Essay List/Ranking

The B.A.D.S. by The Goods, 2023

Ladies and germs! We gather today to celebrate that which was most important in cinema in 2023, the very heart of a medium at a point of tension and toil: The doggie in Anatomy of a Fall. It was the Performance of the Year, but alas will not be nominated in any of the awards below, as we do not have sufficient entries in “Best Performance By a Canine Owned By a Character Played By Sandra Huller in a Best Picture Nominee” for it to become a viable category. Only two: Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest.

Welcome, once again, to The Better Awards by Dan Stalcup, AKA The B.A.D.S. presented by The Goods. This is my own personal knockoff Oscars in which I nominate and then immediately crown winners in several categories — mostly the familiar ones, but a couple others, too.

My usual caveat on end of year stuff: For my own personal tabulation and rankings, I use the year of the premier, not the year of the US wide release, which is different from most award bodies, including the Academy. Why? Simple: So I can sort easily on Letterboxd and IMDb, which both use the same year qualifications I do.

And my second big caveat: I’ve seen 90 films from 2023, which is a lot, but not enough to call this an authoritative list, especially since I’m missing a lot of heavy hitters. So this is a personal snapshot of an opinion. If it’s like last year’s B.A.D.S. I’ll be wondering what the hell I was thinking for a bunch of these within a few weeks of hitting Publish.

Without further adieu!

(Pictured: Rye Lane)

Best Film Title

A great movie title both tells you a little bit about what the movie is about and makes you want to watch it. And while the Adam Sandler-produced teen comedy is a bit of a tonal trainwreck redeemed by some nice moments and performances, its title is a complete triumph. I knew I would be watching this movie the first time I read it. (Someone less insanely addicted to coming of age stories would justifiably point to Cocaine Bear as a clear winner here.)

Winner: You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah

Best Editing

Shout out to The Slumber Party for elevating Disney Channel Original Movie fare with clever, zippy cuts where the timing itself could be a punchline. But this one is a no-brainer — my reservations with its third act notwithstanding, Oppenheimer has a genuinely adventurous editing cadence that steadily builds its tension to the Trinity test with a flow so steady it feels like almost like a constant montage.

Winner: Oppenheimer

Best Debut Director

There are two ways to look at this award — debut directing that resulted in the best and most memorable movie; or debut directing that best convinces me they will continue to make good movies. I have two selections for each of those lenses: Past Lives and A Thousand and One, respectively. Despite recently reading a lot of well-reasoned backlash to Past Lives that has me second-guessing my fondness for it, I think its gorgeous and probing emotional texture is really special, so I’m sticking with it. (Falcon Lake would be a lock, but it qualifies as 2022 based on my year categorization rules.)

Winner: Celine Song – Past Lives

Best Ensemble

Depth and talent of the cast is one area in which you can’t knock Barbie or Killers, and May December had a heroic threesome at the lead plus some good supporting turns. But this is a coin flip between Oppenheimer’s remarkable (and weird) ensemble vs. Asteroid City’s comically large and great lineup.

Winner: Oppenheimer

Best Song/Musical Number

2023 was a pretty rough year for musicals, though I was smitten by the weird cultural blend and midcentury nostalgia of the Bollywood Archies film. My favorite Barbie musical moment, and favorite musical moment of the year, is one that didn’t get an Oscar nom: The “giant blowout party with all the Barbies and planned choreography and a bespoke song,” which is the film at its best: glitzy, frothy, silly, and attractive, with Ryan Gosling angry-dancing his way to flirt with Margot Robbie. Dua Lipa’s disco-influenced tune is a bop.

Winner: “Dance the Night” – Barbie

Best Original Score

There are always tough cuts in this category, but I couldn’t convince myself to pry a spot for Mica Levi’s limited but tremendous work in Zone of Interest, which continues the perfect Levi-Glazer partnership. Illumination used 40 years of Mario tunes to make a delightful soundscape while Grizzly Bear crafted the perfect ruminative texture for Past Lives. Desplat with Anderson is basically a shoo-in. I’ve had Oppenheimer penciled in to win this since I saw it, but I’ve come back to Pemberton’s jittery, overwhelming composition so many times that I have to give it the edge.

