Every 2023 Oscar Nominee Ranked

30. An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It (Best Animated Short)

This year’s crop of Oscar nominees – and 2022 films in general – have more than enough stories about questioning your purpose. But few execute it in as smart of a way as An Ostrich Told Me… The film uses its stop-motion conceit as a way of literally deconstructing its world, and doubling as a way to embody its protagonist’s existential crisis. Director, writer, and voice actor Lachlan Pendragon doesn’t overstay his welcome with the film, as something so heavy could easily get bogged down with overly complicated rules and mythology. The animation itself may not look the prettiest, but in a year when stop-motion animation ruled above all, An Ostrich Told Me… perhaps made the best use of the medium.

29. Elvis (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling)

Biopics about musicians are among my least favorite genres in film, so I had the lowest of expectations for Elvis, especially when the first trailer featuring Tom Hanks’ silly Colonel Tom Parker accent was revealed. And Baz Luhrmann’s frenetic pacing and occasionally nonsensical compositions did the film no favors in my book. Still, Austin Butler’s embodiment of The King was undeniable, a steadying force amongst Luhrmann’s whirlwind of an epic. The story generally stuck to the genre’s conventions, but there was something refreshing about being thrown into a chaotic environment where virtually anything could happen. Elvis wasn’t enough to get me back on board with musician biopics, but it’s perhaps the platonic ideal that others should strive toward.

28. Babylon (Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design

There are scenes within Damien Chazelle’s magnum opus about Hollywood’s Golden Age that stand out as amongst the year’s best. But there are too many elements that hold it back, too many indulgences that feel half-baked or out of place. Chazelle’s livewire camerawork and Justin Hurwitz’s score did a lot to enliven a script that had a lot of ideas but too little thought put into them. Like Jovan Adepo’s aspiring jazz musician, or Diego Calva’s ruthless producer. The central thesis of how Hollywood is a magical place that will also indiscriminately destroy its inhabitants is certainly one worth exploring, and Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt inject their characters with necessary gusto. The montage that closes out the film provokes some interesting conversation, but Chazelle’s intentions are a little too unclear, which fits with the overall tone of Babylon. I’m never one to deride a long film as lost potential, but perhaps Babylon could have been better served as Chazelle’s first miniseries.

27. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Best Animated Feature)

Lots of people love Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and I cannot disagree with them. After all, who among us expected any kind of quality from a sequel to a Shrek spin-off, when Dreamworks has churned out so much forgettable nonsense in the intervening years? But The Last Wish was more than just a pleasant surprise, delivering a smarter-than-necessary message about valuing the time we have on this Earth. I found the film enjoyable enough, mostly thanks to the dynamic animation style and the voice performances of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, and Harvey Guillen. But in such a strong year for animation, I was never as invested as I was with other contenders. Perhaps the main takeaway with The Last Wish is that Dreamworks can still breathe some life into its long-dormant or forgotten franchises.

26. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, Best Makeup & Hairstyling)

Director Ryan Coogler had perhaps the most daunting task of any MCU filmmaker to date, and only part of it had to do with the untimely death of star Chadwick Boseman. To follow-up on Black Panther, the first and only Marvel film to score a Best Picture nomination, was a monumental task on its own. That Coogler was able to make Wakanda Forever a fitting tribute to Boseman, while still exploring the themes of Black pride and honor that make the first film so memorable, is a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker. Angela Bassett delivers a fiercely powerful performance, along with Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, and Tenoch Huerta. Wakanda Forever may not have as captivating a story, and succumbs a little too easily to Phase 4’s set-up issues (looking at you, Ironheart), but it’s a worthy entry in the franchise and sets the future nicely for wherever the Black Panther series goes from here.

25. Argentina, 1985 (Best International Feature)

One of the few films from this year’s crop of Oscar nominees to be based on a true story, Argentina, 1985 manages to be a moving drama and a character study of an Argentinian hero. The film harkens to courtroom dramas like JFK and The Trial of the Chicago Seven by focusing on the attorneys tasked with the impossible of prosecuting Argentina’s former military leaders after the dictatorship was overthrown. Ricardo Darin leads a talented cast, all giving naturalistic performances to go with Mariano Llinas and director Santiago Mitre’s smartly written script. The film hits most of the expected beats that you’ve likely seen before in similar courtroom dramas, but it’s never not grounded in intriguing character dynamics.

24. EO (Best International Feature)

Another modern update to a classic film, EO sees Jerzy Skolimowsky reimagining Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. The film side-steps Bresson’s film not to tell the story of a few characters through the eyes of a donkey, rather it becomes a film about our relationship to nature, and what will remain after we’re all gone. With striking cinematography by Michal Dymek and music by Paweł Mykietyn, EO manages to evoke a number of emotions with minimal dialogue. Skolimowsky’s film is one that you’ll likely get more out of if you go into it with an open mind, so if all you see is a donkey in distress for 90 minutes, you’ll likely leave disappointed. But if you give yourself over to the film and what EO has to say, you’ll walk out with an abundance of ideas and imagery.

23. All That Breathes (Best Documentary Feature)

Shaunak Sen’s documentary about a team dedicated to rehabilitating India’s black kites manages to transcend its regional trappings to become a universal message. All That Breathes speaks to the increasingly dire situation that all life on Earth faces as the looming threat of climate change envelopes us all. Sen deftly shows the overwhelming struggle that both the humans and the birds face, but also smartly ties it to the social and political upheavals in New Delhi. That the documentary is able to take such gloomy subject matter and inject a sense of hope, while being visually spectacular as well, is more evidence that it’s a worthy Oscar nominee.

22. Living (Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay)

Classic films are remade or re-imagined all the time. So the idea of remaking one of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces isn’t as insulting as it may sound, especially when its premise is one that could easily be translated into different cultures and time periods. Oliver Hermanus, along with screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, do a fine job of melding Ikiru into post-WWII British sensibilities, with Bill Nighy delivering a career-best performance in the process. The film didn’t stray too far from its source material, sometimes to its detriment, but when you have a solid foundation like this, it’s hard to go wrong.

21. The Sea Beast (Best Animated Feature)

There was arguably one final slot in the Best Animated Feature category that could have gone to any number of eligible films. Good on Netflix for continuing to push for The Sea Beast after releasing the film in July of 2022 to barely any fanfare, especially when they had bigger, more auteur-driven films to campaign (pour one out for Henry Selick and Wendell and Wild). The Sea Beast deserves its nomination not only because it’s beautifully animated but because it contains a strong message of learning from history, rather than brushing past it. Director Chris Williams, who previously worked on Big Hero 6, uses dynamic action scenes to create a real sense of wonder and tension. Sure, the film gets a little cutesy with its prepubescent protagonists (not to mention a toy-worthy infant sea creature), but this is the rare animated Netflix film that deserves to stand out from the crowd.

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