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Short Cuts: 'The Whale' comes to Duluth as Oscar nominations approach

Nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 24. Brendan Fraser may earn a Best Actor nomination for a powerful drama.

A simple image of a light-skinned man looking concerned, wearing a zip-up blue shirt, in a dark frame from a film.
Brendan Fraser in "The Whale."
Contributed / A24
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DULUTH — Nominations for the 95th Oscars will be announced Jan. 24. If you haven't been keeping up on the top contenders, you still have time to catch up.

Remember Brendan Fraser? The name of "The Mummy" star hasn't been on most moviegoers' lips for a while, but this year he's considered a frontrunner for Best Actor due to his work in Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale." In the film, Fraser plays an English teacher trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter, played by Sadie Sink ("Stranger Things," "Fear Street").

"This film was a must," wrote Jody Kujawa in an email to the News Tribune. Kujawa programs the Zeitgeist Zinema, where "The Whale" opens Friday. "The Whale" is also playing at Duluth's Marcus Theatre.

The local actor found himself with an audience of about 10 doctors and nurses who seemed to be waiting for him to die.

"'The Whale' holds a personal connection for me," wrote Kujawa, "having played the role of Charlie years ago in the Renegade production of the play the film was based on. It was a character that I grew attached to while working on the play, someone I felt protective of. A couple years back, I became concerned when I learned that a film version was being produced. Then I learned that the film was being put together by Darren Aronofsky, one of my favorite filmmakers.

"Aronofsky is responsible for a similar story about an estranged father looking to reconnect with his daughter after health issues are found, a film called 'The Wrestler,'" Kujawa continued. "'The Wrestler' was a film that really connected with me as an actor. It caused me to reassess the way I approached my character development. I feel like 'The Whale' will deliver something equally as important and will connect with people on a level that is rare in the world (of) film."

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Most of the other likely contenders are now available on various streaming services. I've recently taken a look at four.

Theatrical release poster for "The Fabelmans" features image of boy walking through a movie lot toward a collection of film stills displayed on strips.
Theatrical release poster for "The Fabelmans."
Contributed / Amblin Entertainment

"The Fabelmans," Steven Spielberg's latest film, is considered a near-lock for a Best Picture nomination. It's an autobiographical movie about how the young Spielberg, slightly fictionalized here, fell in love with filmmaking at the same time his parents' marriage was falling apart. While Spielberg has previously explored the film's themes in other ways (most poignantly in "E.T."), the new movie is a fascinating look at the uneasy relationships among the people behind a camera, those in front of it, and those who watch the finished product.

Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong are both in the mix for potential acting honors; in James Gray's "Armageddon Time," they play the parents in a white New York City family circa 1980. Their son forms a fast friendship with a Black classmate and must reckon with the community's racism. A Black character's story told from a white perspective is something we've seen on screen too many times before, but "Armageddon Time" at least doesn't settle for platitudes, confronting the white family with the implications of their privilege.

Light-skinned woman and man sitting at a dining table set for a meal. They are both looking towards the right, as if in conversation.
Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong in "Armageddon Time."
Contributed / Anne Joyce / Focus Features

Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet are acting contenders for "Bones and All," another '80s throwback. Imagine "Badlands" with a supernatural element and you'll be somewhere in the ballpark of this movie about young lovers cursed with the kind of hunger they can't sate with anything found at Red Owl. Director Luca Guadagnino, who directed Chalamet in "Call Me By Your Name," finds more success with scares than with story as the plot unfolds along lines that are all too familiar.

Young light-skinned man and young brown-skinned woman sit together in sunny outdoor location, a dry grassy prairie visible behind them. They are in conversation.
Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell in "Bones and All."
Contributed / Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Director Sarah Polley's "Women Talking" received a limited release in late December to qualify for award consideration; it opens in more theaters Friday, but as of yet it's unclear where it might play in the Northland. Its ensemble cast could land any number of acting nominations, and the film's been very well-received by critics and audiences.

It's based on a Miriam Toews novel by the same name, and shares the novel's odd contrast between a highly stylized presentation and the gritty reality of its characters' lives: What the women are talking about is the fact that they've been sexually assaulted by men in their Mennonite community.

Two young women and a young girl, all light-skinned, cluster together. The women look concerned, while the girl sleeps in the arms of the woman at left.
Emily Mitchell, from left, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara in "Women Talking."
Contributed / Michael Gibson / Orion Pictures

This year's Academy Awards will take place at 7 p.m. March 12. Duluthians can watch the drama unfold live on WDIO-TV.

Steven Spielberg's defining film was released in 1982, the same year our family moved from St. Paul to Chester Park.

Related Topics: DULUTHMOVIES
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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