Vern’s Oscar Round-Up and 2023 Recap Thing

For some years now, some of you may remember, I’ve made it a point to watch all of the best picture nominees. This year, for the first time ever, I’d already seen all of them when the nominations were announced. Achievement unlocked, as they say in whatever they say that in.

Since I was ahead of the game there I thought maybe I could also review them all for the first time ever. I always don’t get around to a couple of them, and that’s what happened this year too. I did review AMERICAN FICTION and ANATOMY OF A FALL together, as well as BARBIE, MAESTRO, OPPENHEIMER, POOR THINGS and THE ZONE OF INTEREST. The ones I missed were THE HOLDOVERS, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON and PAST LIVES, so I’ll say a little about them now.

I wrote about two-fifths of a review of THE HOLDOVERS after seeing it, then the holidays passed and it felt weird to post about, so I never finished. But the movie has stuck with me. It’s a sweet Christmas story for those who can be grumpy and cynical. Paul Giamatti (THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO) is really funny as Paul Hunham, the miserable ancient civilizations professor of a Massachusetts private school who has to stay over winter break 1970 to babysit the students with nowhere to go.

I like the real, unvarnished humanity of it. Most of the characters seem like assholes at first, then we start to see their sympathetic sides, but without them having to turn magically perfect. When Hunham is introduced talking to Barton Academy headmaster Dr. Woodrip (Andrew Garman, JULIE & JULIA) we learn that he’s being retaliated against for refusing to pass the son of a major donor. Dr. Woodrip is clearly in the wrong but comes off as the more relatable one, exhausted by Hunham’s bitterness and pretentious historical allusions. The guy is pretty obnoxious! But in a fun way.

His student Angus Tully (exciting rookie actor Dominic Sessa) doesn’t exactly get a hero’s entrance either. On the one hand you can see them lovingly setting him up as a particular archaic phenotype of nerd with his W.C. Fields poster, pot references and plan to be the hit of St. Kitts wearing what another kid calls “women’s underwear” but that Angus says is “the same swimsuit James Bond wears in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. It can’t get more masculine than that.” On the other hand he really seems like the bad guy at first, the richer-than-the-other-rich-kids douche bragging about his tropical beach vacation, and blowing the class’s chance at a makeup test with his whining, when he’s the only one who got a good grade. Then Mom calls at the last minute to tell him their trip is now her honeymoon, so he joins the other holdovers while still wearing his travel tie and pathetically lugging around his fancy luggage.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who I loved in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME and the excellent High Fidelity series on Hulu, will likely/hopefully win best supporting actress for her role as Mary, the cafeteria manager. One of the kids is racist/classist toward her and Hunham flips out, infuriated by the lack of awareness these kids have about their privilege. Mary is mourning the loss of her son in Vietnam – she worked at Barton so he could attend there, he still had to join the military to pay for college, now he’ll never get there. Problems these kids never had to worry about once in their lives.

Director Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS) apparently hasn’t seen BLACK CHRISTMAS, so instead he took the premise from a Marcel Pagnol movie called MERLUSSE (1935), and recruited TV writer David Hemingson (The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Kitchen Confidential, Whiskey Cavalier) because he’d written a pilot set at a boarding school.

I’m a softy in middle age, I cry at all kinds of shit. I honestly might’ve made it through this one clean if there wasn’t a big emotional scene about Angus’ father that happens to be pretty similar to one of my most painful memories. I think this is a crowdpleaser because it tries to be honest about life. It’s one of those, “Yeah, we’re all fuckups, who are we to judge?” kinda movies. Some people have it easier, but everybody has problems. Life and people can be terrible, but also they are beautiful and can come through for you when you don’t expect it. It’s sad at times, but it’s funny and hopeful. It’s life-affirming but it has to work to get there, so it doesn’t feel full of shit. At the end I felt sad our time together was over, just like they do. You hope they’ll stay in touch but you know they can never re-create that time together. They just gotta appreciate that it happened.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is one of those movies that I felt too intimidated to write about on only one viewing. I appreciated its slow burn gut punch depicting the unlikely oil wealth of the Osage community, the way the system sought to constrain them and how white people swooped in like the toucan smelling Fruit Loops, itching to kill them and steal their money. We kinda take Leonardo DiCaprio (THE QUICK AND THE DEAD) for granted now, so I’m not surprised he didn’t get nominated, but I love that he plays this character as a goofy looking doofus. I don’t blame Scorsese for the shitbrains who watch WOLF OF WALL STREET and want to be like Leo, but it’s funny to see him do one where you can’t imagine there possibly being one person on earth who thinks this guy is cool. Professor Hunham is cooler, and he has a condition that makes him smell like fish.

Of course the movie’s center of gravity is Lily Gladstone (Reservation Dogs), who projects so much power as his wife Molly, with less dialogue or hot-shotting to work with. She has a wry sense of humor and some rich lady swag, he makes her laugh and she thinks he’s cute, so she’s happy to promote him from personal driver to boy toy. Too bad she starts to love him and doesn’t catch on to the insidious plot until it’s too late. Keep this on the down low but right after seeing the movie I found out me and Gladstone went to the same high school. I went a decade earlier, sure, but nobody’s keeping track. Maybe I’m old, maybe I’m young, who’s to say? Not old enough to forget the fight song, so I’m gonna sing it if she wins. (After her speech.)

