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The Trailblazer

The student news site of McNeil High School

The Trailblazer

The Oscars 2024: Best Picture Nominees, Ranked

Trouble+in+Barbieland
Trouble in Barbieland

As opposed to last year’s nominees that felt like they were picked at random, this year was a much better selection with films that are more deserving of a nomination. After years of messy and chaotic productions, 2023 finally felt like Hollywood bounced back from the pandemic.

 

10. Maestro

Photo: Netflix

Bradley Cooper writing, directing and starring in a movie, what could go wrong? Well, quite a bit. Maestro is nothing awful, but it is nothing amazing either, a great example of a perfectly middle of the road movie. Maestro’s biggest offense is Cooper’s obsession with academy recognition. The film is clearly made with love and a desire to handle Leonard Bernstein’s story with care. No soulless movie would look this good or sound this good, which makes it all the more painful. As zany as Cooper’s performance is, the scenes where he’s actually composing are electric and kinetic, like it’s from Bernstein himself. Maestro fails to say anything of actual value, it fails to say something about its very subject matter and it fails to justify its nearly two and a half hour runtime. It’s pretty, but it’s not enough to save this self-indulgent biopic. While there’s definitely worse, it’s hard to imagine Maestro’s spot couldn’t have gone to another film.

 

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9. Barbie

Photo: Warner Bros.

A cultural juggernaut so powerful it caused a worldwide shortage of pink paint, Barbie is certainly not typically best picture material, but it was debatably the most culturally impactful movie of 2023. From the “Barbenheimer” memes to the astonishingly high box office numbers, Barbie proves that the movies are back and here to stay. Hot off the heels of Little Women and Ladybird, Greta Gerwig takes the iconic toy line and turns it into a gender commentary blockbuster. While Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are both comedic powerhouses, the real star of the show was the set design. It is a tall order to bring a world of toy dolls to life, and it is done effortlessly in Barbie. Every inch of the sets were given equal amounts of care, and it’s hard to find anything that isn’t filled with creative expression. The costuming is just as good, with a diverse wardrobe for Barbie that draws from over half a century of dolls.

 

8. The Zone of Interest

Photo: A24

The Zone of Interest is one of the more out of place nominees this year, it’s a Holocaust movie from the perspective of the oppressor. It’s not exactly subtle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything important to say. The film follows an SS officer and his family in 1943 living directly next to Auschwitz. The most interesting thing they do with this premise is that it’s just about their everyday life. It’s about how they’re continuing with their everyday life as genocide is happening a short walk away. Playing in their backyard while they hear the screams of children and the echoes of gunfire. The cinematography is evocative and it focuses on the mundane, at one point lingering on a shot of one of the children setting the dining table, the stillness of the camera keeping the story purely objective. The washed out color palette illustrates a bleak and beaten down world, the booms of the score sound like they’re straight from a nightmare and the obliviousness of the children is chilling to the bone. The Zone of Interest is more fascinating as a text than it is a film, and a commentary that feels more relevant than ever.

 

7. Killers of the Flower Moon

Photo: Apple

Martin Scorsese’s 26th picture, Killers of the Flower Moon is another adapted screenplay that is based off the 2017 book of the same name. The story follows the series of Osage tribe murders that happened in Oklahoma in the 1920’s. Some of the usual Scorsese crew like Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro return, but newcomer Lily Gladstone is the heart of the movie. A nearly three and a half hour epic that does not shy away from the reality of killing. It’s confident in the weight of the story and its storytellers. Gladstone’s character is introduced by naming Osage women murdered, their age and how they were murdered. It’s a scene that sticks with the audience like glue, and Gladstone’s haunting delivery makes it unforgettable. A performance so good it actively makes DiCaprio’s seem incomparable in comparison, he is wildly inconsistent and jarring, almost to a fault; it’s puzzling to say the least. Killers of the Flower Moon is a bloodstained American history, a truth that is not often told, it’s a story that needs to be told, and seeing one of the most important and influential figures in Hollywood take to the director’s chair to tell it is inspiring.

 

6. Anatomy of a Fall

Photo: Neon

A French courtroom drama that is almost too absurd to believe, Anatomy of a Fall is a slow burn that doesn’t really go out. Sandra Hüller (who also shared the screen in The Zone of Interest) stars as a writer charged with murdering her husband who is also a writer. Their blind son comes back from a walk with his guide dog to find his father’s body in the snow, leaving him as the only witness. Though the trial does reach a definitive conclusion and his death is ruled a suicide, it’s never really clear what actually happened, it’s left up in the air for the audience to interpret. Hüller’s performance is layered, effortless yet calculated and adds depth to an already deep script. It’s hard to make a film that spends a majority of its runtime in a courtroom interesting, but Anatomy of a Fall manages to keep its nail-biting intensity steady throughout. It takes a bit to find its footing, but once it does, it is entrancing and magnetic.

