This first review of the 2023 Oscar-nominated movies is intended as an overview of the field and a prelude to the actual reviews that I will write in the next year. As of today, I haven’t seen any of these films nor have I read much more than a little that appears in various media – I try to keep my biases to a minimum.
2023 Oscar Nominees: Basic Data
Here are some basic facts about the nomination patterns:
Total # of Feature-Length Movies Nominated: 39
Number of ‘Special Interest’ Oscar Movies: 14
(International Features: 4)
(Documentary Features: 5)
(Animated Features: 5)
Number of ‘General Interest’ Oscar Movies: 25
Average Number of Nominations/Movie: 6
Movies Above the Average: 10
Movies Receiving “Above the Line/Major” Nominations: 18
Movies Only Receiving “Below the Line/Minor” Nominations: 7
2023 Oscar Nominees: Defining the Terms
Definitions used throughout all essays and reviews this year:
“Feature-Length Movies” – I do not consider the fifteen nominees in the three ‘Short’ categories – Live Action, Documentary, and Animated – because it would add a huge amount to my workload and time. It is also often very difficult to find streaming or rental sources for these films.
“Special Interest” – Movies ONLY nominated in the three unique categories of International Feature, Documentary Feature, and Animated Feature. This year All Quiet on the Western Front nominated as an International Feature from Germany was also nominated in several other categories and, therefore, is more of a “General Interest” movie.
“General Interest” – All of the Feature-length movies that are not reserved as “Special Interest” films.
“Above the Line/Major” Nomination Categories – Those categories most directly associated with the telling of the story (Writing, Directing, Acting, and Best Picture thrown in as a catch all.)
“Below the Line/Minor” Nomination Categories – Those categories which enhance the story (Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound, Original Score, Original Song)
“Oscar Quality Index (or OQI)” – A numerical index I created to quantify the number and type of Oscar nominations. It is used as a rough measure of what the Academy thinks of the film and a quantification of its “Oscar Buzz”.
(For more information about the rationale behind these definitions, please see last year’s 2022 Oscar Movie: Initial Analysis essay.)
2023 Oscar Nominees: General Interest Movies
The OQI naturally separates the films into four categories – ABCD if you like – just because no Oscar-nominated movie can ever be considered an “F” right?
The A Group
The six A-list movies are those that will likely do very well at the Oscars and they will also very likely be among the best movies of the year. All six of them were nominated for Best Picture. But, still, there are some interesting variations between them in terms of audience and critical response.
Everything, Everywhere All at Once – This movie is very highly rated by everyone. There is every reason to believe it will be a very good movie and will do well at the Oscars.
Three of the remaining five (The Banshees of the Inisherin, The Fabelman’s, and Tar) are rating higher with the critics than with the viewing public. They are also heavily weighted on the “Major Category” side of the nominations. That suggests that these three have strong stories to tell, but might not be greatly entertaining movies to watch.
Elvis is the movie in this group with the opposite pattern – audiences like it much better than the critics do and it is short on “major” nominations. The title sort of sums up what to expect from this movie – might be a lot of fun to watch, but not with a great deal of takeaways.
And finally there is All Quiet on the Western Front. Yes this is a remake, but what makes this very interesting is that it is coming from Germany. (Some of its OQI points come from being nominated in the International Feature special category). But it is heavily weighted on the technical side. The viewing public that has seen this film reacted very positively, while the critics have been less enthusiastic, so this one remains an enigma.
The B Group
The B group of seven films generally should be good views, but maybe not as significant as the A list. Three of the seven (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Women Talking, and The Batman) are rated consistently towards the middle by both audiences and critics, so little-to-no disagreement about where they fall.
The other four B movies are more controversial.
Triangle of Sadness seem to have received more Oscar recognition than either critics or audiences thought was justified. It will be interesting to see why the Academy rewarded it so handsomely.
The remaining three movies (Avatar: Way of Water, The Whale, and Top Gun: Maverick) were liked much more by audiences than the critics, or, as some like to say, they are “popcorn movies”. These films will likely be more fun to watch than a movie with a strong message.
The C Group
The C movies are those with a fairly low OQI number – just two or three Oscar nominations. My experience suggests that it is this kind of film that is a crapshoot – it can be good or not, and it is difficult to tell before you watch it.
