Sunday's Oscars: Some Worthy Candidates from a Pretty Good Movie Year

Kurt Loder on

What is the deal with this year's Oscars? I mean, where is the nomination for, let's say, "John Wick: Chapter 4"? That's a pretty great movie. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the keeper of the little gold statuettes -- has been widely criticized over the years for its lukewarm assessment of action and fantasy films, but "Wick 4" speaks the international language of money, and speaks it loud. Having grossed some $440-million worldwide (easily recouping its $100-million production budget) despite a potentially butt-wearying runtime of two hours and 50 minutes, the film is the biggest hit of the 10-year-old "Wick" franchise. So big, in fact, that even though its storyline appeared to put a definitive end to the series, director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves quickly came around to teasing a future "Chapter 5." Which, if it need be said, is excellent news.

Movies aren't only about money, of course. If that were the case, maybe more people would have turned out to see the soulless "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," a not especially good-looking film that somehow cost $295 million to make and ended up not only sucking, but only grossing about $380-million -- in bottom-line terms, a bomb. Similarly, Ridley Scott's lifeless "Napoleon," with Joaquin Phoenix barely playing the diminutive dictator, came nowhere near covering its $200 million budget with an anemic gross of $218 million. (2023 wasn't a great year for Phoenix, who also starred in one of its most boringly pretentious movies, Ari Aster's "Beau Is Afraid.")

So big budgets are no guarantee of success. Consider the Blumhouse devil-doll horror flick "M3GAN," which cost $12 million to make and ended up pulling in $181 million. On the other hand, maybe massive cash outlays do matter, just not always as much as filmmakers might hope. The financial fortunes of Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon" -- which is up for four Oscars on Sunday -- are hazy. The movie -- a period piece about white land theft and the murders of Native Americans in 1920s Oklahoma -- is a valuable history lesson, and contains at least one striking performance, by the partly Native American actress Lily Gladstone (whose serene demeanor anchors the film, but whose character's limited screentime has been questioned as constituting a lead role). The hazy thing about "Killers" is that, while it didn't come near earning back its $200 million budget in a seven-week theatrical run, it presumably has continued making money on Apple TV+. (Apple is one of the movie's producers.) A pertinent financial factoid about the picture is the $30 million reportedly paid to veteran Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio to star in it. (DiCaprio wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this performance, but his costar Robert De Niro was, and so were Scorsese and the movie itself.) The streaming issue also raises another question: How many home viewers have been able to sit all the way through this picture's punishing three-and-a-half-hour runtime?

If I were an Oscar voter, "Killers of the Flower Moon" wouldn't be getting my vote this year. I have a feeling the default winners are going to be some combination of "Oppenheimer," its virtuoso director Christopher Nolan, and two of its stars, Cillian Murphy and/or Robert Downey Jr., who aims his gifts in new directions in his portrayal of Atomic Energy Commission bigwig Lewis Strauss. Alternatively, I can also see pulling the Oscar lever for "Barbie" and its protean director, Greta Gerwig. "Barbie" is a dazzling feat of pure visual and narrative imagination, with a carefully judged star performance by Margot Robbie (also one of the film's producers) and a wonderfully haunting theme song, "What Was I Made For," by Billie Eilish.

If I really had to plunk down a vote for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress this year, I would be going for "Poor Things," Yorgos Lanthimos, and the great and fearless Emma Stone. No other movie looks or sounds or plays out in quite the surreal way that "Poor Things" does; there's just nothing else like it. It feels like it arrived through an IV drip directly from Lanthimos' fevered brain, and it's calling out at this very moment for you to come see it.


I haven't mentioned Jonathan Glazer's soul-chilling Holocaust drama, "The Zone of Interest," because to talk about that brilliant, pitch-black film in terms of Oscars or any of the other awards with which it will eventually be garlanded would be terminally crass. And yet, in a singular way, it really is the movie of the year.


Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.




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