Hollywood awards season is upon us, and with it comes a flurry of predictions from cinephiles and industry journalists alike for which film will be taking the illustrious “Best Picture” trophy at this year’s Academy Awards. If you haven’t been paying attention, Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller about “the father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer, has been taking all the big name awards across many of this season’s events, including both the Critic’s Choice and Golden Globe Awards, wherein the film won “Best Picture” at both. Nolan wasn’t skimped out on, either, as he won “Best Director” at both events as well; a first for The Dark Knight director. Though he’s been nominated for an Academy Award five times for his work on Dunkirk, Inception, and Memento, Nolan has yet to win the coveted golden statuette of the Oscars. That, however, is likely to change come March 10th.
This comes as somewhat of a surprise. With masterworks like Killers of the Flower Moon by legendary director Martin Scorsese, Celine Song’s beautifully intimate Past Lives, and the ever eccentric Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things being tonally more familiar to what the Academy have gravitated towards in the past, a summer blockbuster from a somewhat critically divisive director isn’t exactly what many critics would have suspected being the film that dominates the votes. With that said, Academy voters do love them some biopics, and one done by a director whose impassioned fans still speak with fury on their favourite director’s lack of an Oscar, may just give Nolan the edge. That, coupled with the fact that Oppenheimer winning would also be a positive look for the Academy from a marketing standpoint, seeing as how the event has continually dropped in viewership throughout the years, so giving it to a film that’s considered one of the most commercially successful of 2023 would undoubtedly stir future interest in the show for the general masses. Masses who’ve oftentimes felt disconnected from the winning titles in years past.
I make this last point not as a jaded watcher of movies who doesn’t believe Oppenheimer deserves all of these accolades (okay, maybe a little), but more because I believe there are far more worthy films deserving of more recognition. Netflix’ May December sees Natalie Portman and Juliane Moore star in a deeply uncomfortable story about a sex offender and her taboo romance. The film is not only written and directed with a nuanced understanding of its characters, but also consists of what I feel is one of the best performances of the year by Charles Melton. Neither Melton (or any of the actors, for that matter) nor director Todd Haynes received much love from the award’s circuit, and will likely be snubbed by the Academy next month. Another snub will likely be France’s romantic drama, Passages, which tells the passionate story of a gay couple’s tumultuous marriage. It’s another film whose performances shine brighter than most, and who isn’t afraid of being disturbingly raw in its portrayal of flawed characters. I could go on to list the many other films from a smattering of different countries that resonated with me far more than Nolan’s work, but you get the idea.
Oppenheimer is a good movie, at times even a great one. For me, it’s Nolan’s best work. One wherein he allows his technical prowess as a filmmaker serve the emotional, introspective core of the story, instead of muddy it with the hopes to impress. Though I question some of the politics of the film, and shake my head at its blatant obfuscation of the Japanese peoples, it’s a well executed story that’s propelled by a moving performance by Cillian Murphy, who will no doubt take away the “Best Actor” statuette during the evening. Killers of the Flower Moon, however, is by every metric the better movie, for me at least. Scorsese has only gotten better with age. His efficiency in storyboarding, complete mastery of pace, intricate use of colours, and a performance-first mindset has allowed him to weave a harrowing cinematic masterpiece that doesn’t pull any punches when depicting its macabre true story of the Osage peoples; all the while never losing sight of its characters. If any director is deserving of a second Oscar, it’s Scorsese.
We’ll have to wait and see how things pan out the night of March 10th when the Academy Awards return for the ninety-sixth time, but I’m already expecting that blonde-haired, British-American director who can’t seem to sound mix his films to save his life to make a speech in acceptance of the night’s most prestigious award. Here’s hoping Scorsese’s granddaughter can keep making him smile on TikTok so that he can stick it out for a few more years and deliver another masterpiece.