Tuesday, February 13, 2024

2024 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominee - American Fiction


Cathy's Review:
 Years ago, I admired a lovely piece of pottery with vivid blue glaze, and my (then) boyfriend (who was a ceramic art student, among other things) looked at it and scoffed, "whore glaze." 

"What's whore glaze?"

"It's what Bede Clarke calls the glaze potters use when they only care about selling pottery ... and not making art," Chris answered.

It seems that all art forms fall prey to some form of whore glaze, and American Fiction is all about creating the literary version of it - in this case it's a black author who writes a novel that caters to the white liberal establishment, and then he's horrified by its success while his better works go ignored.

Jeffrey Wright's acting was nothing short of masterful, playing both the humorless damaged author, and also the stereotypical version of himself when he pretends to be his own pseudonym. He manages to be just convincing enough while letting the movie audience see his discomfort.  

I particularly loved the scene that showed him writing the book - his characters came to life and acted out the scene in front of him, even interacting with him in a very live-theater-sort-of-way.

It was also beautifully filmed, mesmerizing, and never boring.  Best yet, it's funny as hell, while delivering a message with a bite.

The movie - even its title - is packed with meaning and layers of irony, which the filmmakers use like a scalpel to comment on race relations, stereotypes, and artistic pandering for monetary gain. 

Here's another bit of irony - this probably-more-fragile-than-I-ought-to-be white woman loved it.  Was it a work of black literature that pandered to me, and did I fall for its pandering?

But it almost felt like it was made for me on a very personal level.  It was about a novelist, which I myself very much want to be, compromising his craft (even as a joke), and it delves into the meaning of art, a discussion I'm always up for. It's also about someone who is tired of being defined by what society says he is, something I've been thinking about for years, as I research the antisemitism of WW2.  My grandfather resented being considered Jewish first and a man second, so Wright's character really resonated with me.

Chris's review: American Fiction was a ray of sunshine on a gray day. As a white liberal, I'm both the intended audience and the butt of the joke, and being targeted that way was delightful. The surface story was relatable and easy to like. There were also maybe dozens of little jokes layered onto it, some of them pretty 'meta' that I think viewers run the risk of missing, but each one you perceive and understand adds a juicy frisson of pleasure to the experience as an 'insider who got the joke'. I barked out an uncontainable laugh three or four times at those and now wonder how many I missed! I'm still mulling the ending over, trying to decide where I stand on its quality. I will absolutely watch this again.

(Pithy Reviews; and Rankings of 3 out of 10 nominees):

  • American Fiction (Brilliantly ironic smart comedy; Cathy: 1, Chris 1)
  • Anatomy of a Fall (Beautiful courtroom drama; Cathy: 2, Chris: 2)
  • Maestro (Gorgeous, well-acted boring slog; Cathy: 3, Chris: 3)
Currently unranked:

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