The Academy Awards will happen on 11 March (Philippine time) and we have less than a month to check out all the nominees available to us. Here are two more Oscar-nominated films — Best Picture nominee Poor Things and the Jon Batiste Netflix documentary American Symphony, which features his romantic ballad that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.

‘POOR THINGS’ (2023)

Yorgos Lanthimos of the Greek Weird Wave goes all flamboyant in his film adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s tale of a child-like monster Bella Baxter (Lanthimos’ muse and Golden Globe-winner Emma Stone) who discovers the pleasures, and eventually, the tragedies of life. 

EMMA Stone as Bella Baxter and Mark Ruffalo as Duncan Wedderburn in ‘Poor Things.’ | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

Lanthimos mounts a surreal, painterly, fantastical sex-riddled dark comedy set in the Victorian era. The baby-brained Bella, living with her Frankenstein-like creator Dr. Godwin (Willem Dafoe), becomes a sex addict who hilariously and consistently breaks the heart of a fantastic Mark Ruffalo, who plays a lovestruck lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn.

It is over-stylish, complete with molten cotton-candy skies and mutant animals, evidence of the film’s highly innovative lensing and technology. But it is narratively monotonous, the story only developing substance and poetry late in the game. 

It only becomes truly interesting when you realize that Bella’s rebirth is not just physical, it’s the beginning of a journey toward existential crisis. Her original self has died from the pain of life, but then her second life — through Godwin — becomes hungry for the joys of life. Then she comes back full circle. Bella’s growth is the heart and soul of the film.

Ruffalo proves once again his mastery of his craft. He is the vibrant shade in this Hieronymus Bosch fantasia. He is way better here than Stone’s frequently naked freaky sex machine, but Stone does a competent job, nevertheless. 

Poor Things bagged the Golden Lion at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in 2023 and the 2024 Golden Globe Best Motion Picture (comedy or drama). It also received 11 Oscar nominations this year, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Emma Stone and Best Supporting Actor for Mark Ruffalo. 

3 out of 5 stars

Now showing in Philippine cinemas


The multi-Grammy winner Jon Batiste earned a 2024 Oscar nomination for the song “It Never Went Away” from his Netflix biographical documentary American Symphony.

JOHN Batiste in the Netflix documentary ‘American Symphony.’ | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NETFLIX

The documentary, directed by Matthew Heineman, begins in the ‘Year of Jon Batiste’ (late 2021 to 2022). Batiste just received news that he earned 11 Grammy nominations and was tasked to perform the titular American Symphony at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. But then his wife, New York Times columnist Suleika Jaouad, suddenly falls ill: her leukemia returns after 10 years of remission. 

Heineman’s sterile, sanitized reality TV-like documentary never truly reveals Batiste’s genius and vulnerability. The film, gorgeously lensed, barely strips off its subject matter. 

It’s a fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing intimate moments of the couple as they face contrasting massive events in their lives: his triumph and her defeat. His fame and her deteriorating health. And how both, like all creatives, cannot live without artistic expression. 

Their “love story” is interspersed with clips, with no talking heads, and with Batiste poetically narrating his philosophies. 

But Heineman, who also wrote, shot and edited the docu, never truly exposes the man behind the fame. And Batiste, who allowed Heineman to film him and Suleika in their most private moments, is also too guarded. Watching the docu, then, feels like flipping through a photo album. Too filtered and calculated. Too safe and too curated. 

More disappointing is the culmination at the Carnegie Hall, where we only get mere snippets, and the viewer does not witness the whole of Batiste’s prodigious work. Heinemen put more focus on emotionally manipulating his audience with a cheesy montage of earlier scenes, as if we have already forgotten them. The portrait of Suleika’s cancer also feels exploitative.

2 out of 5 stars

Streaming on Netflix