Let's rank the 2023 Oscar best picture nominees (2023)

Let's rank the 2023 Oscar best picture nominees (1)

The 95th annual Academy Award nominations were announced earlier today and, like most years, the tale is told in numbers, including 11 (the amount of nominations bestowed upon Everything Everywhere All At Once and nine (the number of nods for The Banshees Of Inisherin and All Quiet On The Western Front). But there are other numbers that suggest, whether for creative or mercenary reasons, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hands out the Oscars, is ready to pump the brakes on its seemingly irreversible slide into irrelevance. The first number is 16.6 million, which is the number of viewers who watched last year’s slaphappy ceremony, the second-lowest since the Nielsen ratings service began tracking the show. As old-school Oscar lovers age out, the Academy, at long last, realized that their survival depends on enticing the TikTok generation and those between the coasts to tune into its glitzy gala.

And that leads us to the second crucial number: 1 billion. For the first time in Oscar history, two Best Picture nominees have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, Avatar: The Way Of Water and Top Gun: Maverick. This is a promising sign that voters are finally using the extra five Best Picture slots added in 2009 for their intended purpose: to nominate big-budget blockbusters to get more people to care about who wins an Oscar. Of course, Way Of Water and Maverick helped resuscitate the theatrical moviegoing experience, which has been on life support since the beginning of the pandemic, so Hollywood can’t be faulted for rewarding them with a Best Picture nod.

Fear not, though, there are enough old guard voters to ensure that the Academy hasn’t totally succumbed to sequelitis. The 10 Best Picture nominees are collectively the most fair and comprehensive batch in years, ranging from the intellectual drama, Tár, to the one-percenter satire Triangle Of Sadness to Steven Spielberg’s remembrance from whence he came, The Fabelmans. So with T-minus 47 days until the March 12 ceremony on ABC, here are The A.V. Club’s rankings of all 10 Best Picture nominees for 2023. Spoiler alert: the Academy may deem them the best, but we may not…

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10. Triangle Of Sadness

10. Triangle Of Sadness

Only two films have ever won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Picture Academy Award: 1955’s Marty and 2019’s Parasite. While its chances are slim, Triangle Of Sadness, could be the third. Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund’s unsubtle but often painfully funny takedown of the one percent earned three Oscar nods including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The film operates in a target rich environment of the vapid and wealthy who are just asking to be ripped to shreds. From the empty-headed social media influencer to the elderly couple who made their fortune manufacturing grenades, none of these people seem to care about anything other than the luxuries that their wealth has afforded them. Östlund cleverly traps them on a yacht where there’s no escape from the boat’s bonkers captain (Woody Harrelson) or the unrelenting storm that leads to the ghastliest amount of violent projectile vomiting since the Griffin family downed bottles of ipecac on Family Guy. Östlund loses focus when a group of passengers winds up stranded on a desert island but, by that time, the satirical damage is done and the Oscar nominations have been justly earned. [Mark Keizer]

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9. Elvis

9. Elvis

History shows that the Academy loves musical biopics. This year’s darling of that particular genre is Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, an energetic, lightning-paced take on the King’s rise to fame told through the eyes of his eccentric manager, Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks, who did not receive an Oscar nomination for once, and didn’t deserve one). As flashy and sliced-up as the film is, this is actually Luhrmann being restrained. Strip away the split screens and visual embellishments and you get a fairly straightforward rags-to-riches story narrated by the con man who took credit for it all. Austin Butler gamefully takes on the thankless task of replicating the vibe and vocals of one of the most charismatic rock ‘n’ roll performers to ever grace the stage. Or maybe not so thankless, since he did secure a best actor nomination for his performance. Reactions to the film seem to have come in waves—there was the hype, then the backlash to the hype, and finally a more measured reaction from those who waited them both out. The overall consensus, though, is that Butler steals the show. [Cindy White]