Winner: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Daniel Pemberton)

Best Scene

Whether it’s even Saltburn’s best scene or not, I can’t say — a major thrust of my defense for the film is that it’s packed with memorable moments — but the tub scene has become the flashpoint on that film’s smut-tinted charm. Asteroid City has several stunners, too, but the Margot Robbie cameo is the film’s emotional lynchpin. Past Lives’ simple finale is pregnant with tension and baggage. Runner up goes to Margaret’s final scene, a lovely, happy-tears capper. But the best scene of the year and of Nolan’s career is Trinity, a transcendent payoff whose delayed boom is a stroke of sound design genius.

Winner: Trinity test – Oppenheimer

Best Screenplay

It was a good year for charming screenplays, with Are You There… and The Holdovers offering great comforts in a scary world. Anatomy of a Fall had tremendous stuff to stay about identity and guilt, layers of humanity concealing a complex truth gradually stripped away by a pitiless justice system but still rendered subjective. But two screenplays from 2023 are masterpiece-level, in my eyes. One is Asteroid City. The other is May December’s darkly funny and immersive story that ponders whether it’s better for cruel truths to lie stagnant and unexamined or be exhumed and paraded for performative outrage (and what the cost is for each). It’s Samy Burch’s first produced screenplay, and you won’t guess what her second is.

Winner: May December (Samy Burch)

Best Streaming-Only Feature

This category may not but tenable in the long term, especially as 2023 had several limited-theatrical releases that were marketed for their streaming accessibility, blurring the edges. But my favorite teen film of the year and one of my favorites, period, was Disney’s lovely Prom Pact.

Winner: Prom Pact

Best Documentary Feature
Best International Feature

Another year, another waiver on Documentary Feature and International Feature selections. I’ve seen entries I like in each, but not enough for me to feel comfortable making a selection. (Gun to my head for what I’ve seen, Beyond Utopia and The Zone of Interest.)

Best Animated Feature
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
  • Trolls Band Together

I almost need to abstain on this category, too! While I’ve missed a few key entries (Miyazaki’s latest, Robot Dreams, etc.), I’ve only given three animated features a passing grade this year. I’d probably skip this category entirely if not for the fact that I have a clear winner to endorse: the narratively messy but audiovisually stunning Spider-Verse sequel.

Winner: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Best Cinematography

The Holdovers’ artificially-vintage throwback look gave me goo-goo eyes, but with Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman bringing their aesthetic to new, intriciate heights, it’s the slam-dunk winner.

Winner: Asteroid City (Robert Yeoman)

Best Visual Effects

Can an animated movie claim the year’s “best visual effects”? I say yes if the visual achievement represent advances and lessons that should be applied to live-action filmmaking, and that is certainly the case for both Spider-Verses, which design action sequences in ways never done before. But I don’t have the gumption to pick it. Honestly, this category is a wash for me: three of these five are basically space fillers, and I’m missing some really promising contenders (I haven’t seen The Creator or Mission: Impossible or Godzilla or John Wick yet), but the obvious answer of what I’ve seen is Nolan’s phenomenal work in the atomic biopic, culminating with a massive practical explosion.

Winner: Oppenheimer

Best Production & Setting Design

I’m not always sure I actually know how to evaluate good production design. Basically I ask myself which movies construct a rich world that transport me into their setting and/or make me want to hop in the screen and examine every detail. By that metric, Anderson and production designer Adam Stockhausen’s terrific, slightly kitschy, endlessly absorbing work in Asteroid City takes it (with Barbie’s colorful diorama not too far behind).

Winner: Asteroid City

Best Sound

I really didn’t think there was any chance anyone would win this award other than Oppenheimer after I saw it, but The Zone of Interest’s monaural fog of horror really shook me. It’s a truly innovative and bleak use of one of cinema’s core tools.

