Cinema at its best can be rich and diverse, interesting and challenging, eye-opening and uplifting. The organisation that can be credited as the most recognisable champion of cinema around the world is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, their annual awards ceremony The Oscars reportedly reaching as many as one billion people annually. The Academy Awards, which in 2023 are celebrating their 95th rendition, are recognised within Hollywood as the holy grail of cinematic appreciation, the academy’s group of thousands of industry professionals and experts bestowing the titles of Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writer, upon whichever filmmakers they collectively vote to be the best.
Over the course of nearly one hundred years, more than 500 films have been nominated for the Academy’s highest honour, the award for Best Picture, and in 2023 ten films have joined the likes of Casablanca, West Side Story, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs and Parasite as having their names etched into history as being among the greatest films of their time. The candidates this year range from traditional Oscar dramas to $200million-plus CGI blockbusters, darkly funny ruminations on the existentialism of our time to outright class parody aimed at the super rich.
In this edition of Ranked from The Film Magazine, we’re looking at all ten Best Picture nominees at the 95th Academy Awards (2023) and judging which can be considered the most rich and diverse, interesting and challenging, eye-opening and uplifting, to judge each from worst to best. These are the 2023 Oscars Best Picture Nominees Ranked.
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10. Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water has earned praise (and Oscars nominations) for its visual effects, the techniques employed being form-shaping and at times even revolutionary, some of the thousands of digitally constructed shots offering sights we have simply never seen before. But for all of its technical wizardry and aspiration to offer the best elements of the blockbuster formula, Avatar: The Way of Water is all sauce and no meat; a lot of effort to tell a contrived and contradictory tale.
Way of Water’s basic and dated screenplay focusing on outdated tropes (such as the damsel in distress, proving manhood through violence, restoration of the father figure), make for a story that is simply formulaic. It isn’t rich, challenging, or even interesting. Technical elements, such as the score, are heavy-handed at best, invasive and distracting at worst, whilst writer-director-producer James Cameron’s quick-zoom directorial trope is archaic, the film’s colour palette awash with greys, and its dialogue so bad it’s almost amateur.
As an entry into the Best Picture canon, The Way of Water is an outlier. Its nomination was likely cemented by a combination of Disney campaign money, James Cameron’s own sway within the Academy owing to his forty years of success, and the technical category voters who likely voted to celebrate the film for its at-times masterful technical achievements, but a Movie of the Year it is not.
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9. Triangle of Sadness
Only three films have ever won the Cannes Palme d’Or and Oscars Best Picture: The Lost Weekend (1945), Marty (1965) and Parasite (2019). Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness could become the fourth having already made history as one of only a dozen or so Palme d’Or winners to receive a Best Picture nomination.
Unlike Östlund’s previous Cannes triumph The Square (2017), which was nominated for Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars in 2018 but not nominated in any other category, Triangle of Sadness fails to land its in-your-face allegorical approach. It’s a highly intelligent movie, written within the Östlund formula of partnering shocking set pieces with quiet shifts in power dynamics, but it’s an Eat the Rich film that feels like it was written by a rich man; a take on classism written by someone unaffected by it.
There are moments of artistic triumph scattered throughout, both in terms of what’s on the page and the technical mastery that at times brings it vividly to life, and Triangle of Sadness no doubt excels in its use of filmmaking language as a tool for narrative progression, enforcing character, switching the points of tension. It’s even a timely film, given that it aims squarely at the billionaire class in the midst of the world’s post-pandemic redistribution of wealth to the super-rich and the environmental ramifications of so few hoarding so much. But it all never quite lands, Triangle of Sadness coming across like an interesting thought experiment rather than a biting satire. Parasite did it better.