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Oscar 2023’s Best Picture nominations reflect Academy’s effort to diversify and reach a wider audience

Here’s our guide to the 10 films in the Best Picture category at the 95th Academy Awards, to be held on March 12 in Los Angeles

Priyankar Patra Calcutta Published 11.03.23, 04:07 PM

The gears are shifting and the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards is no longer restricted to what the Americans could consider ‘serious’ watchable films. Yes, the Oscars are still a popularity contest between its voters, yet it’s heartwarming to see this category have such a big platter of different tastes. It does have its share of safe films — Elvis being the prime example — but it’s also allowing itself to take risks by having a lesser known All Quiet On The Western Front alongside a crowd-puller like Top Gun: Maverick.

The 2023 edition of the Academy Awards echoes diversity across spectrums in categories. Not just in race or nationality, this year’s nominees showcase a variety in genres and style of filmmaking. This is perhaps most prominent in the Best Picture category of the 95th Oscars. This year’s 10 nominees are so vastly different from one another that it’s hard to not notice, or even perhaps appreciate it a bit.

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The Best Picture category has films that released early in the year (awards campaign films are generally released towards the end of the year as they are fresh in the minds of the voters); two sequels — one which broke newer technological grounds, the other a follow-up to ’80s nostalgia with double the thrill; an absurdist mother-daughter drama spanning across multiverse; two foreign language films: one a Palm dÓr winner, the other the Best Film winner at BAFTA; an Irish drama; a semi-autobiographical retelling of a legendary director’s life; an artist's obsession with her craft; and the true story of women in a religious colony and the biopic of a legendary pop singer.

2023’s films belong to a varied target audience made by filmmakers and studios both young and old; in and away from the city where the awards are given. Possibly an attempt to reach out to a far wider audience after the show’s ratings have consistently gone down in recent memory.

All Quiet on the Western Front: There are some surprises in the Best Picture category. All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the more prominent of such surprises, not because it’s crafted less skillfully than others. It’s actually the opposite — a very well-made anti-war film, perhaps one of the best in the sub-genre in a long time. But it’s the Academy’s historical reluctance to put international films, that too ones that have premiered in the OTT space, in the same space. The last one to have really crossed the threshold was Roma (2018). However, it was less of a surprise given Alfonso Cuaron’s status in the industry. All Quiet on the Western Front is directed by Edward Berger, who, despite having a long and illustrious career making films and television, has never had been in the spotlight for the more popular awards.

Where to watch: Netflix

Top Gun: Maverick: Ideologically on the other end of the spectrum, made with the most bankable global star, is a much-awaited sequel about a team of military pilots on a mission that is impossible on the surface. Maverick, much like ’80s Hollywood, celebrates the pro-military perspective and Tom Cruise, though limited in his expressions, only adds to the thrill of the ride. Steven Spielberg was recently overheard saying to Cruise that he single-handedly saved the cinemas with Maverick, and it’s not entirely wrong. In the summer of 2023, right after the reopening of cinemas, Maverick attracted crowds to resume their communal movie-watching experience. It’s rare to find crowd-favourite people-pleasing films in the Best Picture category but this year has been an exception.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Avatar: The Way of Water: The other big-budget crowd-puller was a winter release, strategically placed to compete for the Best Picture — Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to one of the highest grossing films of all time. It was so costly that the film had to be at least the fourth or the fifth highest grossing film of all time to break even. The sci-fiction epic didn’t just break even, it also accumulated profits for its makers. The Way of Water definitely promises a more emotional storytelling than its predecessor but this, like the one before, will not be remembered for its story as much as it will be for its technological marvels. Unlike Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski, who, despite having a glorious science fiction career, has never been nominated, James Cameron is an Oscar veteran, having created history before with Titanic.

Where to watch: Select theatres across India

The Fabelmans: Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans was bound to be on the list. Despite not being Spielberg’s finest to date, the semi-autobiographical film recounting his childhood marks the comeback of the Spielberg child, which was missing from his filmography for over two decades. Though The Fabelmans is emotionally moving and classically Spielbergian in nature, the nomination feels more of an obligation rather than a reflection of it being one of the best films of the year. Spielberg has a better chance of winning the Best Director award instead, for seemingly translating factual to fictional with much nuance, which he also won at the Golden Globes along with Best Picture: Drama.

