Saturday, March 11, 2023

Oscars Fun 2023

I honor the Oscars as most people docomplaining about themand I rarely discuss them in any systematic way, and I won't be changing that now.  But I will do something I've never done beforeconsider it a lark, pleasebecause for whatever reason, the silly idea, "whom I personally would nominate and award, were my will in command of the collective mind of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," has been percolating in my brain for a while.  Maybe it's just because I actually saw a non-trivial number of movies from the foregoing year for the first time in a while, and 2022 turned out to be a reasonably great year overall for cinema, so I wanted to celebrate that.  Or I got tired of reviewing documents at work.  In either case, this is the absolute last possible moment of even marginal relevance for it, and while I'd have liked to have seen all the (actual) Best Picture nominees, at least, rather than just 80% of them, and while this kind of locks down my top five even though I'm not done yet, for this particular game, it's now or never.  So with no further ado (except to say, "yes, they're in order of preference" and "part of the fun will be to see if I remember all the categories"), here's what and whom I'd have picked were I the dictator of industry circle-jerking.

Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once, for the specificity of the prime Evelyn Wang and the madcap sad-fun of every other Evelyn Wang, and for taking us on a journey through the multiverse that is, hot dog hands aside, a journey through the only philosophical question that matters
Tang Wei, Decision To Leave, for being an enigma that constantly seems explicable right up until the moment you try to pin her down, the perfect romantic noir heroine to haunt you for the rest of your days
Cate Blanchett, Tár, for managing to make Lydia Tár so charismatic that it takes a while before you're quite ready to contemplate how much of a freakshow monster she is, which itself is a blind for how kind of lame and pathetic and hollow she is
Tilda Swinton, Three Thousand Years of Longing, for understanding, on behalf of her character who despite this being her job doesn't seem to be aware of it, how universal the power of storytelling is, even if for Alithea Binnie it's hard to imagine anyone else living in the same kind of box she's put herself in
Amber Midthunder, Prey, for a performance almost entirely down to how she's looking at impossible things and reasoning them out through a fugue of fear and adrenaline, a sterling example of an actor working the problem on a character's behalf (in this case, the "problem" is an invisible alien superbeing) and letting us see her process on her face

Winner: Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and obviously, given her runner-up, not because she told me I'd be a racist if I didn't

BEST ACTOR (I actually flipped a coin to see who went first)
Austin Butler, Elvis, for embodying the profound idea of Elvis, the legend and world-historical force, more than any biographical depiction of a mere mortal man; I called him a "statue made out of sweat" or something along those lines, and while I have scrupulously avoided all the articles about Butler's method because they'd only make me respect him less, the dude came out full-tilt movie star for this
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All At Once, because "husband of the heroine who's in at least a third of the movie and possibly more" is not a Supporting Actor in my book, though I also understand and to some degree respect the irrepressibly keen desire to just give this comeback kid his fucking award already, for being the humane anchor to Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu's reality-spanning melancholy
Idris Elba, Beast, for buffing up a purely functional character in an animal attack film with real interiority and spinning his character to the left of what you might expect, never going angry, every frame leery caution and an exhausted "please, won't this nightmare end?"
Diego Calva, Babylon, for being the indispensable face reflecting my own worshipful gaze upon the glamor and horror of Old Hollywood, and for crying when he's supposed to be smiling
Alexander Skarsgard, The Northman, for realizing, without resisting, what destiny is taking from him as he gives himself to Fate, and for screaming, just so much, it looks painful

Winner: Austin Butler, Elvis

Wagner Moura, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, for helping create the best animated film villain in years/ever as Death, whose explication of his narrative function, "Not metaphorically, not poetically, not rhetorically, and not theoretically, and not in any other fancy way," kind of makes me tear up with fear and moribidty just reading it and remembering, and yes, I should probably be on some kind of mood stabilizer, but I'm not
Brad Pitt, Babylon, for deploying his persona perfectly in service to the archetype of the fallen Silent Idol
Tom Hanks, Elvis, for being the Satan of the 20th Century, and going for it in the most gruesomely-committed camp performance of Hanks's career that I can name, and I've seen and love Cloud Atlas
Zethphan Smith-GneistTár, for being crucial to the best single scene in Tár
Sharlto Copley, Beast, for conjuring such an immediate rapport with the family, even if you know he's the expendable one, and on top of that managing an entire personality and his own unique relationship to the natural world, in the small space an already delightfully-small movie was able to afford him

