Oscars Ballot 2023: Nominees Wish List Includes RRR, Austin Butler

We’re at a crossroads in cinema.

A global pandemic accelerated the conversation in the industry between film and television and how streaming and movie theaters co-exist. If you speak with people “In the know,” they’re nervous about the future. I remain optimistic.

The glass is half-full. Art and the way we consume content have changed dramatically, as it has throughout the past decades. Does that mean fewer movie houses? Perhaps that doesn’t mean the end of my most cherished sanctuary, my church, where I go to escape and praise the Gods of celluloid.

After shaking off my first in-person attendance of the 94th Oscars ceremony, full of slaps and history-making moments, it was full-steam ahead.

I was blessed to have had the opportunity to take my first-ever trip to Europe, where I navigated gorgeous scenery and a couple of unwarranted stops on a red carpet for wearing the “wrong color” tuxedo, but most importantly, saw a few films that had me enamored, notably, Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning black comedy “Triangle of Sadness” with the discovery of breakout Filipina actor Dolly De Leon.

It was also in France that Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” descended upon festivalgoers, cementing the place of former Nickelodeon and Disney Channel star Austin Butler in the future of Hollywood, remaining in the top-tier of acting turns seen in 2022.

The summer blockbuster season came into the fold with the dominance of Joseph Kosinski’s high-flying sequel “Top Gun: Maverick,” proving that there is no movie star like Tom Cruise.

Marvel Studios wrapped up its phase four slate with the visual sensations of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Thor: Ragnarok” before culminating with the still-to-come emotional farewell to Chadwick Boseman with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, ” building new appreciation for his other castmates, particularly the legendary Angela Bassett.

We graduated into the fall festival run with Telluride giving us the World Premieres of Sarah Polley’s vital “Women Talking” with its enchanting ensemble and the resonating “Empire of Light” with another knockout turn from Olivia Colman and Toby Jones.

After making stops at Venice before going into the Colorado mountains, Todd Field’s long-awaited 16-year return to the writing and directing chair with the psychologically complex “Tár,” featuring two riveting turns from Cate Blanchett and the criminally undervalued Nina Hoss.

TIFF came back in full force, desperately trying to navigate an Emmys-filled weekend, but brought the goods with the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s personal childhood story, “The Fabelmans,” and two dynamite outings from (lead or supporting?) Michelle Williams and veteran actor Judd Hirsch.

It’s been wonderful to see the realization that before director Gina Prince-Bythewood delivered her historical epic “The Woman King,” she’s long been one of the best in the game as cinephiles revisit classics like “Love and Basketball” (2000). Embedded within the story of Dahomey Empire, the filmmaker brought an onslaught of talented Black women to the forefront – both in front and behind the camera – like Thuso Mbedu and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire.

THE WHALE, Brendan Fraser, 2022. © A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy Everett Collection

The comeback stories were high points, such as Brendan Fraser skyrocketing to a new stratosphere of fame and gratitude with his transformation in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.”

New York Film Festival gave an overdue voice to the harrowing story of Mamie Till-Mobley, in the form of the ferocity of Danielle Deadwyler in Chinonye Chukwu’s harrowing drama. “Till” also reminded us that Whoopi Goldberg is still an incredible actress when afforded the right vehicle.

The Hollywood industry had to look in the mirror at its culpability in enabling a monster like Harvey Weinstein with Maria Schrader’s influential “She Said.”

It also became a game of “will they” or “won’t they” when it came to the release of Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation” with Will Smith. Although divided from critics, I was able to take away the genius of cinematographer Robert Richardson and the memorable roles played by Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa.

And then there’s “Everything Everywhere” in between, and the story of Ke Huy Quan’s triumphant return is the soul of the season, along with Michelle Yeoh’s long-awaited adoration tour underway.

I’ll always continue to champion the animation medium, which saw outstanding outings with “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and the forever delightful, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.”

Documentaries continue to thrive with innovation, most notably with the artisan mastery of Ryan White’s “Good Night Oppy,” which will go down as one of the most egregious snubs from the shortlist in recent memory.

I’m not sure I’ve cried more with films like Matthew Heineman’s “Retrograde” and Chris Smith’s “Sr” while finding more love in the musical space with Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song” and Brett Morgen’s “Moonage Daydream.”

Some of the best moments in moviemaking this year came with international and non-English language features such as Belgium’s “Close” and Denmark’s “Holy Spider,” both ranked very high on my list and represented in various categories. I’m not sure I’ll have a more memorable three hours than watching India’s Tollywood breakout “RRR” with my wife on our couch at home, giving her two new leading men to admire from afar with Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr.

I ended the year with a handful of visual effects-driven spectacles such as Roland Emmerich’s “Moonfall,” which was just as fun as unbelievable, and the billion-dollar production “Avatar: The Way of Water” by James Cameron. Regarding the latter, as the evolution in the animation medium continues with discussions about undeniable beauties like “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” I opted to recognize the motion-capture creations of Cameron’s sequel in the animated feature, which should not be taken as a little. I greatly advocate for animation and its worthiness of recognition in varying technical categories. If people support things like “The Adventures of Tintin,” then “Avatar 2” can also be seen in the same space.

Finally, even though they’re not Oscar categories yet, I’ve included two additional recognitions for best casting and stunts, which are overdue for the Academy to adopt. The honorees for those are the casting directors and the stunt coordinators.

As final Oscar voting gears up to begin on Jan. 12 before being announced on Jan. 24, it’s always great to encourage industry voters to watch as many movies as possible. Most importantly, a reminder that the list below is not absolute. If a film or performance isn’t listed, that doesn’t mean I hated it. Naming the best of any art form is subjective, and tastes change over time.

As of today, and looking ahead to 2023, this is mine.

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