I did write a little bit of a review in my notebook, focusing on three pieces of media in the movie – the newsreel at the beginning, the newsreel about the Tulsa race massacre that seems to give them ideas, and the radio play at the end. But I didn’t finish my thought and I don’t quite remember what it was, so maybe if I watch it again I’ll return to the topic.

I definitely plan to rewatch PAST LIVES, the achingly beautiful romance about New York City writer Nora (Greta Lee, TOP FIVE, GEMINI) reconnecting with a shy, handsome South Korean man named Hae Sung (Teo Yoo, CODE NAME: JACKAL), who she was in kid-love with when they were both 12, but then her family emigrated to the U.S.

Now she’s grown up and American, has a different language and name, and is happily married to nice white guy Arthur (John Magaro, THE BRAVE ONE, MY SOUL TO TAKE, CAROL), who I gotta say I relate to because he acts like a grown person in a healthy relationship instead of the usual people you see in movies. He fully supports Hae Sung coming to visit, has complete faith in Nora and their marriage, but also recognizes the connection there he can never have, the parts of Nora he can only understand in theory, and the awkwardness of sitting there while his wife has a conversation he can’t understand. From Hae Sung’s point of view it’s very compelling because he’s at a bad place in life and needs to make this hail mary pass of a wild romantic gesture that is likely doomed to failure, or at best to create more heartbreak, but could bring some closure he could really use right now. Or it could make things worse. And for Nora it seems clear what to do but all the old emotions it brings up take her by surprise. As the movie did to me. The longing dial is turned up all the way on this one.

It’s all so natural and observant, perfectly acted, gorgeously shot, a mix of completely universal emotions and very specific ideas about the immigrant experience. I saw this early in the year and felt pretty sure it would be one of those “throw ‘em a bone” small movie best picture nominees. I’m glad it was, and that it won the top Independent Spirit Award. A great, great movie.

I expect OPPENHEIMER to win best picture. I wouldn’t vote for it myself, but I get it. Part of me thinks there’s a sliver of a chance for BARBIE to win on what I call the CODA theory. The idea is that there can be a movie that everybody who doesn’t put it in first place does put it in second or third, so it ends up edging out one that a whole bunch of people put in #1 but others put at the bottom. But I don’t really think OPPENHEIMER is very divisive, and also I looked back at the CODA year and there wasn’t really an obvious frontrunner like there is here.

What would make me most happy would be if THE ZONE OF INTEREST won, but that’s not gonna happen. Too arty and too relevant, I think.

Although I enjoyed all of the best picture nominees (and BARBIE and PAST LIVES would be somewhere in my top ten) my actual favorite movies of 2023 were JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4, INFINITY POOL, BEAU IS AFRAID and GODZILLA MINUS ONE. In my mind the biggest snub is Mia Goth not getting a supporting actress nomination. Should gotta a nomination for PEARL the year before, too. She’ll get in there some day, I hope.

Other movies I really liked but haven’t reviewed so far: ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME MARGARET – made me cry. ASTEROID CITY – how the fuck does Wes Anderson never get nominated for production design and all that?

The other day I watched RUSTIN (interesting story, somewhat goofy movie), and if I can get to THE COLOR PURPLE before Sunday I will have seen all the nominees in the acting categories. I’m expecting Cillian Murphy to win best actor, though Giamatti would be an exciting upset. Emma Stone seems like the one who could maybe beat Gladstone, and she’s very good in a difficult comedic, physical role there, but like I said I’m pushing for Gladstone. For supporting actor everyone expects Robert Downey Jr., which is fine. My choice would be Ryan Gosling in a more unusual role no one else could’ve/would’ve done the same. I already told you I want Randolph for supporting actress (unless THE COLOR PURPLE changes my mind).

In the animated feature category I haven’t seen ROBOT DREAMS, which has no U.S. release yet. I reviewed ELEMENTAL and SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE but not THE BOY AND THE HERON or NIMONA. The former was very good but I feel like I don’t entirely get it yet, the second was enjoyable but I barely remember it. I expect a win for Miyazaki, though I think I got more out of SPIDER-VERSE and definitely consider it the most impressive on a technical-execution-of-animation level. I would’ve liked to see TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM nominated, but I acknowledge that story-wise it’s a little lightweight. I just loved the style of it, and it had more laughs than any of these.

Adapted screenplay is probly gonna be OPPENHEIMER, I’m sure that was a difficult one to crack. BARBIE would be great – I mean, who the fuck could figure out how to do that? They put great minds on it for years, nobody could crack it until now! THE ZONE OF INTEREST would also be good but maybe we don’t think of what’s great about it as coming from the page.

Original screenplay will be THE HOLDOVERS I think? I’d approve. Mrs. Vern thinks it’ll be ANATOMY OF A FALL, but we’re both rooting for PAST LIVES. I like that MAY DECEMBER got a nomination too.

