comedy and drama, capturing real-life in all it's unpredictable mess. Giamatti is perfect, from his first scene to the final camera shot.

After the movie, my wife said "I'd love to see a sequel ten years later to see where they are in their lives." She's right. It's a testament to Hemingson and Payne that they've created characters that you truly invest in.

This is a film you'll still be thinking about long after those 70's style end credits roll.

THE HOLDOVERS is a perfect, adult, heartfelt holiday film. I'll grab Hunham's favorite red grading pencil and give this one a well earned, giant A.


6. Killers of the Flower Moon

Epic in scale, storytelling and emotion, Martin Scorsese's KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is another incredible film from one of our best American directors.

At just shy of three and a half hours long, the film feels much shorter as you're pulled into the land of the Osage tribe in 1920's Oklahoma.

The Osage have been relocated several times and have now landed on the most oil rich land in America.

Scorsese uses newsreels to show the Osage people enjoying their wealth, with the highest per capita wealth in America.

The black gold spewing from the ground also brings greed, murder and corruption on every train.

Leonardo DiCaprio is very UN-Leo like as returning war soldier and line cook Ernest Burkhart. Dim by any measure, sporting a very nasty set of unclean teeth and a constant look of befuddlement, Ernest falls under the wing of his wealthy Uncle William "King" Hale, played by Robert De Niro. King Hale has ingratiated himself into every part of the Osage people, highly respected as an advisor and business partner helping the tribe assimilate with their incredible wealth.

But Hale is a corrupt, murdering crime boss bent on gaining the rights to every rig.

De Niro is flawless as Hale, speaking platitudes to the Osage in their language one minute and ordering a murder the next. It's a great performance in a career full of them.

DiCaprio's Ernest is a pawn who's too dumb to even know he's being moved around the board by his Uncle. Driving for Hale's private taxi service, Ernest meets Mollie, a respected and outspoken woman of the Osage. She observes Ernest as he drives, shaking her head at his arrogance and goofy demeanor. He's clearly a low life that loves cash and she's somewhat charmed by the fact that he makes zero effort to hide it.

Newcomer Lily Gladstone is absolutely terrific as Mollie. She's funny, stoic and smart. Gladstone conveys so much in silence. As her world turns upside down through the film, she stands toe-to-toe with DeCaprio and De Niro and never flinches. It's an impressive performance and I would bet she wins the Best Actress Oscar next Spring.

Scorsese (Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear) and Eric Roth (Dune, Munich, A Star is Born) have crafted a screenplay that honors the source material but vastly improves upon it. The book focused on the creation of the FBI as a new agency and the murders among the Osage people as the first case they ever tackled. The film shifts all the light to the Osage, and we become more fully invested in their plight.

The FBI does arrive about two hours into the film, and no one knows who in the hell they are. Jesse Plemons (Fargo Season 2, The Irishman) is excellent as Tom White, one of the first FBI agents in history.

The last 90 minutes accelerates quickly as the mystery of the many, many deaths are investigated and the wolves start turning on each other.

John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, Dexter) is perfect as the US Prosecutor bringing the case to trial.

William Belleau is fantastic as Osage leader Henry Roan. Anytime he was on screen, he owned every inch of it, as does Yancy Red Corn as Tribal Chief Bonnicastle.

In the massive cast, there's not one misstep, save the usually likeable Brendan Fraser, who seems to have stumbled in from a live-action Foghorn Leghorn movie. He's incredibly off-putting in a thankfully small role as Hale's lawyer.

The film moves quickly and to me, flowed much better than Scorsese's last very long film, "The Irishman", which was great, but made me glance at my watch occasionally to check my progress.

The special effects, photography and production design that bring the 1920's reservation and small town to life are all stunning. Apple gave Scorsese a $200 million budget and I never had to wonder where it went.

Robbie Robertson's music score is excellent, reminding me of 70's Elmer Bernstein scores when it isn't carving out a very specific niche of its own.