Winner: Wagner Moura, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish

Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All At Once, for being the broken and empty heart at the center of all universes, and for suffering through like four hundred make-up and costume changes (for the record, I don't really understand nominating Jamie Lee Curtis, she's good in it, but what is that, a lifetime achievement award, or what? and it is of course strategically unsound)
Elizabeth Olsen, Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, for finding a low-key and extremely pleasurable playfulness with grievance and "the ways a woman must navigate the world" albeit in the form of a cosmic supervillain who's navigating it by enslaving or killing everyone in her way, and for looking right at the camera once with a bit of a snitty expression, which was wonderful, and for coming as close as she possibly could to redeeming five or six of the worst, flattest performances in the MCUin the MCU!in barely two hours; credit, always, where it is due
Virginia Gadsen, Fall, for turning one of 2022's most on-paper-unappealing characters (a mean, smarmy, borderline-sociopathic adrenaline-junkie YouTuber) into one of the most charismatic and fun to be around; also, she's named "Hunter," so extra points; or, possibly, demerits I won't hold against her
Sigourney Weaver, Avatar: The Way of Water, for being an old lady playing an alien teen, and probably being more believable as "a teen," which in a sense is still a compliment about how well she was playing "alien"
Margot Robbie, Babylon, for committing entirely to being the idea Nellie LaRoy represents, a force of nature that cannot be tamed and a compulsion that cannot be explained, and for her best performance yet as Harley Quinn

Winner: Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Philippe Rousselot, Beast, for one of the best-judged and well-integrated series of long takes in a very long time, never feeling like gimmicky show-offery but simply the only way to tell this survival story, plus the color grading is splendid, and for 2022 practically wrecks the curve
Mandy Walker, Elvis, for such a lush, shiny (even, ahem, velvety) treatment of the legend; that whole "made of sweat" thing ain't down to Butler alone
Miguel Olaso, Fall, for managing a greenscreened or StageCrafted or Volumed or whatever production that feels entirely, terrifyingly like you're really 2000 feet up in the air and like the unforgiving sun wants you to jump and the cobalt sky is constantly considering eating you
Linus Sandgren, Babylon, for a sun-baked Angeleno dreamscape and for making a film that even looks like one
Matthew Libatique, Don't Worry Darling, for finding a very rewarding balance between mid-century luxuriousness and a satire of its glossiness, beauty sheened with a plastic, sometimes overbright ugliness

Winner: Philippe Rousselot, Beast

Honorable Mention: Maurice Krafft, who, if time did not exist, would win for doing the vast majority of the actual footage in Fire of Love

Tom Cross, Babylon and
Kim Sang-bum, Decision To Leave, for each separately doing the most powerful and masterful cross-cutting of the year, and if I give it to Cross, it's because so much of Decision To Leave must be screenplay-level (which is why I would not nominate Tár, which is almost purely screenplay-level), but even then I'm not sure that's fair; so let us say that Cross's work on the "Nellie LaRoy does a talkie and it's comically terrible!" sequence breaks the tie between them
Paul Rogers, Everything Everywhere All At Once, for doing the most powerful and masterful match-cutting of the year, and just having a lot to keep track of
Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond, Elvis, for servicing Baz Luhrmann's hallucinatory ideas about how to do a biographical film
Eddie Hamilton, Top Gun: Maverick, for the scope of the achievement and for keeping the aerial scenes tight and clear, though not for anything especially artistic or meaningful (plus, you know, a lot of it is actually just pre-vized CGI, they didn't get an F-14, etc.), and I'm really baffled by the hold that this chilly, vibeless, shirts-actually-optional 2022 version of a sweaty, horny 1986 impressionistic metal masterpiece seems to have on people

