What should win at the Oscars? A critic submits a purely personal ballot

Cord Jefferson, “American Fiction”
Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, “Barbie”
Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”
Tony McNamara, “Poor Things”
Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”

Should win: “American Fiction.” I wonder when, in Jefferson’s process, he grappled with the bear trap inside Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure.” That book, like Jefferson’s script, hinges on a Catch-22. A Black author named Monk yearns to write about more than his skin color — but to do so, he has to point out the bigotry that’s locked him in a box. Smartly, Jefferson chose to keep (and update) the satire while building out the moments of Monk’s life that have nothing at all to do with race, particularly a romance he’s expanded from brief to heartbreaking.

Should’ve been a contender: Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol and Daniel Goldhaber, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.” Three years ago, Swedish academic Andreas Malm published an incendiary paperback that insisted that strategic nonviolence is unlikely to do much to save the planet. The screenwriting team of Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol and Daniel Goldhaber transformed his call to action into a nail-biting thriller. One part manifesto, one part micro-budget “MacGyver,” this screenplay puts Malm’s arguments into the mouths of eight young activists who’ve convened in West Texas to pull off the film’s title. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” doesn’t assume the audience will agree with these climate crusaders, but it wants us to hear them out.

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