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The Crimson Considers: The 2023 Oscar Nominees

Poster for the 95th Academy Awards
Poster for the 95th Academy Awards By Courtesy of EPK.TV
By Jonathan A. Schneiderman, Contributing Writer

We here at the Crimson, by which I mean me, have not seen all of the 54 nominees for the 95th Academy Awards. I have seen a measly 17 of them. Still, I watched the announcement of the nominees on Jan. 24 with interest and hopes — some of which were met, and some of which were dashed. As happens in every transpiration of this annual cycle, there were snubs and there were surprises. Here I would like to expound on some of the more talked-about categories.

Best Picture

It was a surprise — though, if one gauged by the betting markets, only a slight one — to see “Triangle of Sadness” among the Best Picture nominees and “Babylon” left out. Though I have not seen “Triangle of Sadness,” I was saddened by “Babylon’s” exclusion. Damien Chazelle ’07’s telling of the rise of talking films divided critics and flopped at the box office. It is, admittedly, a bit of a monstrosity. Its three hours and nine minutes move forward with a relentless fury that makes the viewer feel like a cat in a clothes dryer. Yet I found it a masterpiece. It bursts with love and hate; it is intensely, recklessly, overwhelmed by a death drive; and yet it cannot conclude.

But enough sorrow. There is much to celebrate in the list of the nominees. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was far from my favorite film of the year, but it was, strictly speaking, ours. If more films like it proliferate in years to come, their sentimentality and bloated humor will grow tired fast, but for now “Everything Everywhere” has clearly captured the attention of a generation that feels it finally sees itself onscreen. There is a storied place for such films in the history of cinema. The picture is not the first work to comment on how, in an age where most people are connected to the expanse of the internet most of the time, one finds oneself constantly aware of the vast multiplicity of that which is. As a friend put it to me, a senator gives a speech in Congress, and hours later there are hundreds of thousands of dramatically different renditions of the speech floating around on TikTok, from scathing, highly edited takedowns to autotuned songificiations to videos of aspiring and unaspiring musicians recording themselves harmonizing to autotuned songifications. “Everything Everywhere” makes that experience of being on the internet manifest. If, in the process, it also straightforwardly produces the effortful insipidness of that experience (butt plug–⁠powered martial artists; a bagel with literally everything on it), this is forgivable. We are happy to see such an aesthetically film make it to the Oscars in a big way. It is favored to win the award; it would not be this writer’s choice, but he will not object as he objected to “CODA’s” egregious victory last year.

As for the others: The inclusion of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which we have not seen, bodes well for the future of non–⁠English language cinema at the Oscars. “Top Gun: Maverick” is a better if less sophisticated technological achievement than the behemoth “Avatar: The Way of Water.” “The Banshees of Inisherin” is unassuming, but severed fingers stay on the mind. Better that the Academy encourage a lack of restraint than suffocate it, even if “Elvis” goes too far. And I was relieved to see “Women Talking,” an unassuming, dialogic meditation on the dynamism of spoken conversation, make the cut.

My loyalties are divided as to what should win. I lean toward “TÁR,” an eerie near–⁠horror movie that Jamelle Bouie has excellently assessed as a meditation on “the perilously short distance between self-creation and self-delusion, and the danger of treating others as mere means to the end of one’s self-actualization.” But I have a soft spot for “The Fabelmans,” which more than previous Steven Spielberg–⁠Tony Kushner collaborations, synthesizes Spielbergian mythos with Kushnerian trenchancy. Fortunately, critics do not get to vote for the Academy Awards, and college newspaper critics do not get to vote for any awards; and thus I do not have to choose.

Best Actress

The controversy in this category is that two Black actresses who had been assumed to be locks for nominations, Viola Davis of “The Woman King” and Danielle Deadwyler of “Till,” were snubbed, with unexpected nominations for Ana de Armas (“Blonde”) and Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”). Since of those four movies I have only seen “The Woman King,” I won’t wade into the brouhaha here.

As for the others: I did not think Michelle Williams’s performance in “The Fabelmans” was a leading one and was not blown away by it; for me, this is a contest between Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere”) and Blanchett (“TÁR”). Not much of a contest, though: Blanchett’s performance will cast a long shadow in years to come. I liked Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere” and would be content to see her win; but it would be a mistake on the Academy’s part.