The film has a lot to say about the Osage people, their treatment in history and the outside greed that nearly destroyed them. By portraying all the horrible deeds put upon them as acts upon people we grow to care about in the story, it personalizes the terror and makes you stand back and consider history and our place in it.

Like Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" and Ana DuVernay's brilliant film "Selma", KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON unwraps lives that should impact the way we look at the world.

In a lifetime of epic films, this stands near the top of Scorsese's legacy as one of his finest works. I'd be surprised if he wasn't on the podium next to Gladstone come Oscar time, wielding a Best Director statue. Of course, he might have to wrestle it away from a deserving Greta Gerwig for the massive global hit, "Barbie" and Christopher Nolan for his superb work on "Oppenheimer".

Powerful, smart and important, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON earns an A+.


5. Oppenheimer

A prophet isn't allowed to be wrong. Not once.

OPPENHEIMER explodes onto the screen for three riveting hours, leaving you in awe, both of the man and Writer/Director Christopher Nolan's talent.

Don't let the three hour running time scare you. Nolan's challenging story structure and nimble use of different time frames propels the historical story past you at a breakneck pace. That's especially impressive when you realize that a good 80% of the film depicts characters in conversation.

But what conversation.

We meet J. Robert Oppenheimer as a young man, brilliant, cocky and pushing himself to new scientific discoveries.

You barely get your footing before Nolan grabs the timeline forward to a hearing, after the worlds first atomic bombs have exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then we're pulled back to Oppenheimer as a new professor where he's recruited by lifelong military man Leslie Groves (a hilarious Matt Damon, perfectly cast) to begin developing the first weapon of mass destruction.

These timelines intersect like so many colliding atoms, informing each other, interacting and exposing motivations, relationships and changing attitudes. Nolan and his editor Jennifer Lame (Hereditary, Tenet) craft a puzzle so clever that it will take me multiple viewings to truly understand its complexity.

Unlike "Tenet" or "Inception" where Nolan is establishing new worlds or new rules for his tale, this is a part of history we all know at least at a surface level. But how little I actually knew. I haven't felt this brilliantly fed full of new knowledge and perspective since my first viewing of Oliver Stone's superb "JFK".

All the story lines are captivating and the cast that Nolan has assembled is immense.

Robert Downey Jr. delivers his all-time best performance in his searing portrayal of Lewis Strauss, a career politician whose life is woven together with Oppenheimer's for decades. Downey nearly steals the film, disappearing into the role. His face during the final scenes of the hearing and his final dialogue with his Senate Aide (Alden Ehrenreich leaving "Solo" far behind in all the right ways) is fantastic. I see a Best Supporting Actor trophy in Downey's hands next Spring.

His performance isn't the only jaw dropping one.

Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, A Quiet Place) stuns as Oppenheimer's wife Kitty. A former communist now facing McCarthy style inquiries, she spends most of the film drinking quietly in anger. Her emotion explodes when she's finally given a chance to express her thoughts at the hearing, unloading on the very slimy Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby) as nefarious lawyer Roger Robb. It's one of those scenes that makes people clap in the movie theater. Well earned.

Kenneth Branagh and the legendary Tom Conti (The Duellists) shine as Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, as does Macon Blair as Attorney Jim Garrison. How about that for a JFK connection. Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor) makes a welcome big screen return as Ernest Lawrence, one of Oppenheimer's most trusted scientists.

At the center of the excellent cast and onscreen for nearly every scene, Cillian Murphy (Inception, 28 Days Later) brings incredible depth to his performance as Oppenheimer. Insecure, yet arrogant, naive yet bold, his Oppenheimer is a very complicated, brilliant man. Torn between his commitment to protect the USA against the Nazis as they work to develop the same bomb and his unrelenting nightmares of what the atomic bomb will do to the population around it, Murphy conveys every bit of that anguish. Nolan injects moments of his nightmares into reality, giving you a tangible perspective of Oppenheimer's struggle.

