Warning: The following contains spoilers for the 2023 Best Picture nominees
It’s that time of year again, awards season, where deserving films win lots of little golden statues and undeserving films cry about getting snubbed. Because I am a huge movie fanatic and an egomaniac who loves to make other people listen to my opinions, I decided I would take it upon myself to review some of the 2023 Best Picture nominees.
“All Quiet on the Western Front”
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is the second film adaptation of the 1929 novel with the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s an anti-war novel about the physical and mental trauma of war stretching after a soldier’s time in active service. The film, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” follows the story of a young German man who enlists in the military to fight for Germany in World War I. His initial naive perception of war is used as a guide for the audience to portray the horrors of combat in all of its shocking and visceral truth. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is not the first film about World War I to use this intense approach to portray battle, and thus didn’t feel revolutionary in its material or portrayal of war. An hour into the two hour and 23 minute film, I surmised that I had received the intended meaning of the film, and the gory and extreme storytelling didn’t encourage me to want to finish it. Although it was most accessible to me, I wish I hadn’t watched this film first, as the material and tone wasn’t a very positive way to start watching the Best Picture nominees.
I don’t care about Elvis. And, I didn’t care for this film.
Because I have no interest in the life and career of Elvis Presley I found it very difficult to watch this film. The two hours and 39 minutes of run time felt like years as I continually struggled to care about any of the characters or their decisions. I appreciated the fast pace; I believe that was the right decision for the story the filmmaker decided to tell, and the only way I could get through the movie. Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” focused on Elvis’s (Austin Butler) career and relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Parker’s narration of the story was an interesting decision by Luhrmann, one that hints at inaccuracy of parts of the film when considering the Colonel’s characterization of an unreliable narrator.
I wished that the film would have explored Elvis’ appropriation of Black music more, as that is an aspect of the story that should’ve been more in the spotlight. Although the film hints at it, “Elvis” doesn’t fully get into the fact that his exposure wasn’t an unmitigated positive for Black musicians.
I can understand how the dramatic nature of “Elvis” becomes entertaining for fans of the artist and his story, although I don’t believe it should be considered anything besides entertaining, especially not considered for the Best Picture of 2023.
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
After watching “All Quiet on The Western Front” and “Elvis,” I wasn’t expecting much from the “The Banshees of Inisherin,” so I was pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed it greatly. The film is about the relationship between two friends, Colm (Brendan Gleesan) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell), and the consequences that follow Colm deciding to end their lifelong friendship out of nowhere.
An aspect of the film that interested me was the characterization of Pádraic. He begins the film as a friendly but not particularly ambitious man, but as he keeps pushing Colm’s boundaries to rekindle their relationship, he becomes more hardened and cruel. In an argument with Pádraic, Colm reveals he finds Pádraic’s “niceness” dull and of less value than the time he could spend working on his music. The film’s repetition of “nice” emphasizes director Martin McDonagh’s deliberate choice to not use the word “good.” This characterization becomes significant when, at the end of the film, Pádraic’s only connection in life is his feud with Colm. Because of his loneliness, Pádraic chooses a destructive rivalry with Colm over peace, even though they have caused harm to others in the process.
“Triangle of Sadness”
“Triangle of Sadness” felt like a very surface level commentary about the rich and privileged. In the film, a selection of the upper class, including celebrity models Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), are experiencing the comfort of a luxury cruise when they are wrecked in a storm and stranded on a deserted island. Based on the description, I was anticipating a more balanced flip from cruise to island, although they only end up stranded in the last third of the film. While waiting for the crash, we are introduced to the cast of characters, made up of the uber rich and the staff of the ship.
The film has a lot of scenes about the oblivious and disruptive guests, one requesting every crew member go swimming, which disturbs the efficiency of the ship, and another insisting the crew clean the sails of the motorized boat. I didn’t find the film particularly interesting until the storm that caused the ship to sink and leave the guests stranded on an island. At this point we are introduced to Abigail (Dolly De Leon), a woman who cleaned the yacht before the crash but is now the only one with survival skills. This role reversal was the most interesting part of the film, and it came way too late in the story.
Like “All Quiet on the Western Front,” I didn’t find anything particularly revolutionary about “Triangle of Sadness.” It is the latest in a line of films like “Parasite” and “The Menu” that tell a story about the cruelty of wealth and power and the inequality of class. In comparison, “Triangle of Sadness” felt like a shallow and surface level mimic of films with similar meanings. The nomination of this film calls back to the idea that some films are nominated because they talk about an important social issue or are the latest in a pattern of films to explore a topic, not necessarily because they themselves are a successful movie. This is how the nomination of “Triangle of Sadness” felt to me.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
This was a fantastic movie. Before I had watched any of the other nominees for Best Picture I knew “Everything Everywhere All at Once” deserved to win Best Picture. The film follows the wonderful Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a middle aged mother and laundromat owner, as she connects with versions of herself from parallel universes in order to prevent the destruction of the universe. The film explores generational trauma, familial regret, and the search for the meaning of life through a nuanced and complicated family dynamic.
Like “Elvis,” the film felt very maximalist, but unlike “Elvis,” it worked. In addition to the moving and emotional performances from all of the actors, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” uses a beautiful mix of unconventional makeup, hairstyles, and clothing to tell its story. The film’s visuals are stunning, and only add to the hilarious, devastatingly sad, and heartwarming story. The mix of chaos and tenderness works so well, because the accessories, raccoon chefs, hotdog fingers, and googly eyes, don’t take away from the emotional heart of the story.
My review only covers half of the Best Picture nominees, as these films were most available to me. The other nominees, “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Fabelmans,” and “Tár,” are available to stream on various sites while “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and “Women Talking,” are currently only available in theaters. I am looking forward to March 12 to see the Oscar results, and I’m crossing my fingers that “Everything Everywhere All at Once” takes Best Picture.