Oscars 2023: All Best Picture Nominees Ranked: On March 12th, The Dolby Theatre will be adorned with Hollywood’s finest. Ball gowns and velvet suits will parade the red carpet as A-listers gather to celebrate the 95th Academy Awards, aired live to most of the world. Although you might not be able to sit next to Brad Pitt and watch the ceremony in real life, why not gather some friends and host an Oscars party?
Film buffs and celebrity worshippers will be assembled around the globe to watch the Oscars this spring. But first, it’s best you make sure what films have been nominated (and why), so you don’t embarrass yourself. Here are the ten official Best Picture nominees, ranked by what we think is good to best. Do you agree?
10. Avatar: The Way of Water
The release of Avatar (2009) was a strange moment for cinema, even somewhat of a phenomenon. Directed by James Cameron, it remains the highest-grossing film ever made. Forget Marvel, Middle Earth, or Darth Vader. Avatar still trumps them all at the worldwide box office. Yet, it’s also one of the most hated (successful) films in modern cinematic history.
Cameron has a knack for big-budget, technologically advanced action movies. Therefore, it made sense for him to direct an epic sci-fi movie about blue humanoid aliens, which required a lot of CGI and SFX. The budget clocked in at $237 million (but made $2.923 billion back). The narrative takes place in the alien world of Pandora. Although a spectacle to behold, (most) viewers disliked the cliched storyline that felt like a waste of time, technology, and talent. However, which Hollywood producer would say no to a sequel after that kind of profit?
Cameron announced an Avatar sequel way back in 2010. Everything went quiet for a while afterward, during which the people that enjoyed Avatar forgot about it, and those who didn’t were relieved it was over. Then: surprise! It came out in December of 2022. Many original cast members reprised their roles— Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang—with a few new additions like Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, and Jemaine Clement.
Avatar: The Way of Water features Jake (Worthington), once again in blue humanoid form, fighting against the human invasion of Pandora. So far, it’s received mixed reviews. But generally follows the pattern of critics rating it worse than the first one and everyday viewers rating it better. Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water is a Marmite movie—you either love it or hate it. However, what can’t be denied is its superb performance (even in those green screen body suits) and breathtaking visuals (which is sure to bag Best Visual Effects).
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9. Top Gun: Maverick
Like Avatar: The Way of the Water, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t a heart-wrenching melodrama made up of method acting or arduous production stories as you’d expect for the Oscars. But that isn’t to say people don’t love it. Most even go so far as to claim it surpasses the original, which says a lot considering how much Top Gun is a beloved classic!
Tony Scott directed Top Gun in 1986, featuring a young Tom Cruise as a Naval pilot trying to redeem himself in the skies, all the while falling in love with his instructor (Kelly McGillis). Fans mainly loved Top Gun for its aerial footage of well-choreographed dogfights. However, critics condemned its shiny, hollow romance plot. Much akin to audiences’ first look at dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993), cinemagoers had never seen such aviation on-screen. Nowadays, the original Top Gun action sequences aren’t so impressive. In fact, they’re lousy and littered with technical (and narrative) holes. Top Gun: Maverick, however, shows us what it could have been like with modern techniques and slightly better writing (i.e., omitting the narcissistic, homoerotic presentations of masculinity).
Maverick is still a patriotic macho hero (obviously—it’s Tom Cruise), but this time presented with more depth, awareness, and going for an age-appropriate woman (Jennifer Connelly), which is rare for Hollywood. Joseph Kosinski’s sequel has a far more substantial storyline to it than Top Gun. This, coupled with incredible stunts and shots of airborne warfare, make it a fun cinematic experience. Perhaps not Oscar-worthy, but commendable nonetheless.
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Audiences love a true story. Cinema is currently in its biopic era, where viewers flock to get a peek inside their favorite celebrities’ personal lives. One of them is even nominated— Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. For some reason, knowing a film is based on real events gives it that authentic feel, inspiring us to think, “well, if they can do it, why can’t I?” The marketing team behind Tár knows this and uses it to their advantage. Although the movie is completely fictitious, it’s advertised in a way that makes it seem like a biopic of a great—and real—composer. So much so that we forget we’ve never heard of her.
Lydia Tár is a world-famous EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award) winning composer and the first female chief conductor for the Berlin Philharmonic. She has a whole amount of success due to her virtuosity and dedication, but that doesn’t mean she has it all. In fact, the more Lydia tries to cling to the control she once exercised over her career, the more it unravels. Tár is not a rise-and-fall story—we meet her at the top of the ladder, preparing symphonies and book launches, before spiraling into a tornado of lawsuits, assault, and controversy.
A genius artist growing insane and anti-social by degrees is no new plotline, but it feels like that in Todd Field’s taut psychological drama. Lingering on Lydia’s face as her world crumbles around her, Tár manages to depict chaos with utter control. Field’s filmmaking style is arguably a reflection of Lydia herself—skilled, cold, and odd. Cate Blanchett is also up for Best Actress for her riveting lead performance.