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8. Avatar: The Way Of Water

8. Avatar: The Way Of Water

For those who enjoyed 13 years’ worth of derisive laughter wondering if anyone wanted a sequel to 2009’s Avatar or could even name one character from 2009’s Avatar, director James Cameron would like a word with you. Not only has Avatar: The Way Of Water earned over $2 billion at the worldwide box office, it’s been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. Since Cameron has a reputation of being, how shall we say this, not the best writer in town, a Best Original Screenplay nod has once again eluded him. However, the other three nods are in technical categories, including Visual Effects. That works for us because, despite our best efforts to dismiss the whole affair (and believe us, we tried), Avatar: The Way Of Water is magnificent to look at. We still have no idea what that whale thing is or how Sigourney Weaver’s character—whose name no one will ever remember—was resurrected. All we know is that Cameron brought wonder (and paying customers) back to the multiplex. The fact that he wasn’t nominated for Best Director seems a bit odd since everything Avatar all at once would not exist without him. But Cameron will just have to settle for being the only director to helm three films that earned more than $2 billion … and providing audiences with bleeding edge effects that made us feel like a kid again and are tailor made for the biggest damn movie theater you can find. [Mark Keizer]

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7. The Fabelmans

7. The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg has told the story of his parents’ divorce in brilliantly oblique ways before, most notably in his 1977 masterpiece, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. With The Fabelmans, he hits it on the head and, for his troubles, earned three of the film’s seven Oscar nominations. One of them, naturally, is for Best Director, and in this writer’s opinion it’s the least deserving directing nomination of his career. In this semi-autobiographical account of his adolescence, Spielberg takes no stylistic or narrative chances, nor does he convince us that the story of his upbringing is worth telling. The first two syllables of the word Fabelman puts us on notice that this will not be a pity-party version of a troubled childhood made difficult by antisemitism and a cheating mother, but rather something filtered through the gauzy mists of time and slathered in sentimentality. That’s fine, and Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are predictably terrific as little Sammy Fabelman’s parents. But one senses Spielberg was more interested in reliving his childhood than making it particularly involving or dramatic for an audience. If you wanted to nominate anyone from The Fabelmans, it should have been David Lynch for his fantastic, cigar-chomping cameo as director John Ford. [Mark Keizer]

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6. All Quiet On The Western Front

6. All Quiet On The Western Front

Much of the coverage of the 2023 Oscar nominations, including our own, noted the tremendous showing for Edward Berger’s All Quiet On The Western Front. While nine nominations, including one for Best Picture, was a genuine surprise, maybe it shouldn’t have been. This latest big screen adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1928 World War I novel is a powerful, urgent and unsparing depiction of war that takes its rightful place alongside other brutally realistic wartime epics like Saving Private Ryan. Berger doesn’t spare the mud, blood or despair in telling the story of a group of gung-ho recruits, led by Paul (Felix Kammerer, earning our sympathy from the get-go), who soon learns there’s a reason why World War I would eventually be christened The War to End All Wars. Every shot conveys its own separate horror, from the soldiers collecting dog tags from their fallen comrades to the hundreds of rats stampeding to avoid oncoming Allied tanks. It’s a true descent into hell and, if the film wins Best Picture, it’ll join the previous big screen adaptation of the novel, which won Best Picture (then called Outstanding Production) at the 3rd Academy Award ceremony held in 1930. [Mark Keizer]

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5. Top Gun: Maverick

5. Top Gun: Maverick

This year’s domestic box office champ now also has the industry’s top stamp of approval. While only Tom Cruise himself could have predicted that Top Gun: Maverick would become the 2022 hit more responsible for bringing nervous audiences back into cineplexes than any other, it was unclear until today whether commercial success would cancel out prestige. The Academy gave the high-flying sequel, directed by Joseph Kosinski and scripted by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, six nominations—a ploy to encourage ceremony viewership? Not when you consider the film on its own merits. Cruise’s return as the rebellious Navy pilot Maverick works even if you’ve never seen 1986’s Top Gun, or even if you’ve lived in a cave and didn’t know who Cruise was. His old school movie star energy is just as compelling as the awe-inspiring aerial stunts that make audiences feel every G. Even if it’s not as psychologically profound or politically daring as other titles on this list, that almost-meta quality makes Maverick a fitting addition to a Best Picture lineup that future cinema historians will point to as the year Hollywood made a post-pandemic rebound. [Jack Smart]

