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Erik At The Movies: The 96th Oscars Best Picture Nominees


2023 has been one of the best years for film in recent memory, with this year’s Oscar nominations also being historic. For the first time, we have three foreign language films (two of them starring Sandra Hüller), and three films directed by women to be nominated for best picture. Over the past few months, I watched all 10 best picture nominees for the 96th Academy Awards, and my reviews are just down below. The Oscars are airing on March 10th on ABC, and I hope you are interested enough in my reviews to check them out!

№1: Killers Of The Flower Moon / ͘͘ ͘ ʼ (2023) =When this money start comin’ we shoulda known it came with something else. They’re like buzzards circling our people.” The history of the Osage Nation / ͘ is quite unique and fascinating. Like so many other Native Americans, they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and shoved onto reservations in the Oklahoma Territory. However, they struck black gold and found themselves with exclusive jurisdiction of one of the largest untapped oil reserves in the nation, quickly becoming the wealthiest people per capita in the entire world. This naturally led to many people immigrating to Osage County for work, and many of them married into their ranks, but all was not quite so loving, as many of the Osage were murdered in a scheme to control their head-rights to the oil profits. Our true story focuses on the life of one Ernest Burkhart (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who came to Osage county on the advice of his uncle, William ‘King’ Hill (portrayed by Robert De Nero), who create this plan to systematically slaughter these people just so that they can enrich themselves off of this “blood money”. Ernst then falls in love with an Osage woman named Molly (played brilliantly by the newcomer Lily Gladstone) and raises a family with her while proceeding to participate in the killings of everyone she holds dear. But then, in one of the first ever major cases they were involved in, the FBI proceeds to investigate and everything comes crashing down. The production design is simply stunning, bringing a massive sense of scale and granular detail to the 1920’s setting that took my breath away on several occasions. The standout performance of the movie does not belong to DiCaprio or De Nero, but to Lily Gladstone, who delivers a quiet, but powerful performance that will no doubt have her in the running to win Best Actress. The rest of the supporting cast is also excellent, with Jesse Plemons, John Lithgow, and Brenden Fraser all having their moments. The direction by Martin Scorcese was as excellent as always, with this being one of his most triumphant achievements yet. While there has been some discussion about its nearly 3½ hour runtime, I personally felt like it used its time well and kept my attention throughout. The ending was both completely out of left field, and utterly devastating to behold, once again emphasizing that these were real people with real blood on their hands. This is one of the most important films of the year, and I truly feel that more people should learn about this tragic part of our nation’s past. 10/10.

Killers Of The Flower Moon is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

P.S. After having rewatched the film a second time at home, the slight grievances I held about the runtime have completely dissipated. I was able to completely engage with the film and noticed so much more that I missed in my first viewing. My Grandma loved the movie, and she also highly recommends the book by David Grann that the movie was based on.

№2: Past Lives / 패스트 라이브즈 (2023) (US/한국) =There is a word in Korean. (In-Yun / 인연). It means “providence” or “fate”. But it’s specifically about relationships between people. I think it comes from Buddhism and reincarnation. It’s an In-Yun if two strangers even walk by each other in the street and their clothes accidentally brush. Because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married, they say it’s because there have been 8,000 layers of In-Yun over 8,000 lifetimes.” This movie just stole my heart and ripped it into a thousand pieces. While it may look like the story of a simple love triangle we’ve all seen before, it cleverly subverts this trope by making everyone a fundamentally good person, which makes it hurt even more. The story follows Nora (played by Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (played by Teo Yoo) who had a crush on each other as children in South Korea, but Nora moves away when they turn 12 and they don’t reconnect for another 12 years. This time, they spend several hours together on Skype each day but Nora grows disturbed at how much time she is spending away from her life and cuts off contact. She then attends a writing retreat and meets a man named Arthur (played by John Magaro) and the two soon fall in love and marry. After another 12 years Hae Sung decides to visit Nora and Arthur in New York to figure out what he wants to do with his life. The performances are all exceptional, making you root for and understand everyone’s motivations. The writing is also fantastic, going between English and Korean (which most of the film is actually in) and building both tension and understanding throughout. However, the ending of the film is what really stands out. Utilizing the last hour and a half as setup and delivering a devastating emotional payoff that had me in tears. For being her first ever feature film, I am very eagerly awaiting excited for whatever Celine Song chooses to make next. A true masterpiece. 10/10.