Where to watch: Select theatres across India

Elvis: Another autobiographical work, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has its moments and doesn’t shine through the entirety of the film. But Austin Butler is amazing. He embodies what it means and feels to be Elvis Presley. Luhrmann, the Australian filmmaker behind big-budget spectacles such as Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, is known for his grand style of storytelling and marrying the classical past with the present. But Elvis is far from his best. Butler’s performance makes him a likely Best Actor winner and that’s about it. Unlike The Fabelmans, Elvis lacks a child-like innocence which makes the film emotionless and ultimately tiring, despite it being beautiful to look at and listen to.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

TÁR: This isn’t a biopic or based on anyone you could pinpoint but it may as well be. The writing and Cate Blanchette’s electrifying performance (that earned her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, the Best Actress at Golden Globes and BAFTA) make Lydia Tár feel like a real woman who could exist beyond the confines of movie-making. Todd Fields, who has a longer filmography as an actor, returns as the director after almost two decades. Of all the biographical films this year, TAR is perhaps the most niche in its writing and treatment, delving deeper into character psychology than say Elvis or The Fablesmans. It’s similar to Whiplash or Black Swan, made in the earlier two decades — both about obsessed artists trying to be at the top of their art. TÁR certainly is a psychological drama first and a film that will only get more relevant and popular with time.

Where to watch: Select theatres across India

Women Talking: Like TÁR, Women Talking started with a festival run having screened at Toronto and Telluride, two of the most important film festivals in North America, before winning a trophy at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. The film, by another actor-turned-director, Sarah Polly, is about a group of women in a religious colony and their fight to build a better world for themselves and their children. It’s a powerhouse ensemble film with names like Frances McDormand and Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw. Yet Polley’s fourth directorial attempt failed to garner acting nominations for any of its actors. Women Talking is the only film on this year’s Best Picture list, directed by a woman. Unfortunate though it is, it’s still a welcome change considering Best Pictures and Best Directors have historically been a boys’ club. The film is yet to release in India.

Where to watch: Not yet released in India

Triangle of Sadness: A festival favourite of last year, Triangle of Sadness, which won Ruben Ostlund his second Palm dÓr at Cannes, is the second foreign film (it’s mostly a Swedish production) nominated in the Best Picture category — a rare achievement in itself. Much like Ostlund’s other films, Triangle of Sadness is a commentary on class, societal and hierarchical structures and human priorities in the digital age while never taking itself too seriously. What appears to be Instagrammable, guaranteeing an influencer status, quickly turns into a catastrophic chain of events. In a pre-Parasite world (a film that had also won the Palm d’Or), Triangle of Sadness would never have got a Best Picture nomination but Bong Jong-hoo’s speech about letting the audience open up to the few inches of subtitles has opened the voters to a larger canvas of movies. Triangle of Sadness doesn’t follow Hollywood formula and isn’t restricted by the American audience’s set rules, and so it’s quite a surprise to see the film in this category. Triangle of Sadness is playing at the theatres in some cities in India.

Where to watch: Select theatres across India

The Banshees of Inisherin: Martin McDonagh is a veteran. Having already won an Oscar for his short film, Six Shooter, McDonagh’s feature films have also earned him BAFTAs and his cast Oscar wins for acting. But Martin McDonagh is more prominent as a playwright (the other person to share such a status on this list is Tony Kushner, the co-writer of The Fablemans). And it reflects in his filmmaking quite considerably, especially in The Banshees of Inisherin, about the evolving relationship between two friends. The grandeur isn’t cinematic and external as much as it is internal. The script, like all his previous scripts, is crisp and smartly introspective while making you feel absolutely terrible. The Banshees of Inisherin bagged three awards at the BAFTAs and is a strong contender in the Best Picture category at the 95th Oscars.

Where to watch: Hotstar

Everything Everywhere All At Once: Absolutely on the opposite end of things from The Banshees of Inisherin is Daniels Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All At Once. Big, grand, absurd and absolutely nuts, Everything Everywhere is the strongest contender for Best Picture this year, having been the toast of this award season with 11 nominations in total. Everything Everywhere is a film that comes once in a decade and shakes things up for the entire industry, redefining what we consume, how we consume it and why we consume it. Granted the film is not for everyone and the absurdity could throw a lot of people off, but the two Daniels have made a film of epic proportions on their sophomore attempt, despite a very limited budget which made them rely on DIY practical solutions. Unlike the other films on this list, Everything Everywhere could have easily been passed off as an absurdist mindless entertainment summer flick. But its script made it relevant and also one of the rare films to make it to the Best Picture category despite having a very early summer release date in the year.

Where to watch: SonyLIV

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