Close Demands to be Seen, Not Defined


Categorizing this post as a Film Thought means I’ll be examining Close in some detail. There will be spoilers within. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I am gay. In this piece I will discuss what I feel is the universality of this film, that is not to detract from the significance a film like this can have on the community but it is intended to talk up the broad impact it can have if people are willing to watch it withou pigeonholing it.   


To discuss Close is to have to discuss how to label it. Labeling films invariably causes issues. In an ideal world it shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s human nature to do so. This film itself deals with the issues of labeling and definitions on a subtextual level. The innate human need to define things that don’t conform is the inflection point of the story. 

Another way Close might be labeled is as a coming-of-age film. Coming of age films— particularly dramas, perhaps more than any other subgenre of film—are easy prey for the proclivities of a given viewer. To put it more simply, because it’s about a coming-of-age and every person has had a unique experience with life’s rites of passage, there exist biases in each viewer about what kind of film it should or should not be. These biases could be implicit or explicit but they exist; and their presence affect the individual’s perception of a film.

The more I think about labels one might apply to this film the more problematic it becomes. Because all labels will serve to do is limit the opinion —or potential opinion—people have of this film because while all labels define, many are also limiting.

To tag this film with an “LGBT interest” label (or something similar) comes close to belittling it because that’s an identifier, which more often than not that limits the audience it denotes to many “this film might be excellent but it’s for you, not for all.” The LGBT tag is limiting because Close addresses themes within aren’t only about sexuality; they’re broader and more fundamental than that. Any and all labels are limiting to this film and all should see it. 

The Narrative

As the title implies, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are close. When this closeness is on display around their classmates it gets them talking, making jokes, and asking bluntly if they’re together. Everyone labels Léo and Rémi. Léo’s response to direct examination about the nature of their friendship underscores the double-standard that exists regarding how boys can and should relate each other and how girls can and should relate to each other.

These are the assumed gender roles that pervade society incite the questions come from a classmate who doesn’t ask these things to be cruel, but Léo pushing back on these questions, against these labels doesn’t force any of their peers to  reconsider what they say, or change how they act around Léo and Rémi, if anything it reinforces it and forces both Léo and Rémi to re-examine their relationship instead. It puts their new reality in sharp focus. As opposed to their unobserved summertime idyll, they are now under the harsh spotlight of their peers. They can either cling more tightly to one another, damn the consequences, or adapt and hope to survive. Miscommunication, distancing, deceit, and self-doubt that all play into the eventual ends the characters meet are a direct result of the fact that they feel they have to cope with these confusing emotions alone and can’t find someone to talk to about it. 

We learn in retrospect that Rémi didn’t give his mother (Émile Duquenne) any indication he was having troubles. We are witness to Léo’s struggle with how to deal with this new reality. On a few occasions, when Léo does seek a word of advice he asks his brother but he gets responses that encourage him to not think about the problem at hand. His reaching out to male role models inidcates his need, the need many male characters in this story have to talk to each other about certain things, but they find they’re unwilling or unable to do so. Eventually, Léo does reach out to women in his life, his mother and Rémi’s mother, but that’s only with great difficulty and added complications. The women in his life might be more receptive to listen or engage, especially those at school, but he doesn’t want to answer when prompted because many times confession or sharing confidence isn’t just about the act of sharing but whom the information is being shared with.

If you watch the trailer of Close there’s a lot of imagery of the idyll and pull-quotes and not as much of the struggle. However, you know a portrait of beautiful and close-knit friendship without conflict isn’t a movie. The conflict occurs for the most part beneath the surface and manifests itself in two physical confrontations: one that starts as roughhousing and escalates between the two boys (and is expertly staged and breaks apart almost like a dance but it’s very naturalistic), the second is more fraught and occurs at school. 

