Oscar Blitz 2023 – Best Picture (VIDEO)

We made it! After 22 categories, five videos, and a metric tonne of anxiety over possible typo’s (DAMMIT!), we’ve come at last to the final and most important field of this year’s Blitz, Best Picture! It’s been exhausting, but oh so satisfying to see votes come in on the polls, views and like totals raise both here and on the YouTube channel, and even get a little bit of social media love from some of the filmmakers, especially for the Shorts. It truly does feel worth all the effort that this takes every year.

That said, I’d be lying if I said that the 10 nominees for the grand prize are all that satisfying as a group. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of truly superlative works of art that I think will endure for years to come, especially my top pick, which to me is a legitimate game-changer when it comes to how we watch and experience movies. It’s just that, when you take all 10 as a whole, it’s hard to feel entirely good about it.

It’s not like 2022 was necessarily an off year for movies, but the ones that got the most attention, especially around Awards Season, just didn’t feel like the right ones. I’m not saying my tastes should dictate anything, but you could tell that a lot of the so-called contenders were elevated by the hype surrounding their releases, rather than the actual quality of the works themselves. When that happens, the Oscars turn into more of a rote, anodyne affair where people in dresses and tuxedos just confirm what we already knew, that naked advertising and campaigning have more to do with the process than an actual celebration of new stories.

Ever since the Preferential Era began, there’s always been the perception that one or two of the Best Picture nominees really don’t deserve to be there, and that they were given the recognition just to fill out whatever number the Academy decided the category would hold. This year, as you’ll see in the video below, it’s my contention that only two of the 10 warrant serious consideration. And again, I’m not saying that the nominees are bad (with two exceptions), just that a solid 60% of our contenders were good, but not great. They all have their moments, as well as some particularly strong production elements, but they just didn’t “wow” me, for lack of a better term. To me, a Best Picture candidate has to do something truly spectacular, and the vast majority this year simply didn’t. When the most common reaction I have to seeing these films is something akin to, “Okay… and?” you know something’s amiss.

As such, as a supplement to this video breakdown, I’m going to dive a little deeper. First, I’ll explain my individual rankings in the various film elements that I use to determine my rankings in a bit more detail. Once that’s done, I’ll offer up eight substitute nominations that I feel would have better reflected the actual quality of 2022 cinema.

First, the video and rankings. I put a lot of hours into it, including a last minute edit where I realized I fucked up my math (and I pray I didn’t screw it up again), so I hope you enjoy it.

Okay, now to the rankings. As explained, I weight the various elements based on what I think are the most important, and put in my overall preference to ensure that everyone knows that this is ultimately subjective opinion, and everyone is welcome to their own interpretation. I don’t judge. If you loved Elvis, that’s great. I hated it, but I’m not you, and the first goal of all movies is to entertain. So if it worked for you, truly, I’m glad.

So here are my personal rankings of the 10 nominees, along with the overall positions and grades I gave them for the 2022 canon, where I ended up seeing a grand total of 136 feature films.

1) Everything Everywhere All at Once – Grade: A – 2022 Rank: 1
2) The Banshees of Inisherin – Grade: A – 2022 Rank: 10
3) Avatar: The Way of Water – Grade: B+ – 2022 Rank: 46
4) Tár – Grade: B+ – 2022 Rank: 52
5) Top Gun: Maverick – Grade: B+ – 2022 Rank: 61
6) The Fabelmans – Grade: B – 2022 Rank: 69 (Nice!)
7) Women Talking – Grade: B – 2022 Rank: 79
8) All Quiet on the Western Front – Grade: B- – 2022 Rank: 98
9) Triangle of Sadness – Grade: B- – 2022 Rank: 102
10) Elvis – Grade: C – 2022 Rank: 113

I mean, just look at those two major drop-offs, one of them from second to third place, and the other from seventh to eighth. Only two “A” grades made the list, with five in the B+/B range, and the rest at B- or lower. I’ve mentioned this before, but the most basic call to action that can be inferred from my grades is that a “B” or higher is worth seeing in theatres, B-/C+ is worth a home rental, and “C” and below should probably be avoided unless you have a very specific desire. The fact that 30% of the films the Academy membership deems potentially worthy of Best Picture didn’t even warrant a full recommendation should tell you a lot.

