Film overflow

A year-in-review postscript from CN&R film critic; plus, a look at an impressive multiple-Oscar nominee

Emma Stone as the "monster" in the film Poor Things, an adaptation of the Frankenstein story that's garnered 11 Oscar nominations.

In the first weeks of 2023 (“Fundamental Cinema“), I wrote that EO, Jerzy Skolimowski’s poetic masterpiece with a donkey as its central character, was already on my Top Ten list for the year that had just begun. It’s still the best new release I saw in 2023, and it’s unique in ways that elude the categories cited in my year-in-review piece in last month’s print issue. And much the same should be said for two other films I reviewed with high praise but neglected to mention in the year-end piece: Past Lives and Barbie.

I also made no mention of Oppenheimer, but that was more or less deliberate. I’m not surprised at its Oscar nominations, but was a little surprised at its dominance in the year-end polling of film reviewers. But, as longtime readers of my reviews probably already know, I almost always prefer a movie that enthralls over one that merely overwhelms.

So I’ve got a bone to pick with the Oscars on that count as well: Barbie is nominated for Best Picture, but its star (Margot Robbie) and its director (Greta Gerwig) are not nominated in their respective categories; and Wes Anderson is rightfully nominated for Best Live Action Short (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar), but his superb feature film, Asteroid City, goes more or less unrecognized.

I’ve only just begun to catch up with the major Oscar nominees that I haven’t previously seen or reviewed. But I’m already here to say that I’ve now seen the remarkable and much nominated Poor Things and am very impressed. It’s received 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, etc.

It’s a wildly erotic, lavishly stylized variation on the Frankenstein story, with a paradoxical female “monster”” (Stone) brought back to tragicomic life by the “god-like” Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). It plays out, in part, as an epic parable about gender and identity. Plus it’s exceptional in every respect, and it suavely pushes its “R” rating to the limits.

Willem Dafoe as Dr. Godwin Baxter in Poor Things.

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