Past Lives is currently streaming on Showtime and Kanopy.

P.S. My Grandma also thought the movie was very good!

№3: Oppenheimer (2023) (UK/US) = “Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to Man… For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.” J. Robert Oppenheimer has been described by some as one of the most important people to ever live. He created the first Atomic bombs and subsequently regretted their creation for the rest of his life. The plot is told from two differing perspectives, from the subjective view of Oppenheimer during the 1940’s shot in color, and from the objective and monochromatic lens of the Acting Secretary of Commerce Lewis Strauss, played phenomenally by Robert Downey Jr. Cillian Murphy gives a powerhouse performance as Oppenheimer and I am rooting for him to win the Oscar. The rest of the performances are all equally excellent, with Alden Ehrenreich, Rami Malik, Matt Damon, and Gary Oldmen all having standout moments. The sound is used phenomenally in the movie and will leave you breathless. Ludwig Göransson’s score is also magnificent.  The detonation scene in Los Alamos is shot in a way that is both beautiful and profoundly disturbing. Christopher Nolan has created a true masterpiece and one of the most important movies of the year. 10/10.

Oppenheimer is currently streaming on Peacock.

№4: Barbie (2023) = Humans only have one ending. Ideas live forever.” It’s so… pink, and I kind of love it? As is abundantly apparent, I’m not exactly the most familiar with the Barbie brand as a whole, with my limited experience coming from my sister who occasionally watched a few straight to DVD films. So I was not expecting much, and then my interest was soon piqued. I had heard of the works of Greta Gerwig previously, so I was confident that the film would be in good hands. The plot follows Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) who must leave Barbie-Land to go to the real world, and is followed by Beach Ken who is looking for meaning in his life, and ends up finding it in quite a humorous way… The writing is sharp and hilarious which leads to there being no dull moment in the plot. The acting is surprisingly solid with Ryan Gosling’s character of Beach Ken being the standout and delivering a hilarious and powerful performance, with the other performances also greatly enhancing the film. The production design is truly top notch, with a look of authentic artificiality that really makes you feel like you are in Barbie-Land. In short, Barbie has managed to be a great film and after watching it, I have realized that it just has a kenergy that is simply sublime. 9/10.

Barbie is currently streaming on Max.

№5: The Zone Of Interest / Interßengebiet / Strefa Zainteresówań (2023) (UK/PL) =They went like sheep to the slaughterhouse. And then they donned the rubber aprons and set to work.” It has been two weeks since I saw The Zone Of Interest, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The movie starts with one of the strongest openings of the year, featuring almost four minutes of complete darkness mixed with a score by Mica Levi that sounds straight out of hell itself. This film follows the Nazi commandant Rudolf Höß and his wife Hedwig (played by Sandra Hüller, who also starred as the lead role in Anatomy Of A Fall), as they build their own “dream-house” and raise their family right next to Auschwitz concentration camp. The use of sound is absolutely haunting, with the screams of the Jewish people and gunshots existing only as banal background noise to our leads, but an unending sense of dread for the audience. The direction by Jonathan Glazer is also very unique, utilizing static framing and techniques most similar to reality television in order to remove as much separation from the audience as possible. The sharp digital image and lack of color grading from cinematographer Łukasz Żal further enhances this point, removing the normal sepia tone reserved for period pieces to continue this effect. The film shines in its thematic juxtaposition and depiction of the banality of evil, with housewives gossiping about what little “jewess” their dresses came from, fertilizing a garden with cremated ashes, and casually discussing the logistics of gas ventilation in between promotions and birthday parties. Even though our protagonists are unrepentant Nazis, the film never sympathizes with them, leaving you to become more unnerved as the plot continues, making you wonder how sick and twisted those people must be that they can sleep at night. But by taking a step back, it also forces the viewer to confront themselves by humanizing (NOT empathizing) with our leads, by showing the horrors of the Holocaust as just another day at the office, the audience must ponder what in their own lives makes them blind to the truths of their time. Even the flash forward to the present day Holocaust Museum in Oświęcim further enhances this point, with employees silently sweeping up ashes and washing glass windows covering mountains of abandoned shoes. They are not evil, but in their own way they are also blinded by routine to what horrors lie in front of them, compartmentalizing it in order to sleep at night. What flowers and trees in our lives do we not see the forest of human suffering for? Who are we to claim that we are righteous? We are all immoral, we all have hate in our hearts, we all overlook things to suit our own personal beliefs, and is that evil? I don’t know, that’s for you to decide. 9/10.

