Showing posts with label 2024 Best International Feature Nominations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2024 Best International Feature Nominations. Show all posts

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Getting Ready for the 2024 Oscars, Part 2: "American Fiction" and "Poor Things"

[I review the last two movies I needed to see to be Oscar Ready: "American Fiction" and "Poor Things"]

American Fiction (2023)

An African American professor/novelist whose books haven't sold and who is fed up with best sellers that stereotype the black experience as one filled with drug dealers, rappers and poor single moms, changes course, and under a pen name, decides to write his own book - filled with black drug dealers, rappers and poor single moms. But, hey, it's a joke! But, much to his chagrin, it turns into a best seller!

This is a smart movie on several different levels. 

First of all, what some fail to realize is that the so-called "black experience" runs the gamut.  Yes, there are rappers, drug dealers and people living in poverty, but there are also many African American upper middle class people who are doctors and lawyers and know little about rappers, drug dealers and poverty.  And that is the world that Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) grew up in.  

Monk is a professor in Los Angeles whose novels have been awarded praise but none have been best sellers, and recently he can't even get published because his books are not "black enough."  And to add insult to injury, he is given a temporary leave of absence from his job because he is upsetting his students over racial issues. So he heads home to Boston to spend some time with his family and to take part in a literary seminar where, after low attendance at his panel, he discovers Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), whose new best-selling book about poor, black single mothers - "We's Lives in Da Ghetto" - has drawn huge attendance to her book reading. Ironically, like Monk, Golden, even though her book is about poor, single mothers, grew up middle class and privileged.

Disgusted, Monk pens a send-up, to show what black writers are burdened with, having to write about the "black experience" as one filled with bad English, violence, and drugs. He names the book "My Pafology" and uses the pen name Stagg R. Leigh and gives this new persona a criminal record. It was a joke!  But wouldn't you know, he is offered a $750,000 advance and a movie deal.  Again, disgusted, he demands that the title be changed to "F**k."  Surely that will scupper the deal.  Nope.  

Now we are on to level number two - family, where we are reminded that no matter what your color, there is drama and Monk's family is no exception.  His mother, Agnes (Leslie Uggams), is showing signs of dementia; his brother, Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), who is a plastic surgeon, is divorced and has come out as gay, now abusing drugs and alcohol; and his sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), also a doctor, has issues. Neither sibling can help Monk care for their mother, so with Monk on his own, facing the financial responsibility of finding their mother a care facility, the book and movie deals for his so-called joke of a book are very tempting.

Now, buttoned-up and professorial, Monk, is stuck with impersonating a thug with a criminal history, and to make matters worse, his book is submitted for a literary award and he is one of the judges, so now he has to judge his own book!

And then we have level three - this film is also a commentary on what is being published these days, the junk so many of us read, especially books that pander to white people stereotypes of life in the "hood." I know, it's judgy, but there is some merit to that.  Monk has written intellectual books to appeal to smart people, regardless of color, but his books don't sell because the public wants something easy and fast, something they can relate to even if it reinforces stereotypes, which in turn, forces black writers to write what sells.

Needless to say, this is a satire and very funny, but not without lots to think about.  

Jeffrey Wright is wonderful as Monk and deserving of his 2024 Best Actor Oscar nomination. Sterling K. Brown was a surprise and has earned my respect.  His uptight character in "This is Us" irritated the hell out of me, so I am glad I am able to give him another chance as he plays against that character as the "out of the closet," drug-using, "I don't give a damn," Cliff.  He, too, has been rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Erika Alexander as Monk's love interest and Myra Lucretia Taylor as Lorraine, the family's loyal housekeeper, add to this engaging ensemble. And good to see Leslie Uggams, who looks wonderful. Hard to believe she is old enough to be playing Monk's mother, a woman struggling with dementia.  

Fun fact: Speaking of Leslie Uggams, when accepting an award from her at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Wright couldn't help but reveal his longtime crush on her - “I've had a crush on you since the first day I saw you, mother. Who did not?”  Awww...

Adapted by Cord Jefferson from the novel "Erasure" by Percival Everett (Jefferson's adaption also has an Oscar nomination) and directed by Jefferson, this film forces us all to face our stereotyping, shines a light on the roadblocks that black people in the creative community often must navigate and reminds us that no matter what our race, we all share many commonalities.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a smart, grown-up film for smart, grown-up people. (In theatres - streaming soon on Apple+) 

Poor Things (2023)

A new take on the Frankenstein's monster story.

I am going to warn you right now.  If you loved this movie, you will not like my review because I decidedly did NOT love this movie, nor did I even like it, so if my criticisms of the film will make you mad, best to stop reading now.