Compare this to last year, where Don’t Look Up got a C+ (and it was Certified Rotten) and the West Side Story remake got a B- (and I know I was in the minority on that one), while everything else rated at a solid “B” or higher, with three of the nominees (Licorice Pizza, Belfast, and Drive My Car) not only in my personal top 10, but my top five, and the drop-off to fourth place (Dune) was a difference of 24 spots (4 to 28) rather than 36 here.

Now, in fairness, some of the ranking numbers are skewed due to the influx of foreign films and documentaries, which by the very nature of the shortlisting process find their way higher up the list. But still, this is glaring. We’re told that all of these movies are great, but so many of them just didn’t live up to the hype (at least not for me) in the way that advertisers and more gushy critics would have you believe. Most of them are good, but a lot of them rely on one or two major elements to excel, whereas only the top two feel like complete entries.

So let’s get to the five areas where I grade the nominees, starting with Acting, which I weight for 30% of the final score.

1) The Banshees of Inisherin
2) Everything Everywhere All at Once
3) Women Talking
4) The Fabelmans
5) Tár
6) Avatar: The Way of Water
7) Triangle of Sadness
8) All Quiet on the Western Front
9) Top Gun: Maverick
10) Elvis

The top spot goes to Banshees, as I explain in the video, because the overall supporting ensemble outshines Everything Everywhere by just a hair. When it comes to a head-to-head competition of the leads, I give it to Everything Everywhere, with Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and Jamie Lee Curtis eking it out over Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon. But once you get beyond the core four, it’s all Banshees, which features Bríd Ní Neachtain, Gary Lydon, Pat Shortt, and Sheila Flitton in memorable small roles. Everything Everywhere has James Hong in a strong turn, and momentary flashes of greatness from Jenny Slate, Tallie Medel, and Harry Shum, Jr. Both are great, but Banshees is more sustained.

Apart from those two, however, only Women Talking has what could be truly argued is a fantastic ensemble. Paul Dano does great in The Fabelmans, as does Gabriel LaBelle and Seth Rogen, while Judd Hirsch and David Lynch make fun cameos (with Hirsch somehow getting a Supporting Actor nomination out of the deal). But the rest of the cast, including the premature fawning over Michelle Williams’ absolutely empty performance drags the score down. When it comes to Tár, Cate Blanchett is on fire, and Mark Strong has a couple of moments as a pompous douchebag, and that’s about it other than an underappreciated turn from Noémie Merlant. In Avatar, there’s some surprisingly good work with the cast, especially given how they have to adapt to shooting underwater in points, but we’re left to assume that the CGI correctly translated their emotions, so you have to dock points on average.

After that, it’s slim pickings. Woody Harrelson and the late Charlbi Dean do alright in Triangle of Sadness, while Harris Dickinson is merely serviceable. Almost by design, everyone in All Quiet except for Felix Kammerer and Albrecht Schuch feels interchangeable and leaves no impression. The entire cast of Top Gun does fine, but only Val Kilmer’s heartbreaking cameo really makes you feel anything. And as for Elvis, as I’ve said before, Austin Butler single-handedly saves the entire picture, but that doesn’t excuse the first truly terrible performance from Tom Hanks since The Ladykillers.

Let’s move on to Directing, which accounts for 20% of the total.

1) Everything Everywhere All at Once
2) The Banshees of Inisherin
3) Avatar: The Way of Water
4) The Fabelmans
5) All Quiet on the Western Front
6) Tár
7) Women Talking
8) Triangle of Sadness
9) Top Gun: Maverick
10) Elvis

You’re going to see Triangle, Top Gun, and Elvis near the bottom of a lot of these categories, and it’s mostly because they either didn’t work in a given discipline (Elvis and Triangle) or were merely competent (Top Gun). The other seven all have a solid creative vision, it’s just a matter of execution. For Women Talking, Sarah Polley wrote a terrific script that told the story effectively, and it seems she was mostly hands off when it came to the cast, letting these insane talents shine. But that also means there’s nothing there that registers as a cinematic touch unique to her, especially with stage blocking and movement largely kept to a minimum.

Going up the rest of the list, Todd Field knew what he wanted to do for Tár, but since it’s a Showcase Film, all the attention is on Blanchett rather than his ideas. Edward Berger made the exact version of All Quiet he wanted to, but that ended up being just a standard-issue war movie. Steven Spielberg did what he always does, for better and worse, in The Fabelmans, but really the task was to just make sure the whole project didn’t come off as self-indulgent. He largely succeeded. For Avatar, as I say in the video, you may not agree with James Cameron’s story, but he was effective in showing it, even if he did rip the entire third act off from his own prior works. That again leaves Banshees and Everything Everywhere at the top as the only two that have a real identity when it comes to the directorial eye of their lead filmmakers.