The whole world expects Godzilla to win his first ever Oscar, in the visual effects category. Can you believe in all these years he’s never been nominated for best actor? Can’t wait to see his speech. And then it’s your move, Gamera. You got this.

I kinda think the late Robbie Robertson should win original score for KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON. Probly gonna be OPPENHEIMER though, and good for Ludwig Göransson. Make-up win for CREED.

I’m gonna end on the original song category. First of all, it’s really funny to me that it includes two songs from a Barbie movie and one from a Cheetos movie. That’s the world we live in: our artists finding ways to scratch beautiful renderings onto mountains of corporate detritus. I’m interested in the two Barbie ones because they show kind of a divide that surprised me. A few weeks before the nominations I noticed that Vulture’s Oscar predictions had the two BARBIE song nominations being the Billie Eilish one “What Was I Made For?” and the Dua Lipa one “Dance the Night.”

I was astonished by that. I wondered if they were crazy or if I was. To me THE SONG from BARBIE is obviously “I’m Just Ken,” the musical number performed by Ryan Gosling as Ken. One of the most memorable scenes, a crucial thematic and character moment, a flashy celebration of cinema, a song that got stuck in my head for a couple days both times I’ve watched it, also one I’ve heard discussed and referenced from opening day until now and assumed months ago was for sure the best song winner. I thought nominating any other BARBIE songs over “I’m Just Ken” would be like nominating “Computer Blue” or “The Beautiful Ones” for PURPLE RAIN and not “Purple Rain.” Yes, great songs, bangers, timeless classics, but it’s fucking “Purple Rain”! It’s the anthem, and the crucial scene in the movie! What the fuck!?

(Okay, I cheated – if it was “Let’s Go Crazy” I would’ve had a harder time disapproving.)

Vulture later changed their predictions, and yes, it was “What Was I Made For?” and “I’m Just Ken” that were nominated. And today I have no idea if my initial “I’m Just Ken’ is the obvious winner, right!?” instincts were correct. “What Was I Made For?” won the Golden Globe, as well as Grammys for Best Song Written for Visual Media and even Song of the Year, the first time a soundtrack song did that since “My Heart Will Go On.” And when I raised this question about the Vulture predictions on Twitter many people told me Eilish would definitely win and/or deserved to.

I’ve got a bias here, being X years older than Lily Gladstone. Eilish seems cool and I got nothing against her at all, but that style of modern ballad sounds interchangeable to my ear, the way old jerks used to say all rap music sounded the same. So I honestly had to be reminded where it appears in the movie, I was thinking it just played on the car radio or something. In fact it’s during an important montage and the melancholy tone it creates is effective. And looking over the lyrics, they do tie into the themes of the movie, even if that doesn’t register to me much when watching it.

But I still believe, without any hesitation, that you could replace it with many other songs in the same register and the montage would still have the same effect. But if you removed “I’m Just Ken” you would be straight up hobbling the whole movie. To me that’s the end of the story, it’s not about what song you like hearing on the radio, it’s about what it does for the movie (that’s why “Hard Out Here For a Pimp” was one of the most worthy winners) but I understand people have different ideas of what “best song” should mean.

Here’s where I gotta kind of launch into a rant, though. Content warning: Getting worked up about something I saw on Twitter, even though who cares? Somebody with way more social media reach than me made the reverse argument of mine, that “What Was I Made For?” is the heart of the movie and that it’s crazy, even insulting, to put “I’m Just Ken” next to it. There were also many pointing to it as a sign of sexism that Gosling was nominated for supporting actor when Margot Robbie wasn’t nominated for best actress and Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for director. That it was ironically mirroring the movie, for the guy to get all the attention (although – did you see the movie? Ken actually doesn’t get the attention, there’s a whole song he sings about it).

Okay, first of all, I wanted Robbie and Gerwig to be nominated. But I’m sure they’re happy to settle for best picture and adapted screenplay nominations and having the actual biggest money maker of the year and universally great reviews. That’s pretty good.

Second of all, it’s just not considering how things work. Even if we take these nominations as an objective ranking of art, it doesn’t point to Gosling being better than Robbie. Maybe there were more amazing performances from women this year, so the competition was steeper for Robbie than it was for Gosling. Who knows? People always ignore that these are various separate individuals voting, not the Stone Cutters sitting down at an evil table and saying “okay, we’re choosing Ken but not Barbie.”

But the reason I gotta rant is that I feel these “oh great, they chose Ken” arguments are disrespectful to the movie and to Gerwig. It’s understandable why some women would get more than I did out of Eilish singing about not being real, and less out of Ken singing about similar things from his perspective. And I don’t expect everybody to latch onto the themes of the Kens’ excitement about and ultimate disappointment with their interpretation of traditional masculinity the way I did. But it’s obviously a big part of the movie, and part of Gerwig’s genius in creating this joyfully pink, girly movie that’s has fun exploring different facets of womanhood but also speaks to men about masculinity. Also, since part of the joke of Barbie Land is reversing patriarchy, Ken singing about his dissatisfaction is part of the movie’s critique of patriarchy.