 

5. Past Lives

Photo: A24

The debut film from writer/director Celine Song, Past Lives is a devastating romance that challenges the idea of soulmates and fate. The film follows two childhood friends as they reconnect many years later in New York City and how they deal with lingering feelings for each other. The subtlety in the acting and the poetry of the script is a perfect mix. This is a tragedy that can only be shown in film, the kind of feelings that can only be evoked with images, the kind of melancholy that’s delivered with a light blow. For how dense the script is, so many things are said with nothing at all, lifetimes of stories are told with a simple glance. Past Lives is an emotional ballad that leaves a lasting impression after the credits roll, and was one of the strongest nominees this year.

 

4. American Fiction

Photo: MGM

Another adapted screenplay, American Fiction is based on the 2001 novel Erasure, by Percival Everett. While tackling important issues about black storytelling and white pandering, the film manages to be a heartwarming and funny story following a black writer as he struggles to adjust to modern market demands. The film doesn’t shy away from heavy topics, and it handles them with care, but it still manages to be witty. Jeffery Wright’s talent is on full display as he finally gets a chance to dawn a leading man’s role and an all-star supporting cast and clever script elevate the film to a very high level. American Fiction isn’t revolutionary, but it does enough new with stuff that’s already been done to make it a genuine and worthwhile film.

 

3. Poor Things

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

Based on the 1992 novel of the same name, Poor Things is heavily inspired by early sci-fi like Frankenstein. The film follows the eccentric Bella Baxter as she traverses a steampunk London and pastel Lisbon, the surrealist look of Poor Things is as imaginative as it is ambitious, a truly stunning world director Yorgos Lanthimos crafted. Emma Stone’s transformative performance shows a complete commitment to Lanthimos’ vision. If nothing else, it is easily the most experimental and fearless performance of the year.  As great as the rest of the cast is, Mark Ruffalo struggles to keep up. He is funny, but the blunt humor of his character clashes with the more subtle and awkward humor of the rest of the movie. His over-the-top deliveries and physical comedy is definitely a highlight of the movie, but at times his humor felt out of place and struggled to match the tone of the other characters. The best thing about Poor Things is that it commits; it commits to the weird, the unimaginable and the hilarity of it all and proves to be a film that has to be seen to be believed. 

 

2. The Holdovers

Photo: Focus Features

While most Christmas movies follow biological and extended family, The Holdovers focuses on an unlikely found family during the holidays. Stuck at boarding school with nowhere to go for winter break, a student and two faculty members learn to appreciate each other’s company, with jaded and strict Paul Giamatti playing opposite a rebellious and pessimistic Dominic Sessa. Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s performance as Mary Lamb, a lunch lady coping with the death of her son and mediating the two main mens conflicts, is as funny as it is heartbreaking. Though this is his first feature film, Sessa proves that he has the chops to be acting alongside Giamatti and Randolph. The characters and their chemistry are wonderful, seeing them grow and form bonds over the course of the movie brought a level of satisfaction that is rare. The Holdovers feels like a warm hug in a sea of overdone and boring plots, it brings something new to the table that holiday-themed movies needed. 

 

1. Oppenheimer

Photo: Universal

A three hour historical drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer that is composed almost completely of people talking is certainly an unexpected choice for a Christopher Nolan film. Commonly referred to as “the Father of the Atomic Bomb,” Oppenheimer played a pivotal role in World War II. A dreadful look into the man behind an atrocity and a life that followed, Nolan’s biopic becomes more of a character study rather than an oral history of Oppenheimer. The film leans more into the human aspect, the ramifications creating a weapon of mass destruction has on the people who made it. Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Oppenheimer is exceptional to say the least, and made the most compelling case for the best actor win, and supporting actor Robert Downey Jr. shows a side of himself that hasn’t been seen since 2008’s Iron Man. A wicked ensemble cast, stunning visuals and a nuclear score by Ludwig Göransson make for an impressive movie that will stand the test of time. Oppenheimer is definitely the critical darling of the best picture nominees this year, and it was not at all surprising to see it win most of its nominations.

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Cooper Seaver, Design Editor
My name is Cooper Seaver and this is my first year on the Trailblazer staff, and I am the design editor for the newspaper. I'm in tech theater and I like to help with our shows when I can. When I'm not at school, I'm working my job at Whataburger or spending time at the gym. In my free time, I like to watch movies, TV shows and listen to music. I am super excited to be on the 2023-24 Trailblazer staff!
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