Winner: Tom Cross, Babylon

Ben Proctor, Avatar: The Way of Water, because, c'mon, that middle hour is the most unique and beautiful stretch of secret "let us enjoy this world we've imagined" slow art cinema smuggled into populist action cinema in film history, probably
Jason Kisvarday, Everything Everywhere All At Once, for the herculean task of translating Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's madcap sci-fi comedy into imagination-firing ideas, and on a shockingly small budget, to boot
Catherine Martin, Elvis, because she's basically a co-director, really, right?
Jim Davis, Death on the Nile, for class and wealth with actual style (a rare find in 2022), and that gorgeous boat, built to allow and even encourage Kenneth Branagh's wildest strivings with the camera (like 'em or lump 'em)
Katie Byron, Don't Worry Darling, for the physical component of its caustic appreciation of mid-century splendor, understanding that it is in fact splendid but prone to reducing its inhabitants to pieces of decor themselves

Honorable mention: Marco Bittner Rosser could be here for the totalizing environments of Tár, but it's so brutally tasteful, you know?

Winner: Ben Proctor, Avatar: The Way of Water

Shirley Kurata, Everything Everywhere All At Once, for every costume, everywhere, all at once, frequently within the same costume for Stephanie Hsu
Catherine Martin, Elvis, for reasons previously established
Arianne Phillips, Don't Worry Darling, for really underlining that whole "reducing its inhabitants to pieces of decor" thing
Sarah Evelyn, Bullet Train, for communicating the characters so well through their ridiculous outfits, above all Brad Pitt's delightful bucket hat, that you'd be able to follow a pretty twisty plot in fine detail even with the sound off
Paco Delgado, Death on the Nile, purely for the pretty sheen of it, since it didn't make the cut for cinematography, but the evocation of Old Hollywood-style elegance is more profoundly felt in these comparatively few beautiful costumes than in all the hundreds of costumes Babylon trots out

Honorable mention: Ruth E. Carter could've made it in for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever if they'd let Tenoch Huerta keep his penis

Winner: Shirley Kurata, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Note: looking up who would be eligible would be very tedious so I won't do it even though I should
Avatar: The Way of Water, because obviously, and by my lights, if not the Academy's, what we have here is the best-looking CGI animated feature of 2022
Beast, for a shockingly persuasive CGI lion nemesis on a budget, and somehow imbuing this digital creation with more than just a mean streak but the intention to keep murdering till he dies
Fall, for however they managed those sprawling, vertiginous backdrops, composited a hundred times better than the compositing in movies a hundred times this film's budget
Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, for leaning into the unreality of MCU VFX and finding a liberating joy within it, plus it's like the only VFX-heavy blockbuster of 2022 I really loved besides Avatar 2
Everything Everywhere All At Once, for all the reasons previously mentioned for other categories

Winner: Avatar: The Way of Water

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, for taking on DEATH in a family film in ways as severe and affecting as anything you'd see in a movie for the most serious grown-ups, probably even moreso because of the dissonance of teaching actual babies about how they were only born to die
Avatar: The Way of Water, because I told you, the Academy is wrong about its rules, and this is an animated feature, just look at it, what do you think that is, location footage?
Mad God, for its genuinely sickening infernal vision
League of Super-Pets, for taking a deeply questionable concept and making it watchable and fun and, at turns, legitimately emotional, in a year that was, admittedly, pretty bad for animation overall (another albeit unprincipled reason for Avatar 2 to be here)
The Bob's Burgers Movie, because like I said, not so great a year for animation, and I'm not going to be bullied by anime snobs into saying I like Inu-oh more than I like this, though it's undoubtedly more "interesting"

Winner: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, but to be clear, it could've won even in a much more competitive year


Not counting sequels, which I don't think should count as "adaptations," that's stupid, I've seen like three movies with adapted screenplays, and I might be mistaken, but I believe they were all bad; pass

Pass, but not out of malice, as I'm not sure I noticed the sound design in anything this year; however, I'm pretty bad at that a lot of the time; I like how Elvis sounds, should that win?

What?  None of these movies had original songs except Puss In Boots and "Fearless Hero."  The actual list of Academy nominees appears to have been made up.  I mean, I feel like I would have noticed a Lady Gaga song in Top Gun if that had actually existed.

