Quick Reviews of the Oscar Nominees for Best Picture
We don’t usually pay much heed of the Oscar nominations these days. Like many audience members, we don’t place much value of the accolade. Rather than reflecting the cultural or artistic impact of the movies under consideration, there’s heavy favouritism of the drama genre, with some genres such as horror and sci-fi getting only token efforts. There’s further favouritism towards films portraying simplified takes on social issues or movies celebrating the film industry itself.
2023 has a surprising number of movies that we were interested in seeing, so we’ve been marathoning a bunch of them. So here’s some little reviews!
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Of all the movies on this list, this is the most perplexing entry. It feels like like a movie and more of an exercise for Tom Cruise’s ego, an attempt to convince him that he can easily keep pace with the young’ns. What we wind up with is a series of awkward scenes of 60 year old man running shirtless on the beach with a group of 20-something actors and it just looks silly. Then there’s the constant twisting of the story to position Tom Cruise as the Only One capable of saving the day. It’s a technical marvel, creating some mind-boggling jet fighter footage, making is all the more confusing that it’s running for Best Picture and not Best Cinematography.
Rating: FIVE out of TEN
Full Review Here and Another One Here
Christ, this was a miserable watch. Not that it’s a bad movie, but it is real grim viewing. Based on a true story filtered through a fictional novelisation and then a movie, we look in on a Mennonite community where the women and young girls have been the victim of ongoing sexual assaults. Initially gaslit into believing spirits were to blame, a man on the community is caught in the act. With half the men now imprisoned on rape charges and the other half on the way to bail them out, the women have to make a choice: forgive, fight or flee.
The bulk of the movie takes place in a single location, a barn, with a group of community women debating the merits of their options. It becomes a philosophical discussion about the value of faith, forgiveness, family and loyalty with many conflicting viewpoints being voiced. The meaning of the film is laid on the table for all to see, this isn’t here for subtlety. That’s fine when presented in an engaging manner, and while director Sarah Polley has a good handle on how to tell the story the simple setting and presentation makes it feel pretty gruelling. Much of the heavy lifting is in the hands of the immensely talented group of performers who present this material. Why they’re not more represented in the Best Performer categories is confusing.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
This is an absolute banger of a movie. Even watching this in a tiny airplane screen while jammed up in a small space (not the comfy seat I paid for, fuck you Qantas), this is a movie that has a huge impact. With a modest budget and a tremendous amount of creativity whilst somehow merging together family drama with martial arts fantasy science-fiction comedy. What starts as a simple enough story – a woman struggles to maintain the health and happiness of her family while running a business – turns into multiversal madness as she begins tapping into the skills of alternate universe versions of herself.
Everyone involved is at their career best, especially Michelle Yeoh who has been a hard working and criminally underrated actor for decades. She contributes to the emotional impact of the film as she attempts to reach out to her disillusioned daughter amid a threat that can destroy everything. The concept of the multiverse powers is brilliantly executed and surprises us non-stop with the weirder and weirder circumstances it presents. It’s difficult to express just how brilliant this movie is. If Everything Everywhere All At Once does not win the award this year, then the Oscars are truely broken.
Rating: TEN out of TEN
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
This here is one of the oddest films on this list, in that it’s an Oscar nominee about a social issue that doesn’t beat the audience over the head with the message. It’s also a dark, complex film that doesn’t give anyone watching an easy out. This is a grim situation and nobody can walk away satisfied. Set off the west coast of Ireland some hundred years ago, in a small farming community, we follow the falling out of two friends. Colm doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic any more because Pádraic is ‘dull’.
Simple of the surface, but the declaration sends Pádraic into a tailspin that has a ripple effect on th whole community. When neither wanting to give up any ground, Colm escalates things by threatening to shear off his own fingers if Pádraic continues to try and resolve things. It’s a mesmerising movie that makes the most of the scenery, composing simple shots and letting the landscape do the talking. Director Martin McDonagh was worked closely with the leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the past they seem very much in synch with each other in telling this story.
Rating: NINE out of TEN
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Not knowing what we’re getting into made for a very interesting journey. Initially we though we were in for a mumblcecore style, dry comedy about relationships in the modern age. By the time we were witnessing a torrent of diarrhea spilling down the halls of a luxury cruise liner we understood that we were watching something very different. That’s even before the pirates turn up. This is a deeply funny, darkly dry look at the widening class division of the modern age. This was a surprising, disgusting delight.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN
If there’s one niche sub-genre that gets Oscar weak at the knees, it’s rose-eyed looks at the film industry. Th Artist, La La Land, Sunset Boulvard, Argo…it really tickles them. Living industry legend Steven Spielberg throws his hat into the ring, and the Academy may well give it the top award just for that. Spielberg captures the magic of cinema in a way that anyone nerdy enough to be on this site will find familiar.