I wasn't surprised but was truly appreciative that this is a smart, adult film, not pandering to any middle ground. Oppenheimer is fiercely sexual and his relationship with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh in another strong performance) in the face of her instability and political leanings shows a loyalty that's bound to cost him. Pugh (Midsommar, Don't Worry Darling) continues her incredible screen run, teeing herself up against sure bet nominee Emily Blunt in next year's Best Supporting Actress category.

Nolan delivers one of the most compelling history lessons in film history.

It never lags and certainly never stops. Ludwig Goransson's music score is overwhelming, LOUD, intrusive and one of the stars of the film. There are times when in combination with the sound effects, it's almost too much, bombarding your ears in a crescendo that seems to arc for nearly the entire film.

I sense that was Nolan and Goransson's intent, as one of the best scenes in the movie is the silence after the Los Alamos test of the a-bomb. Between the flash of light and the shock wave quite some time later, Nolan pulls us through reaction shots of Oppenheimer and his team in deafening silence.

As the crowd celebrates, Oppenheimer seems to balance the joy of success with the realization of what he's done.

Nolan brilliantly expands on that moral wrestling match in the last hour of the film.

It's a white hot verbal and visual assault on politics and power that leaves you gutted as the film's final images wrap around the screen.

Nolan has a lot to say about Oppenheimer, politics, war and the men who yield it.

He says it all brilliantly.

One of the best films of the year, OPPENHEIMER exceeds high expectations and burns an A+, standing as one of Nolan's greatest film achievements. It's his best film in over a decade since "The Dark Knight Rises" and may just prove to be his masterpiece.

See it on the biggest, best screen and sound system you can find.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.


4. Anatomy of a Fall

"Sometimes a couple is kind of a chaos and everybody is lost. Sometimes we fight together and sometimes we fight alone, and sometimes we fight against each other, that happens."


A superb mashup of a Hitchcock whodunit and a 70's Paul Mazursky couples drama, the brilliant new ANATOMY OF A FALL has plenty of surprises up its sleeve.

We meet famous author Sandra Voyter (Sandra Heller) as the film opens, meeting a young reporter about to interview her at her chalet style home, high in the French Alps.

Sandra seems anxious to engage in casual conversation with the young girl. Their ability to chat gets harder and harder as Sandra's off screen husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) works upstairs in the attic, hammers banging alongside an instrumental version of Eminem's "P.I.M.P." that blares relentlessly from a giant speaker.

Sandra ends the interview and the reporter leaves as we watch Sandra and Samuel's 11 year old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) leave the chalet for a walk in the snow with his dog.

When Daniel returns, he finds Samuel lying dead in the snow after an apparent fall from the attic high above.

Police arrive, detectives descend and the evidence raises questions of exactly what happened in the attic. Sandra calls on a friend from her past Vincent (a fantastic Swann Arlaud), to serve as her lawyer. At first, it's to provide a shield from the press, who clamor for dirt on the famous author. But soon, Vincent and his team are pulled into one of their most challenging cases when Sandra is indicted for her husband's death.

The film gets everything right. Packed with flawless writing by the film's director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, I had no idea if Sandra was telling the truth for 99% of the film's compelling two and a half hour running time. The film never drags for a second, driving you forward with discoveries that peel back another piece of the complicated puzzle.

The reason it works so well is that it feels incredibly real. The acting is off the charts, with the trio of Heller, Theis and Graner all making you feel like you're voyeuristic in peeking in at a real family. Every role, from the reporter in the opening scene to the judge in Sandra's trial, are perfectly cast.

The long running time never bores and Triet uses it masterfully to create extended moments in which you're left to ponder Sandra's guilt or innocence.

Daniel is partially sighted after an accident that happened on Samuel's watch when Daniel was a toddler. The ripples of that near tragic event are still flowing outward during the week of Samuel's death.

A hidden recording of an argument the day before the fall serves as a pivotal moment that brings you literally to the edge of your seat. While you sit there, you start to squirm hearing Sandra and Samuel argue. Then Triet turns the recording into a flashback, dropping you into the home as the long argument takes place. It's the first time we've seen Samuel, except for an appearance on his autopsy table.

