Rick's Flicks

Handicapping the Oscars

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By Rick M. Pezzullo

Another year is in the books and the Oscars are once again approaching. Here is a quick review of the 10 nominees for Best Picture and what you can expect at the 96th Academy Awards on March 11.

Past Lives

Starring Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, Past Lives is a romance drama film that tells the story of two childhood friends who reconnect after many years apart. Na Young (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) grew up as childhood friends in South Korea, but their relationship was torn apart due to Na Young’s parents’ decision to emigrate to Canada. Years go by and Na Young changes her name to Nora as she builds her life as a writer in New York City. She stumbles upon Hae Sung on Facebook and they begin their relationship anew. Past Lives may seem like a film with a simple premise, but it is rich with raw emotion and realism that is palpable with every scene. The acting was excellent and the dialogue was genuine and unforced. Many romance films are very unrealistic, predictable, and overly cheesy. Past Lives is none of those things. I found myself intrigued and invested in this love story that seemed like a very real scenario in the 21st century. While Past Lives has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, it will most likely not be taking home either award. If you and your significant other are looking for a romance movie that will not be just another Hallmark atrocity, Past Lives is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 9/10

Where to watch: Most streaming outlets for a fee (Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, etc.)


Based on the 2005 biography, American Prometheus, Oppenheimer tells the story of one of the world’s most influential physicists, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer is a riveting film about the complex life of the man who led the invention of the nuclear bomb. Not only did he have the pressure of the world on his shoulders, but he had to deal with the aftermath of having the blood of so many innocent people on his hands. In addition, he had to navigate a complicated political landscape both during the invention process and afterwards. The first aspect of the film that stood out to me was the score. Every sound and every note made you feel the tension and gravity of every moment. The film also alternates between color and black/white when focusing on different storylines, which I thought was an interesting touch. The cast is stacked with big name actors, including Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, and Florence Pugh. Murphy and Downey Jr. deliver exceptional performances as Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss respectively and should expect Academy Award nominations. Many critics of the film felt the movie dragged do its three-hour run time, but I felt that the long run time was warranted to fully understand the intricate relationships and details that were vital in shaping his life. I was fascinated that almost everything in the movie is based on actual events and quotes and not just exaggerated for effect. Oppenheimer received an astounding 13 Oscar nominations and is the odds-on favorite for Best Picture as well as Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. In summation, Oppenheimer is certainly one of the best films of the year and is definitely worth a watch for history buffs and average moviegoers alike.

Rating: 9.5/10

Where to watch: Peacock and other streaming outlets for a fee


Directed by Greta Gerwig, Barbie is a comedy film about the iconic doll brought to life and her existential crisis that disrupts her seemingly perfect utopia. The film is witty, creative, and shockingly emotional as it comments on the meaning of life, individuality, and how women continue to have impossible standards to live up to in modern society. The film features perfect casting with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling delivering outstanding performances as Barbie and Ken. America Ferrera also delivers an inspired performance as Barbie’s “real world” owner and gives a monologue that has gone viral for its impact and unfortunate truth. Many critics of the film feel that the movie is “not nice to men.” To those people, I say get over yourself. As a man, I was not offended at all by this film. It is very important to be able to laugh at yourself in life. If you are offended, it is most likely due to insecurities and the realization that Barbie’s commentary on patriarchal society is unfortunately true. Despite some polarizing views, there is a reason this movie is breaking records at the worldwide box office. Barbie received eight Academy Awards nominations, but will most likely come up short in many major categories come Oscar Sunday. The biggest snub was for Gerwig in the Best Director category as she masterfully crafted a meaningful and cultural phenomenon using a doll as source material. However, Barbie will most likely be in serious contention for Best Song, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design. Overall, Barbie had me laughing from beginning to end and was certainly a fun summer movie with relevant social commentary that everyone should check out.

Rating: 9.5/10

Where to watch: Max and other streaming outlets for a fee

Poor Things

Poor Things is a self-discovery film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe. Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) has been resurrected by experimental scientist, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), after her suicide while pregnant. Bella slowly learns and progresses in intellect and eventually chooses to run away to explore the world. Bella, while abroad, learns of the horrors of the world, but also about her true personality and sense of one’s self. The themes of autonomy, women’s empowerment, and self-growth are evident throughout Poor Things. However, the film may prove too eccentric and strikingly odd for most casual moviegoers. The amount of sexual content in the film seems a tad gratuitous and seems overly unusual just for the sake of being different. I did find some of the oddities entertaining and laughed repeatedly at the absurdity of Ruffalo’s character. The cinematography was excellent as contrasting colors highlighted the differences between Bella’s home and her exploratory ventures. Poor Things has been nominated for a staggering 11 Academy Awards, but I do not expect it to take home many. Stone is the current front runner for Best Actress after winning at the Golden Globes, but would not be my first choice despite her solid performance.

Rating: 6.5/10

Where to watch: Hulu and other streaming outlets for a fee

Killers of the Flower Moon

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon is a western drama film based off true events regarding murders of Osage tribe members in the 1920s starring Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro. The film centers around Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) who marries Mollie Kyle ( Gladstone) as part of his uncle’s (De Niro) scheme to slowly murder the Osage to inherit their oil money. The film is certainly lengthy at three hours 26 minutes, but it kept me entertained and intrigued as the events unfolded. The acting is sensational and the gravity of each moment is felt with every heinous act that was performed out of greed and racism. Killers of the Flower Moon received 10 Academy Award nominations, but will most likely come up short handed in most categories. Gladstone will be in contention for Best Actress after winning for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes. While the events of Killers of the Flower Moon may not seem real because of the horrid actions and crimes committed against the Osage, it was an important history lesson that hopefully will lead to more attention to underserved minority groups.

