With final Oscar balloting closed on March 7, we’re continuing with our sixth annual series of interviews with Academy voters from different branches for their unfiltered takes on what got picked, overlooked, and overvalued in the 2023 award season. Interview edited for brevity. Here we have a publicist who hasn’t seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” but might vote for Angela Bassett, dings Cate Blanchett for being unlikable as Lydia Tar, and thinks Brendan Fraser was “way too fat” in “The Whale.”
I’ve seen the important films, and all of the 10 that were nominated. The Best Picture category has been expanded: No more than three would I put in there, much less 10. The standards are minimized because of the number that they need. One movie I loved was “The Good Nurse,” which was superbly made and brilliantly acted by Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain. It was absorbing from top to bottom. It grabbed me from the beginning, like Hitchcock. It deserved nominations. It should have been one of the top 10. My top three, which have major flaws in them, are “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “The Fabelmans,” and “The Triangle of Sadness.”
I just saw “Avatar: The Way of Water” yesterday in IMAX 3D. I was absorbed from the beginning, which didn’t happen with most of the movies. A few plot points were cliché, but that didn’t bother me. It’s beyond just a big spectacular science-fiction movie: putting it in that category minimizes it. [James Cameron] presented this world and had a political message that has a lot of implications for today, particularly with the whole question of animal rights and protection and destroying the water and the environment. He created a whole new world: an amazing achievement. I’m surprised he didn’t get a Best Director nomination. It’s my pick for Best Picture.
“The Fabelmans” I liked a lot, next to “Avatar.” It’s beautifully made and written and covered a lot of territory. It captured the time and the people beautifully. It had a lot of variation in what was going on. It’s not a quiet movie, it was steady. It took you into a world, you believed it, it wasn’t hitting you over the head with anything.
“Triangle of Sadness.” Intriguing and inventive, it held my interest. All the actors were exceptional. I particularly liked Dolly De Leon and her transformation from toilet cleaner to captain. I had arguments with people about the ending. I kept wondering why they didn’t explore the other half of the island.
I’m looking forward to seeing “Everything Everywhere All at Once” again before voting. I thought it was a mess, I couldn’t follow it and all the time changes. I’ll give it another chance, because everyone is talking about it. I saw a little bit of it on the plane again: All the scenes with Jamie Lee Curtis. I thought she was hilarious and was cracking up on the plane.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is beautifully made. I remember the first one well. This one was much better than Mendes’ “1917.” I kept going back to “Paths of Glory.” The territory had been covered before just as well. The crafts were great.
“Top Gun: Maverick” was the same old plan all over again with a “gunfight at the O.K. corral” ending, except in the sky. It did extremely well and made good for the Academy, it’s a popular film that people can root for. I can see where it is because of its popularity. It’s a genre that doesn’t get recognized. I appreciate the craftsmanship.
“The Banshees of Inisherin.” I liked the first two-thirds. It maintained itself beautifully. People were killing themselves on the island across the way; life hadn’t changed much from the pagan aspects of Inisherin. Then it fell apart with the knuckles amputated off and it got silly at the end.
“Elvis” was okay, I wasn’t wild about it. I got tired of the Tom Hanks character and Elvis rebelling and going back to him.
“Tar”: The whole thing about Lydia Tar being a lesbian was stated in the beginning. Toward the last third of the movie she was accused by the girl you never see and attracted to another girl, goes into that squalid place with graffiti and there was nothing there. It was a miss for me.
“Women Talking” was the one film I couldn’t watch. It was so static, it never left the barn. After half an hour, I was bored. It didn’t move, it was like a play. The themes we all know, it’s been covered endlessly. It’s not my favorite. The actors were terrific, I can’t take anything away from them. It’s what they were saying, the issues they were raising. It was torture for me.
I’ll probably vote for Steven Spielberg, or maybe Ruben Östlund, who did “Triangle of Sadness.” To hold that together, three different sections, and keep you absorbed and wondering what was going to happen — it was quite wonderful.
“The Fabelmans,” I don’t want to say it’s pure filmmaking. It held you in the nicest way, it was consistent. I wasn’t conscious of it being Spielberg. There have been a lot of Spielberg movies I haven’t liked. It was a return to smaller filmmaking, with a lot of heart in it. It was well made. Everything in the high school is beautifully done.
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I saw “To Leslie,” thought Andrea Riseborough was excellent. I don’t know if it was one of the greatest performances by any actress, which someone quoted Gwyneth Paltrow as saying. Riseborough was very good. People had always talked about her as a great actress. I’m glad she was nominated. I don’t object to that, it’s good there are other ways of going about it than the normal way where studios spend millions. Here was a grassroots campaign.