The Zone Of Interest is currently playing in theaters.

№6: Anatomy Of A Fall / Anatomie d’une chute (2023) (FR) = To overcome doubt, sometimes we have to… decide to sway one way rather than the other. Since you need to believe one thing but have two choices, you must choose.” After an explosive debut at the Cannes Film Festival, which resulted in a victory of the coveted Palme d’Or, Anatomy Of A Fall managed to break through the language barrier and receive its fair recognition. The story follows a mother named Sandra (played by Sandra Hüller) who has a rocky relationship with her husband Samuel, and is charged as the prime suspect in his death after he fell through a window to his death. The only other witnesses are their legally blind 11 year old son Daniel, and his guide dog Snoop (played by a border collie named Messi, who won the Palm D’og for his performance). She is taken to court and has to prove her innocence, all while being forced to testify with her limited grasp of French. The writer/director, Justine Triet, is an outspoken critic of the French government’s recent pension reforms and as result was not chosen as their submission for Best International Feature Film. But Triet got the last laugh, as «The Taste Of Things / La Passion de Dodin Bouffant» (France’s submission) was completely shut out of the category while she received nominations for both her writing AND directing. The film also features the best needle drop of the year, loudly booming the song P.I.M.P. (“It was the instrumental version”) by 50 Cent, which features quite prominently in the plot. While Sandra Hüller delivers an absolutely incredible performance, constantly toeing the line between guilt and innocence throughout the film, I personally think she was outshined by Messi (who legitimately gave  one of my favorite performances of the entire year). The writing is absolutely incredible, utilizing excellent witty prose in both English and French to great effect. A truly excellent film. 9/10.

Anatomy Of A Fall is available from the Criterion Collection.

№7: American Fiction (2023) =White people think they want the truth, but they don’t. They want to feel absolved.” While not a perfect film by any means, American Fiction still manages to be one of the wittiest and sharp films of the year. The story follows a writer named Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (played by the excellent Jeffery Wright) who finds himself suddenly financially responsible for caring for his aging mother, while having his books plummet in sales compared to the populist and trashy novel “We’s Lives In Da Ghetto”. In a single night, he jokingly writes a satirical work titled “My Pafology” (later changed to “F*ck”) and sends it to his publisher. Unexpectedly, a bidding war ensues and he is forced to confront the fact that his work is now perpetuating the very stereotypes he so despises. The director, Cord Jefferson, actually comes from a television background. He was a writer and producer on The Good Place, and this is his first feature film. My Grandma thought the movie was very well written, but thought the title of the book was not realistic. She thinks that in real life, more people would complain about the profane title and there wouldn’t be posters advertising “F*ck” in huge block letters. The final scene was also very well handled, deconstructing the nature of the Hollywood happy ending by commenting on what audiences truly crave. I really liked this movie, and I highly recommend it. 8/10.