On the other hand, this feels less like a love letter to cinema and more throwing his parents under the bus. No family is perfect, and this is a warts at all look at Spielberg’s upbringing and relationship with his parents, complete with infidelity and mental illness. As you’d expect, it’s a wonderfully made film and it feels like Spielberg put a bit more time into crafting these visuals that usual. It’s a real nice watch, but it feels more like sitting in on a therapy session. Not a comfortable watch.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this one and I don’t know if I will. We tapped out at the wartime amputation scene, those bonesaws seriously make me uncomfortable (surgery horror being the one type of horror I don’t have the stomach for). Not that we’re dropping a movie because of one scene, instead it’s the omissions from the source material. When it comes to adaptations, you have to be flexible with the narrative while keeping the themes and spirit of the story intact. This most recent adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front makes two major changes that suggest to me that they either did not fully appreciate the meaning of the novel or intended to reinterpret it.
The most talked about change involves the stripping down of Paul’s time at home. We didn’t get the time spent establishing how encompassing the propaganda to join the army was, with their teachers actively encouraging these teenagers to put aside their life plans to serve on the front lines. It’s with their heads held high and hearts full of pride that they enlisted, and it’s not long after they’re dumped in the trenches that they realise that they were lied to, and they’re being shipped to their death. The movie misses another opportunity to explore the themes of the film when Paul’s visit home on leave makes him feel out of place. His home is the same, but he’s changed so much that he doesn’t recognise it as the same place.
Instead of these scenes, we have a new recurring plot thread concerning real, historic figures negotiating a peace treaty. The novel felt very much like the perspective of any one of soldiers on the battlefield, essentially numbers in a ledger to those giving orders. This bigger picture view may provide contrast for the visceral war imagery, but it takes us away from the never-ending nightmare Paul is trapped in.
With these changes, I’m endlessly questioning why they didn’t just write a wholly original war movie, because it’s visually excellent.
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
Ok, I haven’t seen it. I just didn’t feel strongly about it one way or the other.
You can read what Corrye thought HERE
Now this one I enjoyed much more than I was expecting. I didn’t have much interest in the Elvis story, but eventually saw it for Baz Luhrmann’s unique style. If the intent was to repackage Elvis Presley for a modern context they did a great job, as it gave us a new appreciation for his work and impact on culture. It’s gaudy, and flashing and damn good fun at times. Maybe not enough time, because this certainly feels like it’s almost 3 hours.
The real star of this movie is the star, Austin Butler. He it an absolute sensation, and you get the impression that he spent a substantial amount of time working on his performance. Adding Elvis’ unique performance style (the ‘wriggling’ of much controversy) and vocal delivery makes the role all the more complicated but he hits every beat perfectly. Director Luhrmann creates some real nice tableaus, almost on par with his visuals in Moulin Rouge! Weirdly, it’s costar Tom Hanks who brings the quality down as the notorious manager Colonel Tom Parker, looking like a Pixar villain wondered into a live-action production. It’s likely this is an accurate depiction of a cartoonish real-life person, but you need to establish that in universe, because no-one commenting on this roly-poly Foghorn Leghorn impersonator is pretty odd. Fortunately the framing device of him telling the story mostly fades away by the final act.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN
We really want Michelle Yeoh to win the Oscar for Best Actress this year. She’s been starring in films for close to 40 years, performing her own stunts and martial arts moves alongside Jackie Chan, appearing in franchise hits in the James Bond and Marvel movies, she’s done historical drama and artful epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and she’s even made time for Star Trek. Yeoh is a consistently entertaining performer who is extremely dedicated to her craft, and we want her to win for her role in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
But Cate Blanchett is going to have to step aside, because she is phenomenal in Tár. Just…give it a break this year. Ask to withdraw your nomination and stay home. Because it’s going to be really tough for anyone to top this performance at the Oscars. Blanchett’s tortured but cruel artist makes for an almost hypnotic viewing experience. The scene outside the school is chilling in a way that we don’t often see. Watching this narrow-minded character spiral out of control when confronted with the consequences of her actions is a fascinating experience, and it’s mostly down to Blanchett’s performance. Worth a view just for that.
Rating: NINE out of TEN