Ana de Armas was excellent as Marilyn Monroe [in “Blonde],” no doubt, but I had problems with the movie.
Cate Blanchett is always good, but she was unpleasant for most of the movie. I didn’t understand what everyone was raving about. I thought she was compelling, but she wasn’t likable in any way. Beautifully filmed, but I couldn’t relate to her to any great degree for the length of the movie. She’s got two Oscars already, so that’s enough.
Michelle Williams was very good. Spielberg’s mother seemed to be a more bizarre character, though: I’d seen her on interviews. That threw me a little.
I’m going to watch “Everything Everywhere All at Once” again.
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Probably Brendan Fraser [in “The Whale”]. He was good, moving and compelling, and had to pull it off in a difficult physical way. He was way too fat [in “The Whale”], I don’t know how anyone could move around like that. But he won me over and I believed him. I liked the fact that he’d come back playing something you never expected of him. He was good as a heroic leading man, as good a guy as anyone, but somehow never got the same attention.
Bill Nighy was terrific [in “Living”], Colin Farrell was constant in that role [in “Banshees”], but after a while it got repetitive. Austin Butler as “Elvis”: I’m prejudiced, I thought Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in the TV version was the best Elvis. That performance was so strong in my mind.
“Aftersun” was really obscure. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t think the little girl was that compelling. I didn’t know what [Paul Mescal‘s character’s] problem was. There was another level going on I was not appreciating, I love experimental stuff, but none of that appealed to me.
I haven’t seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” I don’t know why I passed it by. I always liked Angela Bassett so I’d be prone to vote for her. All the other ones were good. Hong Chau [“The Whale”] was good. In “Everything Everywhere,” Jamie Lee Curtis only has three scenes, but she’s hilarious, fantastic. She has never been nominated before, another thing I would take into consideration.
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Maybe Brendan Gleeson, even though there was the whole thing to do with the knuckles. But he was the one who was the most varied. He pulled it off on every level. Barry Keoghan I like in everything, but his role was not as big. Gleeson should be in Best Actor; it’s a two-hander. The whole problem with just five [Lead Acting] nominations is they put into Supporting too many great performances in order to win the Oscar, it’s terrible.
Judd Hirsch was also great in his [“Fabelmans”] scenes.
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It’s between “Living” and “All Quiet.” “Living” was a high to watch. I don’t know what else it’s going to get. “All Quiet” is beautiful but it’s been done; I’ve seen the whole thing before.
Either “The Fabelmans” or “Triangle of Sadness.” “The Fabelmans” is constant all the way through; it’s beautifully made, it has a nice feeling about it, it captured the period beautifully without any false notes. “Triangle” is unusual and unexpected and inventive and you want to give it to that as far as originality.
Probably “All Quiet,” although I like “Empire of Light” a lot, even if it had three endings. I watched “Bardo.” What the hell was going on there? I get annoyed at people who have to have a title and a subtitle that is more obscure than the title [“False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”].
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I’ll vote for “Elvis.” I haven’t seen “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” We just watched “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.” The only reason that got made was “Phantom Thread,” and it was not on the same level as Paul [Thomas Anderson’s] movie.
“Banshees” for the first three quarters was well done. I didn’t like the plot and how it went. It got too violent. It’s unbelievable with the knuckles. But he maintained that tone all the way through.
Give it to “All Quiet,” it looked perfect in every way. I haven’t seen “The Batman” or “Black Panther,” although I liked the first one.
I’ll go with “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
I hated “Babylon.” Give it to John Williams, just because it was beautifully done and understated and moved “The Fabelmans” along. It was like dressing to the movie.
I saw “RRR.” I’ll give it to “Naatu Naatu,” so much energy. It would be good if a non-English song won.
“Avatar: The Way of Water”
“Avatar: The Way of Water”
I’ll vote for “Navalny” politically, and it’s well made. I don’t like Nan Goldin’s photographs that much, but she was diligent about getting the Sackler family. Everyone was raving about [“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”]. I couldn’t get that excited.
“Close,” Lukas Dhont’s Belgian film. I didn’t know what to expect. It was a surprise, beautifully made and touching and nerve-racking. I knew something terrible was going to happen. You felt for the kid who felt responsible, all the dilemmas and conflicts of being a teenager. “All Quiet” and “Argentina 1985” were also good.