02.29.24 Editor’s Desk

As I stated in my last Desk, we are in my favorite time of the year — Oscar season. This is publishing less than two weeks away from The 96th Academy Awards and I have now just completed watching all 10 Best Picture nominated films.

Some years, it is a nail biter all the way to the last category of the evening, and some years — like this one — it is pretty obvious which film will walk away with Best Picture. Barring some kind of mind-shattering upset, your Best Picture for 2023 will be Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” All things considered, it’s not a bad choice either. But I thought I would rank the 10 nominees based on what I thought were the best movies.

I will say that there were no terrible picks for Best Picture this year. Also, what someone likes is subjective, just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean you can’t.

10.) “Maestro.” This film was more about Bradley Cooper than it was about Leonard Berstein. His passion project; Cooper wrote it, produced it, directed it and starred in it. Of all the hats he wore, his performance is the best one. In fact, the best part of this film is its performances. The film feels like a by-the-numbers biopic and left me a little bored.

9.) “The Zone of Interest.” When I heard about the way this movie was filmed I was intrigued to see it. Its fly-on-the-wall look at a Nazi family living next to a concentration camp was a way of telling a Holocaust story I had never seen before. The end result, while thought provoking, was slow-paced and watching it felt more like doing homework.

8.) “Past Lives.” Celine Song’s feature directorial debut is a small love story across two countries over 24 years. It is the kind of small film that I think plays better in a more intimate setting like at home rather than in a theater, focusing on conversations with its characters over action. It is a quiet, lovely film.

7.) “Barbie.” I know I’m going to catch hell for having this one so low on the list. “Barbie” was a fun, sweet and funny film and I enjoyed it a lot. I’ll just say that “Barbie” was not as bad as the haters on X said it was and it was not as amazing as the diehard fans said it was.

6.) “The Holdovers.” A throwback to the 1970s, both in story and style. This film — like “Past Lives” — is all about the performances. Also, because of the way it is shot, it feels like a film made in the story’s time period instead of a film about the ‘70s made today and I appreciate its look and style.

5.) “Poor Things.” Most of what I read about this film before I saw it said it was a retelling of the “Frankenstein” story, and I can see that, but this felt more to me like a retelling of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” with lots of sex added in. It is a weird story, one that has caught heat from some because of the subject matter, but it has a lot of style and the actors devour these roles, especially Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo.

4.) “Killers of a Flower Moon.” Martin Scorsese is a legend and is incapable of making a bad movie. Is this movie way too long? Yes. Can I tell you what he could have taken out to shorten it down? No. Just like his last film, “The Irishman” (which is also three-and-a-half hours long), every scene feels important and carries the story forward. Not only does this movie tell an important story but it is also one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen.

3.) “Oppenheimer.” Every year there is a frontrunner and this year it is this film, and not without reason. Just as with “Flower Moon,” this movie is long (clocking in at three hours) but just like “Flower Moon” every scene seems intentional and needed. Whether you’re a mega fan or not, you cannot deny that Christopher Nolan knows how to make compelling, beautifully crafted films.

2.) “Anatomy of a Fall.” The biggest surprise for me this year was “Anatomy.” A French legal drama/murder mystery spoken in English, French and German. My favorite things about this film was learning about the French court system and learning who Sandra Hüller is. Hüller not only stars in this film, she is this film. Her performance is mesmerizing.

1.) “American Fiction.” I loved everything about this film. Comedies rarely get the recognition they deserve from The Academy, so the likelihood of “American Fiction” coming out on top is slim to none but I am hoping for a Best Adapted Screenplay win for the film’s queer writer-director Cord Jefferson. He is best known for his television credits — which include “The Good Place” and “Watchmen” — and this is his first feature film and he knocked it out of the park.

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