American Fiction - Photo MGM
American Fiction – Photo MGM

Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasures,” Cord Jefferson’s cagey “American Fiction” has garnered five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.

The story introduces Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a serious West Coast university professor/fledgling writer who bristles at the media’s exploitation of Black stereotypes for profit.

Monk’s translation of Aeschylus’s The Persians is deemed inadequately Black and is rejected again and again. In response, misanthropic Monk bitterly cobbles together a book of offensive Black cliches about gangsters and urban suffering and submits it as a joke under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh with the title My Pafology

After all, if rival novelist, Oberlin-educated former publishing assistant Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) can be acclaimed for her pandering We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, why can’t he?

Indulging in one highly effective scene involving magical realism, Jefferson breaks all audience expectations about what the plot involves and where it’s going.

So instead of another rebuff, Monk, who presents himself as an ex-con, is deluged with whopping publishing offers and is catapulted to literary fame, much to the amazement of his agent (John Ortiz) and his successful, upper middle-class elder siblings (Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown).

This financial windfall comes just as the Ellison family is facing a financial crisis. Their mother, matriarchal Agnes (Leslie Uggams), still lives in their childhood home in Boston; she begins to suffer signs of memory loss/dementia/Alzheimer’s. 

Written by Jefferson in his directorial debut, “American Fiction” won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

In accepting the award, Jefferson spoke about how films about Black people always seem to focus on tragedy: slavery, civil rights, drug dealers – “Black trauma porn” – excluding the rest of the Black experience. Which is why he created this crowd-pleasing, satirical dramedy that skewers racial politics and representation. 

Yet historically, comedies are not good Best Picture bets. Back in 1997, “The Full Monty” lost to “Titanic,” while “Little Miss Sunshine” lost to “The Departed” in 2006.

FYI: There’s no Thelonious Monk music on the soundtrack, just Laura Karpman’s Oscar-nominated score with a variety of tracks, including Cannonball Adderly.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Fiction” is an edgy 8, playing in theaters.

Society of the Snow - Photo Netflix
Society of the Snow – Photo Netflix

“Society of the Snow” is Spain’s entry for Best International Film at this year’s Academy Awards. J.A. Bayona’s true-life survival tale centers on the 19 members of a Uruguayan rugby team that set off from Montevideo for Santiago, Chile, and was stranded in the snow-covered Andes for 72 days.

Told primarily from the perspective of rugby player Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic Roldan), their ordeal begins on October 13, 1972, when poor weather conditions forced Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 to land in Mendoza, Argentina, overnight. 

The following morning – about an hour after takeoff – the propeller-driven Fairchild with two engines went into a steep climb in the midst of a blinding blizzard and crashed on a glacier in the Andes mountains.

Of 45 people aboard, 12 died immediately, including the pilot. Eagerly awaiting rescue, survivors create a shelter out of the plane wreckage, scavenging all the food they could find and beginning to ration it out.

But – 10 days later – they hear on the radio that the search-and-rescue mission has concluded. Their reaction is desperate as hopelessness threatens. They feel trapped, abandoned, betrayed and totally isolated in one of the world’s toughest environments.

Their eventual rescue utilized archival photos for authenticity, particularly the famous 60-millimeter shot of the fuselage from a hovering helicopter.

Adapting Pablo Vierci’s 2009 book and interviews with survivors, Bayona and screenwriters Nicolas Casariego, Jaime Marque, and Bernat Vilaplana, along with cinematographer Pedro Luque, are sensitive, yet brutally honest, about the essential humanity and harsh physicality of the situation that led to cannibalism.

If the flesh-eating plot seems familiar, it was previously the basis of Frank Marshall’s “Alive” (1993), starring Ethan Hawke, along with several documentaries and TV series, including “Yellowjackets.”

FYI: Filming took place in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains where the crash was authentically recreated.

On the Granger Gauge, “Society of the Snow” is an intense, survivalist 7, streaming on Netflix.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.