So I think that’s a very superficial reading of the movie, and my stance is that if you don’t think Ken (as created by Gerwig as part of her movie) is worth celebrating then you don’t think the movie or the director have as much depth as they actually do, and you are not gonna win the righteous movie takes Oscar this time. Better luck next year. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

Anyway, thanks everybody. Have fun watching or not watching the show on Sunday. Remember it starts an hour earlier this year for some reason. It feels a little late to rehash all the other best movies of 2023, so instead I will brag about my favorite non-timely writings of the year. Those are my proudest accomplishments. New releases are for nerds.

Favorite review series:

Uncle Sam Wants Yu
1983: Summer of Nub
THE EXORCIST movie franchise

Most important revisits:


Most interesting discoveries:


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28 Responses to “Vern’s Oscar Round-Up and 2023 Recap Thing”

  1. Eh, you almost had me until Computer Blue
    (that’s like a top five Prince song imho)

  2. “The Beautiful Ones” might not be the best song one the album, but I think it’s the best performance in the movie. When it builds to that amazing crescendo, it’s just…chills. So I could see why these hypothetical Oscar voters from 1984 would go for it.

    I actually tutored a college student on an entire essay he wrote about that Billie Eilish song, and it felt sorta like Mr. S’s voluminous defense of the prequels: Yeah, sure, those are definitely the themes it’s going for, but have you noticed that it kinda, like, sucks?* I don’t hate Billie EIlish or anything but at best she’s just Portishead’s way-less-cool little sister, and the further she gets into mushy balladry, the more you see her limitations. To me, an old fuck whose favorite songs were made decades before she was born, that song is straight up bad. Even though “I’m Just Ken” just sounds like Trey Parker half-assing it, it’s still got that slop beat by a mile.

    *I like the prequels more or less but for the purposes of this analogy I must go with the common wisdom that they are childhood-raping abominations.

  3. Oh wow, it’s this weekend? I feel like I actually would’ve missed it this year.

    As usual I haven’t really seen any of the nominated movies. Except BARBIE, which I loved despite its kinda overstuffed and at times unfocused script. Gosling’s performance was definitely award worthy IMO, but sadly as a mostly comedic role, he had no chance to win (I think the last time someone won for an actual “big laughs” comedy was Kevin Kline for A FISH CALLED WANDA.) and the controversy about his nomination most likely killed even the small chance he had. It’s too bad that over all the hullaballoo people seemed to have forgotten that America Ferrera was damn fucking great in it and truly deserved her nomination. Maybe that might give her an extra boost in the votings, though.

    If Da’Vine Joy Randolph wins, I do hope they give her ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING character a spin-off.

  4. You’re forgetting Marissa Tomei, whose win so scandalized the squares that they concocted a whole conspiracy theory over it.

  5. My point is that “Computer Blue” is the great song he plays in one of the scenes where they’re performing in the club, “Purple Rain” is the great song he plays in the culmination of the movie where he apologizes to everyone through song and ends the movie on an emotional and musical sextuple exclamation point. So they correctly chose that for this particular award.

  6. Would you believe that this is the first time that I realize that MY COUSIN VINNY is a comedy? I only know the title and the Marisa Tomei thing. For some reason I thought this was a drama, judging by the title. Maybe about the black sheep of a family who has to get his life together.

  7. I really feel that RUSTIN was a missed opportunity. Feels criminal that his contribution was erased from history essentially due to his sexuality. Interesting and illuminating but not always very entertaining except for Chris Rock’s get up.

  8. My point is that “Computer Blue” is the great song he plays in one of the scenes where they’re performing in the club, “Purple Rain” is the great song he plays in the culmination of the movie where he apologizes to everyone through song and ends the movie on an emotional and musical sextuple exclamation point. So they correctly chose that for this particular award.

    While I get that, if it actually would have happened I would have thought “wow! the academy actually picked the cooler song over the obvious one”

    I realize this is a completely personal thing

    (full disclosure: Everybody has their own personal simple melody they have to play every time they pass a piano, be it chopsticks, push it, straight no chaser, etc. Mine has always been computer blue)

  9. “my actual favorite movies of 2023 were JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4, INFINITY POOL, BEAU IS AFRAID and GODZILLA MINUS ONE.

    Nice picks, Vern. Three of those were among my 2023 favorites as well (I still haven’t seen WICK 4). BARBIE was probably my surprise favorite, and I also really loved A HAUNTING IN VENICE, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES, and LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND (which went straight to Netflix).

    I will go to bat for “What Was I Made For?”. While, yes, I’m old and think all the young ladies’ songs sound the same these days, I do think Eilish has done some catchy tunes, I think this one has a nice melody, the lyrics are both thematically appropriate for the movie and also hauntingly universal. (I also love the Ken song, don’t get me wrong.)

    I like that GODZILLA is picking up momentum for Visual Effects. I watched that behind-the-scenes video they did about it, and it’s pretty marvelous as to what they were able to accomplish with such a small team, and how seamless a lot of the effects are. Like, you always want the obvious stuff to look good, but it’s the stuff you don’t notice at all that really impresses me.

