Oscars 2023 – What I’d Vote For

Another Oscars nears and while I’m still putting together my final(ish) predictions for a number of very close races it’s time to start my annual Oscar pieces by taking a look at who and what I would vote for in each category. Once again proving that it’s probably quite a good thing that I’m not a member of the Academy.

Best Cinematography – Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths
I just love the way Bardo looks. It was, for me, one of the best looking films of last year. Not just because of the way it adds energy to the one shots and just how much is going on in them, but also the fantastical elements which are so key to the ways in which the central character’s mind is working. This going for both the more ‘real-world’ fantasies and those which have clearly drifted into some form of dreamscape. Darius Khondji visuals help to emphasise the world(s) and everything that’s happening in it (/them) and allows for further engagement in the occasional strangeness, and the aforementioned one shots. Visually, it’s brilliant.

Best Costume Design – Babylon
There’s something about the costumes in Babylon which truly help to push the glamour (or at least want for it) and excess within the film. From the fashion of the wealthy party-starters to the cheap costumes on clustered sets the costumes get across the idea of the period setting whilst establishing the film in a dizzying world of its own. And not just in the party sequences, although there’s plenty on display (and sometimes not) in those. The Hollywood costume detail (of various social statuses) can be seen throughout the film in the likes of the aforementioned film set scenes and the strange underground sex cult tangent.

Best Makeup And Hairstyling – The Batman
This was largely between The Whale and The Batman for me (in general this was a fairly close category). And while the former does a good job of making an excessive fat-suit and prosthetics while still maintaining a believable character at the core of the film, the latter has plenty of good, and subtle, displays of effective hair and makeup. Of course plenty of people have discussed Colin Farrell’s transformation into The Penguin, which the campaign in this category seems to have largely focused on, but there are plenty of smaller elements at play in this iteration of Gotham city. The tired, pale, as some have called it, ’emo-like’ look of Bruce Wayne/ Batman, alongside the various slick looks of mob bosses, including John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone. Perhaps Farrell’s transformation does swing this to a fair degree, and as I say this was a fairly close category in general for me, but The Batman would be the box that I tick in this particular race.

Best Production Design – Avatar: The Way Of Water
While, of course, there’s plenty to admire about the new landscapes we see in this new trip to Pandora perhaps the thing that swings me most towards this are the giant man-made machines we see, particularly in the third act. Boats, ships, weapons all invading the land of the Metkayina clan. It captures the sci-fi nature of the film, fitting right into the world whilst standing out from the surrounding environments with their strong metallic, artificial look. Yet, of course, there’s still plenty to engage with when it comes to Pandora itself. The various landscapes that make it up, and the various water-related climbs/ depths we get to witness here with plenty of investing scenery and detail. (Of course there’s a discussion as to whether this is down to the visual effects, but a base of the production design surely starts off the look of that scenery and everything else in the world?)

Best Sound – All Quiet On The Western Front
To an extent it’s the clichéd answer (a war movie – if it were present after Brett Morgan’s big push for it I’d have absolutely gone for Moonage Daydream) but All Quiet On The Western Front sounded amazing. The elements of the film that struck me the most were the technical ones – both the sound and the visuals. Hand in hand with the score, especially the haunting three-note harmonium theme, the sound throughout is loud and imposing. Echoing the anger and chaos of the battlefield with a fear-inducing noise. It’s an element which feels so precise, even when collected all together in the aforementioned chaos of the battlefield. It pushes you into the middle of the attacks, trenches and even breaks from battle. The sound is excellent.’) but All Quiet On The Western Front sounded amazing. The elements of the film that struck me the most were the technical ones – both the sound and the visuals. Hand in hand with the score, especially the haunting three-note harmonium theme, the sound throughout is loud and imposing. Echoing the anger and chaos of the battlefield with a fear-inducing noise. It’s an element which feels so precise, even when collected all together in the aforementioned chaos of the battlefield. It pushes you into the middle of the attacks, trenches and even breaks from battle. The sound is excellent.

Best Visual Effects – Avatar: The Way Of Water
See above. (The visuals are astounding and bring to life new areas of Pandora. The underwater motion capture and tinkering with technology pay off as there’s a visually strong film here. Not just in terms of the landscapes and scenery but also in terms of the characters we see and the creatures which they engage with too. Put them alongside the human characters and you very much believe they’re all in the same world together).

Best Original Song – Naatu Naatu from RRR
It’s just a joy. Even without the highly energetic dance visuals Naatu Naatu is just a rather fun, enjoyable song. Perhaps the biggest earworm out of this year’s nominees (although every now and then This Is A Life has begun to echo around my mind) This will likely be the least I say about any category, because as I’ve proved to myself a lot recently I don’t know how to talk about music (and I like Billy Joel), I just rather like the song. I’ve played it a fair few times since first hearing it and very much like its upbeat energy.

