Essay List/Ranking

Five 2023 Gems the Oscars Ignored

The AMPAS finally announced the Oscar nominations, and most of the surprises and snubs were less about films getting shut out entirely and more about which ones got more or less than expected. No Margot Robbie, no Leo, no Spider-Verse score, no Sessa or Melton, but each of their respective films got one or more nods. There were a few films with some momentum that somehow ended with zero nominations, too: Asteroid City (sigh), Saltburn, Iron Claw.

The nominated films will be discussed to oblivion for the next month, as will the notable goose eggs. But here are five films I haven’t yet reviewed on the site that were almost entirely outside the Oscar buzz, all of which I’d happily apply at least a “Very Good” rating to on the “Is It Good?” scale.

In no particular order, some award season non-award nominee recs:


Everyone talks about how Wes Anderson has leaned into his style in an apparent attempt to see just how far he can push it. Well, this is my first Sofia Coppola since Lost in Translation, but it seems you can make the same argument about her films: Priscilla is a quiet, still, boxed-in portrait of a rich young woman, which seems to be a descriptor you could increasingly use for any of her movies.

Priscilla is defined very little by drama within the screenplay and almost entirely by the craft of the film. First, the casting: Cailee Spaeny is phenomenal at translating both a specific character and more broadly a girl becoming a woman in a world that views her as a trophy to be won and shown off. (Of the five movies listed here, Spaeny for Best Actress is the closest any got to real Oscar buzz.) Contrast it to Jacob Elordi as Elvis, the sheer difference in their physical frames and demeanors telling a story by itself. The blocking, the hazy cinematography, and the terrific production all bring to life a story that’s so simple on the surface.

Is It Good? Very Good (6/8)


2023 was the year of “bizpics” — capitalistic biopic-structured stories about businesses or brands rising to glory (and occasionally falling). I tended to enjoy these: Air is solid, Tetris uneven but fun. Flamin’ Hot and Dumb Money are watchable but mediocre.

The only one that approaches greatness is Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry, a Social Network-inspired joint about the rise and fall of the first smartphone brand. Casting comedians for much of the ensemble lends the film a kooky energy (Glenn Howerton in particular brings a hilarious prickliness). The tone borders on Shakespearean in how it transmutes everyday business drama into world-shaping cataclysm. And the immersive, naturalistic look gives the film a distinct, almost docudrama, flavor. Excellent stuff.

Is It Good? Very Good (6/8)

A Thousand and One

A.V. Rockwell’s debut has a synopsis that kept me away: Poor NYC mom tries to make a good life for her son despite baggage from her personal life. Very run-of-the-mill indie template. And now that I’ve seen it, I still won’t claim the story ultimately pushes any boundaries. But Rockwell tells it with an astonishing savviness. Her script exposition is cut almost to a point of jarring jumps in storytelling, placing trust in the audience to read between the lines. She avoids all instances of shouty misery porn; thus the actually sad moments are all the more profound.

Most importantly, she coaxes multi-dimensional performances out of the cast. Indeed, Teyana Taylor gives a performance worthy of awards consideration. Just as incredible is Josiah Cross as her son, a soft-spoken but lovely take on intrepid teen boyhood. It still has a ceiling for how conventional a story it is, but A Thousand and One hits that ceiling to the point I strongly considered ranking it above Past Lives in my OFCS ballot for debut film. I can’t wait to see what Rockwell does next.

Is It Good? Very Good (6/8)

Prom Pact

On The Goods Discord, I joked that I would be bringing Disney Channel Original Movies into the broader movie discourse now that I’m a member of a reputable awards-voting body. And then I followed through and put Prom Pact at number 10 in my Best Picture nominations.

It’s surely a product of a teen romcom formula, but subverts it in some important ways — ways that might have pissed me off if you’d told me them in advance, but work so well within the context of the film. (It’s uncommon to find such a touching tribute to platonic boy-girl friendship.) It also acknowledges that basically all teen movies are, to this day, ripping off ’80s flicks like Say Anything… and Fast Times and John Hughes by making the titular prom ’80s themed and giving direct homage to many of the teen classics.

But mostly, it’s just a delightful little film, so inviting and generous and empathetic with its characters that your heart will be melted if you are anything like me. Let the Milo Manheim takeover of Hollywood continue.

Is It Good? Very Good (6/8)

Falcon Lake

Technically, this is a 2022 release, but it had its US distribution in 2023, so the Academy could and should have considered it for this year’s batch of Oscars. It’s Charlotte Le Bon’s debut film, a possibly-literally-haunting coming-of-age story about a thirteen-year-old boy striking up a friendship with a sixteen-year-old girl while on vacation at a lake that’s the subject of numerous ghost stories.

I’ve never seen a film use atmospheric mood (verging on horror) and sexual awakening together in quite this way, not as a topic of body horror but as a tenderly sad death-of-innocence. It’s a murky, suffuse film, but rapturously lovely, with an ambiguous, bittersweet ending that will push a lot of people’s buttons. Great, great film.

Is It Good? Exceptionally Good (7/8)

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