2023 was a tumultuous year for Hollywood, most saliently because of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. As we reflect on the films that made us feel and the ones that helped us escape, we managed to come up with a list of 14 titles that defined the year. Whatever The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decide, these are the films that we think deserve recognition at the 2024 Oscars. From Passages to Past Lives...
Past Lives could take its pick of any Oscars categories and I'd back it. Celine Song's directorial debut is an original portrait of modern romance, drawn from the texture of her own personal experience. The script is deft, and its rendering of New York feels fresh and lived-in. We're introduced to Nora and Hae Sung as adolescents in Seoul, who are wedged apart by Nora's family's plan to migrate to Canada. Following this, we intrude upon Nora's timeline two more times, each glimpse is 12 years apart. The possibility of love lingers between Nora and Hae Sung, but fate keeps them apart until Nora is married and their opportunities to be together have narrowed. I won't give away the ending, but it was a unique pleasure to witness Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro negotiate delicate emotions with the precision of a bomb squad. You can read our interview with Greta Lee here.
I thought the best films of 2023 had come and gone, then I watched Yorgos Lanthimos' Poor Things. It would be a crime for the production design to go unacknowledged. London, Portugal, a ship's passage to Alexandria, and Paris are all reinvented through an original steampunk-esque aesthetic, where the colours and interiors are luminous, filled with painstaking details and easter eggs. I was blown away by the costume design, especially the leg of mutton sleeves and bloomers Emma Stone wears, the score is evocative, and the casting a masterstroke. Hilarious and filled with all kinds of truths, about purpose, patriarchy, cruelty, and desire, Lanthimos has served up a feast for the eyes.
Shayda is in with a chance to be nominated for Best International Feature Film as Australia's submission to the category. The film, which won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance in January 2023, is the directorial debut of Australian-Iranian Noora Niasari and counts Cate Blanchett among one of its executive producers. It's loosely based off of Niasari's experience as a child in a women's shelter, and follows mother and daughter as they seek refuge in order to flee domestic abuse. Set in the 90s in the lead up to Nowruz (Iranian New Year), Shayda is a tense yet tender rendering of its title character during a time of crisis.
Considering the biggest filmic event of the year was Barbenheimer, I imagine Christopher Nolan's picture about the father of the atomic bomb will be Academy Award catnip. Expect it to be up for all the biggest categories – Best Picture, Best Director – with nominations for Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt for their performances (who could forget Blunt's scathing testimonial towards the end?)
It might not have licensed Elvis tracks but Sofia Coppola's riff on life at Graceland is more complex and real than any retelling thus far. Notably quiet and slow-paced, the film follows the King of Rock through Priscilla's eyes, and we hope to see it nominated alongside Killers of the Flower Moon and All of Us Strangers for Best Adapted Screenplay. Like all Sofia Coppola films, the costumes deserve a nod too, with Stacey Battat responsible for recreating some of the most memorable moments in fashion period. We love it for its portrait of teenage lust.
Paul Mescal, Andrew Scott, ghosts and the Pet Shop Boys. This is our early case for All of Us Strangers making its mark at the upcoming Academy Awards. The rest of our dot points will arrived once we watch it. Come back to us after January 18.
Killers of the Flower Moon
I'm sure there will be calls for De Niro, DiCaprio and Scorsese to receive their flowers. However, the entire film I couldn't take my eyes off of Lily Gladstone, who portrays Mollie Burkhart with an intense magnetism deserving of Best Actress in a Leading Role. David Grann's retelling of the Osage Murders is brought to life with care and conviction, although I can't help but think the film is limited by too much time spent focused on William Hale and Ernest Burkhart – meant as a lesson, I suppose, for the non-Indigenous viewers. To those put off by the three-and-a-bit-hour runtime, get a grip!
If Past Lives is a measured study of a love triangle, Ira Sach's Passages is its chaotic inversion. After 15 years of marriage Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) begin to test the strength of their partnership by embarking on their own affairs, one of which is with a woman. Erotic and preoccupied with monogamy against the backdrop of Paris, the film should be recognised for its cinematography at the very least.
Based on a 1930s novel of the same name by Genzaburō Yoshino, Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki emerged from retirement to animate his favourite story from childhood. It's narrated in two voices and follows the journey of Copper, a teenage boy, and his uncle, who writes to him in a journal, imparting knowledge and offering advice on life’s big questions as Copper begins to encounter them. It has Best Animated Feature in the bag.
Emma Seligman switched gears from the suffocating and tense ground of Shiva Baby to deliver her own version of an American teen sex comedy. She teamed up with Rachel Sennott again, and brought Ayo Edebiri into the story about a high school fight club founded by queer outcasts to get the attention of the hot cheerleaders.
The Holdovers, Alexander Payne's recent festive flick, has been tipped for the Oscars. Paul Giamatti plays a widely-despised professor who is lumped with babysitting a handful of students over the Christmas break. Set in the 70s, the professor strikes up an unlikely bond with Dominic Sessa's character, a brainy but troubled student, and the head cook who's only child was killed in Vietnam, played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph. There's a touch of The Breakfast Club about it.
I don't think the highest grossing film of the year could get away without a nomination. The question is what categories? All the main ones, plus mentions for the lead cast, set design, and definitely its soundtrack. You heard it here first.
The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
This is here purely because Olivia Rodrigo's You Can't Catch Me Now deserves a nomination for Best Original Song. And that's all I have to say about that.