Making the Case for Each Best Picture Nominee
By Amy Kim, Aaron Isenstein, Tom Brinson, Zach Ruggiero, Mariano Venegas, Marc Goedickemeier, Jordan Stump, & Jinwei Li
The 2023 Oscars are less than a week away, and the Best Picture race is shaping up to be between Everything Everywhere All at Once and The Banshees of Inisherin. But despite this, all 10 of our Best Picture nominees have loyal fans that believe their favorite is worthy of winning the top prize. So today, our critics will make the case for each Best Picture nominee, and explain why the one they chose should be crowned as the 2023 Best Picture winer.
All Quiet on the Western Front
Well-done war films are hardly some sort of an innovation. In fact, there are two other films in this lineup that heavily feature military combat. Anti-war war films are also not exactly difficult to come by; it feels as though every period war film wants to hammer home the point that “war is really bad, actually!” and “war only has losers, ain’t that sad?” without realizing that it’s far from the first film to mention this. And yet, All Quiet on the Western Front managed to feel like a revelatory cinematic experience — one I deeply hope I never have to revisit. It depicts all aspects of war: the incredibly sparing acts of glory, the quieter moments of camaraderie, the gluttonous pride of those who call all the shots but will never once fire one, the sheer terror of the volatile battlefield, and of course the heart-wrenching loss of innocence along the way. It was an absolutely devastating watch that left me both speechless and in tears by the end.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Family is our fortress. The way of water has no beginning and no end. James Cameron has never been a filmmaker that’s for everyone, but he has always been one that I’ve connected with. He crafts these grandiose visual spectacles with ultimately simple stories, but these stories have never failed to make me emotional. In the first film, we followed an aimless man finally finding a place where he belonged. Thirteen years later, Cameron takes the viewer to an optical feast of a new water-based location. The story centers around Jake Sully, Neytiri, and the family they’ve created and their struggle against the threats of humankind. The way Cameron introduces us to this new world that we, like the Sully family, have to adapt to is incredibly engaging thanks to the themes that anchor the film. Avatar: The Way of Water is as much a touching story about adaptation and the connection of family as it is a gorgeous sight to behold. The wonder of this new world and the tragedy that goes on in the film were both deeply investing to me. All of the performances are fantastic, with Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña taking a bit of a backseat to the new characters but nonetheless shining during certain moments. Stephen Lang is a terrifying threat you feel looming throughout the whole film. Britain Dalton is an absolute star as the lead Lo’ak. Sigourney Weaver was the standout, though, and not only managed to be convincing as a 16-year-old alien, but nailing each emotional beat. To me, what James Cameron captures visually and emotionally in Avatar: The Way of Water is marvelous and would merit a Best Picture win. [Tom]
The Banshees of Inisherin
Comedy and tragedy. These two genres have existed since the beginning of entertainment and while they may seem fundamentally opposed, there is a lot of humor that can be mined from the sadness of humanity. Martin McDonagh has had a firm grasp of this concept throughout his filmography, but it has never been more present than it is in The Banshees of Inisherin, a film that tackles the ideas of loneliness, despair, legacy and lost friendship all while keeping you laughing throughout. I could sit here and make a compelling case to you for this film’s technical excellence from the beautiful cinematography to the crackling, witty script to the haunting score but ultimately, the most compelling case for it to win the Best Picture Oscar lies in the themes it explores. Is it more meaningful to create something great that will live on after you die and keep you remembered by all or to spend time with those you love and enjoy your life knowing that you will be remembered by your loved ones? This is the debate represented by Colm and Padraic’s deteriorating friendship in the film, and I believe it may even be an internal personal struggle inside of Martin McDonagh that inspired him to create this film. As someone who has been working as an acclaimed playwright and a filmmaker for a very long time, I am sure he struggles with whether to continue creating his art or take a break and spend time with loved ones. This duality is heartily felt in this film.
Recently, an obnoxious level of Oscar-hopeful biopics have proliferated cinemas. Just last year, King Richard, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Spencer, and Being the Ricardos all managed to receive above the line Oscar nominations. In particular, biopics about musicians have become especially prominent as of late, to the chagrin of many film lovers. Modern biopics have frequently been criticized for being a basic, formulaic, womb-to-tomb attempt at summarizing a Wikipedia article. And sure, many biopics like Respect and Bohemian Rhapsody fall under this bland formula. But then walks in Baz f*cking Luhrmann with his maximalist take on a musician biopic that begs the question: can formulas be fun if they’re executed by an absolute madman? Every Luhrmann movie feels like an acid trip, and his Elvis Presley biopic is no difference.