As exciting as any action sequence, it's a combination of great writing, acting and direction that leaves you floored.

Can Triet top it?

Yes, she leaves her best for last, with an emotional conclusion I won't touch on here.

Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, it's sure to be nominated for Oscars this week, I'm hoping for Heller's performance and Triet's brilliant screenplay.

In English, French and German, ANATOMY OF A FALL transcends any one language as it pulls you through its mysteries. If you love Dateline, if you love mysteries or courtroom thrillers, if you love adult drama, see this excellent film.

It's a thrilling A+ from any angle of the fall.


3. Past Lives

It's been a very long time since I've seen a Writing/Directing debut as perfect as Celine Song's PAST LIVES.

Covering decades in the lives of a young couple, the film feels like you're intruding on real lives and all the twists that fate delivers.

We meet Nora and Hae Sung as 12 year old children in Korea. Competing for top academic awards, Nora is fragile and Hae Sung is her comforter.

Young actors Moon Seung-ah and Leem Seung-min are terrific as the youngsters, teeing up the emotions of characters that we'll follow for decades as their confidence levels swap places.

When Nora's filmmaker parents decide to immigrate to Canada, the two young friends are suddenly separated.

Flashing forward 12 years, Nora (Greta Lee from "Money Monster") is living on her own in New York. She's an emerging writer looking for her voice and a Pulitzer. Online with her sister one evening, they are searching for childhood friends.

On a whim, she searches for Hae Sung and discovers that he was recently looking for her on her famous father's website. She's intrigued and returns his inquiry.

Hae Sung (perfectly played by Teo Yoo) is still in school, hanging with his friends and living at home. He's thrilled to reconnect with Nora.

Song creates a masterful middle section of the film as the two twenty-somethings carry on a relationship on Skype. We can see they're falling in love.

In a lesser film with hack writing, they would have conflicts based on him living at home and her being on her own in NYC. But the conversations feel authentic, with all the quiet pauses and hesitant commitment that they would naturally entail.

When Nora is about to embark on a writing retreat and Hae Sung is headed for his final studies in Shanghai, the two, almost on a whim, decide to take a break.

Flash forward another 12 years and the two are in very different places in their lives.

Nora is now a playwright in search of a Tony, married to American writer Arthur, played by John Magaro (Overlord, The Big Short). Hae Sung is an engineer in Korea about to embark on a week-long vacation to New York City.

Is he coming specifically to see Nora?

How will the two interact when they see each other in the same city for the first time in 24 years?

How will Arthur react to Nora's first childhood crush visiting?

In Song's talented hands, there isn't a false moment, or a predictable one for that matter.

The last 30 minutes of the movie is the most pitch perfect big screen romanticism since Warren Beatty and Julie Christie's final scene in 1978's "Heaven Can Wait".

And yet, Nora and Hae Sung's path couldn't be more different.

Beautifully made, the film feels like a travelogue to South Korea blended with a Woody Allen-esque love for NYC and all its boroughs.

One of the best movies of 2023, PAST LIVES will touch your heart while it makes you think. That magic chemistry alone makes Song one to watch and earns her film debut as writer/director an A+.

I'll be shocked if she's not nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2024 Oscars.

What a beautiful movie.

(In Korean with Subtitles & English)


2. American Fiction

One of the best written films of the year, AMERICAN FICTION is smart, thought provoking and laugh out loud funny.

With plenty to say about a woke cancel-culture, scathing perceptions of race across different cultures and the current state of the union, no film has made me laugh harder than this incredible cast does.

If you're going to cast a lead role with an actor that can deftly navigate drama and humor, you can't do better than Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale, HBO's Westworld). He's flawless in his Oscar nominated role as author Thelonius "Monk" Ellison, whose intelligent books barely get published, their only fault being that they are too smart for the current room.