Winner: The Zone of Interest

Best Voice Actor
  • Mamadou Athie – Elemental
  • Ariana DeBose – Wish
  • Leah Lewis – Elemental
  • Shameik Moore – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
  • Hailee Steinfeld – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

With a thin year for animated features comes a thin set of great voice acting performances, unfortunately. I really liked both leads in Elemental and appreciated DeBose doing her best to keep Wish level. But this comes down to the two Spider-Verse stars, and I’ll give the edge to Hailee Steinfeld for anchoring the film’s most emotional segment, the colorful prologue.

Winner: Hailee Steinfeld – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Best Actor in a Leading Role

This category is stronger than last year, when I picked Tom Hanks just because I needed five nominees. Somehow I excluded Murphy’s outstanding, anchoring role in the soon-to-be-(other)-Best-Picture-winner in my nominating ballot for OFCS, and I can’t say what I was thinking. But these are all terrific performances in different ways, with Keoghan offering a perfect vessel for Saltburn’s unhinged melodrama, the Cerenaissance taking full flight in Barbie and The Adults, and Wright keeping American Fiction hysterical even when the satire isn’t at its sharpest. Yet, Paul Giamatti starred in Alexander Payne’s best film since the other one Giamatti starred in, and was once again the funniest and most watchable human on the planet.

Winner: Paul Giamatti – The Holdovers

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Once again, the actresses blow the actors out of the water, as I could easily have doubled this field with great performances I liked. Lily Gladstone is a late scratch here just because I’m more excited about all of these, and is she even a lead? But as towering as Taylor and Huller are, as warm and inviting as Ryder Fortson is, as malleable as Robbie is, it’s Spaeny’s astonishing work as Priscilla Presley across a huge spectrum of ages and scenarios, conveying rich interiority in a boxed-in social position with small gestures, balancing an entire excellent film on on her shoulders, that really stands out.

Winner: Cailee Spaeny – Priscilla

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Part of me wants to zag and select Josiah Cross for his introverted but tearjerking turn as a good-natured teen in A Thousand and One, but I’ll stick to my guns and go with Melton’s terrific turn as the emotional collateral in May December.

Winner: Charles Melton – May December

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Truly a terrific batch of performances, and I’ve changed my mind three times between McAdams, Moore, and Goth. But I think McAdams gets edged by the tiniest of margins by Goth’s sexy electric shock of performance to redeem the messy Infinity Pool.

Winner: Mia Goth – Infinity Pool

Best Director

If the sheer number of nominations wasn’t a giveaway, Asteroid City really floored me, Anderson’s fussy precision and radical thinking about composition never ceasing to amaze me. So while Nolan built the cinematic machine of the year, Haynes and Sachs used visual language to deeply enhance their stories, and Glazer pulled out all the stops in his Holocaust anti-horror, it’s gotta be Anderson.

Winner: Wes Anderson – Asteroid City

Best Picture

Because Falcon Lake is a 2022 release by my rules, this is a really a field of four movies I loved with all my heart, and then one movie I just regular loved (the latter being Oppenheimer).

Are You There God? is the most purely happy a film made me last year, a warm hug set at just the perfect pitch, kind but not treacly, huge-hearted.

But Asteroid City is the crowning achievement of 2023. Wes Anderson finds new heights for his style while also cutting to the bone in ways he never has before. In the most nested, meta way possible, he deconstructs the very concept of art as an investigation of unknowable mysteries and an expression of unspeakable grief.

Winner: Asteroid City

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One reply on “The B.A.D.S. by The Goods, 2023”

I admit to having seen very few of these films – too few to make any intelligent remarks on most of these categories – but I can certainly say that ‘Dance the Night’ sashayed into my Eternal Playlist and is The Best, so I’m very pleased to meet a fellow admirer.

I can’t even put my finger on why it delights me so, but it’s probably the best thing from a film with more than a little charm.

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