2023 Oscar Drama Films

An overview of all of 2023’s Oscar-nominated movies, focusing on drama films. This is the last review essay of the 2023 Oscar year
The Quiet Girl
The Quiet Girl

Drama is what Oscar movies are mostly made of.  So it ends up that most nominated movies are considered drama films.  Sure, the documentaries don’t fall into this category even though they often make dramatic statements and can evoke similar emotions.  Frequently animated features don’t fall into this category, especially if, like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (4*) or The Sea Beast (3.5*) they are intended as family oriented entertainment.  (Interestingly, though the other three of this year’s nominees were considered dramas, so it is not a hard and fast rule).  And, for reasons that aren’t clear to me at all, science fiction films, like this year’s highly rated Avatar: The Way of Water (4*) and Everything Everywhere All At Once (4.5*) are sometimes not considered dramas, although, especially with the Avatar film, it is hard to understand why not.  So out of this year’s 39 Oscar-nominated films, only nine of them weren’t in the drama film genre.  But that leaves 30 films left to talk about in this final essay of the 2023 year. (Obviously, I can’t go into great detail on any one film, but I will at least name them and provide links to my reviews if you are interested in further discussion.)

Let’s start with those I really loved – the movies I think you definitely should see if you haven’t already.  I gave two films my highest rating (5*) this year.  I think the biggest surprise of the year was The Quiet Girl, a simple but amazingly effective film from Ireland that was easily the best film of the year and one of the best in a very long time.  If you want an example of excellent movie craftsmanship where everything comes together perfectly, see this drama film.  Tar starred the always-terrific Cate Blanchett as a world famous symphony conductor who ends up suffering a horrendous psychological break.  It is an intense drama that will leave you very uncertain about a character you thought you were going to love.

The Banshees of Inisherin (4.5*) was another film with great cinematography and an ensemble cast that worked well together.  I don’t normally like biopics, because I worry about giving a false image of a real person, but Elvis (4.5*) had an intriguing story, helmed by Tom Hanks, and told the story of  a musician who was forced to abandon his roots and paid for it dearly.  And I don’t normally get excited about super-hero films either, but The Batman (4.5*) was good exactly because it brought the Batman story down to a human level, giving us a Bruce Wayne with a relevant personal history.  EO (4.5*) – from Poland – was the story about a donkey who, although he never speaks, is the centerpiece of a tragic story where you have to believe he has a soul.

Eight movies earned my 4* rating and they ranged all over the topical map. All Quiet on the Western Front was Germany’s Oscar submission and tells the German story from a German perspective by German filmmakers.  If you want edge-of-your seat action, you can’t go wrong with Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick, or with a film from India that I didn’t know anything about before I watched it but was a very effective film, RRR. This year’s mystery/thriller is Glass Onion, where Daniel Craig and Janelle Monae unmask the killer among an elite group of technocrats on their private island.  Spielberg unleashes his considerable filmmaking skills telling a, mostly, autobiographical tale of his own childhood in The Fabelmans. Brendan Fraser gives an unexpectedly good performance of a morbidly obese man who tries to make things right in The Whale.  In the opposite of action, Women Talking is exactly that, painting a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a woman in an insular religious community and the courage the women take to break out.  And, speaking of relationships, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, tells a story of relationships changing and ending unexpectedly using an amazing combination of stop-motion animation and live action.  Any of these eight will be good choices for an evening’s night at the movies.

There are four movies at the bottom of my recommended list (3.5*).  I loved Ana de Armas in Blonde, but hated the way she was abused in the exact same way as her namesake, Marilyn Monroe. Argentina, 1985 was an intriguing look into the awful events in that country under a series of military dictatorships and the attempt to bring them to justice.  And then there are two drama films I couldn’t figure out what to do with.  Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is definitely a navel-gazing exercise on the part of Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu, but the film is so expertly constructed that IF you have the time and energy to go at it, I suspect it would be very rewarding.  And finally, there is the collection of seven very good shorts all by and about women from around the world, Tell It Like a Woman.

That leaves us with a dozen movies that I just can’t recommend unless you have some unique interest in a particular movie-making craft, person, or subject.  Some of them were just sort of uninteresting, basic films that might be fun if you really have nothing else to watch (Living (3*), To Leslie (3*), Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (3*), Aftersun (2.5*), Causeway (2.5*), Empire of Light (2.5*), Close (2.5*)), all of them somewhat effective dramas that might pull a tear or two, but aren’t the kinds of things you will remember a week later.  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2.5*) was an action/super-hero film I really wanted to like (I loved the original), but the producers saddled it with so many objectives it accomplished none of them well.  Although I usually love the work from Guillermo del Toro, his Pinocchio (2.5*) was saturated with way too much personal expression to make sense to the normal viewer.

The last three movies are “must avoids”.  With Margot Robbie in it, I had great hopes for Babylon (2*), but it disintegrated into a visual and sonic mess with an esoteric story that appeals to few of us.  Turning Red (2*) was an attempt at an admirable message, but the story got lost and won’t appeal to even most kids.  And Triangle of Sadness (1.5*) is, quite literally, a piece of shit which, although casting much-deserved shame on the rich and famous, doesn’t do anything to elevate the rest of us.

So, there you have it – an overview of the entire 2023 Oscar-nominated drama films.  As always, we had some winners and some losers.  My winners don’t always align with the Oscar awards and possibly not with your list, but at least it is a point of discussion.  This concludes my work on 2023 Oscar-nominated films – we move on to a new year.

 (If you would like to see the 2022 summary, here is a link )

Receive a notification every time there is a new review or post.

Leave a Comment