His agent, Arthur (a perfectly cast John Ortiz from "Silver Linings Playbook") very professionally tells Monk that his books aren't what publishers want. They want "Black books", at which point, Monk reminds him that he wrote a book, and he's Black.

As the film opens, we see Monk in his role as college professor, trying to teach a class on African American Literature to a woke audience. The white students seem the most offended, expressing their outrage and a complete inability to look at historical writings with any perspective beyond their own lifetime.

Monk gets some unrequested time off and heads to see his family in Boston. His sister Lisa (a perfect Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor serving underprivileged families. She's recently divorced, loaded with a dark sense of humor and growing concern about their mother Agnes (music legend Leslie Uggams). Agnes' memory seems to be failing. The three of them connect in their family beach house, joined by their lifetime live-in help Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor) who has been part of their family for decades.

Monk and Lisa's brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown from "This is Us") arrives, a freshly divorced and newly out plastic surgeon who's short on cash but ready to live his new life to the fullest.

Monk visits a Boston Book Convention and speaks in a very sparsely attended panel discussion. Everyone there is next door in the big room, listening to author Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) talk about her new bestseller "We's Lives in Da Ghetto". As she reads a passage to all the inspired white Karens in the room who clutch their pearls, apoplectic with admiration, Monk stands riveted by the pandering, stereotypical dialogue and characters.

After life conspires to create plenty of financial need, Monk decides on a whim to write his own trope, adopting the nom de plume of Stagg R. Leigh and loading the book with the very worst generic, outside perceptions of black culture he can come up with. He titles it "My Pafology" and of course it's embraced on a massive level that grows in intensity and absurdity for Monk.

Adapting the novel "Erasure" by Percival Everett, writer/director Cord Jefferson blazes a sure trail for Monk through every unpredictable turn this story takes. The cast is top of their game down to the smallest role. Jefferson's dialogue is perceptive satire at its finest. His work as writer on HBO's 2019 adaption of "The Watchmen" was excellent, but he's operating on another level here.

Wright is awesome as Monk and deserves that Oscar, but I don't know how he can beat Cillian Murphy or Paul Giamatti this year, both equally deserving. Wright's scenes with his new love interest Coraline, (Erika Alexander) who lives across the street from the beach house, are all perfect.

Anyone who loved Brown as Randall on "This Is Us" (that includes me) may think they've seen the full extent of his impressive range, but he does incredible work as Cliff. A superficial party guy on the surface, his scenes with Monk in the final half hour reveal a much deeper guy beneath that toned surface. Brown is nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year for his performance as Cliff.

I loved this movie.

It never chooses an easy path, but consistently makes hilarious choices to punch through to the absurdities of our current world. There are no predictable story arcs here, save one about the book of the year committee that you know is coming, but still creates huge laughs.

When Monk decides to change the name of his fake author's book to derail the absurdity, what he comes up with and how it's received is perfection. "The dumber I behave, the richer I get!"

The film's ending is so meta that it almost lost me, but Cord steers it carefully around every hairpin turn and brings it all home.

Watching the world today in all its rampant hypocrisy, we were all due a fresh, intelligent perspective that would force us to examine our state of affairs from our own angle.

I can't imagine a smarter, funnier kick in the ass than AMERICAN FICTION.

It's one of the best films of the year and perfectly timed.

Whatever Cord Jefferson does next, I'll be there.

AMERICAN FICTION gets an A+.


and for me, the absolute BEST among the ten nominees for Best Picture of 2023....the envelope please......


1. Maestro

As a Director, Bradley Cooper proves he's not a one-trick pony with his moving, soul shaking sophomore effort, MAESTRO.

I thought his Directorial debut with "A Star is Born" was startling in its confidence and style. But that pales compared to his new creation.

Transforming in look and voice into the first great American conductor/composer, Leonard Bernstein, Cooper gives his best performance to date.

And what a subject.

As the film opens, Bernstein takes a phone call in a darkened room, behind a curtain that I assumed was a stage. Due to another conductor's illness, he's given his first chance to conduct at Carnegie Hall. He pulls back the curtain to reveal that he's in a New York apartment and has left the bed of his lover David (Matt Bomer).

