Cheat Sheet on 2023 Oscars

2023 Oscar Nominees at A Glance

All Quiet on the Western Front – War is hell. This is the third adaptation of the 1927 novel about World War I. It’s a German production (the favorite to win Foreign Film) and a dark look at the “war to end all wars” from the perspective of the losers. All of the characters die so don’t expect to leave smiling. The original film won Best Picture in 1930.

Avatar: The Way of Water – At 3:12 minutes, this sequel is another special effects extravaganza from Director James Cameron, who can spend more money to make more money than anyone in Hollywood. With over $2 billion in box office, Water is swimming in deep visual waters. The kids flooded the theater to see this film, which is now third all-time only to Cameron’s Avatar, and Avengers: Endgame. Cameron’s Titanic is fourth.

The Banshees of Inisherin – The early favorite for Best Picture, this quirky flick reunites In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh with actors Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. All are nominated for Oscars as are supporting actors Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. It is essentially a buddy film where one decides he just doesn’t like his friend anymore. This film gives new meaning to the term digital.

Elvis – It’s another over-the-top musical from director Baz Luhrmann. Austin Butler is the favorite to win Best Actor for his uncanny imitation of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, who is portrayed as a pawn of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

Everything Everywhere All at Once – This year’s most unexpected film, it is equal parts fantasy, family saga, and morality tale about the choices we face. All four stars – Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis – have been nominated for acting Oscars. Travel to the multiverse in this low-budget gem.

The Fabelmans – Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal, autobiographical story of his teenage years feels like a throwback to old Hollywood. With amazing performances by Michelle Williams, Judd Hirsch, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen, The Fabelmans makes you smile, cry, and revel in nostalgia of those uncomfortable years where dreams face reality.

Tár – Cate Blanchett gives an otherworldly portrayal as the heralded conductor of the Berlin Symphony who drives herself to madness. Lydia Tár is a relentless perfectionist in this dark drama. Blanchett might just win her 3rd Oscar.

Top Gun: Maverick – Tom Cruise reprises his role as cocky fighter jet pilot in this terrific sequel to Top Gun. A massive box office hit, Maverick cleverly includes dozens of references to the original with a new group of young pilots (including Miles Teller as the son of Goose) faced with an almost impossible mission. Filmed in San Diego, Top Gun: Maverick is often credited with reviving Hollywood post COVID.

Triangle of Success – If ever there was a headscratcher of a Best Film nominee, it is this wacky tale of a group of rich super-jerks who get stranded on a deserted island when their cruise ship sinks. The “toilet lady” becomes the savior in this class struggle. Woody Harrelson makes a cameo as the drunk, wacked-out captain of the ill-fated ship. My least favorite nominee of the year.

Women Talking – Women trapped in a religious sect where they are sexually abused are tasked with deciding whether to leave or fight for free will. This is a film about freedom, fracture, fear, and formidability set in rural isolation. Director/writer Sarah Polley is nominated for her screenplay, and the movie is among the longshot Best Picture nominees.

A Few Others Whose Actors or Screenplays are Nominated for Oscars

Aftersun – This small film went right to video. Unknown actor Paul Mescal plays a loving, but troubled, father who takes his daughter to a modest seaside resort. In some ways, this is a coming-of-age film for both father and daughter. I won’t promise a happy ending.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Without Chad Bozeman, this sequel doesn’t sing but it’s a big budget blockbuster the kids love. Approaching $1 billion in box office, it’s a big film from Director Ryan Coogler. Nominated for several technical awards, Wakanda earned Angela Bassett a Supporting Actress nomination, her first in 30 years since What’s Love Got to Do with It. She is the sentimental favorite.

Blonde – Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in this dark story of the bombshell’s sad, victimized life. De Armas isn’t the first Marilyn impersonator, but she might just be the best. She shows a depth of character we often don’t see. Another straight-to-video movie, Blonde isn’t great, but the performance is.

Causeway – Jennifer Lawrence stars as a combat vet who returns home for rehab and a second chance. Brian Tyree Henry earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination as the car repair guy who befriends her and shows her that there is life after tragedy. This is a fine tale of friendship and hope.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Daniel Craig reprises his southern detective, Benoit Blanc, in the sequel to the very clever murder mystery, Knives Out. This one is set on a private island with an eclectic, generally unlikeable, cast of characters. A fake murder turns into a real one as Blanc solves the mystery. Plenty of twists and turns helped the script by Writer/Director Rian Johnson to be nominated for Adapted Screenplay.

Living – British character actor Bill Nighy plays a 1950s-era civil servant whose dull, by-the-book life gets turned upside down when he receives a cancer diagnosis. It’s a tremendous performance in a gem of a slow-moving, subtle film.

To Leslie – Relative unknown Andrea Riseborough is nominated for Best Actress for her depiction of a desperate, unlikeable junkie who sacrifices every relationship for her habit. A “little film,” this character study is a story of whether redemption really is possible.

The Whale – Best Actor nominee Brendan Fraser stars as a morbidly obese online teacher who is ostensibly committing suicide while trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter. Hong Chau is nominated for Best Supporting Actor as a caregiver who also was the sister of the teacher’s now deceased male lover. This is a fantastic film that feels like a stage play.

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