Best Picture 2023: My Oscar Thoughts & Ranking

I don’t have a great track record of watching all the Oscar nominated films in a year. I have friends who make it a mission to see every nominated film, but I usually only manage to see a couple here and there. For reference, I’ve seen six of last year’s 10 Best Picture nominees (and Nightmare Alley I only saw recently, rather than when it was in its nomination period), three of 2020’s seven, six of nine in 2019, and five of 2018’s eight (six if you count half-watching Green Book on someone else’s screen on a flight, which is probably the maximum amount of attention you really need to pay to Green Book). The most recent year for which I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees was 2008 (which is also the year before they expanded the maximum from five to 10).

But this year, when I realized that just in the course of general moviegoing, I had seen six of the 10 Best Picture nominees, I decided to try and watch the whole slate. As of last night I’ve seen all 10 nominees, and although I won’t be watching the ceremony tonight (because staying up until four a.m. for what will inevitably be many cringeworthy jokes about The SlapTM isn’t my idea of a good time), here is my ranking and thoughts on the list:

10. Triangle of Sadness

There have been several movies this year that have positioned themselves as satires on the ultra-rich, their oddities, and their misplaced priorities (Glass Onion, The Menu, etc.), to varying degrees of success, and I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t enjoy this one at all. I don’t think it’s a good sign that, during the emotional climax, I found myself longingly reminiscing about the scene where all the characters are projectile vomiting.

9. Top Gun: Maverick

Look, I loved Top Gun, and I loved Top Gun Maverick even if it was pretty much just the same film over again but with bigger stunts. And I was personally in favor of the expansion of Best Picture nominees from five to up-to-10 a couple of years back, because it gives space to genre films that may otherwise not have been considered “artistic” enough to score a nom (although horror films like Nope are still struggling to break in). But as much fun as I had watching, I don’t think this was a Best Picture-worthy pick.

8. Elvis

The best biopics are the ones less concerned with the actor perfectly matching the subject’s looks and sound, and more with the actor matching the subject’s energy and essence, and Austin Butler certainly manages the latter. Obviously this film is incredibly over the top and probably a half hour too long, exactly as you’d expect from its director — I happen to love Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic style so that’s fine with me, but it is a style to be sure. Tom Hanks… what can I even say?

7. Avatar: The Way of Water

Do you know what, I was ready to be a hater. I truly couldn’t have told you anything about the original Avatar except that I remembered being really impressed by the way the forest leaves floated around in 3D, and that my freshman year roommate loved the “I see through your eyes” song. But this time around, I was totally on board. The dialogue is bad, and the story is thin, but the visuals are so stunning I was just happy to take it all in. If you had told me those space whales were real, I would have believed you.

6. Tár

Tár is a film that I found very hard to pin down. It’s a thriller, it’s comedic, it’s got elements of horror, it’s so “biopic-ish” in places that I know some folks were confused about whether Lydia Tár is a real person (she’s not, just FYI)… and that’s what makes it so interesting. I don’t know that Cate Blanchett has ever had a bad performance, but this is definitely one of her best, as nuanced and smart as the film itself. I couldn’t stop watching her and I can’t stop thinking about her.

5. Women Talking

It’s unfortunate that a lot of the chat I’ve seen about this movie has been about the divisive color grading (and I’ll be honest, I’m in the “the color grading is terrible” camp) and about Mark Wahlberg messing up the title at an awards show (although I did love director Sarah Polley mocking him for it) because this is a complex and thoughtful film that deserves far more intense and complex discussion. The screenplay, adapted from Miriam Toews’ novel, is fantastic, and the acting, particularly by Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy, is phenomenal. It’s a bold and brave film, with themes both timely and timeless, and I think one of the films out of this set of contenders most likely to be remembered far into the future.

4. All Quiet on the Western Front

I will freely admit that I haven’t read All Quiet on the Western Front since high school, and that I don’t really remember it that well, and I have read some criticisms of this adaptation from people more familiar with the novel that I do agree with — omitting the scene where Paul visits home does detract from the power of the film. But the film still offers a remarkably strong anti-war message — you can’t come away from every transition between the muddy, bloody, starving soldiers in the trenches and the clean, decorated train car where the military leaders’ biggest worries are the freshness of the day’s croissants, and see it as anything but. That said, it wasn’t even my favorite in the International Film category (that would be Ireland’s An Cailín Ciúin), let alone Best Picture overall.

3. The Fabelmans

This is a special film because only someone like Spielberg, a man likely coming to the end of his career, with a whole host of cinema’s most memorable and beloved films across a wide array of genres, could have pulled off its earnestness without seeming insincere. It is a movie about the magic of cinema, but it’s also a movie about the curse of cinema — the scene where Sammy tries to process his parents’ divorce and ends up imagining how he would film it is unforgettably good — and Spielberg has the range to pull it off. Also, obviously, Michelle Williams is incredible; unfortunately her powerhouse performance is only the third most powerhouse-y in the Best Actress category, but it’s still a brilliant performance.

2. The Banshees of Inisherin

Has any movie ever been so bleak and so funny at the same time? Maybe one of Martin McDonagh’s previous films like In Bruges, or his brother John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. But Banshees is just next-level good in the effectiveness in its simple yet devastating premise and its blend of humorous and harrowing moments. Colin Farrell has never been better, and while I won’t be sad if Brendan Fraser takes the win (although I wish it would be for a better film), he would be a well-deserved Best Actor. And Kerry Condon might be the standout of the whole lot — her exasperated “You’re all fecking boring” is probably my favorite line-reading of the year (although Hong Chau’s “tortillas” in The Menu is a close second).

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

This is the first of the nominated films I saw, and it remains the best. I have thought about this movie endlessly since I first saw it, and I’m actually shocked that I haven’t rewatched it yet (might have to rectify that this week, when it will hopefully be a newly-crowned Best Picture winner). Whenever I watch a truly great film, I remember Roger Ebert’s review of Brokeback Mountain (another truly great film, which was absolutely robbed of the Best Picture Oscar that EEAO will hopefully win):

Strange but true: The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone.

Love on a lonesome trail

I know so many people have related deeply to the story told in Everything Everywhere All At Once because of similarities to their own lives (speaking of college roommates, but a different one than the Avatar-song-loving one, this is a beautiful piece in the Seattle Times about my college roommate’s experience watching EEAO with her Chinese-immigrant mother). That’s not me. But because of how richly, how empathetically, how complexly… but also how hilariously, how insanely, how bizarrely, how unexpectedly this film invites you to understand and to relate to its characters, you do.

And beyond that, it’s just such a fun movie to watch. Yes, I did cry many times (if I had a nickel for every time a movie featuring googly eyes, a reference to an everything bagel, and Jenny Slate made me sob in public, etc. etc. ), but I also felt so delighted by the costumes and the makeup and the special effects and the creativity that had me glued to the screen waiting to see what, visually, would happen next. Everything about this film is great, everywhere, and all at once.


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