Two of them (Babylon and The Batman) received three nominations but all of them in the minor or technical categories. This suggests that they might offer some visual or aural delight, but come up short on telling a compelling story.
The remaining five C movies were all nominated just once, but in a major category. This suggests that there was something particularly good about the film, but overall, it may be lacking, especially in “popcorn” values. I was surprised to see the Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery movie do so poorly at the Oscars as I really enjoyed the first one and I am looking forward to this one. (It did earn its nomination in the Adapted Screenplay category, suggesting another great story). The other four (Aftersun, Blonde, To Leslie, and Causeway) all received acting nominations. Two of those were for Leading Actress, suggesting that women, once again, get good roles in movies that don’t have much else going on to support them. (I identified that issue in the data in previous years and it still holds – The average number of nominations for movies receiving a Leading Actress nomination is significantly less than those receive a Leading Actor nomination!)
The D Group
The last five “General Interest” movies only received a single, minor, nomination. Two of them were only nominated for Original Song and, if you’ve read my reviews, I find that category particularly problematic because the song often appears only in the ending credits and has little to do with the movie proper. Such was the case with last year’s Four Good Days and that movie was a melodramatic disaster. On the other hand, I really loved Peter Dinklage in Cyrano, but it received only a single minor nomination.
Two of this year’s films in this category, (Tell It Like a Woman and RRR) both received very high critical and audience rankings, suggesting that the Academy shortchanged these films. (Weirdly, those two films are the two only nominated for Original Song, so go figure.) Even though they will be towards the end of this year’s viewing, they could well be surprisingly good. The remaining three films in this group (Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Empire of LIght, and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris) are not likely to be great movies but are certainly capable of surprising us.
2023 Oscar Nominees: Special Interest Movies
These fourteen films are not considered with the “General Interest Movies” because it isn’t profitable to compare them. A Documentary or an Animated Feature film, for example, doesn’t compare at all well to something like the Avatar films – a film-goer uses different criteria to not only judge them but to watch them. An International Feature, if it is in the English language, might well play well with the other nominated movies – and frequently one or more of them is also nominated in other categories. But, in general, and especially if it is in a foreign language, we Americans can’t watch them the same way we do one of our own films. So, I take them out of general interest competition and evaluate them separately. It is also difficult to compare them all as a single group because an animated film is usually much different than a documentary. So we really end up with three separate groups of films and we will handle them that way here.
Animated Feature Films
Two features (Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) received consistently high ratings from both critics and audiences. Turning Red was rated OK by critics but the viewing public didn’t like it so much. The other two movies (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and The Sea Beast) received ratings all over the map. (I would expect the Oscar race will be between the first two with an Oscar bias towards Guillermo del Toro’s work because he has been involved in multiple Academy-nominated movies, including non-animated features.)
Documentary Feature Films
Documentaries are another special breed of films that should be judged separately. Of our five nominees, the one film most consistently at the top of all audience and critical ratings is All That Breathes . After that is Navalny with slightly less critical enthusiasm. Definitely at the bottom is A House Made of Splinters , which nobody seemed to like very much. The other two documentaries (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and Fire of Love) both seemed to score inconsistent ratings but somewhere in the middle. Navalny has to be about the Russian dissident with that name and so is politically relevant given Russia’s evil incursion into Ukraine. That one may have political value as a winner of the Oscar. I really don’t know what the other four films are about, but if politics didn’t matter, I’d suspect that All That Breathes would take the Oscar in this category.
Frankly, since All Quiet on the Western Front , from Germany, was also nominated for Best Picture, I suspect it has a lock on this Oscar this year. If current events weren’t in play, it appears the The Quiet Girl from Ireland is better liked by both audiences and critics and so might be a better movie. Close from Belgium comes in at the bottom of most of our rankings, and so I’m not expecting a whole lot from that one. The other two (EO (Poland) and Argentina, 1985 (Argentina)) have inconsistent ratings and so are difficult to assess, although I’m really interested in the Polish entry about a donkey!
2023 Oscar Movie Analysis Conclusions
That pretty well wraps what I know at this point. You can learn a lot by what other people have said about the movies, but only in a general, aggregated sense. And in the next post I will rank the movies using the analysis and criteria suggested above. I will then follow that with my post of Oscar Winner Predictions. Oscar winner analysis does not always follow what the above analysis suggests so the predictions might surprise you. Look for the next two posts.