    THE HOLDOVERS was kind of a great little old-fashioned movie. I don’t know if it’s worthy of “Best Picture,” but it is funny, affecting, and successfully nailed the “let’s just make a Hal Ashby movie” feeling.

    So many folks online making fun of Bradley Cooper and MAESTRO, but I thought it was great. Yes, the movie and the two leads have big theater kid energy, but Carey Mulligan gave one of my favorite performances of the year (love that she gets top billing). I thought it was a great directorial effort for Cooper, laying out exactly what the movie is at the beginning and letting that thesis play out, plus it looked dynamite, especially in the black and white half. And that Snoopy moment was very funny.

    Historically the Best Picture winners don’t do it for me, but this has changed over the last handful of years. Maybe my tastes have evolved, and maybe the Academy’s efforts to expand its membership to be more inclusive has helped. Still haven’t seen KILLERS, ANATOMY, ZONE, PAST LIVES, or AMERICAN FICTION yet, but I’m looking forward to them.

  10. I had mixed feelings about KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON – mostly to do with DiCaprio’s character. He’s a weirdly passive figure to build a movie around, someone who passively follows orders to do terrible things while at the same time seeming to have genuine love for his family, one of whom he’s in the process of slowly murdering. He very occasionally has flashes of listening to his conscience and trying to do the right thing, then wavers back into corruption. To some extent I admire the movie’s boldly strange choice of protagonist – film noir is full of main characters who are too weak to do what they know is right. But then I was confused by his seeming enthusiasm and drive when we watch him recruiting assholes to commit vicious crimes – he’s all charged up and gung ho to get these crimes done. At times I felt like I was watching 2 movies starring the same actor cut together, even though the characters were not much alike. Weird. I did love the ending.

    No such qualms about THE HOLDOVERS or PAST LIVES though – both excellent.

  11. “There were also many pointing to it as a sign of sexism that Gosling was nominated for supporting actor when Margot Robbie wasn’t nominated for best actress and Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for director”

    Yeah…and what annoyed me about all this hand wringing shit over Robbie’s and Gerwig’s omission is that it drowned out what should have been a far more celebratory conversation about how TWO women of color were nominated for best Actress and Supporting Actress.

    Kinda tells me that for some nimrods, celebration of Female Artistry and Achievements is all good…as long as they’re the right color.

  12. Surprised Nimona didn’t stick with you. I thought it was revolutionary, first taking a put upon protagonist who has every reason to turn villain but still tries to do the right thing.

    Then showing how no matter how he proves himself the establishment will find some way to take it from him.

    Then how society literally burns down its own village and somehow that’s still Nimona’s fault. Because ain’t that the truth?

    On top of that the trans allegory with Nimona and Ballister with his boyfriend. And the whole look of the medieval future technology.

    Anyway I hope I’ve convinced either you to revisit it or someone else to watch it on Netflix. It’s definitely one case of Netflix doing a good thing with their evil streaming money (finishing this movie Disney canceled).

  13. Assorted thoughts:
    I know a lot of people were crowing over how great a movie year 2023 really was. I thought there were a lot of winners overall, and I saw a good amount of movies. But when it came time to pick the best one, I kept going back to “The Holdovers”. It was the right amount of optimistic, sentimental and curdled. Paul Giamatti deserves all of the Oscars.

    Wished I could get into NIMONA. I agree with Fred about the film’s strengths. But there was so much substandard stuff to me – the gags were often kind of second rate, and I think Chloe Grace Moretz delivered a dreadful voicework performance. I think they needed someone with a depth of verbal presence and someone that can do jokes, and Moretz can’t do either.

    I’m not sure why people don’t enjoy the “Barbie” victory lap. It was the biggest movie of the year, and it pissed off all your least favorite people. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think the movie’s frequent devotion to the gag combined with the full comfort in not furthering the narrative was very David Wain, and I could have never guessed something with that DNA would be a Best Picture candidate.

    I think PAST LIVES hit some people the wrong way (or didn’t at all) because it’s something of an act of film criticism. The scenario is something that happens in real life, but happens WAY more often in movies – the virtuous man from the past wins back the one who got away, in spite of the protestations of the baxter. PAST LIVES recognizes that such an experience would be fraught with complications. For the guy it would be a Hail Mary. For the woman it would be uncomfortable and agonizing. ANd for the baxter, it would be a reminder of his own inadequacies. Of course, also ignored in similar movies is that the past, our roots, our cultures mean something very complex and contradictory when it comes to romantic situations, whereas most movies have a much less curious view of its characters.

    I hope y’all are around this Sunday, I’ll probably be checking in periodically.

  14. It was a pretty good movie year!
    I’ve given up on hoping the Oscars will line up in the least with what I’d like to see, but last year we were given INFINITY POOL, WHEN EVIL LURKS, THE BOY AND THE HERON, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, EL CONDE, POLITE SOCIETY, a honest-to-god good DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS movie, an excellent capper to the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series, and a fucking amazing finale to the best action movie series of our time with CHAPTER 4.
    Some of these even got an Oscar nod!

