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The 2023 Oscar nominations and what should have made the list

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If Oscar nominations carried a movie title, this year’s roundup would borrow one from Stanley Kubrick’s first feature film, “Fear and Desire.” The news in the film industry over the past year has been the box office collapse for almost everything but blockbusters, and the Academy’s response has been to keep its mouth shut where the money is, through Best Picture nominations for the mega-hits “Avatar”. : The Way of Water,” “Elvis,” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” plus one for the power that be, Netflix, whose “All Quiet on the Western Front” had an almost undetectable theatrical release.

The longing can be found in the eleven nominations, more than any other film, for ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’, which represents the amalgamated ambitions for weirdness and diversity; while his emotional realm isn’t weird at all (his easygoing sentimentality is his secret weapon), the surfaces are more quirky than almost anything else Hollywood released last year. The casting is the directors greatest achievement. Bringing together Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, great actors whose talents are under-utilized due to the lack of substantial roles for Asian artists, along with Jamie Lee Curtis (who has endured the age discrimination most actresses face) and the almost newcomer (to movies) Stephanie Hsu, deserves an Oscar in her own right. (However, there is no award for the technical casting category.)

On the other hand, Hollywood releases of 2022 offered one great movie that ticks both boxes, commercial success and imaginative extravagance – namely “No” – and it was not nominated for anything. Jordan Peele is the Rodney Dangerfield of Hollywood – he gets no respect at all, at least not since he won Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out.” The neglect of him, and that of his films, is appalling and disturbing. It’s equally appalling that while two great black actors were nominated this year – Angela Bassett and Brian Tyree Henry – not a single film by a black filmmaker, in a year when there were many great ones, received a nomination for Best Picture, for Directing , for screenwriting, or, for that matter, for Best International Feature.

Instead, the Academy has put its weight behind the slogan of “All Quiet on the Western Front”: For those who complain they don’t make them like they used to, German director Edward Berger has proven them wrong. So is the plethora of nominations for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” with its folkloric histrionics and dark frivolity. (The nostalgia that represents its success is mostly for the Coen brothers’ early films — it captures some of their tone without their style, wit, or cinematic self-awareness.) The other international film to receive a Best Picture nomination,’ Triangle of Sadness’ is mainly in English and the emotional world is painfully simplistic.

On the other hand, the good news is that “Women Talking” received a few nominations, for Best Picture and for the screenplay, and that the bold and subtle “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”, a remarkable mix of stop-motion and live action, appears as a nominee in the Animated Feature category. (I’m also pleased to see that The New Yorker Studio produced five of the 15 short film nominees: the documentaries “Houlout” and “Stranger at the Gate,” the live-action film “Night Ride,” and the animated films “Ice Merchants” and “The Flying Sailor.”)

I am against the individual establishments making nominations in their categories; cinematographers, editors, actors have the knowledge and understanding of their field, but this practice results in a kind of guild protectionism that perpetuates norms rather than rewarding experiences. Prizes should be awarded on aesthetic, artistic grounds – based on the effects produced – and should instead be nominated by the full membership.

That circling of the wagons in a time of trouble, when the industry’s financial uncertainties weigh heavily on both its artistic audacity and long-standing commercial mainstays, suggests yet another theme for the year’s Oscar nominees: “Back to the Future.” .” With an open field of concerned wanderings and no map to guide industry decision-makers, the affiliates and the Academy at large have taken a conservative, backward-looking approach. Since the Oscars are eminently ambitious — a picture of what the industry praises about itself and where it wants to go — what the list of nominees promises for production slates in years to come is terrifying.


Best photo

“blessing”

“Amsterdam”

“Armageddon Time”

“Both Sides of the Knife”

“The cathedral”

“The Eternal Daughter”

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“On the road”

“No Bears”

“No”

“Saint-Omer”

I recently re-watched some of these films, and it reminded me why the release of Oscar-style films skews toward the end of the year: recent viewings are energizing, sometimes even distorting, and Academy members will undoubtedly prefer give to films from late in the year . I saw “Benediction” when it was (barely) released, in May, and again, about a month later, with even greater enthusiasm – knowledge of the story and familiarity with the dramatic framework made the happy details stand out all the more . Its vibrancy lingers in the memory and makes it seem permanently recent.

2022 was an unusual year for movies. Staying with the best, it was a great year, but there wasn’t much depth on the bench. As in 2021, American independent filmmaking is in a set pattern, waiting for its next big thing, and many of the best international films are finding it increasingly difficult to get distribution. I recognize the utopianism of casting my ten favorites of the year in Oscar nominee roles. At the real Oscars, few Best Picture nominees are international films and foreign-language films, and even fewer are ultra-low-budget independent films (such as “The Cathedral”). I’m keeping my list in this fantasyland to highlight the gap between what’s usually on the Academy’s radar and what’s going on in the movie world at large. Realistically, I’d be thrilled to see a number of other prominent Hollywood and Off Hollywood movies, including ‘Till’ and ‘Master’, get nominated. (I’m sadly sure that “Don’t Worry Darling,” one of the year’s best star-centered Hollywood movies, will be rejected by the Academy, as it will be by critics.)


Dear Director

Terence Davies (“Benediction”)

Alice Diop (“Saint Omer”)

James Gray (“Armageddon Time”)

Jafar Panahi (“No Bears”)

Jordan Peele (“No”)

It would be strange if Best Picture and Best Director were widely divergent wherever and whenever. Going back to 2012, all but three nominated directors (Bennett Miller, for “Foxcatcher,” Pawel Pawlikowski for “Cold War,” and Thomas Vinterberg, for “Another Round”) have also nominated their films for Best Picture. Even in the 1940s and 1950s, when studios dominated and the word “author” was unheard of in American criticism, the winners for Best Picture and Best Director corresponded fourteen out of twenty years; in the 1990s they broke up only once. The overlap points to the true meaning of directing: the all-encompassing influence on the work of everyone who makes significant contributions to the film in question, from the casting and acting style to the tone of the lighting and the costumes and sets – and of course , the script, regardless of whether the director is credited. (The authority of the director in commercial American films became more apparent in the post-studio era, when there was no longer a house style based on top-down production dictates, nor a cast and crew on long-term and permanent studio contracts.) This profound influence was clear last year, with Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”, and so it is with Terence Davies, who in making “Benediction” has done something impressive that has even been mistaken for a mistake: he has a film that almost looks looks normal.

The film is a kind of bio-pic about the poet Siegfried Sassoon, one that spans half a century and filigrees his intimate drama on a grand map of political and artistic history. Davies’ style is no less daring than when his films were more tableau-like and choreographic. But now, at the height of his own seventy-seven years, he sees the meaning of Sassoon’s story and the implications of Sassoon’s times with a furious clarity that comes through in a form as transparent as it is exquisite. Charlie Chaplin famously said that comedy is life in a long shot and tragedy is life in close-up, and I’ve long thought that directors’ sense of distance is just as important as that of timing. But in the case of ‘Benediction’, Davies’s delicately calibrated distances are not just the physical – of the on-camera characters – but his own from the action, blending the tragedy of Sassoon’s life with a touch of comedy, one that ultimately disintegrates with mighty effect. Davies has the audacity to integrate his dramatic sequences with seductive, even visually intoxicating special effects, which open his meticulous historical reconstructions to astonishing subjective depths.