J. Robert Oppenheimer (1902 — 1967) and Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990) were well-born, well-educated Jewish geniuses of the 20th Century and internationally famous giants in their respective fields (physics and music)..men who rocked their realms and left indelible cultural impressions while unmistakably shaping and changing the 20th Century in historic terms…in short household names, known to every school kid who ever cracked open a book.

Gifted, mercurial and selfish (as many if not most creative-genius types tend to be), both men led dramatic and to some extent conflicted personal lives (and certainly a professionally turbulent one in Oppie’s case). They both smoked like chimneys, causing Oppenheimer to die of throat cancer and Lenny to die of lung failure and a heart attack. And now, as fate would have it, both men are the subjects of major, highly praised motion pictures in 2023, and both directed by gifted and intense and highly exacting auteurs (Chris Nolan and Bradley Cooper) — Universal’s Oppenheimer and Netflix’s Maestro (11.22).

Both films are intense and rich and brilliant, but in my heart and mind there is no comparison in terms of the viewing pleasure and emotional upheaval factor — no contest at all.

Maestro lifts you up and fills your heart and sends you plunging into baptismal waters, and in the final act really melts you down emotionally and symphonically and leaves you devastated and knocked flat by way of a pair of world-class performances — Cooper’s, of course, but especially from the truly astounding, heart-melting Carey Mulligan. Maestro is a knockout and a tantalizer that opens doors and allows floodgates of feeling to pour into your heart and chest cavity and which really excites and seizes and gets you deep down.

Oh, and that stupid prosthetic nose thing that so many idiots were talking about last summer? Cooper’s Bernstein schnozz is totally fine and an absolute non-issue.

On the other end of the emotional scale is Oppenheimer — a film which, for all its concentrated IMAXed brilliance, feels cerebral and instructive, chilly and compressed and rather airless and tiring…altogether a rather forced deck of cards that puts you in a hard leather saddle upon a galloping steed and yet ultimately feels like a nag with a bad leg. Nolan takes you to Planet Oppenheimer, all right, while surfing a tragic wave, but at the same time it’s a real bear to get through, a three-hour endurance test while Maestro is a more-more-more, take-me-with-you experience.

During my first Oppenheimer viewing I looked at my watch and was utterly crestallen when I realized there was another two full hours to go…dear God, no!…while I never even thought about the running time when I was watching Maestro.

I’m sorry but I felt much closer to the Lenny genius than the Oppie genius…both fascinating super-fellows of the Hebrew persuasion, and more power to them. It’s just that the Oppie flick made me feel like an exhausted student in an airless, under-heated, claustrophobic classroom while the Lenny trip made me simultaneously ache for poor Felicia Montealegre (Mulligan) while feeling (especially in the third act starting with the Thanksgiving Day Snoopy argument) like I had wings on my heels** and for all the energy expenditure not once does Cooper say “God help me but I adore cock” and not once does Mulligan say “God help us but you adore cock.”

And that scene when Lenny gently flat-out lies to his daughter (Maya Hawke) about whether or not certain rumors she’s been hearing are true or not…that look on his face as the lie settles into his soul…devastating! And that’s just one of the standout moments in a film filled with them.

On top of which there isn’t a single woke bone in Maestro’s body.

** Yes, a line stolen from Rodgers and Hammerstein.