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Does Maestro deserve its Oscar nominations?

By Candice Slawsky on February 12, 2024

Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s 2023 directorial debut, currently sits at seven Academy Award nominations, making it the fifth most-nominated film of the year. Debates over nominees are practically as old as the Oscars themselves, but this year, there seems to be a rise in public discontent concerning who was or wasn’t nominated.

Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig both failed to earn acting and directing nods, respectively, whereas fan favourite Saltburn went completely unrecognized. Meanwhile, there sits Maestro, which competes for Best Actress, Actor, Makeup and Hairstyling, Cinematography, Sound, Original Screenplay and the arguably biggest prize of them all: Best Picture. Yet whether it deserves them all is a different story.

Best Actress

This one is likely the least debatable of the nominations; Carey Mulligan has been giving consistently strong performances for nearly 20 years. It doesn’t matter if she is a main character or not. She can’t help but steal every scene she enters, and this is no exception. Mulligan shines as Felicia Bernstein, and as always, her accent work is unparalleled.

There is a deep soulfulness to her character that she can fully embody without sacrificing her high energy and quick wit. 

Though looking at her competition, she probably won’t win. Odds are Emma Stone (Poor Things) will walk away with her second Oscar, or Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) her first.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper’s self-casting as renowned composer Leonard Bernstein has been an ongoing controversy for months. Ever since the teaser trailer release in August of last year, people have been both criticizing and defending Cooper for his use of a prosthetic nose throughout the film.

Though this particular blog post is meant to be about the technical aspects of the movie rather than engaging in internet discourse, interestingly, both of Maestro’s gentile leads have caught a lot of flack for playing Jewish characters, while not a lot of people have spoken up about Oppenheimer’s casting of Cillian Murphy in the titular role.

Getting back to the performance aspect. It’s quite obvious that Cooper is very passionate about Bernstein and his work. You can feel the love and respect he has for this project. The acting itself is pretty good, but it’s the writing that does him a disservice.

For a main character, he surprisingly isn’t given that much to do. The first third is mostly made up of scenes where the characters talk softly, followed by a high-spirited, fast-paced sequence. Then, the rest of the movie is just soft-talking.

As it stands, the coveted gold statuette will more than likely be going home with Cillian Murphy; there honestly hasn’t been any question about that since Zazie Beetz spoke his name in the nominee announcement ceremony.

Best Sound

This is the category that Maestro is most likely to win in. Since even before the re-merger of the Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing categories, The Academy’s approach to this award is just kinda “whatever has the most sound wins.”

It would be really hard to mess up the sound in a movie about a composer. It’s not the most inventive use of a composer’s work for a biopic, but it does its job. This could devolve into a 20-page ranty comparison between this and Amadeus (the director’s cut, of course), but that could and maybe should be its own blog post.

Barring a complete Oppenheimer sweep or some die-hard Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One) fanboys altering the results, Maestro may get its first taste of victory in this category.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

With the whole aforementioned nose controversy, it’s unlikely that this will win for Makeup and Hairstyling. Especially since, besides trying to make Bradley Cooper look Jewish, the hair and makeup in this are pretty similar to those in Oppenheimer. They both take place in roughly the same period and have young, middle-aged, and old variants for the leads. 

The Oscars do love a good sickness glow-down, which Maestro gives when Felicia develops cancer. However, The Academy Awards is very aware of politics and outside optics, so they may worry about the backlash that could ensue from giving it to this film.

Once again, Oppenheimer may end up getting another victory in this category, but it is possible for Poor Things or Golda to pull through. Who doesn’t love Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren?

The Academy also famously doesn’t vote for non-English language films unless they are as intensely popular as Parasite was, which means sorry to Society of the Snow.

Best Cinematography

This may sound odd, but the fluid transitions in the first third of the film are sort of reminiscent of 13 Reasons Why, especially with the changing aspect ratio. That’s not a condemnation, just a fun fact.

Pretentious isn’t a word that should be used lightly, but hot darn is Maestro pretentious. It is admirable that they shot it on actual 35mm film, but so did three of the other four cinematography nominees.

The 4:3 black and white scenes are an homage to old-school Hollywood, but there isn’t a reason for it. If this was a Jimmy Stewart biopic, then sure! That imagery would make a lot of sense, but Maestro has absolutely nothing to do with movies from that era.