And after this is where some people lose the film and don’t realize that nothing about the story fundamentally changes. There is a school field trip. Although, Léo and Rémi aren’t on speaking terms after the fight, Léo is surprised that Rémi doesn’t respond when his name is called on the roll. Léo looks around for him. When the trip is over and the bus is pulling into school again the children are told their parents are at the school and will meet with them. As soon as I heard this first bit of information my first thought was “Rémi’s dead.” While I wasn’t wrong, the revelation is still exceedingly powerful and doesn’t detract from the overall effect of the film. In fact, it might only redouble it. For even in those beautiful pure early moments, I wondered if Lukas Dhont was making a visual allusion to Bergman’s hauntingly evocative red walls in Cries and Whispers (pictured below) but picking up on a potential allusion is not needed to anticipate this turn in the story. Anticipation of that plot-point is not a detriment because the fact that the death occurs is not the point of the film, rather what occurs afterwards is.

It can be easy to view any off-screen suicide or not as a twist, or as manipulative, however that opinion to me is one more commonly shared by someone who’s life hasn’t been shaped or affected in any way by suicides or the threat of them. Unfortunately, this is a very real threat that rears its head far too often. (Pre)teen suicide is not the narrative crutch 9/11 can be, nor is it something almost without impact due to overexposure on the news like school shootings seem to be. These tragedies aren’t nameless or faceless. Aside from that this film is not about vilification, shock value or introspection. It’s a tale of imperfect self-discovery that has as its midpoint and all-too-common occurrence. By looking that harsh reality in the face, this film becomes something more than a lyrical narrative with hypnotic visuals and instead becomes a tour-de-force by visually examining everything that’s hard for these boys to say to each other and to the families and what the consequences of those silences are. Specifically, speaking about the pressures and issues at school, not that they need to be “picking labels” or understanding what their truth is yet. In point of fact, the “certainty” Rémi and Léo’s classmates—who don’t think their thoughts and don’t inhabit their bodies—seem to have about confused kids are undoubtedly stressors. 

Léo’s struggles before and after Remi’s death make this a film as much about toxic masculinity as sexuality. Léo takes up hockey during the film not only as a hobby, but to have something to do separate from Rémi, to have a something to do with the guys, a “typically” masculine activity. After he’s tried an failed to express his guilt, or any of his emotions—to his brother, to his mother, to Rémi’s mother—he tries to injure himself during a drill. Later on, when he’s trying to partake in another drill but his emotions get the better of him and he can’t do the drill physically he ends up hurting himself. With that escape gone, he’s left with nought but his thoughts and emotions he cannot go on without sharing them eventuall, but it’s not done easily.

While many will have spent much of the second half of the film crying, the restraint of the narrative remains, though it might not feel that way because the audience’s emotional tenor for us has been ratcheted up, as we can sense what Léo needs to get off his chest but can’t say. In lieu of his speaking his truth we watch him twist in the wind. The emotional volatility Léo carries within can be summed up in one sentence. When he does confess it doesn’t come forth in bombast when confessed. Maybe if Léo felt he could behave otherwise it would’ve been full-throated. Maybe if he didn’t have to sit through group counseling sessions at school where he repeatedly heard the wistful confessionals of classmates who didn’t know Rémi, speaking of his passing as if it was nothing that could’ve predicted, then when he finally spoke it wouldn’t have been in anger before he stormed out but instead have been able to express his true feelings as he would’ve liked. However, therein lies the rub: When Léo and Rémi behaved naturally around each other that led to too much gossip. 


To put a capstone on the topic of labels: they’re tricky because some labels carry connotations that aren’t universal. Those who refer to this as a “buddy movie” up to a point at least acknowledge how the boys classified their relationship. However, the conversation the girls have with Léo underscores the converse problem to intolerance; which is a sort of performative acceptance which first insists on the other party labeling themselves and then the mainstream force makes a show of “accepting” them.

Many reactions to Close from viewers seem to state things like “it’s so close to being perfect.” However, that goes back to personal biases. It’s more apropos to say that many viewers are so close to truly getting it. This film is not a fairytale. The beginning of the film is close, but what it really is is just the end of their childhood where they could behave as they pleased, no one cared, and they didn’t have to justify why they were so close. 