Elliott Wheeler, Elvis, because I'm utterly easy to please but at least I'm honest, for just doing "I Can't Help Falling In Love" and "Suspicious Minds" over and over and over in the score to this movie about Elvis Presley, which features both as musical numbers already
Jo Yeong-wook, Decision To Leave, for, particularly, the wistfully mourning "Seo-rae" theme, doing by itself almost as much as all that time-manipulating editing to situate this movie in a distant, melancholy past tense
Robin Carolan and Sebatian Gainsborough, The Northman and
Cristobal Tapia de Veer, Smile, for their respective blatantly aggressive and unmusical soundscapes, that in The Northman's case feels like the singing of the dead and situates the film as myth, and in Smile's case just feels like the movie hates you as much as that monster hates Sosie Bacon
Nicolas Godin, Fire of Love, for contemplative electronica, which you can tell is the perfect accompaniment to the mystic imagery on display on the rare occasion that Miranda July's narration shuts the fuck up for two seconds

Winner: Elliott Wheeler, Elvis

Note: As at this point we're tacking into complex questions of overall quality, I shall dispense with the explanations, as all these films have reviews anyway
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Park Chan-wook and Jeong Seo-kyeong, Decision To Leave
Damien Chazelle, Babylon
Ryan Engle and Jamie Primak Sulivan, Beast, okay I'm doing what I said I wouldn't do immediately, but this thing is mechanically pristine without sacrificing humanity, it deserves it
Fifty, sixty, seventy people, Elvis

Winner: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once
Park Chan-wook, Decision To Leave
Joel Crawford, Puss In Boots: The Last Wish
Baz Luhrmann, Elvis
James Cameron, Avatar: The Way of Water

Which is totally different from "Best Picture," and honest, that's true, just not in these and frankly most other cases; like, the order they're in is barely different

Winner: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Decision to Leave

Well, it's four more than most Academy members seem to have watched, given Decision To Leave wasn't even nominated, though there's also the graver possibilities of the nominating body deciding "we've had too many Korean movies lately" or "too much recent Oscar representation for, uh, half the population of Earth"

Winner: Decision To Leave

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish
Decision To Leave
Avatar: The Way of Water

Winner: Everything Everywhere All At Once!

Okay, I'm bored of this, been bored for twenty minutes, and I didn't even do all of it.  How the hell do people manage to actually watch these ceremonies?

P.S. oh right, make-up/hairstyling.  Oh, Everything Everywhere All At Once, I think, it's that or Elvis


  1. Hey your pick won! How often has that ever happened?

    I have a hard time reconciling live-action and animated production/acting honors even though I know pretty much all big studio movies get extensive computer-generated post-production. You're right, Avatar is pretty much an animated film!

    Interesting you have Margot Robbie as Supporting. She seems pretty equal in importance to Calva except for the coda, at least in my memory. I also would have thought about Pitt for lead, although that one I see the case for Supporting since he's only the second most central male actor. But his story is nearly as significant as Calva's.

    Elvis feels a bit of a cheat for Score (no idea if it was actually eligible) given its source. But I think the movie does enough fresh recreations with existing songs, both diegetically and not, that I don't entirely object. I didn't include it, but I'm right there with you on emotional reactions to Elvis's best songs. Too bad it couldn't find room for "The Wonder of You"

    Overall, given the sheer number of movies released and number that you saw and I didn't (and vice versa) plus things we disagree on, I'm pleased on how many we have at least 2 or 3 overlapping.

    Looking forward to future usages of the "self-indulgent crap" tag

    1. It happened for 1959 and 1962, and I guess for 1930, but those are the only times I'm aware of and I'm still not so familiar with the competition I'm ironclad sure that's the case, but then what beats Ben-Hur? Practically nothing.

      Everybody in Babylon kinda feels supporting. And I almost put Brad Pitt twice (again for Lost City), erroneously off an old list. Poor Smith-Gneist!

      If Hurwitz can be nominated for doing a Hurwitz Elvis can be nominated for Elvis music. Actual fact, I forgot it's best *original* score.

      Inordinately pleased with Best Picture and Original Screenplay (poor Tim Brayton), very displeased with Production Design, displeased with Best Adapted Screenplay but what a joke category (Top Gun, *screenplay*? Knives Out? barf), actually rather displeased with Best Supporting Actress