As we go to Writing, you’ll notice a similar pattern.

1) The Banshees of Inisherin
2) Everything Everywhere All at Once
3) Women Talking
4) Tár
5) The Fabelmans
6) Triangle of Sadness
7) Avatar: The Way of Water
8) All Quiet on the Western Front
9) Top Gun: Maverick
10) Elvis

We have even less to go on this time around. For me, I literally rank Banshees above Everything Everywhere because Martin McDonagh wrote his script as a solo act. I don’t penalize the Daniels for this from a directing standpoint, as their vision was so grand, sweeping, and bonkers that I’d argue one person couldn’t do it alone. Still, both scripts are absolutely stellar, as is Sarah Polley’s for Women Talking. She’ll probably win Adapted Screenplay because it’s the only other category that the film is up for, and Academy voters will want to give it something to justify its inclusion in the Best Picture field, but she’ll deserve it nonetheless.

After that, it’s all downhill. Spielberg and Tony Kushner go for easy tropes on antisemitism and pull punches when it comes to Mitzi. Ruben Östlund’s script for Triangle of Sadness is legitimately funny on the yacht, with the Captain’s Dinner being a brilliant exercise in satire, but everything else falls flat. James Cameron somehow doubled down on the lame Dances with Wolves, FernGully, and Pocahontas story arcs from the last Avatar that he was roundly criticized for. I’ve mentioned before that the adaptation of All Quiet actually betrays the themes of the classic novel rather than innovating or reinforcing them. For Top Gun, the script is pretty much a standard action film. And for Elvis, I’m not even sure there was a script, since the story is dictated almost entirely by the nauseating edit.

The final two areas, Artistic and Technical merit, count for 10% each, and we’ll polish them off together.

Artistic:
1) Everything Everywhere All at Once
2) The Banshees of Inisherin
3) The Fabelmans
4) Tár
5) Women Talking
6) Avatar: The Way of Water
7) All Quiet on the Western Front
8) Top Gun: Maverick
9) Triangle of Sadness
10) Elvis

Technical:
1) Everything Everywhere All at Once
2) Top Gun: Maverick
3) Avatar: The Way of Water
4) All Quiet on the Western Front
5) The Fabelmans
6) The Banshees of Inisherin
7) Tár
8) Elvis
9) Women Talking
10) Triangle of Sadness

This is where Everything Everywhere separates itself. The technical category is the only one where Banshees slips out of the top two, and that’s because while the cinematography is great, there’s not much else to go on. Meanwhile, Elvis crawls out of the basement just this once because of a few flashes of what could have been some decent camera work and editing had Baz Luhrmann not gone completely overboard, and Top Gun soars (sorry) almost to the very top due to some massively well done cinematography, editing, and practical effects. And of course Avatar‘s going to be near the top due to being the only CGI-driven franchise in existence that actually looks realistic.

When it comes to the art, most of the films have something to hang their hat on except the bottom two, as Triangle of Sadness doesn’t have any real design elements to speak of, and Elvis is an automatic failure thanks to the horrid makeup job on Tom Hanks. But really, once you get below The Fabelmans, with its tremendous set design, costumes, and demonstrations of Sammy’s education in cinema (which also gives it somewhat high marks on the technical side of things), you might as well shuffle the other seven like cards and deal them at random.

All of this combines to make my overall point, once again, that only Everything Everywhere and Banshees even meet the bar for Best Picture. Everything else basically has one or two key things to brag about, and that’s it. For Elvis and Tár, it’s the lead actor (though admittedly the latter has more going for it in other areas). For Women Talking, it’s the cast and script. With The Fabelmans, it’s Spielberg and the art design. For Avatar, it’s the creativity and the technical achievement. For Top Gun, it’s being a wholly satisfying action film and legacy sequel thanks to its superb tech work. When it comes to All Quiet, it’s the fact that we’ve made yet another above average war movie. And as for Triangle of Sadness? Well, it has the fact that it inexplicably won at Cannes.

Only two movies of 10 are really worthy of this highest of honors. Most of the rest are good, fun, and/or entertaining, with at least one excellent aspect to laud. But Best Picture does go to the film’s Producers, and of these 10, only Everything Everywhere and Banshees truly feel like great total productions. The rest just regress to the mean, or worse.