7. Triangle of Sadness
Triangle of Sadness is an ostensibly misleading title for a comedy. Models, businessmen, and wealthy middle-aged couples make up the bulk of passengers aboard the luxury cruise ship CHRISTINA O, captained by Woody Harrelson. Sadly, Christina doesn’t make it to the end of the movie—but that isn’t the sadness in question. The “triangle of sadness” refers to the area between the brows where lines are commonly formed as a result of excessive frowning. Who are the least smiley, most dissatisfied people on Earth? The rich (ironically).
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund describes all his movies as “about people trying to avoid losing face.” Triangle of Sadness is the most obvious example of this, focusing entirely on a ship of the super-rich, super-ignorant, super-entitled passengers gripping onto their manners, money, and reputation during a shipwreck. In fact, everything about Östlund’s satirical comedy is obvious. Rather than subtle allegories of corruption lurking beneath the surface of metaphoric filmmaking, Triangle of Sadness screams its point in your face.
This bold, straight-to-the-point approach is exactly what makes Triangle of Sadness so good. It’s a hugely entertaining black comedy, which makes viewers more likely to remember its anti-rich message rather than squinting to find it between the lines. Once viewers get past the abs and designer brands, they find themselves knee-deep in substances best kept inside the body. For this reason, Triangle of Sadness is not one for weak stomachs.
6. Women Talking
The title alone tells you everything you need to know about Women Talking’s feminist stance, devoid of fluff or glamour. Sarah Polley’s Women Talking takes place in the isolated fields of Bolivia, South America. Here, hidden among the haystacks, a group of women from a strictly religious Mennonite community confess their secrets to each other and find them overlapping. Bruised skin, blacked-out memories, and mysterious pregnancies all point to one ghastly thing: rape.
Although the rapists do see the inside of a prison cell in a nearby city, it’s only for a few days while the rest of the colony’s men gather to get bail. This leaves the women with a choice: leave the community, stay and fight the injustice, or pretend it’s not there. Surprisingly, the vote is not unanimous. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, and Frances McDormand star as the newly empowered women alongside Ben Whishaw.
Women Talking has the outside look of a period piece, but it actually takes place in 2010, as did the true story. Following their serial murder trials, seven men from the real Manitoba Colony were sentenced to 25 years in prison, which Miriam Toews wrote about in her 2018 novel. Polley adapts the book into a startling feminist fable about the pain and endurance of womanhood. Despite resembling a historical tale that turns back the clock to the 19th century, Women Talking is a timely addition to a post #MeToo world.
5. The Fablemans
If you and your friends are the ones to place bets on who will win Best Picture, The Fablemans is a good choice. Steven Spielberg is sort of like the dad of cinema, known for his uplifting, whimsical family adventures grounded in a familiar reality. The Fablemans fit this bill completely. It’s inspiring, wholesome, magical, and smoothly executed. It’s a film that celebrates the power and beauty of its own medium. It comes as no surprise, then, that such a story is actually based on the director’s own life.
Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film was inspired by the death of his father (Paul Dano plays a version of him) in 2020. Spielberg put a mirror to his own childhood when writing the script, which includes making short films as his mother played piano or feeling alienated as a Jewish boy in a new school.
The central conflict in The Fablemans is the divorce of Sammy’s (a stand-in for Spielberg himself, played by newcomer Gabriel LaBelle) parents, which Sammy blames largely on his father. Spielberg didn’t speak to his father for 15 years following the real divorce—an estrangement we see echoed in the recurring themes of father-son friction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977; E.T., 1982; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989; Catch Me If You Can, 2002; and War of the Worlds, 2005). The real story of The Fablemans isn’t about Sammy or his father, though. It’s about his mother.
Played by Michelle Williams, Mitzi Fableman is the true star of the show. She’s an esteemed pianist and lover of the arts, prone to bouts of depression and bad decisions. While Sammy’s dad sees his filmmaking as a mere boy’s hobby, his mother urges Sammy to chase his dreams— to even depend on it. Everything about The Fablemans is giddy, dramatic, and sentimental. Overall, it’s a crowd-pleasing safe bet for an Oscar win.
Baz Luhrmann is known for spectacle filmmaking, which also makes him a hit-or-miss filmmaker. The Great Gatsby (2013) was a glittering, star-studded adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic that critics slandered. In contrast, the bold mix of Shakespearean dialogue in a modern setting made Romeo + Juliet (1996) highly acclaimed. Luhrmann gave it all he had for his sparkly Elvis Presley biopic, documenting the singer’s life from childhood to death.
Luhrmann’s glamourous, sensory-overload approach to cinema (something which is generally frowned upon by nuance-loving cinephiles) made him the perfect director for a film about Elvis. He was truly the world’s greatest showman (which is exactly why his manager—former circus promoter Colonel Parker —chose him), recognized by bejeweled, open-chest jumpsuits and diamond-printed capes.
