The stories of our lives

It is Oscar Challenge time and the opportunity to experience stories we may have not readily chosen to watch. Stories make us who we are and we can choose, should we wish, to change them too.

It is Oscar Challenge time again. Our annual foray into the movies that have been given the nomination nod by those 9500 individuals from around the world who have the privilege, knowledge and insight to seek and find the films that display artistic and technical excellence.

The 96th Academy Awards will be held on the 10 March 2024 with all the glitz and glamour that good old Hollywood can put on. Every year since 2017, we (Chantal & Matthew) have taken on the challenge to watch each of the films nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress and then for a break from the seriousness of serious films we throw in Best Animated Movie for good measure.

There are usually some overlaps between the nominations and happily this year there are only two extra films we need to watch to cover all the categories. There are ten Best Picture nominations this year:

  • American Fiction
  • Anatomy of a Fall
  • Barbie
  • The Holdovers
  • Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Maestro
  • Oppenheimer
  • Past lives
  • Poor Things
  • The Zone of Interest


  • Nyad
  • Rustin

These last two films have Best Actress and Best Actor nominations respectively but are not part of the Best Picture list.

So far we have watched all those that are available to watch:

  • Barbie (1h54m)
  • The Holdovers (2h13m)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon (3h26)
  • Maestro (2h09m)
  • Nyad (2hrs)
  • Oppenheimer (3hrs)
  • Past lives (1h46m)

This is pretty good going with only a few weeks to go to the ceremony. It is a time consuming exercise, especially with the propensity for movie makers to make movies that are over two hours long. We have spent just under 16 and a half hours watching these seven movies.

It is part of the reason we call it a “challenge”. It takes time, number one, and number two, although these films are supposed to represent the best of the best, it doesn’t mean they are always enjoyable to watch. In fact at times we wonder why some got nominated in the first place.


Visual film stories

Films are visual stories that aim to hold our attention for the length of time they run. The duration of a film can in and of itself be a challenge. Anything over two and a half hours has to be planned for. We appreciate films that are shorter and brace ourselves for the three hour plus marathons.

If a film is captivating enough then the time goes by without much notice, if not, it can feel like an eternity. Killers of the Flower Moon, for all its accolades and swooning reviews, felt particularly arduous. We are perplexed at the overwhelming critical support it has received because we found it excruciatingly slow with a storyline that we worked out within the first half an hour.

It is based on a true story and a non-fiction book and possibly would have been better as a documentary. Yes, the film is technically good, and the story an important one, but the characters felt flat. It was difficult to align with any of them, from sinister, smiling Robert de Niro; vacillating is he evil, or is he not, Leonardo de Caprio and stoic, silent newcomer Lily Gladstone who swayed and wilted with illness for most of the film.

It’s not that we always expect to like any of the characters, but there does need to be an unfolding of their personalities, a depiction of their reason why. And dear heavens, why subject us to nearly three and a half hours of protracted narrative that could have easily been told in half the time?


On the subject of stories, here’s a throwback to 2022 when Chantal’s daughter wrote a new chapter in her’s by getting married. There’s soon to be another chapter… 👶

We love stories

Oppenheimer, on the other hand, managed to keep us transfixed through its three hour epic. It is based on the life and legacy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who played a key role in the development of the atomic bomb. The story, woven over several time periods, offered a complex and layered view of the times, the politics and the personalities. It reminded us that nothing is black and white especially when it comes to war, power and perception.

As human beings we love stories. We remember stories. We connect with stories. We communicate best with stories. Think of how you feel when a presenter says “Let me tell you a story”. Your body settles back, you relax and your senses come online. Distractions are set aside, attention is directed to the storyteller.

There are only seven basic plot types that all stories fall into: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth. Without really thinking about it we understand and feel comfortable with these plot lines, even when some are mixed up or threaded together. We want that outcome, we desire a denouement. Maybe because our lives are so uncertain, having something that we can rely on gives comfort.


It’s almost that time again, when we harvest our hives for honey. Always grateful to the efforts of ‘our’ bees and what they do and provide 🙏

Looking into the mind of the storyteller

Part of the attraction of the Oscar Challenge is to expose ourselves to stories we may not have readily chosen to watch. To stretch our capacity to sit through a tale that may land uncomfortably and to test our tolerance levels for the different and diverse. In spite of the difficulty some of these films present us with, they always teach us something. It could be an unknown history, an unfamiliar city or space, or the intriguing combination of circumstance, culture, perspective and climate.

It allows us to look into the minds of the storyteller, to share their view of a future, often dark and dystopian, occasionally whimsical and evolved. We witness public or personal pasts unpicked and unfolded, observed through a particular lens that chooses what we see while it allows us to delve deeper - if we want. We are Alice through the looking glass and Willy in his Wonka factory of sweet delights and deadly surprises.

Our own lives are built out of stories. The stories of our past, our history, our experiences and perspectives. The people we meet and the relationships we start, grow and end create the love stories, the tragedies and comedies of our days. We become heroes and villains in equal measure depending on whose story it is that we are in. We fight our own monsters and go on quests both mundane and magical. We slay dragons and discover treasures and maybe lose them on the way. We die a thousand deaths and are reborn a thousand and more times too.


A firm favourite at 5th Place, chilli peppers. Soon to be turned into our (almost) ‘world famous’ chilli relish. Chilli peppers contain a chemical called capsaicin that binds to pain receptors in your mouth, tricking your brain into feeling a burn without an actual temperature change!

Making memories

Making memories, meeting souls, and always connecting somewhere on some level become the narratives that inform our identities. When something moves us, to joyful heights or desperate lows, it becomes embedded in our skin and makes us who we are. As we get older our quests get more meaningful or more desperate. We all look for the happy ending but are never sure we will get it.

We may get to a time in our lives where it may all seem pointless or disappointing. Maybe the road has narrowed and lost its direction. This is when we have the opportunity to change our story. To choose another version of the next chapter or start a whole new book. We can craft our own new beginnings and define our own endings. We do not need to be at the mercy of what is thrown at us.

When we know how we wish to feel, we can start the imagining and the moulding of a different narrative. What came before is not discarded but included and transcended and we are transformed. Every day we can choose a different path that will bring comfort and clarity. Every day we can start afresh.

And when we are sure we can choose every day to write those words that make our world, and do the deeds that colour it. Every day we can build a world we wish to be part of. And when the inevitable arrives somewhere deep in the chronicles of our lives, we will be happy to write:


Until next time.

Yours in feeling,
Matthew & Chantal

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5th Place

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