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4. Women Talking

4. Women Talking

The obvious joke (and you can have this one, Jimmy Kimmel) is that if you want to make a movie that men will go out of their way to avoid, call it Women Talking. In all seriousness, though, Women Talking was a movie that very few people—men or women—actually saw. Which is a shame, because it deserves a wider audience. Writer-director Sarah Polley’s lyrical, intimate adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews lets us into the sacred spaces of a closed community of Mennonite women as they express themselves in ways they’re clearly not accustomed to. The Oscar-nominated script focuses in on a lengthy discussion of the choice facing the women of the colony after a group of men are arrested for sexual assault—should they stay and fight or leave their home behind forever? Its implications are much wider, though. Just as these women (played by Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, and Claire Foy, among others) have been chosen to represent the women of their community, they speak for all women who have had to face similar choices as the result of the actions of toxic men. The chances that Women Talking will take home an Oscar (even in the Adapted Screenplay category) are not high, but the nominations alone will give it a platform to reach more potential filmgoers, and that’s a win in itself. [Cindy White]

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3. Everything Everywhere All At Once

3. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Because it premiered on the heels of last year’s Academy Awards, it feels we’ve said pretty much, well, everything there is to say about the nomination leader of the 2023 Oscars. In fact, A24’s March release date of Everything Everywhere All At Once is one of the top reasons its domination is so impressive. Then, of course, there’s the fact it was made for $25 million and looks far more expensive, the fact that it’s a profitable original story rather than superhero IP (poor Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness sure was upstaged). And the fact that that story centers a Chinese-American family and its ass-kicking heroine of a matriarch—which is far from the Oscars’, or Hollywood’s, typical idea of success. But Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert tapped into something essential about our cultural consciousness, funneling the maximalism of the internet era through their signature heartfelt yet crudely irreverent style. They assembled a powerhouse cast, a whopping four of whom are Oscar-nominated (Michelle Yeoh, a cinematic legend who’s never gotten her leading-role due stateside; Ke Huy Quan, a beloved child star who hadn’t acted in years thanks to a similar lack of opportunities; Jamie Lee Curtis, a charismatic comedian at her silliest; and Stephanie Hsu, an overnight star), and gave them hilarious, heartfelt material. And they challenged and expanded our definitions of prestige cinema. If Everything Everywhere doesn’t win Best Picture, its fans may beat Oscar voters to death with dildos. [Jack Smart]

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2. The Banshees Of Inisherin

2. The Banshees Of Inisherin

While other nominees on Oscar’s list concern themselves with everything, everywhere, all at once, The Banshees Of Inisherin zeroes in on a singular event, miniscule enough to have you wondering how anyone could have conjured a full-length story out of it. Yes, there’s a subtle backdrop of 1920s civil war on Irish shores beyond the titular, fictional island. But the friendship breakup writer-director Martin McDonagh explores between rejector Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and poor rejectee Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is more specific than symbolic, a microcosm that doesn’t seek to make some macro conclusion. If Colm’s growing sense of obsolescence or Pádraic’s disillusionment resonates, good for you. It seems more like McDonagh’s main objective was creating a pair of roles for his In Bruges muses to play around with, gifting them, and us, one of the funniest and simultaneously most tragic onscreen dynamics in years. Farrell’s expressive eyebrows deserve an Oscar all their own, and it’s fitting that he, Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon achieved the rare feat of four acting nods for one film. With nine noms in all, The Banshees Of Inisherin may be this year’s epitome of cohesion between filmmaker and cast, with a gorgeous score and scenery thrown in for good measure. If only Jenny the gentle donkey had merited a nod as well. [Jack Smart]

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1. Tár

1. Tár

Could the real legacy of Tár be that audiences mistook it for a biopic? Even the fact that Twitter has memed Lydia Tár’s existence into an ongoing joke feels in keeping with Todd Field’s vision. It’s like the writer-director knew just how close he was hitting the bullseye in inventing a conductor-composer who’s balancing artistic genius, abuse of power, and its devastating consequences in Western society circa 2022. Yet while the narrative of cancel culture becomes more and more recognizable as Lydia’s elite life unravels, so does Tár’s refusal to pigeonhole itself as something as basic as a mystery, thriller, or even character study. It’s all of those things and, especially considering the epic prank it plays on us in its final moments, a laugh-out-loud comedy. The film’s six nominations in top Oscar categories, including for Field’s writing and directing and a mind-bogglingly masterful turn from Cate Blanchett, confoundingly don’t honor its music. More than any other nominee this year, Tár must be heard to be believed. [Jack Smart]

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