Rating: 8/10

Where to watch: Apple TV+ and other streaming outlets for a fee

The Holdovers

Directed by Alexander Payne, The Holdovers is a drama film starring Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Dominic Sessa. Set in the 1970s, Paul Dunham (Giamatti) is a teacher at a private academy and is known for his stubborn and strict methods. He gets tasked with watching over a student, Angus Tully (Sessa), during the Christmas break. While neither is happy with the idea of being stuck only with each other and the school’s chef (Randolph), the two develop a bond and trust as they both try to overcome their personal flaws and traumatic past events. While I wasn’t sure, initially, if this film would pique my interest, I found myself sympathizing with the characters because of their growth throughout the story. An important lesson was apparent: People can always change and their past decisions and circumstances don’t have to define who you are. The acting truly shines in The Holdovers as Giamatti and Randolph will both be frontrunners for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively. The film also does a great job of transporting you back in time and making everything feel authentically in the 70s. The Holdovers is certainly worth a watch and a masterclass of acting and character development.

Rating: 8.5/10

Where to watch: Peacock and other streaming outlets for a fee

Anatomy of a Fall

Directed by Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall is a legal drama film starring Sandra Hüller and Milo Machado-Graner. Sandra Voyter (Hüller) is a novelist whose husband’s mysterious death just outside their French home stirs national controversy. Their son, Daniel (Machado-Graner), is blind and was the person who stumbled upon the boy on his daily walk. Sandra and Daniel’s relationship is challenged by the trials and tribulations of a case that pins the mother as the primary suspect. I was pleasantly intrigued and surprised by this film. The acting is excellent with Machado-Graner giving an outstanding performance as a child who’s trust in his mother is shattered amidst losing his best friend, his father. The editing was spot on as you are given pieces of information from the past that leads the audience towards making their own assumptions about the prime suspect. Hüller is powerful, intimidating, but also demonstrates an exhaustion that is relatable for the viewer when someone’s life falls to pieces. Anatomy of a Fall is nominated for five Academy Awards and should be the frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay and in contention for Best Film Editing. Overall, Anatomy of a Fall is certainly worth a watch for those into crime dramas and captivating legal suspense.

Rating: 8.5/10

Where to watch: Most streaming outlets for a fee (Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, etc.)


Starring Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan, Maestro tells the story of famous American composer, Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein (Cooper) is an extremely talented composer and conductor who falls in love with aspiring actress Felicia Montealgre (Mulligan). Despite their shared interests in the arts, Bernstein’s affinity for affairs with suitors of both genders drives a wedge between their relationship. While I appreciate Cooper’s dedication to this role, which involved years of learning the intricacies of being a conductor, I never found myself empathizing with his character. Yes, Bernstein seemed to be a talented conductor, but he didn’t seem to have many redeemable qualities outside of that. While I don’t personally know much of Bernstein’s history, I’m not sure he would be thrilled with the portrayal of his character in this film. One aspect of the film that did surprise me was how well they transformed Cooper into an older gentleman. The makeup was flawless and will certainly make Maestro a contender for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. While Cooper and Mulligan both received acting nominations, do not expect many awards for Maestro come Oscar Sunday. Overall, this biographical drama is decent, but don’t expect to walk away with a newfound respect and admiration for Bernstein.

Rating: 6.5/10

Where to watch: Netflix

American Fiction

American Fiction is a comedy drama film based on the book, Erasure by Percival Everett and stars Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown. It follows Thelonius “Monk” Ellison (Wright), who is a Black novelist who is frustrated by the stereotypical “Black” stories that are pushed by mainstream media. While he is a respected writer, he doesn’t sell many books because he refuses to conform to society’s expectations of the black experience. As a result, he writes an outlandish satirical novel, which goes on to receive nationwide attention. Monk then struggles with own family tragedies as he attempts to juggle his literary facade. While the acting is very good, the writing steals the show for this film. It is smart, witty and makes you really think and evaluate how we perceive other people’s experiences to be. While I was laughing throughout most of the film, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in the veracity of what the film highlights. Most people want to consume media that is easy and fits what they believe as opposed to what is true, real, and complex. While Wright and Brown each received nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, they will most likely not take home either award. However, American Fiction should take home a well-deserved Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Overall, this is one of my favorite movies of the year and is definitely worth a watch for those looking to broaden their perspectives.

Rating: 9.25/10

Where to watch: Most streaming outlets for a fee (Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, etc.)

The Zone of Interest

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest follows Nazi commandant, Rudolf Hoss, and his wife, Hedwig, as they attempt to build a normal life directly next to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. The film attempts to relay how indifferent the Nazis were to the slaughter of millions of Jewish people through monotonous family life and drastic sound elements. While I am sensitive to how terrible this time in history was, I found this film to be terribly boring. There is no real story, no character development, no climax, and no lesson that I couldn’t have gotten in the first fifteen minutes of this film. You find yourself waiting for something to happen, but only to see Hedwig smoking in her greenhouse and her son playing with toys as they listen to people being murdered. It is in no way an enjoyable film. While it was nominated for five Academy Awards, it will most likely only receive Best International Film and has an outside shot at Best Sound. Unless you are truly captivated by this time in history and would like to be depressed with no real new information about how terrible the Nazis were, I would skip this film.

Rating: 3.5/10

Where to watch: Most streaming outlets for a fee (Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, etc.)

Awards Predictions

Best Actor

Who should win: Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers)

Who will in: Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer)

Best Actress

Who should win: Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon)

Who will win: Emma Stone (Poor Things)

Best Supporting Actor

Who should win: Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer)

Who will win: Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer)


Best Supporting Actress

Who should win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers)

Who will win: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers)

Best Director

Who should win: Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer)

Who will win: Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer)

Best Picture

Who should win: Oppenheimer

Who will win: Oppenheimer

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