But, anyway, before I get into all of that, here is some background.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) lives with Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe).  She calls him God and you soon find out the reason why, a rather obvious film nod to his skills of bringing back the dead. Bella, before she was Bella, when she was a sad and heavily pregnant other women, had jumped off a bridge and killed herself but was saved by Baxter when he transplanted the brain of her still alive unborn baby into her. Now Bella is a full-grown woman with the brain of a baby. You learn Baxter likes to do those kinds of experiments when you notice the chicken with the pig's head, the goose with a bulldog head, and the goat with a duck head wandering around the house. Yes, there are some laughs to be had in this film. A few.

And if Dr. Baxter's face is any indication, he appears to have come by this penchant naturally as his father also liked to experiment.  He has the face of Frankenstein's monster, all scarred and stitched up. Baxter hires Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), a young doctor, to work with Bella and observe her because in the end she is an experiment. God wants to know how her brain will progress. God keeps Bella close and even suggests that Max marry Bella, though he must agree to stay with him in the house forever.  Max agrees because he has feelings for Bella.

But then, Bella meets Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), an arrogant rake, who whisks her off on an adventure.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Bella is already addicted to masturbation and sex (she calls it "furious jumping") and Duncan is not averse to having sex several times a day, so it's a good match until Bella finds her way and matures and he loses control of her.  His frail masculinity is wounded. So Bella continues to mature and find herself until the movie finally ends (thank god) with a derivative ending reminiscent of the movie "Freaks."

So a case could be made for this film having a feminist message. Based on the novel by Alasdair Gray and adapted by Tony McNamara, it's about loss of innocence, how a woman goes from a child to embarking on a journey to find herself and eventually shedding herself from male dominance and control and becoming her true self.  I usually like movies like that, but sadly how it was presented overshadowed any deep message.  The film was too much in my face all of the time - masturbation, sex, full nudity, body parts being removed, blood and guts. I know it was supposed to be funny and surreal, but sitting in the theatre, I felt like I was in a Dali painting and I was the melting watch!

I can appreciate originality, good acting, beautiful production design and great cinematography (though the switching from black and white to color and back again was confusing as was the views from a fish eye lens and just seemed a bit indulgent).  I also like films with a message, which this film has, but it all has to add up to an enjoyable movie experience for me, and sadly, it was not. All of those good things I mentioned were overshadowed by overindulgence, shock value and just plain nuttiness.  I am sick of nutty movies. Don't get me started on "Everything, Everywhere All At Once."

And to continue my rant, I would like to comment on Emma Stone's Best Actress Oscar nomination for this (she has already won a Best Actress Golden Globe) and Margot Robbie's Oscar snub for "Barbie."  Emma basically played a two-year old for the first half of the movie and Margot played a doll come to life. Similar mental states, I would say.  Though Emma is an excellent actress, I just did not believe her in this role.  Her performance screamed of "Look at me, I'm a two year old!" She walked around stiff-legged, masturbated with an apple, talked funny and took a pee on the floor, all things I guess a two-year-old would do, but I didn't buy it.  I don't like it when I can tell an actor is acting. It did get better as her character matured, but I was already over it.  As for Margot as Barbie.  I believed and enjoyed every minute of her performance. Yet Emma received an Oscar nod and Margot did not. End of rant.

On the other hand, lest you think I can't find anything good here, Mark Ruffalo was quite wonderful and played against the usual brooding dark souls he plays.  His Duncan was a dark soul but a funny one. Dafoe and Youssef were also good. And the film is worthy of its Oscar nods for makeup and costume.

Speaking of Oscar nods, I know this film has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos, who was also nominated for a Best Director Oscar for "The Favourite" in 2019), and more, so I guess perhaps I am not the best judge of nutty movies. I mean, look what happened with "Everything, Everywhere All at Once." I really disliked that one, too, and said so, yet it went on to win seven Oscars including Best Picture.  I think I was the only person who didn't like that movie, and it looks like I am the only person who didn't like this one.  So does that mean my bad review of this one clinches a Best Picture win for it?  I hope not, but even if it does win, that changes nothing for me. Didn't like "Everything, Everywhere All at Once," and I really didn't like this one.

Rosy the Reviewer says..."Frankenstein" meets "Freaks" kind of sums it up for me.  Not an enjoyable experience. (In theatres)

There you have it.  I have now seen all of the movies nominated for Best Picture that I could find in the theatres or streaming.  As we get closer to Oscar Night - March 10 - more films might become available.  I will keep you posted.  Until then...

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

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And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!