By Gary Meyer and C.J. Hirschfield
It is Oscar weekend. I am hoping for a satisfying show.
Viewership in recent years has declined as a number of factors contributed to audiences losing interest. The shows have not been as entertaining as they once were. Numerous other award shows resulted in burnout before the Oscars arrived. For several successive years superb independent films dominated the nominations; movies seen by relatively few people —and many Best Picture winners like Coda, Nomadland, Parasite, Moonlight gave needed attention to these films but turned off broader audiences with limited ability to see them in cinemas. And they get lost in the streaming multiverse. Throughout the history of the Academy Awards there has always been a mixture blockbuster hits and smaller art films, with both types winning Best Picture.
The Covid era got people into the habit of watching movies at home. There are benefits but there is nothing like seeing a movie on the BIG screen in a theater with audiences laughing, crying, screaming, and holding onto their seats as different emotions are offered. People are returning to theaters, mostly for blockbusters. Unfortunately small films sneak into theaters and are gone in a week or two. Most of the nominated movies are hard to find in theaters but winners may return so be on the lookout.
This year things are looking up for increased audiences watching the Oscars with, for the first time, two billion dollar plus grossing blockbusters, Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water vying for Best Picture. This should draw more people to watch the Oscars Sunday night (5pm PT/8pm ET). I found both to be highly entertaining Hollywood fare and if their halo effect results in an increase of people watching, that should benefit all the movies hoping to win attention, large and small. Are these two the best films of the year? The answer is subjective.
There are two other box office successes in the category.
Elvis, at times entertaining but in typical Baz Luhrmann, it is over-the-top showing off a dazzling visual style at the expense of storytelling. Austin Butler is superb as Presley and has a good chance of winning Best Actor. But Tom Hanks’ outsized Colonel Parker was a constant distraction. I would prefer to watch the terrific concert film Elvis: That’s Way It Is (1970) and his best acting in an excellent drama, King Creole (1958).
Everything Everywhere All at Once came out of nowhere to be the year’s most surprising hit, grossing over $100,000,000 domestically as positive word-of-mouth and distributor A24’s brilliant marketing kept fans returning and bringing friends. The second feature by “The Daniels,” two not-related directors, it starts out as a highly entertaining, if not always narratively clear fantasy with a diverse collection of wonderful actors having a great time. But as it ventures deeper into its multiverse, I got tired of “look how clever we are.” Audiences are divided (especially those over 60 feeling lost) though it may be the current front-runner after winning awards at several events including every category it was nominated in at the recent Independent Spirit Awards. With eleven Oscar nominations it will surely win the most awards. These are the movies I think deserve to win (in alphabetical order) and I am glad not to be a voting member to have to make a choice. Much has been written about each so I will be brief but urge you to seek them out.
All Quiet of the Western Front, the anti-war movie I wish was available to see on the big screen. It is a powerful and exciting remake of the 1930 classic (a Best Picture and Director winner), masterfully made but the violence may be too much for some who will turn it off while watching at home on Netflix. It has a very good chance of winning Best International Feature Film which is a strong group of films all deserving a statue. The action captured by James Friend’s cinematography is both gripping and unlike any I have seen before.
The Banshees of Inisherin is advertised as a comedy (and was a Golden Globe nominee in their always confusing Best Comedy or Musical category) but it is not that despite having some hilarious moments. Every performance is perfect, the setting is stunning and the ultimate outcome couldn’t be more serious. I suggest turning on closed caption while watching on HBOMax or VOD as the accents are heavy.
The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s sort of autobiographical film. Though I had a few disappointments with it, the movie is a valuable insight into the director’s teenage life and the many things that inspired and informed his career as one of Hollywood’s top directors. I related to many aspects of his story (making and showing movies as a teen, experiencing anti-Semitism at a young age, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth having a lasting impact on me, etc.). Following the box office disappointment of last year’s West Side Story, The Fabelmans was generally a critical success that few people wanted to see in theaters. I suspect Oscar exposure will result in more people streaming it on VOD.
Tár is the kind of movie that has audiences talking about it and returning to see it multiple times, both in theaters and at home via Peacock and VOD. Todd Field’s third film after In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), the16 year wait for a new work was worth it as we witness the downfall of a lauded but difficult orchestra director as she mentally abuses those around her. Field wrote the part for the astonishing Cate Blanchett and has said that if she turned down the part he would not have made the movie. Thank you Ms Blanchett.
