Comets’ critical critique of cinema

Anika Sultana | Mercury Staff

“Oppenheimer”, “Barbie”, “American Fiction” among Oscar nominees this year

While “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” might be the most famous of this year’s Oscars nominees, the eight other films up for “Best Picture” give them a run for their money.

Since movies are an integral part of UTD’s campus culture, as seen with widespread campus participation in events by Meteor Theater and our film department, The Mercury polled 60 Comets about their predictions and perspectives on the Oscars. 2023 brought a refreshingly diverse selection of films to theaters, from upbeat coming of age flicks, like Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” to gritty arthouse movies, like Celine Song’s “Past Lives.”

Brecken Wellborn, a Ph.D. student and TA for UTD’s film department, guessed that Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” will take the “Best Picture” Oscar home. “Oppenheimer” is a biopic centering on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man responsible for designing the first atomic bomb. It is praised for its careful interplay between cinematography and storytelling, with deliberate alternation between sections in lush color and others in a stark black-and-white. The black and white 65 mm film used in Oppenheimer didn’t exist prior to its shooting — it was engineered by Kodak specifically for the film — which speaks to Nolan’s insistence to put the visuals of Oppenheimer first.

“Christopher Nolan has been a very popular film director for many, many years,” Wellborn said. “He is one of the contemporary class of auteurs, or directors with a specific vision that people relate to. And I think that that’s really gonna speak to Academy voters at large to say, ‘Okay, this is a popular film, but in some ways, it also operates as an art film.’”

Students are also taken with this year’s “Best Picture” nominees. In The Mercury’s poll, 60% of respondents said they believed that “Oppenheimer” will take home the title of “Best Picture.”

“It’s a celebration of cinema at its finest. Everybody in that movie [Oppenheimer] gave it their very best to make sure this movie was one to remember,” one respondent said.

Among those 60%, not all were excited about Oppenheimer’s win — several respondents said that while it was technically well-done, the writing did not keep up.

“For the average consumer, [Oppenheimer is] boring as hell and fails to do what it sets out to do,” one respondent said. “All that said, I’m sure professional critics will continue to lose their minds over this sad, sad man and his very big bomb,”

This speaks to one of the major problems of film award shows: the disconnect between critics and the public. When asked if the Oscars reflect public opinion, 97% of respondents said they did not. Comets named dozens of movies they believed should have been nominated in place of others, including Sean Durkin’s “The Iron Claw,” Takashi Yamazaki’s “Godzilla Minus One” and Todd Haynes’ “May December.”

Not all students believe “Oppenheimer” is a shoo-in for winning “Best Picture.” Literature freshman Phoenix Ferozpurwala, an avid film enthusiast who has been following this year’s nominees, said that Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” will win Best Picture due to its themes and flashy aesthetic. “Barbie’s” plastic sheen and hyperfeminine nature are carefully crafted through its cinematography, as its characters are constantly backlit and decked out in pink. Contrasting with its plastic look, Ferozpurwala said that “Barbie” thrives on sentimentality in its gentle celebration of feminism

“Seeing so many girls go for the ‘Barbie’ movie and empathize with it and seeing so many people dressed in pink felt like such a celebration,” Ferozpurwala said.

The Oscars’ structure, especially in its voting, is susceptible to change. Wellborn said he has been following this year’s Oscars nominations more closely than he normally does. This year, the category has 10 nominees, a heavy contrast to its usual five or six. This increase in contenders has allowed a diverse selection of nominees, including arthouse films like “Past Lives,” international films like “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest,” a German period piece.

“I think what this group of nominees is doing particularly well is balancing those different strands of cinema,” Wellborn said. “And that’s why I’m definitely an advocate and in favor of keeping 10 nominees.”

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