2023 Oscar Minor Genre Films

An overview of the 2023 Oscar Minor Genre Films. The minor (2 or fewer films) genres are, mystery, romance, music, musical, sports, westerns, war, and horror.


(When there are less than three movies, or none, in a defined genre, I consider those to be “minor” genres.  And I combine all of them into just one comparative review rather than write multiple, very short essays.  So here are the 2023 Oscar Minor Genre Films with a discussion of this year’s and last year’s candidates.)

History: We had two entries in the history category this year, Babylon (2*) and Argentina, 1985 (3.5*).  

The better picture was Argentina’s entry for International Feature Film, (Argentina, 1985) recounting the first time anywhere in the world that a country has put on a civilian trial of military dictators.  The film uses some interesting montage effects to collapse time, employs ample humor, and emphasizes the families involved, at least on the victim and prosecutor sides of the story.  the problem with this film, though, is that it is a docudrama and, as such, it is difficult to understand what is truth and what is fiction.  In the end, it becomes exhausting to figure out whether you should be upset or just entertained.  Watch it if you are at all interested in Latin American history and its parallels with what is going on here in the states right now, but beware that this is fiction.

The other film in this genre, Babylon, is really just a mess and I’m not quite sure it deserves to be considered “history”.  It attempts to tell the story of when sound technology was introduced into films and how revolutionizing that was for both viewers and filmmakers.  However Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) seems to have become lost in his exuberant celebration of Hollywood and film history.  He lost sight of his primary responsibility of telling a coherent story to his audience and instead created a film with too many story lines, too many characters, and too much downright nastiness.  Although Margot Robbie is always eye candy, this film isn’t worth enduring.

Last year there was just one History film, Belfast (3.5 *).  Although this film was considered in this genre, I think that is primarily because of its setting in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” of the 60s and 70s.  It, perhaps, gives you a general idea of what life was like in those times, I think it works better as a portrayal of a family in times of stress. I compared it, unfavorably, to last year’s Best Picture winner CODA.

Horror: Nope, no horror movies this year, nor last year.  Horror is a genre not real popular with Oscar folks, so you don’t see many films on the list.

Music: Although I really don’t understand why this is a movie genre (and it isn’t at all the same thing as the “Musical” genre, see below) it does seem to always include some important films.  This year there are two of them, Elvis (4.5*) and Tar (5*), and they were both worth watching even though they are as different as the music they highlight.  

Elvis, is, obviously, a biopic of Mr. Presley.  It emphasizes his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) and is told from Parker’s perspective.  Under Baz Luhrman’s direction, this film seems much more preoccupied with how the story is told than on the story itself, emphasizing sound, music, costumes, and makeup.  Still, it is a fun experience and if you have any interest in rock and roll music, you will want to see this film.

Tar, is a very different movie concerning a very different part of the music world.  Fictional Lydia Tar is lead conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – she is the leader of one of the top two or three symphony orchestras in the world.  But she isn’t exactly a nice person and part of this movie is to understand how getting to the top of the top may require the exercise of inappropriate power.  But this film is much more than just a story of the fall of a powerful woman.  We are asked, during the last hour of the film to try and understand what is happening to Lydia’s world as she herself perceives it.  It is a confusing and deliberately twisted experience.  Where Elvis is a delight for the senses, Tar stimulates the mind – just like the difference between rock-and-roll and classical music.

Last year there were two very good films in this genre, one winning Best Picture and the other taking Best Documentary.  CODA (4.5*)  is an emotional story of how a hearing child in an otherwise deaf family navigates her two worlds.  It falls in this genre because the hearing child wants to pursue her dreams of singing, and, she is really pretty good at it.  Emilia Jones, as the CODA character,  is terrific and the story will touch your hearts.  The documentary, Summer of Soul ( 4.5*) , brings us lost video footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.  Six free concerts of mostly Black music of the times attracted more than 300,000 attendees.  In addition to wonderful concert footage, there are also interviews with both performers and listeners recalling what happened at these concerts. 

Musical: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2.5*) is our lone musical this year.  Although I really wanted to like this movie (because of del Toro’s previous films like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and Nightmare Alley), this one just didn’t cut it.  While the stop-motion animation is as good as it gets, the nine songs were just not memorable and added nothing to the movie.  In addition, his focus on fascism was just plain bewildering.  In short, this was a disappointment.

