Every 2023 Oscar Nominee Ranked

20. Turning Red (Best Animated Feature)

In many ways, Domee Shi’s feature debut is a refreshing bit of storytelling from Pixar. Turning Red sheds light on a demographic – a pre-teen in the Asian-Canadian community – that has been underrepresented throughout filmmaking altogether. In many ways, the film sticks to the Disney/Pixar formula to a frustrating degree, which is what holds it back to some degree for me. We know that the hero will come to accept herself and her alternate persona almost as soon as the problem arises. I find no fault in people declaring the film as the best Pixar offering in years – it’s certainly miles ahead of Disney’s other films of 2022, Lightyear and Strange World – but I don’t know how often I will personally return to it over films like Wall-E or Incredibles 2. Still, what Turning Red brings to the table is undeniable, and will hopefully usher in newer perspectives and voices from the animation conglomerate.

19. Triangle of Sadness (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay)

We live in a time when “Eat the Rich” parables are at an all-time high, from The White Lotus to this year’s Infinity Pool to likely a hundred other instances which I can’t currently name. Does Ruben Östlund’s second Palme d’Or winner contribute anything terribly new to that budding sub-genre? Maybe not, but for big dummies like myself, it contained enough humor to sustain itself over 2.5 hours, especially the extended vomit-filled second act. Time hasn’t been the kindest to the film since I first watched it, but it’s undoubtedly full of memorable moments and performances; Dolly de Leon was likely inches away from a Supporting Actress nomination. Östlund has proven himself adept at creating smart, satirical films in his career thus far, and though Triangle of Sadness may not ultimately measure up to films like Force Majeure or The Square, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

18. The Red Suitcase (Best Live-Action Short)

What makes The Red Suitcase so effective is that it could be watched with all of the dialogue and all of the subtitles taken away, and it would still be just as powerful. In just seventeen minutes, director Cyrus Neshvad efficiently crafts a story that has a lot more going on beneath the surface. Similar to last year’s nominee Ala Kachuu, the film deals with an arranged marriage between a sixteen year-old girl and a much older man. Taking place entirely within an airport after her father sends her away, its hero, played by Nawelle Evad, comes to the realization of what’s happening to her and tries to evade her fate. In its later half, Neshvad turns it into a kind of thriller, deploying some impressive camera tricks to ratchet up the tension. That he throws in some smart imagery about women and their value in society only helps to solidify The Red Suitcase as one of the best shorts of the year.

17. Ice Merchants (Best Animated Short)

For most of the runtime of this animated short, I was given over to the inventive painterly animation, but waiting for a story to emerge. Ice Merchants is a film about routine, a father who lives on the side of a mountain and makes blocks of ice. He parachutes down into town with his infant son strapped to his chest, and the film shows the monotony of this ritual, quirky as it may be. But the final moments are emotionally stirring, and are crafted well enough to hit you like a ton of bricks. More than any other animated short this year, Ice Merchants is one worth re-watching not only for its beautiful animation style, but for its expertly-crafted story.

16. Avatar: The Way of Water (Best Picture, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Production Design)

“Never bet against James Cameron” was the rallying cry ahead of his sequel that’s been gestating for 13 years. Cameron’s proven track record of box office and critical success was in question after it felt like we, as a culture, had forgotten about the magic of Avatar. But Cameron doubled down and improved on what his latest blockbuster had set up with The Way of Water. No other cinematic experience matched the spectacle of Cameron’s visuals, pushing the technological envelope forward in ways we’ve never seen before. On my first viewing, I got hung up on the uninspired dialog and character motivations (Cameron’s Terminators had better motivations than what’s on display here), but on my second viewing, I found myself giving over to the vibes of the film. There are too many elements of The Way of Water that feel undercooked, a kind of entry point for the third Avatar film, but there’s no denying that the film provides enough sheer entertainment to remind us of the magic of movies.

15. Causeway (Best Supporting Actor)

After winning Best Picture with CODA, Apple’s slate of 2022 films was a little underwhelming, regardless of whether they resonated with Oscar or not. But one of its smaller titles, Causeway, provided a pair of outstanding performances from Jennifer Lawrence and first-time nominee Brian Tyree Henry. A quiet drama about physical and emotional pain, Causeway deserved more attention than it received, but resonated long enough after its uneventful Apple TV+ debut. Director Lila Neugebauer’s debut feature unfolds slowly and could have used a little more drama to keep me invested, but it’s always a joy to be reminded of Jennifer Lawrence’s talent, and Henry has been an exceptional presence for long enough. Perhaps more than any other film this year, Causeway is enough to be excited for the careers of everyone involved.