Best Original Score – Babylon
I wouldn’t mind any of the nominees in this category winning, I think they’re all pretty great. Even John Williams, who some may accuse of having a token nomination simply because he’s John Williams (especially for a Spielberg film), nomination for The Fabelmans is thoroughly deserved. Each score is so different tonally and thematically and does a lot of different work for each film. However, as the score itself, and the one that perhaps just about edges in front of the rest for me is the one that seems to be the ‘fan favourite’: Babylon. There’s so much energy within Justin Hurwitz’s jazz-infused score raging with power through just how much is going on in it. Of course, many lean towards pointing out Voodoo Mama, but there’s plenty running throughout the whole score and each track. From the grander party scenes to the quieter recurring themes and the different styles and motifs they crop up within over the course of the soundtrack/ score.

Best Film Editing – The Banshees Of Inisherin
There’s so much within the slow-burn narrative of The Banshees Of Inisherin which in another film could feel bland or repetitive, yet with the way the film is constructed and edited it manages to avoid this feeling, progressing with interest. You feel the humour and the melancholy often at the same time as the tensions between the two not-quite-former-friends rise. The lingering shots hold plenty of effect in both cases and allow for certain points, elements and lines of dialogue to lie. It’s a very well-timed film allowing for what feels like natural progressions within the run-time. There may be flashier editing on display, but in the case of The Banshees Of Inisherin its perhaps the editing which best helps the film, and also perhaps the least noticed?

Best Documentary Feature – Navalny
There’s a lot of tension lying in Navalny, particularly as the titular figure tries to piece together the reasoning for and events building up to his attempted murder. The investigative quality to both him and the course of the film is fascinating and brings you in to feel not only further suspense but a sense of fear as to where things might go for all involved. There’s no denying the risk that’s on display, it’s made very clear by almost everyone involved. Yet, instead of making this the only point it uses it to push the narrative and the events which unfold over the course of the documentary.

Best International Feature – All Quiet On The Western Front
Undeniably the category with the most gaps for me (outside of shorts), however All Quiet On The Western Front has the edge thanks to just how effective it is tonally. It doesn’t shy away from brutality, both in and out of battles and the trenches, and truly attacks you through its technical achievements. The sound and visual design – especially the cinematography – are excellent and help to emphasises the grimness of the torment the characters are going through. As they give up hope more and more, even when they don’t think there’s any more to lose. There’s a very effective, well made film here. And out of those I have seen in this category, it’s the standout.

Best Animated Feature – Marcel The Shell With Shoes On
To quote my notes from when I first watched this film “I love that shell with shoes on”. At time of writing this is still my film of the year (UK release date). The wholesomeness on display is truly affecting, creating both humour and emotion there’s a lot to love about Marcel and his world. Not to mention the fact that you totally buy into the documentary format due to just how detailed it is, seamlessly mixing live-action with stop-motion animation. You genuinely believe that the shells are real. There’s a lot of subtlety to Marcel The Shell With Shoes On, packing in plenty of effect through this while never shielding its central character from the outside world and showing his stresses and anxieties. There’s a lot held in the short 90 minute space of this film, and it’s all handled very well indeed.

Best Original Screenplay – Triangle Of Sadness
While in the finished film I think the third act is somewhat drawn out, there’s no denying how funny I found Triangle Of Sadness. Down to just how well it can draw out certain jokes (in one instance for a good 20 minutes) whilst adding in additional gags so as not just to rely on the core point at hand. Much of this through a rather biting satire with plenty of comedic effect. Even in the third act there’s plenty of humour to be found, alongside some more slightly dramatic edges as the situations faced by the characters change. Still managing to get a number of laughs in this section, and managing to still gain them with the eventual film being almost two and a half hours long (presuming a relatively lengthy screenplay).

Best Adapted Screenplay – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
It’s between Glass Onion and Women Talking in this category for me. While Women Talking has some very clever developments when taking its characters outside the barn in which much of the discussion takes place, alongside reminders of the outside world, Glass Onion’s mystery compels me. Yes, the characters might not quite be as well defined as in the first film, but there’s still plenty to enjoy within this latest group of suspects, and the returning ‘gentleman sleuth’ Benoit Blanc. Amongst the various moments of humour Rian Johnson has crafted another brilliant mystery with plenty of clever red herrings and twists along the way. Yet, perhaps the most impressive thing is the fact that the film knows the audience is playing along well before anything happens, tells them this and uses that. It’s open about pretty much all of its details and uses audience participation and their playing along to enhance the mystery and the overall narrative. That’s where much of the brilliance of this latest Benoit Blanc mystery, and the enjoyment of the film as a whole, comes from.

Best Supporting Actor – Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees Of Inisherin
In a film with plenty of great performances Brendan Gleeson stood out for me. There’s a blunt seriousness to his dead-pan performance which pushes the drama of the film, particularly in the intensity of his threats. Yet, at the same time there’s plenty of humour within his deliver, or rather the way in which he bounces off of Colin Farrell. There’s a strong sense of loss to his character. A lost soul who thinks he’s broken and isn’t sure why, just trying his best to live out his days – just look at the “how’s the despair?” confession scene, or any moment where his character discusses his mind and how he’s really feeling. Even when saying nothing – the short cart journey sequence – his face manages to give away plenty of detail about his character and what’s in his mind at that moment in time, while giving away very little to Farrell’s lead. Gleeson provides a great performance quietly pushing forward a number of the film’s events. A personal performance of someone going through depression without knowing what it is or acknowledgement of it around him, not helped by the labelling of “despair”.