But if you are into musicals, there were four of them last year and they were all worth watching, although for different reasons.  Tick, tick…BOOM! (4*) has great music and, although it is a movie about writing a play, it still works.  Andrew Garfield plays Jonathon Larson and navigates us through the script inversions.  Peter Dinklage can’t sing all that well either, but Haley Bennett, playing his Roxanne, in Cyrano (4*), can sing and Dinklage’s acting is terrific.  Encanto (3.5*) is a Disney animated musical and has some memorable songs (“We don’t talk about Bruno.”). And West Side Story (3.5*) is Spielberg’s remake and has some wonderful songs, even if Ansel Elgort really doesn’t know why he’s in this movie.

Mystery: Glass Onion (4*) is our only mystery in the list of 2023 nominees.  As a sequel to the earlier Knives Out film, it carries over the same main character, Daniel Craig’s detective, Benoit Blanc, as well as a focus on a group of eccentric characters, this time a group of high tech creators and influencers.  As in the earlier film, the main mystery is resolve early, but it is everything leading up to it that provides the unknowns.  Another great film.

Last year’s single mystery film was The Tragedy of Macbeth (4.5*) which, frankly didn’t seem all that much of a mystery to me.  The film, though is a superb production of the Shakespeare play done in black and white with a very minimal set and starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand.  It is definitely worth seeing, although not really as a mystery.

Romance: I liked Blonde (3.5*) more than most people did, but, still, it wasn’t a terrific film.  Perhaps the romance simply involves the iconic Marilyn Monroe, and if that’s true with this movie, then the romance kind of disappears.  Nonetheless, the film, while distorting the true biography of Monroe and actually abusing actress Anna de Armas, the film’s value is more in just how difficult it is to be a woman in a man’s world.

I wished that there was equal messaging in Empire of Light (2.5*). While packed full of British Oscar talent, and with some great movie-theater staging, thoughtful camera work, beautiful music, and actors chomping at the bit, first-time screenwriter, and director, Sam Mendes, fails to deliver a script that meaningfully develops the characters and engages the audience.  You end up wondering, over and over again, where is this movie going?

Last year we had six Romance films and I recommend all six of them.  Power of the Dog was one of my favorites last year and involves a romance that occurred in the past but plays into an important drama between three men in the present all in the Wild West.  Peter Dinklage does a terrific job in Cyrano (4*) – even though he doesn’t sing very well – unsuccessfully chasing Roxanne (Haley Bennett) – who does! Norway’s The Worst Person in the World (4*) involves a millennial having a quarter-life crisis and portrays GenX and Millennial relationships.  Spielberg’s West Side Story (3.5*) is a fun, but not great remake, Licorice Pizza (3.5*) has a great performance by Alana Haim in a 70s setting, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye (3.5*) tell the Baker family rise and fall (although the romance is all at the beginning of the movie) with Jessica Chastain doing a compelling job with lots of makeup. So if Blonde isn’t enough for you, you have six more romances from last year’s list.

Sports: There weren’t any sports genre movies in the 2023 Oscar nominations.  And last year there was just one, King Richard (3*).  While I enjoyed gaining a little understanding of Venus and Serena, I found the movie’s portrayal of their father, Richard (Will Smith) totally unconvincing.  I found him overbearing, controlling, and not really credible.  To me, a better movie would be portraying how the Williams sisters rose to fame in spite of their father!

War:  All Quiet on the Western Front (4*) was our only war movie in this year’s slate.  Based on the novel, this is a German movie telling the German side of World War I trench warfare in France.  The film’s visual and aural effects are stunning and, if you like war movies at all, represent a vivid, if disgusting way of portraying the horror.  The film has been criticized as denigrating the French and there might be some truth to that.  But the true value of the film is the contrast in lifestyles between the commanders and those fighting for their lives on the battlefield. As I wrote in my review, “ Just how many wars there would be if the people who wage them actually had to fight them?” (There were no War movies in the 2022 Oscar list.)

Westerns: There were no westerns in this year’s slate but last year there was a very good one.  The Power of the Dog (4.5*) was one of my favorite movies of the 2022 Oscar season. Although nominated for almost everything, I was surprised it did not win Best Picture.  In addition to being beautiful to watch and hear, it also tells a complex psychosexual drama with enough twists and turns that you have to stay alert throughout the film, although that isn’t that hard. (Warning: this film involves some “definitely not conservative Western” themes!)

All Quiet on the Western Front
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