    I kind of hated OPPENHEIMER, can’t seem to enjoy the MI movies, ran a little lukewarm on ASTEROID CITY (when it was good it was really good, but that was only some of the time), and liked but not loved BARBIE – but I wouldn’t resent any of them getting awards, since they’re interesting enough. None of them half-ass it.

    @Franchise Fred – I’d highly recommend the comic book Nimona’s based on, if you’re into comics at all. Everything you liked was a little watered down for the (still good!) film.

  15. I am perpetually behind on my movie watching, so I am surprised that I have actually seen 9 movies released theatrically in 2023. Based on that very limited pool, the Adam-y Awards (aka the Taumpys) go to:

    Best Short Film That is Part of a Larger Movie- Gwen’s opening scenes in Across the Spider-verse might be my favorite sequence across both movies. The impressionistic background colors depicting her emotions and reflecting the cover designs of her comic series take the series’ experimental animation style to new heights. It uses the condensed origin storytelling the first movie streamlined, then fleshes it out with some emotional beats. The Renaissance Vulture (I called him Leonardo da Vulture) showed how far they can push the different art styles and delivered a great action sequence.
    Best Facial De-gloving in a PG-13 movie- Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3- gods bless James Gunn for going for the 1980s gusto in traumatizing children. One kid in my theater made a noise that sounded like equal parts horror and awe, so mission accomplished!

    Best Crazy B*tch (2022-2023 inclusive)- Mia Goth- in October I finally watched Pearl (2022) and was blown away by Mia Goth’s performance, and then I watched Infinity Pool and was amazed she managed to play a completely different kind of pyscho. Her rolling around on the hood of the car cackling and eating fried chicken will stick with me for a long time.

    Best Supporting Ken- Ryan Gosling- Barbie was an achievement. The screenplay and direction managed to wrangle lots of big ideas into a fun piece of pop entertainment. Margot Robbie and America Ferrera deliver great, emotional performances. But Gosling ran away with the whole damn movie. He gets to be the comic relief and the villain, he gets the biggest musical number, he dresses like he spent way too much time in Create-a-Wrestler mode, and he puts a pair of sunglasses over another pair of sunglasses. Amazing. And something Vern touched on that gets lost in the conversation, the movie is richer BECAUSE of Ken. The recent years of Me Too and coming to terms with sexism in our culture have been incredibly important, but we are just now seeing people realize that boys/men are often left out of the conversation or vilified. We need to look at how the patriarchy fucks up men also, and give them the tools to express themselves and their emotions in healthy ways. We can’t just say “men suck” and leave it there, because the only way our society can progress is if we help (ourselves and other) men suck less. Barbie realizes she hurt Ken, but doesn’t let that excuse his full heel turn. And Ken’s not evil, he was just hurt and thinks horses are cool and everything else got away from him, but we also see how his desire for (unearned) respect and authority drove him to dark places. That’s a solid message to deliver in a 2 hour comedy/musical/toy commercial.

    Best Sequence of Non-Stop action in the last 9 years- the last hour of John Wick Chapter 4. I admit I found the first half of the movie uneven and thought it might be the first John Wick movie I did not love. Then Scott Adkins showed up and it was awesome. Then it turned into The Warriors and rolled through 3 incredible back-to-back action sequences that each could have been a satisfying climax in a lesser movie and my eyes melted into my skull. BTW, I would have said Best of the Decade, but I checked, and The Raid 2 came out in 2014. I will need a re-watch of both to assess whether JW4 tops the last hour of The Raid 2 for me.

    Best Revival of a Franchise I Gave Up On- TMNT: Mutant Mayhem- I don’t expect TMNT media to cater to me as man pushing 40, outside of some of the comics obviously targeted at the old heads. I didn’t watch the last two TV series because I didn’t like their animation style. I stayed away from the live action movies because of the Michael Bay of it all, and my wife and I thought the CG turtles looked hideous. Then some clever bastard cribbed Spider-Verse’s notes, and turned in a dynamic, funny, cool looking Turtles flick with a throwback hip hop soundtrack. AND we finally got to see some of the franchise’s sprawling cast of mutants in a movie! Excited for the sequel.

    Breakout Actress (who is not Mia Goth)- Pom Klementieff- I liked her in Guardians vol. 2, but vol. 3 really gave Mantis (and Nebula) time to shine before capping the trilogy. Mantis wasn’t even in the first movie, yet by the end she feels like the beating heart of the group. Then Pom delivered as an almost-silent ass kicker in Mission Impossible while looking cool as hell. Her bouncing up and down laughing as she plowed through traffic was infectious. I enjoy but never love the MI movies, but I am actually anticipating the next one if we get Pom and Haley Atwell as full-fledged IMF agents.

    Best Film- Godzilla Minus One- I did not think the most emotionally affecting movie I saw this year would feature Godzilla, but here we are. Compelling characters, thematic depth, AND Big G wrecking shit? Fantastic. Thanks again for your review Vern, it pushed me to see it in theaters.