Felicia’s acting career is an aspect of the story, yet in 1946, she was doing stage plays.

The metaphor of their romance being like something out of an old movie also doesn’t work since many scenes take place before the two of them have even met. Unless his entire life at this point is the parallel the audience is supposed to be drawing, but when you put it like that, it feels a lot closer to the song Moving Too Fast from The Last 5 Years. That song is fire, though.

Compare this part to Poor Things, which also begins in black and white before transitioning to colour while staying hyper-stylized throughout. This is because it starts as a semi-atypical Frankenstein narrative and blossoms into a heavily introspective story about self-discovery.

Maestro does have some nice long takes, though, as well as a few camera moves that must have been very difficult while shooting on a film camera.

The moral of the story: if Poor Things doesn’t this one, the riot starts at dawn.

Best Original Screenplay

It is rather funny that a movie like this based on a person’s real-life counts as an original screenplay, but the one based on a doll is in the adapted category.

I don’t know how this snuck in here. The best word for describing the writing on display here is “meandering.” There really isn’t any driving conflict until over 50 minutes in. 

It also really could have benefited from adhering a bit more to the “show, don’t tell rule.” Felicia talks a lot about how passionate her husband is about music, but they don’t do a great job of conveying that to the audience.

There are surprisingly few scenes of Leonard writing or conducting, and when there is one, it never feels especially loving. He could at least be smiling for some of it. 

If they wanted this to be more of an exploration into his marriage, then that’s fine, but still, give some insight into his creative endeavours since they are probably intrinsically linked to him as a person.

To go back to the earlier comparison to Amadeus, Salieri sets up by saying he has always been passionate about music, and from then on every interaction he has with the art form demonstrates the deep love he feels for it.

Just the look on his face when he flips through Mozart’s scores that Constanze gives him is incredibly telling. As is the embarrassment he feels when Wolfgang improves upon his welcome march in a matter of seconds.

This is a person who lives and breathes music, and it is so well done.

Speaking of Amadeus, there is another similarity between it and Maestro in that they are both told in retrospect by an aged version of the main character.

However, what’s really weird about Maestro is that occasionally, the scene will clearly be shown from Felicia’s perspective. Which makes no sense; why would Leonard be talking about an event he attended through someone else’s eyes?

Occasionally, the perspective in Amadeus will seemingly switch over to Mozart, but that’s just meant to be a visual representation of what Salieri’s spy is telling him happened.

Ironically, Amadeus did end up winning the Best Screenplay Oscar back in 1985, though they were in the Adapted category.

It does seem rather unfortunate that Maestro has a good chance of getting this one, purely based on the fact that it holds more overall nominations than any of the other candidates. The Holdovers or Past Lives may squeak out a win, but it should probably go to May December purely to make up for the fact that Charles Melton wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Best Picture

Should Maestro win Best Picture? Probably not.

Will Maestro win Best Picture? Definitely not!

Which is almost sad because that seems to be what it was made for. There are not many movies that feel as desperate to win this award as this one. It feels like it’s checking all the boxes to appeal to the “old cis-het white guy” demographic that still makes up the majority of Oscar voters.

Luckily, there is another contender this year that also ticks those boxes while just being a better movie in general.

Oppenheimer will most likely win Best Picture, no surprise. 

Poor Things is probably the best movie on the nominee list. Usually, a movie this interesting and out there would never even be considered on an award show as mainstream as this, but it was produced by Searchlight Picture, which is owned by Disney, and The Academy Awards are broadcast on the channel ABC, which is run by, you guessed it, Disney. So, the chance of Poor Things winning is not zero.

Killers of the Flower Moon also has a bit of a chance because, y’know, Martin Scorsese and all. 

But Oppenheimer is the quintessential Oscar winner. Wartime biopics have been the Academy’s bread and butter since day one.

It looks like Maestro will have to settle for continuing Best Picture Nominee on its posters, just like all the other “highbrow” Netflix films.

Is Maestro a good or even great film? You’ll just have to watch it and judge for yourself. It is currently streaming on Netflix worldwide.

Don’t forget to check back here after the ceremony on March 10 to laugh at how wrong or right this whole thing was.



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