American Fiction is available for purchase and rental on demand.

P.S. This is also probably the best poster of the year, perfectly summing up the hilarious double life lived by our protagonist.

№8: The Holdovers (2023) =I find the world a bitter and complicated place, and it seems to feel the same way about me. I think you and I have this in common.” Right from the opening titles emulating independent films of the 1970’s, you just know you are in for a slow, but comfy ride. The plot follows a Greek classics teacher named Paul Hunham (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) employed at a New England boarding school who draws the short stick and has to stay at the school over winter break to supervise the students that were “held over”. There, he bonds with a problematic student named Angus Tully (played by Dominic Sessa), and helps comfort the lunch lady Mary Lamb (played by Da’vine Joy Randolph) whose son recently passed away in Việtnam. The performances are all subtle, but very engrossing, leaving the viewer with a deep understanding of who these people are by the end. The film is set during the early 70’s, and the production design and filming techniques seek to successfully capture the feeling of movies from that era, and I think they really pulled it off. There were quite a few laugh out loud moments, and while it may not be the next Christmas classic, I think that it is still a really great time. 8/10.

The Holdovers is currently streaming on Peacock.

P.S. Holy sh*t Da’vine Joy Randolph is absolutely incredible. There are so many more layers to her performance than I first picked up on, and she absolutely deserves her all but guaranteed Oscar.

№9: Maestro (2023) =A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.” Leonard Bernstein is undoubtedly one of the greatest American composers. While his best known work was the original West Side Story, his other achievements have earned him acclaim from across the globe. Bradley Cooper, coming off of the critically acclaimed A Star Is Born, decided to star, write, produce, AND direct this biopic about Leonard Bernstein’s life. It follows him over his storied career and his complicated relationship with his wife Felicia (played by Carey Mulligan). The film uses various techniques to sell the period atmosphere, such as a 4 by 3 aspect ratio, and switching from black and white to a technicolor filter. Bradley Cooper’s direction is absolutely incredible, bringing a feeling of vigor and energy to the musical scenes. The scene of Bernstein conducting Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony is absolutely incredible. While not a perfect film by any means, there are moments of pure brilliance, and I would still recommend it. 8/10.

Maestro is currently streaming on Netflix.

P.S. I watched this with my Grandmother, and she thought it was great!

№10: Poor Things (2023) (UK/IE) =I am finding being alive fascinating.” This movie is REALLY pushing the limits of what can be considered socially acceptable while still being considered art, and I’m very conflicted about it. On a technical level, this is nothing short of perfection, with every single frame being a visual marvel to behold. The almost garish production is absolutely stunning . However, the story is where my praises end. It follows a woman named Bella Baxter (played by Emma Stone) who kills herself and has the brain of her unborn child implanted in her and is frankensteined back to life by a mad scientist (portrayed by Willam Dafoe). She then falls in love with a lawyer (played by Mark Rufalo) and they go across Europe in a sex induced frenzy. She later wishes to enlighten herself, and chooses to work at a brothel as a prostitute. The film is INCREDIBLY explicit, featuring SEVERAL long scenes of full frontal nudity and sexual activity. While the film is closer to Citizen Kane than Deep Throat, it can still be hard to tell the movie apart from exploitative garbage, which doesn’t exactly help its self espoused feminist narrative. It’s like Frankenstein, if it was written by a man, about women, and also worse. At the very least, I am very interested in what Yorgos Lanthimos will do with his career in the future, but this is a very mixed bag. 7/10.

Poor Things is available for purchase and rental on demand.

Thank you all so much for reading my Best Picture reviews, I hope you all enjoyed them!

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About the Contributor
Erik Larson
Erik Larson, Staff Writer
Hello! My name is Erik Larson and I am currently a staff writer at The Ville who specializes in reviewing the latest and greatest in film. In the words of game director Hideo Kojima: “70% of my body is made of movies.” You can find more of my movie reviews here at my Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/4N1v5

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