    Special Achievement in “Well That Escalated Quickly”- Bottoms- I don’t know that the bloody balls-out ending of this movie completely worked for me script-wise, but damn I respect the audacity of it. The movie and the characters had already gone further than I expected them to, then it turns that up to 11 for a hilariously violent climax.

  16. Dreadguac, I loved Nimona so much I did read the comic (as I did for Robot Dreams which devastated me more than any other movie, even Toy Story 2).

    I liked it but I saw it as a first draft where the movie benefited from a writers room of Pixar level storytellers. I appreciated the way they tightened up narrative threads and expressed things economically. Of course a 90 minute movie is a different structure than a 10 chapter comic book. And also Stevenson was making up the story as they went along. The movie had the benefit of taking the whole story and working it into a movie.

    I like both and I’m glad we have both versions!

  17. I started watching all the Best Picture nominees a few years ago, and it’s been a rewarding project every year, I always see some movies that I really like that I never would have watched otherwise. This year the only one that I really didn’t like was MAESTRO, I thought that was unbearable. I had trouble sitting through it and no way I would have finished it if not for this yearly project. I had a lot more fun watching THE ZONE OF INTEREST. Happy to see that it doesn’t have any awards momentum, especially in the acting, writing or directing categories. (Though I do think the Snoopy moment was funny, I’ll give it that.)

    Beyond that, I have no big favorites this year. Last year I was with the majority of people in thinking that EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE was the best of the nominees and was rooting for it to be rewarded. This year I’d be cool with OPPENHEIMER winning like it looks like it’s gonna, and wouldn’t be mad at anything else winning besides MAESTRO. If I was filling out a ballot I’d probably choose THE HOLDOVERS.

  18. It’s weird that my favorite movie of the year is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture two years in a row. Other than that, I think “Hummingbird” from SPIDER-VERSE should’ve been nominated for Best Song. And I will never understand the adoration for the 3-hour nap that was JOHN WICK 4 but y’all have fun with it, it’s fine.

  19. Movies from 2023 I wish were acknowledged somehow with an Oscar nomination and/or a Vern review:

    -Agreed with the above praise for BOTTOMS. I’m surprised not many people talked about how far they push it. What if HEATHERS made fun of FIGHT CLUB and ended like RIKI-O? Maybe I’m building it up unfairly because I want people to see it, but not by much!

    -PATHAAN is like, what if Jerry Bruckheimer reined in Michael Bay and made a defiantly anti-gravity action movie with big sexy stars and impossible physiques and absurd physics? Not reinventing the wheel here, but this and JAWAN (both with Shah Rukh Khan) were totally improbable Hollywood-level Bollywood actioners.

    -THE DEVIL CONSPIRACY was an absurd late-period Fulci-level Vatican shocker about Satanists attempting to use a woman to house a cloned baby Jesus infected with the DNA of Satan.

    -A most radical indie was HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE, about the every day sacrifices of ecoterrorists in the modern world, the price they pay beyond risking jail time and causing collateral damage. The director is now doing a fiction FACES OF DEATH update, so I think we’ll hear more from him soon. This one was deeply suspenseful and satisfying.

    -I have no idea what the release plan was for LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND. It was a pretty funny sci-fi movie about how everyday people react to an alien invasion that conquers us so thoroughly that we have to deal with becoming the second citizens to a superior force through capitalism. Lots of race and class metaphors, with some completely ridiculous looking condescending CGI aliens.

    -I normally hate found-footage stuff, but every once in awhile there’s one I love. My favorite from last year was LOLA, a black-and-white account of two British women during WWII who accidentally develop a machine that sends them broadcasts from the future. Once they start using the machine to alter the war, they find themselves changing the future broadcasts in unusual and surprising ways. David Bowie and Stanley Kubrick come into play.

  20. Perfect Days is my favourite film from last year and from the past few years. So I guess I’m rooting for it. Otherwise I don’t really really care who wins or not this year.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this year’s Oscars, the surprisingly great lineup for best picture, and the shockingly competent show. And I know the narrative is that the movies are back, but I also think maybe movies are cool again. We’re getting out from the shadow of superhero films (many of which I quite liked) and the two biggest films are by idiosyncratic auteurs. And look at that best picture lineup! I don’t think there’s an outright dud in there. Maestro might be the least favorite of the bunch, but compare it to other desperate Oscar bait biopics like Darkest Hour, Imitation Game, or Bohemian Rhapsody, and it’s no contest. Maestro is easily more artistically ambitious than that junk.

    And the rest of the lineup are actually artistically ambitious. Try to imagine Poor Things being nominated, much less winning a bunch of awards, ten years ago. It’s a subversive, sometimes off-putting film. There’s no way it would get in there if they hadn’t expanded the best picture noms to ten films and expanded the number of Academy members.

    Now, compare these movies that I think are mostly doing something unique and interesting to Grammy’s albums of the year. I could be talking out of my ass here because I haven’t listened to most of these albums all the way through, but aside from SZA, they all seem more middle brow than the Oscar nominees. The biggest pop star in the world makes the most inoffensive, broadly accessible music.

