Oscars 2023 - Best Picture Recap


Lawrence Mason takes us through the weird and wonderful world of the 95th Academy Awards, exploring films the liberal Hollywood elite have deemed worthy of a Best Picture nomination

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By Lawrence Mason

It’s almost time. It’s almost time for the liberal elite to follow in the footsteps of the three wise men and go on a holy pilgrimage – not to Bethlehem, but to the American West Coast, to the City of Angels, to Hollywood. Instead of bearing witness to the birth of our lord and saviour, these friendly faced millionaires have come to worship a new God, and his name is Oscar. Trading in the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for Armani, Prada, and Gucci, they’re ready to see little gold men being efficiently distributed to the best and brightest of the movie business. To pat themselves on the back for how creative they’ve been throughout the year. To celebrate another 365 days around the hot LA sun, each day bringing a daring new film from a daring new director, or a magnum opus from a titan of the industry. This year’s Academy Awards sees an eclectic combination of young fresh-faced filmmakers firing themselves into the spotlight with their breakout hits, as well as established industry regulars rearing their ugly heads, Botox and all.

Leading the pack with 11 nominations is the kaleidoscopic Everything Everywhere All at Once, directed by a mysteriously named duo who go by ‘The Daniels’. You better strap yourself in before you board this non-stop rollercoaster of a film. Going from 0 to 100 in under five seconds without so much as a glance at the brakes, it combines family drama, the multiverse, and laundry, into two hours and twenty minutes of organised Chaos. The film grabs your attention and throws it through a black hole of action, fast-paced editing, and extensive production design, then spits you back out, well and truly spaghettified.

In terms of the number of nominations, both The Banshees of Inisherin and All Quiet on the Western Front are in joint second, with nine each. Although regarding a platonic friendship rather than a toxic romance, The Banshees depicts perhaps the worst possible way a breakup could unfold. Colin Farrell and Brenden Gleeson trade a quaint Belgian city - as seen in their previous collaboration, In Bruges (2008) - for a quaint Irish village on the fictional island of Inisherin. As the cannons of the Irish Civil War blast on the mainland, this peaceful island seems far removed from the conflict tearing apart Éire. But when Brenden Gleeson loudly and proudly declares to his former best friend that “I just don’t like you no more”, the civil conflict between would-be-brothers finds its way across the sea to the island of Inisherin.

All Quiet on the Western Front continues the recent trend of foreign language films receiving recognition outside of the foreign language category. Who knew non-English films are, indeed, films? This adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name explores the true horrors of the First World War. With the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the bells of war rang across Europe: Germany quickly mobilised, enlisting thousands of enthusiastic young men ready to fight the good fight for the fatherland. The film frankly chews these new recruits up and spits them back out, with lifelong trauma and a heavy dose of shell shock – war is hell.

Next down the list is Elvis. As if Everything Everywhere All at Once didn’t exhaust audiences enough, Baz Luhrmann decided to come in swinging with this essential music biopic. Following the life and times of the King of Rock n’ Roll, this eponymous epic showcases Elvis’ journey from his humble beginnings as a country singer, to the peak of his fame, to his inevitable downfall in the form of a Vegas residency and an open shirt suit that fits a little bit tighter than it used to. Earning Austin Butler high praise and a permanent vocal change for the titular performance, Elvis’ fast pace gives us little time to breathe – but that’s showbiz, baby!

There are certain topics that always seem to resonate with the Academy; white people fighting against racism is one – see Green Book (2018) – as well as music biopics – see Elvis, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), and Judy (2019) – but another category is films about films. This year, this takes the form of both The Fabelmans and Babylon, however the latter didn’t earn a best picture nomination (a travesty in my opinion). Spielberg is generally known as a director who prioritises spectacle; after all, the modern-day blockbuster can trace its origins to Jaws (1975). From running away from Peruvian boulders in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), to German machine guns in Saving Private Ryan (1998), it's go big or go home for Spielberg, and he often misses his curfew. But this year Spielberg spent too much time playing with silly cameras instead of doing the dishes, and his mum grounded him. The Fabelmans has been described as his most personal film; trading the spectacle for a semi-autobiographical family drama about the magic of the movies, with the Academy frothing at the mouth at the mere thought of this.

Next up is Tár, and I need to tell you the truth – I hated it. While the overstimulating Everything Everywhere All at Once is akin to watching a two and a half hour Tik-Tok, Tár is the equivalent of watching paint dry with an orchestral soundtrack. It might be smart; it’s probably got a lot to say about separating the art from the artist, as well as the creative industries and the type of people they attract. But, for me, Tár was just too boring. I typically like to stay neutral when writing articles like these, but my disdain for Tár has forced me to break the fourth wall and confess my true feelings. Moving on.

Top Gun: Maverick earned itself a best picture nomination, pleasing dads everywhere. Tom Cruise is back in the pilot seat, this time training up a crew of young pilots for one final mission. Military propaganda has never been this fun.

After 13 years, James Cameron has come out of his fully rendered CGI mancave to return to the world of Pandora with Avatar: The Way of Water. Trading the verdant alien forest for the luscious reefs and beaches of the alien planet, The Way of Water has some of the best-looking shots of the year. There’s been somewhat of a divide here at Muse’s Film & TV section regarding this film, however I, for one, loved this film. The three-hour runtime didn’t make itself known whatsoever, the story was surprisingly heartfelt – yet not all that complex – and above all it was just an impressive film to sit back and marvel at what Cameron and Co. have created. The Way of Water marks a true benchmark in the cinematic canon, as technology has now progressed to a point where something like this can not only be made, but made brilliantly.

Triangle of Sadness was an interesting pick for Best Picture, not because the film falls short in any way, but because the film seems to be mocking the very people who would be voting for it. Ruben Östlund’s social realist comedy depicts a luxury cruise, full of the Gucci-wearing liberal elite that will be populating the seats of the Dolby Theatre on Oscars night. He puts these friendly-faced millionaires firmly in his crosshairs, dissecting the class divide between the rich and poor with a vulgar hilarity that makes Parasite seem tame in comparison.

To round off the Best Picture nominations is Women Talking, a stony-faced, frown-filled drama about an equally upsetting subject matter. The women of an isolated religious community must come to terms with a shocking revelation; for years, the men have been drugging and raping the women. I’ve retained a light tone throughout this article, but that doesn’t feel appropriate here.

Of course, the Best Picture nominees merely scratch the surface for what the 95th Academy Awards have to offer, and likewise the Academy Awards merely scratch the surface for what cinema has had to offer over the previous year. In my view, looking at the Oscars as a definitive ‘best of’ list for the year is the wrong way to go about it. The Academy have specific tastes – they rarely give a second look to experimental films, horror films, or any film without a fairly substantial budget behind it. It’s best to view the Oscars more as a popularity contest, not judged by impartial, objective and meticulous critics, but more likely by rich, privileged neo-liberals, who host regular wine and cheese nights, accompanied by an endless flow of champagne. These aren’t the best films of the year, just the Academy's favourites.