It has been a difficult year for me to cover the Oscar race. Having missed all the film festivals due to health issues, I have been way too far behind to report on the marathon with any kind of educated opinion. Prior to the Thanksgiving weekend, I had only seen a handful of the films being discussed as contenders on Awards Daily, at other sites, and on #FilmTwitter. Luckily, being a member of two critics associations has its perks. For the first time in my 13 Oscar years of blogging, I have received a boatload of screeners (thanks to A24, Amazon, Netflix, Neon, Searchlight Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount, TriStar Pictures, United Artists, Orion, and Universal).
Over the last 10 days I have caught up on so many wonderful films. Here are some brief thoughts on a few that I enjoyed:
Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans has been the front runner to win Best Picture since the dawn of the 2023 Oscar race. This is not a status that has bode well for films in recent years. There has been a lot of hype around the film that will long be considered Spielberg’s most personal work, and I’m happy to say it has met expectations… mostly. When The Fabelmans focuses on the young Sammy – played outstandingly by Gabriel LaBelle – the film soars. Watching how the maestro became one of the greatest directors of all time was an absolute delight. His passion to create and desire to innovate are contagious, and you leave the theater feeling like you could go out and duplicate what Sammy has done. Of course, only a few can do what Sammy/Steven would go on to do. But it certainly fills you with that kind of hopeful obsession. The film bows a little in the middle as Sammy is pulled away from his creative drive during some troubled high school years. But when it comes back together in the end, it does so with grand panache and glorious realization. Throughout awards season, The Fabelmans is likely to be a frontrunner for Picture and Director, at the minimum. At least until it isn’t.
Maria Schrader’s She Said is one of my favorite movies of the year. I am a big fan of films that feature investigative journalism. Movies like All the President’s Men, Spotlight, and Zodiac are a few of my all-time favorites. She Said fits right in there thanks to Schrader’s compelling and substantial filmmaking. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan are exceptional as Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, respectively, the New York Times reporters who broke the story that brought down Harvey Weinstein, the most powerful man in Hollywood. The Samantha Morton scene is one of the best of the year, and while it is a very brief performance, I will be excited for any citations Morton receives. A must-watch film with Oscar potential across the board.
One of the frontrunners to win Best Picture, Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, has been rather divisive – a trait that is never a good thing for said achievement. While it might not win, the conversation around the film might stir passion in those that support Polley’s intelligent and riveting film to place it number one on their ballots. The entire ensemble is astonishing, with Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw as my personal favorite performances in the film. My hunch is that Jessie Buckley will garner the majority of awards commendations, and she is undeniably worthy of such accolades. It is the type of film that could and should win the SAG Ensemble. Polley could continue the streak of women directors taking home the Oscar, following in the steps of Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) the past two years.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is one of the most visionary films I have ever seen. The whole movie is a feast for the senses. It is both wildly inventive and deeply affective. This is stop-motion animation at its finest and will likely be the film I root for in the Animated Feature category.
Sam Mendes’ 1917 was my number one film of 2019. I hesitate to use the term masterpiece so freely, but that is exactly how I’d refer to his World War I epic. I was sad to miss Empire of Light, his latest film, at Telluride this year. It had the look and feel of a movie I would love. For whatever reason, I failed to connect with it. Olivia Colman is sensational as a woman yearning for human affection whose melodramatic approach often her leaves her on the outside. But even the great Colman can’t salvage what felt like a very unfocused, uneven script.
Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is a tough watch due to its bizarre and graphic subject matter. For those who catch the allegory for outsiders, the film does present some truly inspired moments between Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, two of the finest young actors working today. I do not see it being much of an Oscar-player, but it was never intended to be one, and is worth seeking out.
Triangle of Sadness is a black comedy whose satirical view of the uber-rich leads to some true laugh out loud moments. The film takes a while to get going, and while it took too long for me to be able to say I enjoyed it (149 minutes is a tad long to dwell on the social commentary), the film’s final act is well worth the wait. Triangle of Sadness won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and could find a place in the hunt for Picture and Original Screenplay with the right support behind it.
Aftersun is a lovely film that does a lot with very little – which is the result of great storytelling. Charlotte Wells’ debut is a memorable one. I connected with the parental angle of her lead, played by Paul Mescal. It is fascinating to witness the dance Wells plays between how we view our parents at an early age versus how we see them when we reflect later in life. The soft touch of idealism meets the hard grasp of reality in a tight and unrelenting grip. Mescal is quite terrific and could land on a few Best Actor lists this year, but Wells’ screenplay is the film’s best shot at any Oscar consideration.
My son and I saw Devotion on the big screen together. It was right up his 12-year-old alley, as he currently collects model airplanes and has visions of being a fighter pilot one day (God, help me). He is a big fan of Top Gun, so I look forward to his reaction to Top Gun: Maverick in a few days when we find the time for him to catch up on that one. Devotion is a solid film, telling a great and little-known story of two real-life heroes from the Korean War. It has a pretty straightforward approach and reminds me of the type of war movie I would have enjoyed in the early 90s when I was my son’s age.
I still have a long way to go with International and Animated Feature contenders, but I have now seen all of the major challengers outside of Avatar: The Way of Water, The Woman King, Emancipation, The Whale, and Babylon. As a result, I have updated my Oscar predictions for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor/Actress, and Supporting Actor/Actress for the first time since late July. I have also unveiled my first predictions for Adapted/Original Screenplay and Animated/Documentary/International Feature. I will be working on the technical categories next, but this is a good start. You can find my updated predictions on the Good as Gold page, here.