2023 Oscar Action Films

An Overview of the 2023 Oscar Action Films (and a review of last year’s recommended entries.)
Thriller films
The Batman

Everything Everywhere All at Once (4.5*)

The Batman (4.5*)

RRR (4*)

Avatar: The Way of Water (4*)

All Quiet on the Western Front (4*)

Top Gun: Maverick (4*)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2.5*)

Action films emphasize a lot of human physical action with an emphasis on chase scenes, fighting, and things going boom.  They usually have a lot of special effects and they are the kind of movie that makes you say wow!

My favorite film in this category, and also the Best Picture Oscar Winner, was Everything Everywhere All at Once (4.5*). The journey in this movie, though is definitely not a physical one, but spans the unknown dimensions of the multiverse.  Made on a shoestring budget, it still managed to attract top actors like Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis.  The story is as wacky as you can get, and yet it invokes deep concepts like the multiverse and nihilism.  This film won’t work for everyone, but if you want a short trip that gets you thinking about your own sanity, this movie is for you.

Equally fun was The Batman (4.5*).  In general, action films don’t tend to have human-level stories, but this one turned the story around and made Bruce Wayne’s background an integral part of the drama.  Yes there is action and lots of fighting, but The Batman brings it right down to the personal level and although our hero shows unusual strengths, he remains a human being.  I found that refreshing.

And who doesn’t love the David Cameron’s sequel Avatar: The Way of Water (4*). It is filled with terrific computer animation (especially some amazing underwater scenes), rich deep characters, imaginative and fantastic creatures, and a plot that digs at environmental economics.  The journey in Avatar is physical but involves going to a different part of a very different world from ours. Although burdened with setting up complex plot lines for future sequels, the film is a visual and family-story delight.

RRR (4*) was a huge surprise.  From India, it showcases actors I can’t say I’ve seen before and presents stories rich in south-Asian traditions.  But I really wasn’t prepared for the action sequences which, although sometimes almost comically over the top, were just plain fun in their creativity.  It’s a long film, but worth a view.

This year’s war movie, full of excruciating war action, is Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front (4*). The first German movie based on the German book, it tells the stalemate story of World War I in France from the German side.  For the grunts in the trenches, it wasn’t any better for them than it was for us.  The film is full of commentary on how it is the young and poor who fight the battles of the old and rich (some things never change).

And, finally, if you want action, you can’t go wrong with Tom Cruise, right?  In the movie commanding the number one audience rating, Top Gun: Maverick (4*), will keep you on the edge of your seat for almost three hours.  Although maybe not technically, 100% accurate about breaking speed records, the film mixes tense flight scenes with more calming personal interactions between the “top guns”!  Just plain fun!

Although I really wanted to like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2.5*), the film was burdened with too many extraneous goals – including setting things up for future Marvel movies, paying homage to Chadwick Boseman, and connecting to the earlier film – that it ended up being unsatisfying on its own. The film is full of action sequences, but they don’t seem to service the story.  Especially disappointing is the final battle scene which, frankly, got boring at times.

Four movies from last year stand out in the Action Genre.  Dune (5*) was one of my favorites, with outstanding special effects and a a just-complicated-enough story.  Spider-Man: No Way Home (4*) was a comic book film, but what I liked was the human-level story and the special chemistry between Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his girlfriend (Zendaya).  Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings (3.5*) is an origin story for a new character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe full of the action effects you expect from that franchise.  And, finally, the latest James Bond flick, No Time To Die (3.5*)  has practical special effects that make it all the more thrilling than CGI fights.

That’s ten recommended movies to give your “action” craving a quick kick.

Action Films
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