Women Talking also has people talking, appropriately enough. Based on a Bolivian novel, director Sarah Polley’s screenplay adaptation sets the in an isolated Mennonite community where the women have been raped by the men in the colony who use cow tranquilizers to subdue them. We don’t see this on screen and don’t need to because the incredible ensemble performances tell it all. These women are at odds about whether to flee while the men are away, or stay and continue to suffer. Their dilemma will break your heart. The only Best Picture nomination directed by a female. Streaming on Prime Video and VOD.
I have not seen Triangle of Sadness yet but will check it out on Hulu or VOD as I am a fan of director Ruben Östlund’s Force Majure. Reactions have been mixed and some compare it to the HBO series White Lotus and last year’s other black comedy about privileged people on a remote beach location.
Here is a montage of scenes from nominated films.
–One category where every nominated film is deserving of the Oscar is Best Feature Documentary. Our film critic C.J. Hirschfield, who specializes in non-fiction movies has reviewed all five and have some comments on this year’s race.
“The quality of 2023’s feature documentaries is remarkable. If I had to choose my favorite from the Oscar finalists, I would vote for Navalny, because in addition to its being a brilliant film, I would hope that the international visibility that comes from such an award might serve to hasten his release from solitary confinement– and possible death– in his Siberian prison.
Fire of Love is such an inspired telling of a completely atypical story of love among the lava, that it deserves every accolade it receives. And…science!
Documentaries that didn’t make the final list, but are well worth seeing:
Bad Axe: An Asian American family in rural America fights Trumpism and the pandemic to keep their restaurant and goals moving forward. Inspiring.
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song: If you’re not familiar with this iconic singer/songwriter and his impact, you will be amazed and moved by his life and work.
The Janes: Following a group of women who were arrested and charged for running a clandestine network to enable women to get safe and affordable abortions, this excellent film shows us what real heroes look like.”
More observations from Gary:
-The nominees luncheon is always quite an affair. Play a movie version “Where’s Waldo” with this photo and read about the event here.
-We still must talk about inclusion in the movies. People of color and women have long been a large percentage of the audience but what they saw on screen was not reflective of that audience, and certainly not the creatives who made the movies. This has been changing but this year the Oscar voters only honored one film co-directed by a person of color and one woman in the Best Picture category. Otherwise mostly white men over 50.
-The past two years saw female directors win both Best Picture: Siân Heder‘s Coda (2022), Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (2021) and Best Director :Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog (2022) and Chloe Zhao (2021). but none were nominated for Best Director despite several additional worthy offerings: including Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King), Maria Schrader (She Said), Chinonye Chukwu (Till) and Charlotte Wells (Aftersun).
-Has anybody else noticed it is “the year of the donkey” in nominated film? EO, Banshees of Inersherin, and Navalny plus the very good not-nominated My Donkey, My Lover & I.
-All the Best International Feature Film nominees are all terrific and CLOSe is actually playing first run in art cinemas. 84 year-old Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski had a comeback with his beautiful and magical story of a donkey’s unlikely adventures in EO. It is beautiful and magical on the big screen but can be seen on The Criterion Channel and VOD.
There were many excellent films submitted in this category and one that I was sure would go beyond the “short list” to the nominations is India’s salute to the magic of watching movies, Last Film Show.
If it returns to cinemas in repertory I urge you to enjoy it the way it should be seen but since that is unlikely you can rent it on VOD.
-One of the worst film of the year for me was thankfully not nominated in the headline categories. Babylon is a Hollywood navel-gazing over-indulgence presumably inspired by underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s notorious “non-fiction” book, Hollywood Babylon. This gossipy tome is filled with half-truths and rumors but can be fun. Damien Chazelle was given a big budget, movie stars and the freedom to make a truly terrible epic. Some scenes are beautifully staged but it twists true stories into grotesque scandals that are often hard to watch. I believe that most movies over three hours should have an intermission. I know people who just took their own intermission midway and did not return. I sat it out in a theater. From it opening scene’s shot of an elephant shitting into the camera to its ridiculous conclusion where the movie’s only sympathetic character watches Singin’ in The Rain (reflecting Babylon‘s tale of the transition for silent to sound movies) after having abandoned the film business 25 years before. A Chuck Workman inspired montage offers clips from some of the iconic moments form the history of cinema but too quickly devolves to what appears to be sperm floating in color-dyed water. A fitting ending?
Your time will be better spent watching the BBC documentary about Anger’s work.
-You can still see the Oscar-nominated short films: Live Action, Animated and Documentary in theaters across the country. Every one is a winner and the program will take you into many worlds.
-The Best Animated Feature category has variety and is a great way to explore the state of the art. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is almost certainly the winner with its stunning art direction and complex imagery. It is a dark tale of wonder told as only del Toro can deliver. Produced for Netflix, it did get some theatrical showings and is impressive on the big screen. The “Making if…” documentary is worth your time, even if you don’t watch the film.