As the camera sweeps up to look down from above, Bernstein runs out of the apartment, down numerous hallways and he's suddenly tuxedo clad, walking onto the stage for his debut.

Cooper gets so many things right in the opening ten minutes.

The lighting and camera movements are brilliant, creating the first show of the momentum Cooper creates in his storytelling.

We see just a moment or two of Bernstein conducting in the passionate, BIG style, but the film focuses instead on the reactions, the instant stardom that descends.

At a party soon afterward, hosted by his sister Shirley (comedian Sarah Silverman, shockingly good) Lenny meets actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn.

Felicia is played by Carey Mulligan in a performance so strong that I'd bet the house she wins Best Actress next year at the Oscars. From her endearing introduction to Bernstein, to their whirlwind friendship and 25 year marriage, Mulligan is a powerhouse.

I expected the film to detail Bernstein's career, which it certainly does, but in a style wholly unexpected. Bernstein wrote the music for "West Side Story" but the premiere or show is never seen, it's referenced, and the opening, haunting moments of its overture are heard, but not in context to the show itself.

The film sometimes leaps decades, never losing us or its storytelling, because Leonard and Felicia are always at the core.

Felecia is well aware of Lenny's dual life. She's so caught up in their love that she accepts it. As society changes and the 50's and 60's move into the more accepting 70's and 80's, Lenny's dalliances are emboldened by the times.

Their young children become teenagers and young adults and rumors about their father swirl.

Mulligan and Cooper capture a couple in crisis and in love. Life and death challenges occur, but Felicia & Lenny are always connected. The temperature of that connection is film making at its best.

There are several standout moments in the film.

A fantasy sequence set to Bernstein's music for "On the Town" is fascinating and telling. Who's fantasy is it?

A Thanksgiving day scene in which Felicia confronts Lenny takes place in their massive New York City apartment, as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Snoopy Balloon floats past outside towering windows. It's a stunner. Cooper seems to have mastered the gifts of Director Steven Spielberg, creating visual moments that impact the story but don't distract from the conversation within.

I don't remember the last movie I saw that understood the power of silence on this level. Cooper wields it masterfully. Conversations pause at pivotal moments. Quiet moments of pain and realization are played out perfectly. You could hear a pin drop in the theater numerous times.

But Cooper also unleashes the power of Bernstein's music and his conducting of masterworks as the counterpoint to his quiet moments.

In one long, single-shot sequence that will likely become a signature of Cooper's work as a director, Bernstein conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus inside the ornate Ely Cathedral. As Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony #2 is performed, we see Bernstein conducting at length for the first time in the movie. In one continuous shot, the camera circles slowly, capturing Bernstein's conducting style in all its eccentric, passionate, fever-pitched intensity.

Cooper's performance in this six-minute scene is incredible. Like Daniel Day-Lewis in Spielberg's "Lincoln", Cooper becomes Bernstein. He studied conducting for six years to conduct that 6 minute and 21 second piece. As the music soars and builds, reaching new power every time you think it's reached its ultimate crescendo, you're pulled into one of the best moments in film this year.

The scene ends perfectly, with Felicia in the wings, solitary and moved by her husband. His movement to her in that moment, the second the music stops is powerful.

If the film ended there, I would have been content.

But it continues into Felicia and Lenny's later years, serving up redemption and loss in one powerful scene after another.

The chance to watch two adults having a powerful, unhurried conversation on the big screen seems like a gift in its simplicity.

Production design is first rate throughout and the sound design is terrific.

Steven Spielberg was originally slated to direct the film, but after seeing an early cut of "A Star is Born", Spielberg told Cooper, "You're directing Maestro".

With only two films on his resume, it might be too early to call MAESTRO Bradley Cooper's masterpiece, but it wouldn't be unwarranted.

MAESTRO soars to an A+ as one of the best films of 2023.

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