Oscar Thoughts: The Films of 2023

The Academy Awards are this Sunday and 'Oppenheimer' appears a lock for Best Picture.

The acting categories seem the most competitive, especially for the leading roles. My money is on Cillian Murphy and Lily Gladstone taking the gold. 

One thing I know for sure is that 'The Zone of Interest', about the true story of a Nazi family that lived in their "dream home" next door to Auschwitz, where all the horrors are heard in the distance, should absolutely win for Best Sound.

After watching all of this year's Best Picture nominations, I'd agree with maybe half of them being worthy, so here's my list of the Best Pictures of 2023.


1. May December 

'May December' is my pick for best film of 2023. Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore duel in this drama of desire and taboo, masterfully directed by Todd Haynes, channeling a Bergman take on 'sex, lies and videotape'. Aside from an original screenplay nomination, it was ignored by the Academy. Charles Melton's performance as Moore's once underage lover now a conflicted family man should've been nominated for Supporting Actor.






2. Oppenheimer

Seeing 'Oppenheimer' in IMAX was, outside of the bombastic atomic test, like watching a PBS documentary at a science museum. But Nolan made watching people debate physics, testify before congress and kangaroo courts for three hours riveting in ways that only he could do. In bringing the life, triumph and heartbreak of J. Robert Oppenheimer to the silver screen, Nolan, the ultimate technical craftsman, made his most personal film to date. 

3. Master Gardener

The third film in Paul Schrader's recent trilogy of scarred men, succeeding 'First Reformed' and 'The Card Counter', follows Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton), a former white supremacist turned horticulturist who maintains the grounds at Gracewood Gardens. Now in witness protection, his clothes disguising the Neo-Nazi tattoos of his past life, Roth maintains a quiet existence as the street wise version of Peter Sellers' Chance the Gardner in 'Being There'.

Aside from watering plants, he occasionally sleeps with Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver), the icy dowager of the Gracewood estate. Until one day when Haverhill's grandniece Maya shows up at the estate and the two become romantically involved. But can their relationship survive once Maya learns of his dark past? Schrader threads this disturbing plot perfectly, juxtaposing the beauty of the flowers with the ugliness of man. Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange, composes the soundtrack, one of the year's best, which kickstarts the film with my favorite opening credit sequence of the year.





4. Beau is Afraid

The first hour of Ari Aster's neurotic doomsday vision was my roller-coaster movie theater experience of the year. After Joaquin Phoenix's brilliantly comatose performance in this, I just couldn't take him seriously as Napoleon. Sorry, Ridley Scott!







5. The Killer 

Kinda badass for David Fincher to make a Netflix movie about an assassin called 'The Killer' when John Woo has been developing a remake of his own masterpiece of the same name. Michael Fassbender is The Smiths loving contract killer who is caught in a gauntlet of revenge after a hit goes wrong. Moody and intense, with an emphasis on procedure and suspense like his masterpiece 'Zodiac', Fincher supplies the art house version of John Wick, a stylish, restrained exercise in obsession and methods.





6. Asteroid City

Close Encounters of the Wes Anderson kind, set in a 1950s desert town. One of the best looking movies I've ever seen on the big screen.










7. Barbie 

'Barbie' is a hilarious, razor sharp satire and so much fun, a throwback to the time of movie magic, where one could escape the outside world and find boundless joy on the screen.









8. Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed 

My favorite documentary of the year is about the giant life of Rock Hudson, one of the gods of Hollywood's Golden Age, whose not so secret gay life came to a very public, tragic end as he became the first celebrity casualty of AIDS. 

But what makes this doc great is that it's not focused solely on Hudson's death but celebrates his life, giving his cinematic legacy its flowers and examining the hidden gay life of Hollywood's Golden Age that was bittersweet with pool parties and tabloid scandals.






9. The Zone of Interest

While I do think that Gladstone will win the Best Actress Oscar for 'Killers of the Flower Moon', Sandra Hüller was the actor of the year, irrespective of gender, turning in two towering performances with her role of a wicked Nazi homemaker in 'The Zone of Interest' and as a widow turned prime murder suspect in 'Anatomy of a Fall'. Both films are brilliant but 'The Zone of Interest' leaves a lasting impact with its harrowing portrait of the banality of evil.







10. Saltburn 

'Saltburn' is the best movie I fell asleep watching this year. Which is not to say I didn't like it, I did! I was very surprised when I awoke near the end, to see Barry Keoghan dancing around the regal Saltburn estate in his birthday suit. Elite debauchery set to a great middle aughts indie rock soundtrack made this one a instant cult classic. I'm sure I'll like 'Saltburn' even more once I watch the entire movie.


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