Now that the 95th Academy Awards are over everyone finds themselves in a state of quiet, eagerly anticipating 2023’s releases or, like us, reflecting on the winners of the big night. Whether or not you agree with the awards it’s safe to say that this year’s nominees for Best Picture were an eclectic group of films all bringing something different to the table. From franchise epics to dark comedies, from war films to music biopics, you cannot deny the quality on show. But, even though all the films were individualistic, some were better than others. Here is our ranking of the Best Picture Nominees from worst to best.
10. Avatar: Way of the Water
Most of the naysayers of James Cameron’s epic Sci-Fi sequel have been silenced as the film became the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. Absolutely nothing can take away the huge financial success of Cameron’s 3-hour water adventure, but, for all the vast landscapes, exciting action and visual wonder it offers, the film still gets bogged down by what plagued it’s predecessor.
For all its otherworldly qualities the film’s biggest problem is in its humanity. The multitude of characters, and their stories, feel like mere splashes in the ocean Cameron has created for us. While the visuals deservedly won big on Oscar night, there really isn’t enough consistency in Avatar’s vast 3-hour runtime, making the journey feel like a slog more so than the thrill-ride everyone was promised.
9. Triangle of Sadness
Ruben Ostlund’s third feature had early signs it may follow a similar trajectory to the one Parasite had 4 years ago. Winning the Palme D’Or and getting nominated for a number of other awards across the globe, it looked like Ostlund would be celebrating deep into award season for his film. However, with no wins at this year’s Academy Awards, Triangle of Sadness has faded into the darkness as far superior films took the spotlight. This may just be circumstantial but arguably it’s because, despite being captivating in parts, this is Ostlund’s weakest effort.
When compared to The Square and Force Majeure, both of which have an enigmatic quality to their stories, Triangle of Sadness regularly smacks you on the head with its themes. Even when Ostlund is showing us some of the finest direction of the year (particularly in the dinner scene on the boat), it still gets dragged out to the extreme – hitting home ideas that were already communicated 10 minutes before. Having said that, Ostlund remains one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and despite Triangle of Sadness feeling weaker than his other efforts, there are still moments of brilliance scattered throughout.
8. The Fabelmans
The biggest takeaway from Spielberg’s reflective life story is that the Director has never lost his touch. Sure, some of his more recent ventures pale in comparison to Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and Jaws, but his understanding of the medium and how audiences connect to it are the shining light in The Fabelmans. Scenes in which Sammy Fabelman watches his audience react to his films are wonderfully constructed, making it clear that the legendary director has never lost his love for cinema.
However, this film was always going to border on the self indulgent. If you compare this film to the reflective efforts of Cuarón’s Roma and Brannagh’s Belfast, The Fabelmans struggles to find a core reason to tell its story. Its backdrop dabbles with elements of depression, anti-semitism and bullying but never fully explores them and while Spielberg is telling the story with his heart on his sleeve, it still can’t find a genuine reason for the story it’s telling.
7. Top Gun: Maverick
One of the year’s biggest surprises was the quality on show in David Kosinsky’s sequel to the cheesy 80’s classic. While it still adheres to its predecessors rules of topless sport and needless high-fiving the film’s technical aspects very often leave you in awe. The sound, visual effects and action set-pieces are wonderfully put together to create so much energy and tension – but the most surprising part of this sequel is the emotional attachments it holds to the first film.
Tom Cruise’s performance as Maverick is reflective and softer while never losing the rashness of the character, and the emotional beats between Maverick and Goose’s son (named “Rooster”) win you over every time. This could have so easily turned into just another sequel, but Kosinsky’s controlled direction and modern approach make for a mature follow up that surpasses the original with ease.
Over the past few years we’ve had a slew of mediocre music biopics, often boasting a great central performance but never understanding their subject, which makes it a delightful surprise to have a film like Elvis come along. Baz Luhrmann took the story of an icon and told it with the energy and glamour that make the Director so distinct. But, what’s even more impressive is how the film understands just how emphatic Elvis Presley was as an icon.
The film is by no means perfect, with Tom Hanks not quite hitting the mark as well as his co-stars, but this should be the definitive blueprint for music biopics to come. From his room-shaking begins to the darker days of his time in Vegas, Elvis tells us the story while never forgetting to inject the passion and personality that made Elvis Presley one of the most iconic performers of all time. Also, it’s impossible not to be impressed by Butler’s spellbinding performance.
5. Women Talking
Sarah Polley’s chamber piece rightfully took home the Best Adapted Screenplay award for her talky adaptation of Miriam Toews novel. The script that Polley wrote is a beautiful balance between character, theme and discussion, lending personality and importance to create one of the most timely films of the year.
While Polley’s script is what shines the most it cannot be understated how important her direction is. Instead of being flashy and overbearing she opts for quiet and observational direction that allows her characters to shine with their own heartbreaking individuality. Like all great chamber pieces, Women Talking densely packs its small setting with so much – leaving you eternally affected by the film’s outcome.
4. All Quiet on the Western Front
Edward Berger’s adaptation of Remarque’s novel takes a modern approach in its filmmaking to really hit home the timeless themes of the classic source material. Every battle scene is wonderfully constructed in order to capture the “War Is Hell” mantra of the film while never losing those individual struggles we see from the leading characters.
There are different threads that the film pulls on that don’t work quite as well as the core story, but these merely provide extra layers to a film that’s already packed densely with story. War films have to really do something special to stand out these days and Edward Berger has ensured that his film stands head and shoulders above a lot of films of a similar ilk.
At times Todd Fields’ near 3-hour character piece can feel strenuous. The script never hides away from the world it’s set in, often allowing long stretches of dialogue about Classical music to play out in front of its sturdy camera, but the film succeeds because of its subtle character evolutions. You’d be quick to dismiss this film as a discussion on “cancel culture” or even the separation of Art vs. Artist, but really what it’s doing is building everything into its central character.
Smartly made and marketed like a biopic, the film takes a grounded approach of talking about people who are considered otherworldly. Every action, conversation and thought Lydia Tár experiences is slowly etching away her mythical persona as one of the greatest composers of all time – until it all implodes in glorious fashion. The film will likely be remembered for Blanchett’s wonderful performance, but there is a quiet complexity to Tár that stays with you for a long time.
2. Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh’s newest film is arguably his finest work. In Bruges loyalists will always argue against that, but McDonagh’s signature style has never felt more fluid than in Banshees of Inisherin. Not only that, but the razor sharp humour wonderfully compliments the quiet melancholic tone – as well as the allegory for the Irish Civil War.
McDonagh surrounds himself with the familiar faces of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson who, along with the addition of two wonderful performances from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, anchor this film’s themes perfectly. The chemistry seeping from every scene shared between the cast amplifies the humour but also gives the film a sense of community, reaffirming the bigger questions of death and legacy, as well as the impact we have on those around us.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Easily the most original and unpredictable film of the year – maybe even of the current decade – The Daniels’ bizarre vision of the multiverse is told with veteran control. You easily find yourself in awe of the film’s barbaric narrative, but what’s even more impressive is the it’s ability to find so much heart at the centre of its chaos.
Amongst the confetti action, hotdog fingers and hundreds of other elements The Daniels pack into their film there is a quietly controlled narrative between Mother and Daughter, exploring their lack of connection and the solace they find in that shared experience. It’s a narrative that is extremely hard to balance at the best times but doing it with so much craziness surrounding it – as well as challenging a suffering marriage as well – is why this film easily stands as the best film nominated for Best Picture. Everything Everywhere All At Once won big at the Oscars and for the first time ever there isn’t a soul out there that can argue against with the wins.