14. The Batman (Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Makeup & Hairstyling)

2022 was a particularly dour year for superhero cinema, with each MCU entry mostly failing to live up to expectations both critically and financially. But even if those films had delivered, The Batman would still stand as the best of the year. Matt Reeves’ take on Gotham, its heroes and its villains, felt refreshing as a rain-soaked city on the edge, with only the Caped Crusader holding it together. Robert Pattinson’s loner take on Bruce Wayne fit perfectly with the tone of the film and as Reeves’ concept of Batman as the World’s Greatest Detective, and Paul Dano’s Riddler was as mesmerizing as he was terrifying. Action scenes pulsed with verisimilitude, Michael Giacchino’s score and Grieg Fraser’s striking cinematography (both tragically snubbed by the Academy) all worked in tandem to fulfill Reeves’ vision of a Batman film by way of David Fincher. Superhero cinema is a rollercoaster indeed, but The Batman is a ride I want to return to again and again.

13. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Best Animated Feature)

In one of the better years for animated films in recent years – not to mention stop-motion animation – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio stands head and shoulders above the rest. You may wonder why Guillermo del Toro felt it necessary to make a new adaptation of the familiar wooden boy story when one seems to pop up every few years (indeed, Robert Zemeckis ℅ the Disney Executives just made their version in September). But del Toro makes his own argument, as Pinocchio the puppet often displays more humanity than the real humans, especially the loyal Fascists in pre-war Italy. Del Toro’s stop-motion creations are gorgeously realized, with just a hint of the bizarre grotesquery he’s often known for. Stripped of the Disney cuteness that’s come to define Pinocchio, del Toro isn’t afraid to make the titular character appear flawed beyond his decision making, and he’s not afraid of touching on adult concepts. This is a film that had Best Picture aspirations, among other categories, and easily deserved them.

12. Women Talking (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay)

Sarah Polley’s film is one that’s dripping with righteous anger, but one that teems with vitality. It’s a film that prompts necessary discussions about vengeance, faith, gender roles, and adulthood that’s framed around an urgent matter of life and death. It’s the definition of an ensemble film, with powerhouse performances top to bottom, from Claire Foy, Jesse Buckley, Rooney Mara, Ben Whishaw, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Frances McDormand (who also serves as a producer), and more. Women Talking is also a film that hits differently in the landscape of today, a radically different reality than when it was made, thanks to shifting political realities and the overturn of Roe v. Wade. One of the great mysteries of this year’s awards season is in the lack of enthusiasm by way of nominations for Women Talking, but it’s a film that will endure far beyond its calendar year.

11. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Best Adapted Screenplay)

If the Oscars had forged ahead with the plan to include the “Best Popular Film” category from several years ago, Glass Onion would be a shoo-in for a nomination, if not a win. Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives Out built on the fun of the first film while still providing a fun as hell twist on the whodunnit that only he could provide. That the film works equally well as an anti-establishment piece, a look at how the dumbest people imaginable often attain the most power, and an indictment of those who tacitly support them, is a testament to Johnson’s smart writing. Beyond that, the entire cast are clearly having a blast in their heightened roles, with Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc continuing to be one of the best original characters of the last decade. Only time will tell if future films in the Knives Out franchise will pay dividends at the Oscars beyond screenplay nominations, but for the time being, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more light, enjoyable film.

10. The Fabelmans (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Score, Best Production Design)

If anyone deserved to dip their toes into the growing cinematic memoir genre fad, it would be Steven Spielberg. It would have been easy, forgivable even, for Spielberg to make a “love letter to cinema”, as the film’s trailer perhaps hinted at, but The Fabelmans is a smartly told story about relationships. Re-teaming with Tony Kushner, Spielberg fictionalized his childhood – and, by all accounts, it’s mostly accurate to the film – to show how one young person’s gift for filmmaking became something that had a profound effect on those around him, for better and worse. Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Judd Hirsch, Seth Rogan, and outstanding newcomer Gabriel LaBelle gave some of the best performances, plus mesmerizing work from Spielberg familiars like John Williams and Janusz Kaminski (no other film could top Fabelmans’s final shot). It’s a debate whether The Fabelmans is one of Spielberg’s best films, but the idea that it could be debated, after a 50+ year career, is impressive all on its own.

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