    And look at television. Fifteen years ago, the common refrain was that TV was so good that there wasn’t a reason to visit the movie theaters. Smart, sophisticated narratives had migrated to the small screen supposedly. Now, I’ve gone from trying to keep up with all of the great TV shows to having difficulty finding anything of interest.

    Maybe I’m painting with too broad of a brush. Maybe I’m overlooking some genuinely great television and pop music. Maybe next year the Academy will go back to nominating a bunch of stately biopics. But with so many people shitting on movies, it’s kind of nice to see them get their moment of triumph.

  22. I don’t know if this years Oscar moninated films represent anything special or ‘great.’ MAESTRO is a dud, shockingly one dimensional film that manages to find the least relevant aspects of what made Leonard Bernstein a truly magnificent, culturally hugely important person – by basically being a two hander about his love life.

    Comparing the 2014 Oscar nominees with 2024 – Wolf of Wall Street/Killers of the Flower Moon (Scorcese tells violent story of wealthy white American men taking advantage of the poor suckers underclass of America, competent and thrilling they both are, but a pale imitation of Scorsese at his best. Nebraska/The Holdovers – Alexander Payne tells the story of poor schlub middle aged men, going for a profoundness but actually morose and dreary profundity. 12 Years a Slave/Zone of Interest – shocking tale of horrible/violent part of history – told by extremely artfully inclined (maybe too much so) director. American Hustle/Oppenheimer – big name mainstream adjacent filmmaker tells very conventional story with an over reliance on needlessly complicated or ‘sophisticated’ editing patterns/splashy shooting techniques. Dallas Buyers Club/Barbie – the ‘don’t forget this group of people’ story about the underdog who per servers and overcomes/wins acceptance/understands themselves. Philomena/Past Lives – softly played understated generational story of two people. Gravity/Her/Poor Things – actually genre films (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) made respectable and disguised .

    I certainly don’t consider Poor things anymore subversive or challenging than Her – the story of a man who falls in love with the voice of his computer.

    And 2014 was definitely part of the ‘golden age’ of superhero movies – Guardians 2/Hunger Games/Capt. America:Winter Soldier (maybe the best MCU movie)/XMen Days of Future Past/Amazing Spiderman 2

    Admittedly I’m generalizing to some extent – but I think the thing is, especially with the Oscars is that ultimately they are pretty much the same each year – mostly competent, well made films that largely fit a pretty well disguised pattern of storytelling and competence of craft. I mean ask yourself – when was the last time anyone discussed/mentioned/thought about 12 Years a Slave? And it is a really good movie. I’m not taking anything away from any of the nominees from both years – in fact probably only one film from 2014 was a dog – Captain Phillips? really.

    I can’t draw parallels with either contemporary music (don’t listed to 99.9% of new music at all) and it always takes me years to catch up too nearly all contemporary TV (although I will say that I have been watching Feud: Capote vs The Swans – and it is fantastically well acted and written – but pretty esoteric – I’m a huge Truman Capote reader – and ultimately a story completely concerning the world and lives of super rich people that have no connections to us.)

  23. My favorites of the year were:

    The Zone of Interest
    The Killers of the Flower Moon
    Poor Things
    The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial
    The Killer

  24. I thought Gosling was enjoyable in Barbie but I don’t understand why he was Oscar nominated for it. It wasn’t much of a stretch and not all that emotive. It was good for what it was but not such a standout to be award-worthy IMO. I feel the same way about Margot Robbie and Gerwig’s work in this and really Barbie as a whole. It was an alright 2 hours at the movies but I never felt it was something that I’d hand a “best” trophy to, except for maybe art direction or costumes and, sure, why not, Best Song.

    But I agree with Vern that “I’m Just Ken” would have been a more satisfying winner than the Billie Eilish song. I think the Eilish song is kind of generic and forgettable, and not essential: it’s a mostly for-the-end-credits kind of theme song that isn’t very involved in the movie itself. “I’m Just Ken,” on the other hand, was a pivotal moment in the movie.

  25. hey vern. Your whole cafepress merch is offline. May You don’t know…

  26. After finally catching up on the award show (I might be the only person in the world who records the ceremony so that he can watch it whenever he has time), I can say that I hope that “Introducing the acting nominations by having a few former winners telling us that the nominated actors are also wonderful people in real life” is one of those things that happens once at the Oscars, then never again.

  27. I thought the supporting actress one was great, they were making them cry and honoring them even without winning. But the rest didn’t work as well because they didn’t seem to know each other as well are have as flattering things to say, or the men just weren’t as heartfelt about it.

    On the other hand, Nicolas Cage.

  28. Yeah, the first time wasn’t too bad (although I was sitting there, wondering when they finally show clips from the nominees), but then I realized that they gonna do this at least three more times. And if we leave the fact aside that stuff like this really isn’t helping the Oscars to get away from their “Hollywood’s biggest circlejerk” image, I was quickly wondering what would happen if some of the nominees didn’t have any previous winners as friends. Would next year be like Robert Downey Jr going on stage and saying things like: “Hello [actor from the other half of the world who was picked out of obscurity]. I saw you backstage earlier. We didn’t talk, but you seem nice. I hope you win.” We surely got a taste of that this year at times.

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