Luhrmann’s Elvis immediately smacks audiences in the face with its fast-paced opening, speed-rolling into an energetic biopic about a man that, as the film expresses, “lives his whole life on the wing.” However, once you strip back the stage performances, electric soundtrack (that once again blends old and new), dramatic dialogue, and manipulative narration by Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker, there’s Austin Butler.
Butler jumped from Nickelodeon kid to red carpet God in a heartbeat, delivering one of the best performances of the year. Playing a protagonist well is hard enough. Playing somebody that already exists—mimicking every small mannerism until the viewer forgets they’re watching an imposter—is even harder. And playing the most famous man in modern music history is the hardest. After immersing himself in the role for three years (making it unable to drop the Elvis accent in interviews), Butler carried off The King of Rock supremely—a smart bet for Best Actor.
3. All Quiet on the Western Front
Some pieces of art and literature shouldn’t be touched. Although All Quiet on the Western Front did already have a few on-screen adaptations to its name, none of them were very substantial. So, when Netflix announced its reboot of the classic 1928 war book by Erich Maria Remarque, many were skeptical. Fortunately, director Edward Berger did the source material justice.
Taken from the German perspective of World War II (and thankfully not Westernised into Allied characters), All Quiet on the Western Front isn’t so concerned with sides as it is with the universal soldier experience. Remarque put patriotism aside to write about the pure terror that every young soldier faces on the battlefield, falsely lured there by “your country needs you” posters, officials, and teachers, who implied the trenches were a breeze.
All Quiet on the Western Front is not for the faint of heart, as Berger becomes trapped in the mud, blood, dirt, and desperation of it all (without being unnecessarily graphic). The boyish protagonist Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) stares squarely in the face of death, remarkably translated with the same horrifying intensity found in the book. When confronted with such raw storytelling and poignant cinematography, where the traumas of war can be seen scarring deeper into the boys’ faces with each minute, it’s difficult to take your gaze away from the subtitles.
2. The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is a completely bonkers film that shows how any story—no matter how random or unlikely—can be a masterpiece if made right. The plot’s insanity is heightened by the fact that it takes place in a quaint little Irish town with only one pub, a few huts, and a donkey. Life on the fictional island of Inisherin is portrayed in the year 1923, right at the end of the Irish Civil War, when gunfire can be heard in the distance.
Not fighting in the war is Colm Doherty, a folk musician, and his good-hearted yet allegedly dull best friend, Pádraic Súilleabháin. At least, they start the movie as best friends until Colm suddenly decides to ignore him. When Pádraic asks why his only friend in the desolate town is avoiding him, Colm simply replies that he’s too “dull.” That’s it. Nothing about this sounds particularly riveting until Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic speaks to him. Something we later learn isn’t an empty threat.
For a slow town, everything unravels at an alarming speed for Colm, who’s left with no fingers and his home set on fire. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as the feuding Irish buddies. The Banshees of Inisherin marked the reunion of Farrell, Gleeson, and McDonagh, who impressed critics with their similarly toned tragicomedy In Bruges (2008). Although The Banshees of Inisherin may not be to everyone’s taste, the film buffs ate it up for its perfectly tuned, wholly original screenplay (also written by McDonagh), shot amid gorgeous natural landscapes.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t just our favorite to win—it’s (most) critics. Albeit you can’t always trust the critical consensus, but you can trust us when we say this film is mind-blowing. It’s smart, spiritual, psychedelic, funny, topical, insightful, inspiring, stunning…everything you want from an Oscar winner. But what else would you expect from an A24 film? Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“the Daniels”) are the minds behind this trippy sci-fi comedy-drama, who proved their talent for absurdist cinema with Swiss Army Man in 2016. What’s most shocking of all is that Everything Everywhere All at Once is only their second movie!
There’s so much going on in this film that it’s hard to sum up, but we’ll try: Michelle Yeoh (the current favorite to win Best Actress) plays the struggling laundromat owner Evelyn Quan Wang. The IRS is not only auditing her, but her husband (Ke Huy Quan) is secretly preparing to divorce her because she is never present with him. That is until an all-powerful alternate version of him appears from the “Alphaverse” and tells Evelyn she must save the Universe. An evil, omnipotent version of their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is planning to send everyone and everything (everything and everywhere) into a black hole in the form of a levitating “Everything Bagel.”
Evelyn can achieve this by “verse-jumping” across different lifetimes to attain the skills she has in parallel universes. Much more goes into it, but it’s not as difficult to follow as you might think. The Daniels’ presents this crazy story in such a way that it feels believable and fantastical at the same time. Fun special effects and bursts of confetti fill the mise-en-scène. But googly eyes and world-destroying bagels aside, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a complex, wise tale about letting go and being kind. Like we’d also say with Elvis and The Fablemans, Everything Everywhere All at Once is one for the big screen if possible.
So, in what order would you rank these movies? Do you agree with our list? Are there any nominations you think the Oscars are missing? Such as Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells) or The Batman (dir. Matt Reeves)? The ceremony is coming up soon, so submit your votes, put that party date in the group chat, and get your popcorn ready.