If you told someone at the beginning of last year that a random A24 sci-fi movie would be the most nominated film at the Oscars, they would simply think you were insane. But the moment people began watching Everything Everywhere All at Once, it became the underdog favorite for Best Picture. While most were predicting The Fabelmans or Babylon to take home the coveted award, a select few have been predicting Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s insane comedy to prevail since they first laid eyes on it. While Everything Everywhere All at Once sounds ridiculous (and yes, it certainly is), it is also one of the most heartfelt and meaningful movies not just of the year, but of all time. If this film were to win the top prize, it would be one of the most inspired decisions ever made by the Academy. Sure, it’s an unconventional film full of hot dog finger sex, dildo fights, and butt plugs. But it’s also a film that explores the pains of generational trauma, the immigrant experience, depression, coming out, and the unique relationship between a mother and a daughter. As a queer person with a strained relationship with my mom, I haven't felt as seen by a movie since Lady Bird. And I know I'm not the only one! There's something in this film for everyone to find a little bit of themselves in. Whether it's the queer experience of Joy, the life of being an immigrant, the feeling of pure apathy towards life, or the pains of a troubled marriage, Everything Everywhere All At Once is such a universally relatable movie that everyone can take something different out of it. In fact, every person I've talked to has had a different reason this film left them sobbing after leaving the theater, yet each one wound up putting it at the top of their lists anyways. That is a power few movies have.
There has been an abundance of Best Picture-nominated films loosely based on the childhood of the director lately. From Greta Gerwig’s triumphant Lady Bird to Kenneth Branagh’s significantly less triumphant Belfast, these autobiographical pictures have worked their way into Oscar voters’ hearts. The latest addition to this specific genre canon is Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, which is both one of the best films of the year and of the master’s career. The Fabelmans is movie magic, plain and simple. It is filled to the brim with passion for the medium, and is sure to win any film lover by projecting its unparalleled understanding of what makes cinema euphoric directly into their hearts. And yet, the film also manages to touch upon the medium’s uglier aspects, like the drive many have to create something from their daily struggles. The honesty instilled into this movie can be tender, hilarious, and heartbreaking at any given moment.
This year’s Best Picture lineup was pretty damn fantastic; there is not a single film that I dislike out of these 10. I believe each one of them brings something wonderful to the table. However, if we were to talk about the most important and relevant films that have come out recently, the one film that always immediately comes to mind is Todd Field’s triumphant return to directing, TÁR. It is an admittedly cold feature that is found by many to be difficult to connect with emotionally. It is also an undeniable work of art. There’s a beauty in the subtlety that goes into the cinematography and sound work. The encapsulation and quietness that lives in every shot is nothing short of outstanding. And of course, what else could be said about Cate Blanchett's performance that hasn't already been preached to the moon and back? She is outstanding as Lydia Tár, but you knew that already.
I remember in the early days of 2022 when there was a trailer for Top Gun: Maverick playing before every film. Every time I saw the trailer, I shrugged it off as another nostalgia-bait blockbuster that probably wasn’t worth watching in theaters. Then, near the end of May, I decided to watch the first Top Gun since my local Sky put it in their library to celebrate the new upcoming sequel. I ended up liking the movie and decided to watch Top Gun: Maverick for the heck of it. How bad could it be?
Ruben Östlund has long been renowned for his ability to balance satirical black comedy with social commentary thanks to films like Force Majeure, The Square, and now, his latest Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness. His films have always felt a little too “high brow” for general audiences, but this trend has shattered with his latest film. Triangle of Sadness is Östlund’s foray into high-brow films that feel accessible for anyone. It’s a witty, effortlessly hilarious, and beautifully shot romp of a movie that keeps you on your toes and draws you in with its sharp screenplay. The fact a movie of this stature even managed to get a Best Picture nomination is a win in itself, but it would also be a very unique and strong stance of what Best Pictures should stand for should it win the big prize.
With the most underwhelming awards performance of the 2023 Best Picture nominees, Women Talking is the definition of an underdog. It was goose-egged at BAFTA, had zero acting nominations at the Oscars, was snubbed for Best Original Score, missed PGA, but still somehow managed to secure a best picture nomination with only one other nomination — a nod for its screenplay.