Best Actor

The Academy’s fetish for mimesis, especially in judging performances, is well-known for causing performances like Eddie Redmayne’s in “The Theory of Everything” — stale but precise — to win trophies. An underrated effect of this fetish, however, is to shut out performances that are great because they simply project a vibe. This is why Harrison Ford has only one acting nomination, and it’s for “Witness” instead of “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” or “Blade Runner.”

Daniel Craig became famous in one “vibe role” — James Bond — and since 2019 has been making his name again in another. Benoit Blanc of the “Knives Out” films could not be more different from Bond, but Craig’s performances in both roles are for the ages. Someday he will play a very serious role as a politician or a mathematician, and he will win, and we will all know that he is actually winning for playing James Bond and Benoit Blanc. The Academy should have cut to the chase and awarded him now.

I would also like to have seen Diego Calva nominated for his work in “Babylon,” but likely winner Brendan Fraser brings gentility and even cheerfulness to a film (“The Whale”) that seems determined to stamp these qualities out. Colin Farrell (“Banshees”) and Austin Butler (“Elvis”) are each serviceable to their films’ overall moods. Bill Nighy, in “Living,” cannot live up to Takashi Shimura’s work in “Ikiru,” but no one could. I have not seen “Aftersun,” but Paul Mescal’s nomination is a win for independent cinema, and I generally celebrate such victories.

Best Supporting Actor

I have not seen “Causeway,” but I hear tell from certain Crimson film editors that Brian Tyree Henry’s performance, a surprise nominee, is excellent. Brendan Gleeson’s and Ke Huy Quan’s nominations for “Banshees” and “Everything Everywhere,” respectively, are as expected as they are welcome, as is Quan’s victory, which is generally supposed to be a sure thing. Paul Dano’s (“Fabelmans”) exclusion is decidedly unwelcome. Either Judd Hirsch (“Fabelmans”) or Barry Keoghan (“Banshees”) could have been jettisoned to make room for him. And I was sorry not to see my preferred winner, Jovan Adepo (“Babylon”), make the pack, but he was never expected to. One of these years!

Best Supporting Actress

In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Angela Bassett does not exude royalty quite as much as the late Chadwick Boseman did, but then Boseman’s was a once-in-a-generation presence. Bassett is still great, and I look forward to her victory. In this category, all the nominees were anticipated: In addition to Bassett, there are Hong Chau, for “The Whale;” Kerry Condon, for “Banshees;” and Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, for “Everything Everywhere.” Condon, Curtis, and Hsu are all fine. “Women Talking” fell to the fate of many an ensemble piece before it — with so many award-worthy performances, voters could not coalesce around one — but I would have nominated both Jessie Buckley and Liv McNeil from among its cast. I would have also nominated Lee Jung-hyun, for “Decision to Leave.”

Odds; Ends

Every year there is some nominating decision that serves to indict the Academy of unseriousness. This year, that decision (or at least one of them) is the total exclusion of Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave,” which should be up for Best Picture and Best Cinematography and possibly Best Director as well as a handful of acting trophies. That a Korean film should be unjustly excluded from these categories is no shock: Even after “Parasite,” the Academy remains an American institution. But for it to be excluded from Best International Feature? In a year when the paint-by-numbers historical drama “Argentina, 1985” has been nominated? If the Academy has enough going for it to have schande, this is a schande.

Finally, one of the greatest Oscars fumbles in history was the Academy’s failure even to nominate Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” from “Do the Right Thing,” for Best Original Song in 1989. (“Under the Sea,” from “The Little Mermaid,” won.) The suckers were simple and plain, but they have a chance, if not to redeem themselves, then to take a different tack, this year: The Academy seems to be poised to give the statuette to M. M. Keeravaani’s and Chandrabose’s “Naatu Naatu,” from “RRR.” “RRR'' should be up for a whole slew of prizes, but if it had gotten snubbed for Best Original Song, it would have been as if “Decision to Leave” had been snubbed for Best International Feature. We all sin and we all do good works; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is no different. Hopefully, come March, it will do the best work it can with the nominations it has set before itself.

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