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Monday May 20th

96th Academy Awards: Three Best Picture nominations you do not want to miss

<p><em>The Academy has nominated a slew of amazing films this year, yet not enough attention has been given to some lesser-known nominated films (Photo courtesy of </em><a href="" target=""><em>Flickr</em></a><em> / Jernej Furman, January 17, 2022)</em></p>

The Academy has nominated a slew of amazing films this year, yet not enough attention has been given to some lesser-known nominated films (Photo courtesy of Flickr / Jernej Furman, January 17, 2022)

By Joshua Hudes

The 96th Academy Awards aired this past Sunday. Below are my thoughts on three of the 10 Best Picture nominees that I feel should’ve been given more attention than they are currently receiving.

“The Zone of Interest” 

Nominated for five Academy Awards and having won the award for Best Sound, “The Zone of Interest” has caught the attention of the film world by storm. It was written and directed by famed auteur Jonathan Glazer, who based the film on a novel of the same name by Martin Amis. At its bare bones, this film encapsulates a style of cinema known not for its prototypical story. Instead, it’s a style which attempts to languish the viewer into the tedium of a mechanized daily life. Sometimes, its purpose is to replace tedium with passion.

More ominously, Glazer also intends to reflect back at his audience the characters’ passion for the materialistic.

This film’s actual material follows the quotidian routine of the Höss family in 1943. The family’s patriarch, Rudolf Höss, is the commandant of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp within then-occupied Poland. Hedwig Höss, the matriarch of this family of five, wants nothing more than to remain in her Eden-like paradise of a home. A new promotion, requiring Rudolf Höss to relocate to a new city, hints at this eternal garden of hers being a transient facade. The mammoth walls enclosing this space from the outside world attest to this fact. Yet, at the same time, the walls in this film do literally and figuratively craft a dividing line between this routine existence and the unimaginable horror gasping for pockets of air on its other end. 

The true terror of this film’s experimental presentation is that, to these characters, the other side symbolizes absolutely nothing while it is the only thing the audience is attempting to not disparage. 

Playing out in extended sequences of daily chores and banal conversations while carnage is only hinted at in faint sound effects, a viewer becomes frightened. They hope that they too will not become taken in by the ornamentation of this materialistic existence — or worse, block out the noise and relish in the immediate drama. This represents a radical departure not just from prior historical films of its ilk but also from prior Best Picture nominees. Its distinctiveness comes from how it views the audience as the missing puzzle piece which will complete this film’s intention as a work of collective, provocative cinema. 

Glazer is encouraging an audience to seek out something in his work. 

“American Fiction”

Nominated for five Academy Awards and having won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, “American Fiction” is one of the smaller, yet undoubtedly intriguing films to have been nominated this year. It was written and directed by Cord Jefferson, who based the film off of the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett. 

Dr. Thelonious Ellison, or Monk, is an affluent novelist and university professor who is put on temporary hold due to his frankness on topics related to racial identity. Also, his novels are not selling because for the publishers, they are not Black enough. In an act of extreme trolling, his new novel caters to every stereotype he can think of.

The novel becomes a best-seller. His leave of absence takes him back to his hometown of Boston as he straddles between connecting with his somewhat dysfunctional family and reckoning with the artistic decision he had just made.

What this film achieves goes beyond simply exploring the ever-evolving elasticity of an artist’s creative dignity. It’s not just scrutinizing why the cultivation of healthy familial bonds can place a new perspective on how important the perpetuation of that dignity is. The film also reads like a novel, its words figuratively spread abound the screen. 

At a certain point, this film takes a turn towards self-reflexivity and structural confusion. This turn reflects a type of historical appraisal related not just to Monk’s work, but to the work of many artists of his kind in the past and present. The film might be suggesting that such unique artists may never be able to find total refuge from such appraisal. 

While it might not sound like it, this film in actuality is a masterstroke in satirical comedy-drama, not unlike the cinema of the Coen Brothers. 

Considering the film won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto and the Academy tends to gravitate towards films of a literary and pertinent sort, its spot in Best Picture came as little surprise. No doubt though, it's a surprise you do not want to miss out on.

“Past Lives” 

Nominated for two Academy Awards, “Past Lives” is the defining tear-jerker of this year’s nominees, and a deeply rewarding one for sure. It was written and directed by acclaimed playwright Celine Song, who based the story off of autobiographical portions of her life.

The story concerns former childhood friends Nora Moon and Have Sung who are separated at a young age from their close bond in South Korea after Moon’s family trajectory takes her to Canada and America for the next 24 years of her life. 

The film chronicles two distinct moments of rekindling between Moon and Sung over 12-year intervals. This stirs up a measure of subtle remorse within the characters and heartache within the audience. 

The professional and personal livelihoods of each partner make them question their current life and their past life, which creeps its way back in. As a viewer, it is best to take everything in, even without knowing much. To say one thing though: its ponderings on the evolution of humans’ perceptions of the significance of time is cogent whilst remaining a hard pill to swallow. The poise and reciprocated earnestness communicated across the myriad of rich character dynamics within such a story goes a long way. It makes for a personal journey enriched by an astute genuineness over an embittered pessimism.

“Past Lives” is a warm-hearted film with earnest character relationships emblematic of where its characters find themselves by its end. 

These three films are simply the tip of the iceberg for not just what the Academy has recognized this year, but for what 2023 as a whole has provided us with. Regardless of their awards recognition, I hope at the very least that I might've sparked some curiosity.


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