As impressive as Pinocchio is, I would have chosen the brave Pixar production, Turning Red, directed by Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins, telling of a 13-year-old girl who turns into a giant panda whenever she is excited. Shades of Godzilla!
And Marcel the Shell With Shoes On successfully turns the internet short film series into a touching and highly amusing feature.
-We like a sense of humor about the Academy Awards and these Muppetized spoofs of the best Picture nominees are sure to make you smile.
-And Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang has put together a pun-filled menu for his Oscar party guests. Ramen Talking. The Bahn Mi of Inisherin. Guillermo del Toro’s Radicchio. Tuna Tár Tár. Just a few items in his “Cake Blanchett and Michelle Yeohgurt face off” menu.
-The Daniels are two friends. but not related who created Everything Everywhere All sat Once. I started to research directing duos and I was surprised at how many there are who collaborated on multiple projects including the siblings Coen, Duplass, Farrelly, Hughes, Wachowski, Taviani, Sadfie, Russo, and Dardenne; spousal directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ; not related Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Joe Berlinger and the late Bruce Sinofsky and my all time favorites, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
-The Indian historical spectacle, RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt), has mostly been seen on Netflix but a recent theatrical release has audiences cheering. When its nominated Best Song Naatu Naatu is performed on the Oscars it will surely further its popularity.
-In Brooks Barnes’ New York Times interview with Janet Yang, the president of the academy, and Bill Kramer, its chief executive, they explain how they hope “to make the Oscars feel more approachable to more viewers”
I am impressed with their respect for the creative members of The Academy in restoring all 23 categories to the broadcast. They have been working on how to be part of the social media aspect by providing insightful avenues of simultaneous online conversation.
The “In Memoriam” segment with Lenny Kravitz performing could be fine but PLEASE, no more cutaways from the clips. In the past year many of my film friends have passed away and I am hoping they will be remembered, especially Telluride Film Festival co-founders (and my mentors) Tom Luddy and Bill Pence.
-Twenty-seven acting and directing nominees attending the 95th Oscars will be given a Gift Bay worth $126,000 including more than 60 gifts ranging from a $16 package of chocolate-covered pretzels to a $40,000 visit to a luxury Canadian estate. There are also small plots of land in Australia, another luxury vacations to Italy, Art Lipo body sculpting, facial rejuvenation procedures from Dr. Konstantin Vasyukevich, skincare products, luggage and flip-flops, hair restoration services, a silk pillowcase, a travel pillow, as well as other beauty, lifestyle, food and beverage gifts.
What else is in it? Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets, puts it together and tells all here.
-The other day I had twenty minutes to go over my thoughts on this years Oscars at my annual appearance at the Oakland Rotary Club. That was hardly enough time to cover all the nominations and I don’t want to bore you.
Here are some of the more thoughtful Academy Award prognosticators.
Scott Feinberg and David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter
Also recommended is Scott’s podcast with Academy President Janet Yang.
Vulture (of New York Magazine)
Kyle Buchanan for The New York Times
And Vanity Fair always has plenty of great stories about the event, fashion, parties and predictions but you may hit a paywall for some of it.,
Listen to Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson’s Screen Talk podcast to learn “How to Win Your Oscar Pool in a Most Unpredictable Year.”
The Official Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences website with lots of info, past and present.
Download and Print The Official Ballot here.
But the Rotten Tomatoes Ballot is interesting because it has critical ratings too.
The Academy Awards will be shown on ABC, and their app with the network broadcasting live from the red carpet and ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. The 95th Oscars ceremony officially starts at 8 p.m (EDT)/5 p.m. (PDT) with three hours of Red Carpet coverage starting at 1pm/ 10am. The whole affair will be repeated on Hulu the next day.
Don’t have cable or over-the-air service? Several online live streaming services offer free trials with ABC in the package. Check out Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, YouTube TV or Fubo.
Gary Meyer started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve-years-old. He directed a monster movie there and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre screening dozens of silent films with music arranged from his parents’ record collection. Over 250 films were screened along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, “Nort!” and a film newsletter, “Ciné.” After film school at SFSU he calls his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres “grad school” that prepared him for co-founding Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created several film festivals including the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014 and consults for festivals while offering pro bono advice to independent filmmakers and cinemas. He started EatDrinkFilms to give a voice to writers wanting to explore food, beverage and the movies from unique perspectives. Meyer, Editor/Publisher, also contributes articles.
He is not a member of The Academy but has applied.