Best Supporting Actress – Kerry Condon in The Banshees Of Inisherin
For a long time I would have said I would vote for Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All At Once, however there’s something about Kerry Condon in The Banshees Of Inisherin which almost speaks for itself. It’s a performance made purely by the performance, by the acting. That’s not to say that Curtis’ performance feels emphasised solely by everything that’s happening around her, or anyone else in this category for that matter (just look at Hong Chau in The Whale after all). However, Condon gives a great performance that brings her character’s exasperation of being trapped on this island with dull, bickering men wonderfully. Especially caught in her occasional outbursts from “you’re all boring” to “was I wild!?” there’s a wonderful character who bounces off well from the performances around her. Struggling to suppress her feelings and frustrations at those around her, and the need to get away, there’s a lot being held in within her performance and it comes across effectively. Particularly showing the effect of her performance and character’s presence when no longer available to help with things anymore.

Best Leading Actor – Brendan Fraser in The Whale
If there’s a very restrained, subtle performance that tends to otherwise go unrecognised or seems like an outsider I tend to swing towards that (e.g. Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate a few years ago was an outstanding performance, in an outstanding film). In the case of this year’s Leading Actor nominees that would be Paul Mescal in Aftersun, my number two choice here. However, and perhaps there’s an element of recency bias here, Brendan Fraser just gets the edge for me here. There’s also likely a personal aspect here in that I saw a lot of personal things in The Whale, and perhaps brought some of that to the film and Fraser’s performance. While certainly he gives a very emotional performance it’s the restrained moments when he’s in ‘dad mode’ which truly worked for me the best. You genuinely believe him when he says of Sadie Sink’s angered teenage daughter “I’m worried she’s forgotten what an amazing person she is”. Yes, this may be a very good comeback performance, but also it’s a great piece of acting in general.

Best Leading Actress – Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
As generally seems to be the case with pundits, and most outlets, for me this is a race between Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett (if she were here I wouldn’t have thought twice about voting for Danielle Deadwyler in Till – still the best performance I’ve seen this year). While Blanchett gives a brilliant performance which leaves you questioning as to whether or not Lydia Tár is a real person Michelle Yeoh does a wonderful job of tracking her uncertain character through so many different worlds and universes. Tracking the effect on her as she realises what her life could have been like if she’d made one slightly different decision, or turned away a big life event. All while she begins to acknowledge her family and those around her, establishing her relationship with her husband and daughter with great effect. As Evelyn learns to gain control of her new abilities from other universes, and acknowledges what she has around her, there’s sight of an increasingly thought out character tracked through the different worlds we see throughout (even the one where people have hot dog fingers). Add to that the way her character progresses through the action sequences, and generally fights, and there’s a lot of detail in Yeoh’s central performance of someone initially just wanting to pay their taxes.

Best Director – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere All At Once
To have pulled everything in this film off, get across the familial themes amongst the various action sequences and multiverse strangeness you have to admire all of that. Add to that the general style of the piece and the visual nature, both in and out of the action and various moments of multiversal jumping, and there was clearly a great directorial effort that went into Everything Everywhere All At Once. A film like this could easily fall apart, not make sense, feel as if it goes overboard or generally lose control of itself, however Daniels manage to keep everything under control and make a well-constructed, universe-hopping tale in the process. Charting the various worlds we travel to, including multiple at a time in montages, etc, with a strong focus on how its affecting the central character. There’s nod denying the focus, and indeed entertaining style, brought about through the direction of Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Best Picture
As Best Picture is voted for via preferential ballot I’ll list my ranking of the nominees (from best to least best – there aren’t any nominees here that I dislike) below before rambling even more than I already have about my top placement.

Having revisited some of these films more than others, and also having some choices suffer from recency bias, I know that this list is likely very wrong (even in my opinion), not to mention in need of more time to be thought over. Once again proving that it’s probably a good thing that I’m not an Academy member.

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
2. Triangle Of Sadness
3. Tár
4. The Banshees Of Inisherin
5. All Quiet On The Western Front
6. The Fabelmans
7. Women Talking
8. Avatar: The Way Of Water
9. Top Gun: Maverick
10. Elvis

There’s no denying just how bold Everything Everywhere All At Once is. Amongst its absurdity and well-told narrative of family relationships there’s a very entertaining film here. Well told by the entire cast and crew who manage to link and capture the various worlds visited with a clear control. Maintaining a consistent energy from world to world while still effectively charting the journeys of its characters (not just central figure Evelyn) through the ‘decisions that could have been’ there is a strong dramatic core to the film amongst the humour present. It seems that Daniels have injected themselves wholeheartedly into this and its paid off as their film was undeniably one of the most praised and celebrated of last year and understandably why. While I might exactly love it, certainly not to the degree many other people do, I certainly like and enjoy it very much. Both for the absurdity which is on display, the entertainment value that’s to be found within the narrative and the different worlds that we jump to throughout it, but also for the emotional core for the characters and the quiet developments they make throughout it. A gradually developing film about familial relationships, and it’s done rather well indeed.

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