So who should have gotten the nods in place of the other eight? It’s honestly not that hard to find viable candidates, some of which are nominated multiple times within this very ceremony, along with some others that were ignored completely for reasons I’ll never understand.

Decision to LeaveIt boggles my mind that this didn’t get at least nominated for International Feature, because it’s an excellent Hitchcockian neo-noir with some stellar character work. The lead performances are top notch, the editing and cinematography are well better than some that were nominated in those fields this year, and the story keeps you guessing the whole way through, while also wringing well-earned pathos.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out MysteryRian Johnson continues to gleefully toy with audience expectations with his clever scripts that subvert some tropes of the whodunit genre while reinforcing others. The entire ensemble cast is more than game for whatever he throws at them (and you can tell A-listers are clamoring to work with him on these projects), turning in exquisite performances (even from Kate Hudson, who I normally can’t stand). And given how eager the Academy is to take pot shots at powerful men, I’m honestly surprised that they’re seemingly afraid of making fun of Elon Musk. I guess their hatred of pure comedy trumps opportunities for actual satire.

Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverFigure this one out. This film has five nominations, more than Avatar, Triangle of Sadness, and Women Talking, and only one behind Top Gun and Tár. Going further, the previous Black Panther film was nominated for seven Oscars, but bear in mind that two of them were the formerly separated Sound categories, and I’m including Best Picture. By modern standards, it would have six nods, and this very worthy sequel would have six as well if it got into the top contest. How does this work? Does not compute!

NopeI won’t even dignify the Academy by explaining to them how wrong they were for dismissing this brilliant work entirely.

The Batman The Academy has proven before with The Dark Knight that it’s willing to give Batman movies a chance, and there are certainly individual elements worth praising here. The film is already nominated in three categories (Sound, Visual Effects, and Makeup & Hairstyling), and if they ever wanted to recognize a villainous performance again, both C0lin Farrell and Paul Dano give terrific turns. Is it the best Batman film ever? No, but the last time they left a great Batman flick out of the Best Picture conversation it resulted in the change to the Preferential Era we’re in right now. Do they really want to tempt fate again?

TillNot only does Danielle Deadwyler have legitimate beef about not being nominated for Best Actress, but in an age where someone is always ready and willing to complain about women not being up for Best Director (despite them winning the last two years running), Chinonye Chukwu was sitting right there.

The MenuAnother golden opportunity to put some actual satire into this field instead of whatever Triangle of Sadness was trying to be, and another complete dismissal. But it’s not just the writing. Hong Chau and Ralph Feinnes both give nomination-worthy performances, Mark Mylod’s cinematic eye is on point, making sure we always see what we need to at the right moment, and the production design is a goddamn masterpiece! Hawthorn itself is such an active set that it might as well be its own character. Every prop is perfect, every accoutrement ready to provide laughs and chills in equal measure, and the rigid nature of the dining room creates an ideal atmosphere for the story that unfolds. How did this not get any nominations?

She SaidYes, as I said in the review, it’s basically Spotlight as far as plot structure is concerned, but it’s also about the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. Are you seriously telling me that after all the crap he pulled, this body is unwilling to publicly shame him? Really? Never mind that the script is solid (worthy of Adapted Screenplay consideration), that Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan give poignant performances (YOU LITREALLY NOMINATED PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN FOR EVERYTHING TWO YEARS AGO!), and that the production design of the New York Times offices is quite clever. You’re literally going to sit there and tell me that it’s not worth even a performative rebuke of a serial rapist? Oh, that’s right, his campaigning tactics laid the groundwork for the For Your Consideration model in use today, so by calling him out the Academy would have to examine all the other horrible things he did outside of sexual assault that they’re still complicit in. Right.

Any of these films would make a more worthy Best Picture nominee than at least half of the movies that are currently vying for the prize. None of them were graded lower than a “B” for me, and all but the last two outrank Avatar in my personal assessment.

Okay, I’ve ranted enough. On to the poll.

Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!

Up Next, there’s no official coverage tomorrow, but I will be posting mini-reviews for the four fictional features (say that five times fast) that I had to track down for this year’s Blitz. And then on Friday, I help you (hopefully) win your office pool by giving you my official predictions for how Sunday’s ceremony will play out. It’s “Who Will Win?”!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Does my rationale for Best Picture make any sense? Do you agree with the categorical rankings? What films would you have nominated for the top prize? Let me know!

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