REUNITED Childhood friends from Korea played by Teo Yoo (left) and Greta Lee meet in New York after 20 years in 'Past Lives,' one of 10 films nominated for Best Picture in 2024.

By Jared Rasic

From 1944 to 2008 only five films per year were nominated for Best Picture. In 2009, the playing field was expanded to 10. Ten is a better field because it covers a wider variety of films, but there are still usually one or two nominees that don’t belong anywhere near the Best Picture race.

A film considered one of the best should either move the art form forward or be a sterling example of the importance of cinema and what it can achieve in the realm of allowing humanity to see itself better.

What about the 10 nominees for Best Picture this year? Are they all worthy? Most assuredly not all of them. But let’s take a look.

Killers of the Flower Moon: Even though I think the film would have been stronger focused on a character other than Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, it’s still an important work from one of America’s greatest living filmmakers. I’d be surprised if Lily Gladstone doesn’t take the Oscar for Best Actress.

Oppenheimer: More proof that one should never bet against Christopher Nolan, this (along with Barbie) got people back into movie theaters and proved people will see something long and dramatic when intelligence is put into the filmmaking and performances. My biggest issue with the film is the handling of the women in Oppenheimer’s life, who all exist to further his narrative arc and not their own.

Barbie: Definitely belongs here, as no other movie this year really hit culturally as hard as this one did. Whether you love it or hate it, Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie made something truly original here that’s unapologetically feminist and layered—something not enough critics give the film credit for. Gerwig not getting a Best Director nomination is insane.

The Holdovers: Probably the most wholesome movie of the year, The Holdovers exists to be a big-hearted and empathetic look at our differences and similarities as human beings, and how small acts of kindness are much easier to share than we sometimes think. Also, it’s one of the best Christmas movies we’ve had in a long time. Paul Giamatti probably has the Best Actor Oscar on lock.

American Fiction: A solid movie with a wonderful central performance from the great Jeffery Wright, the first hour feels like what we imagine when we think of “Oscar bait.” Then the final 45 minutes turn the entire premise on its head, and it becomes a deceptively brilliant meta-textual satire of how White America consumes and discards BIPOC art. This probably won’t win anything, but it deserves to be up here.

Anatomy of a Fall: Easily one of the best films of the year. In a just world, director Justine Triet would win the Best Director Oscar, instead of the almost-guaranteed Christopher Nolan. The film is just so unpredictable and electrifying, with some of the most formally daring filmmaking of the last few years. It gets better every time you watch it, and it inspires the best post-film discussions of the year.

Maestro: Bradley Cooper directs the hell out of this and gives the best performance of his career as Leonard Bernstein (and Carey Mulligan is astonishing), but this is not one of the best pictures of the year. After 130 minutes focused on Bernstein, I didn’t feel like I understood him, his marriage, his music or his tortured soul any better than when it began. Something deep in the center of the film is missing, and I’m not sure it can be quantified. If films have souls, Maestro’s is AWOL.

Poor Things: This will win the more visual Oscars, like Production Design and possibly Cinematography. It’s a hell of a ride filled with jaw-dropping visuals and two bravura performances from Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, but I think it will be deemed too “weird” by Academy voters. It’s a startling work of originality that general audiences often hate.

The Zone of Interest: The most powerful and stunning Holocaust film since Son of Saul, this bone-chilling examination of the banality of evil and the bureaucracy of genocide hits hard and often by compartmentalizing the horror in the same way the Nazis did. The audience is forced to watch evil exist without self-examination, as a Nazi family plays house on the opposite side of a wall from Auschwitz. The contrapuntal clash of visualizing the idyllic home and garden of the family with the nightmarish sounds of Auschwitz is unforgettable.

Past Lives: Probably my favorite of the Best Picture nominees, Past Lives just hits differently. As a wistful elegy for dreams unrealized, it somehow makes viewers feel nostalgic for a life they never had. I hope this wins something, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t.

Still, that leaves a ton of other great movies this year that should have been up for Best Picture. Incredible films like The Iron Claw, Fremont, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Showing Up, Asteroid City, Fallen Leaves and Blue Jean were completely ignored. Maybe that just means 2023 was an exceptional year for film.

What was your favorite film this year, and why? Leave a Reply in the Comments section below.

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