Close is the best way to label Léo and Rémi’s relationship. However, even that is seen as an abnormality in a world where there exceeding examples to be found on social media of normal human behavior some boys and men think of as gay, examples that are superficially funny until you examine the real insecurities and concerns that lead to such statements. What’s most important to note in a work like this is that whether Léo and Rémi shared something beyond a deep fraternity is not something they were allowed to discover on their own. They were asked questions, those who posed questions demanded answers, the answers were deemed insufficient, and their subsequent behavior was more scrutinized than the behavior that led to those questions. Léo and Rémi losing the natural state of their relationships is a sin and it’s one that repeats itself in varying degrees daily the world over. Being a boy (or labeled as one) means certain modes of comportment are expected unless you want to be labeled gay. Working to avoid labels robs us all of so many fundamental, universal aspects of our humanity. It is this exploration that makes Close such a vital and important work of cinema. 

Close is available to purchase on digital now and will be available to rent 3/28/23.

The 95th Annual Academy Awards

Might not catch any of the “Champagne” carpet or the pre-show, but I will be watching the show.

If you want to demystify the Oscars, and hate life a little more, read a some anonymous voter articles like this or this. These are helpful to me to keep the awards in perspective.

Vanity Fair has written some great retrospectives on some previous shows that have only gotten worse with age like 2003. Or the you can look for what was written about beginning of the new nadir we’re in 1998 when Harvey Weinstein broke the Oscars even more than it was and the Academy hasn’t really taken any strides to curb campaign spending, but god forbid Academy members go on social media to talk up a performance.

The show’s starting in a minute so a thought on the no-win host situation. I think Jimmy Kimmel’s return is handled as well and as funnily as it can be in this video.

I know much of America will be watching the season finale of The Last of Us tonight. As will I. Unlike most, I will pause the Oscars watch the show then go back to the Oscars.

The decline in popularity of the Oscars is not a simple riddle to solve. The factors are varied.

The divergence between what is popular and what is nominated was foreseeable since the end of the studio system. However, that didn’t really pan out on Oscar night until the late 90s. The revolution of American independents had less to do with it than it did first with Weinstein’s new campaigning tactics and then with further fragmentation of the audience with streaming and now with dwindling theatrical attendance post-pandemic. All these factors and more have driven down viewership over the years

In short the magic and glamour people associate with old-school Oscars are tinged by many things: it was the studio super-production of the year, the system manicured personae far more back then and embellished legends, such that award shows and the like where they appeared were further hyped. Being a film history buff or a child of a bygone era adds nostalgia to the belief that the Oscar are no longer what they were.

And they’re not because these things always change. But one thing that is undeniable when there are fewer universally viewed nominees than in previous eras means there is less excitement—or even basic interest—among the average movie fan. That has been the case in the past few years, however, I don’t anticipate this years high-grossing class will bring in that much interest. 

Putting this here to commemorate the first and perhaps only Oscars reference of Encino Man.

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are the first presenters. More Jungle Cruise?

Best Animated Film

Best Animated Film has been around for a little over 20 years. It still feels like a novelty in large part because of how the Academy treats it.

This article were many animators are spoken to shines quite a bit of light onto the problem. One issue that’s obvious to everyone is a little similar to how Best Animated Short Film began. 

The first 13 prizes went to either a Walt Disney or Fred Quimby production. Disney’s wins were for shorts that were Silly Symphonies or starred their core characters. Quimby’s MGM shorts were all Tom and Jerry shorts. In 1947 Warner Brothers finally won with a Silvester and Tweety short.

Better intro to the category this year.

I didn’t do great catching up on the Oscar nominees before the ceremony. I hope to afterward. Glad to see it’s not a Disney film for a change.

It’s been quite an emotional start to the night.

I mentioned it in my BAM Awards that actors from the same movie nominated against each other don’t normally trade-off wins but they usually get canceled out. When Jamie Lee Curtis won the SAG Awards that was when I had a feeling that she was going to get the Oscar because of how big a voting block actors are.

When Navalny wins Best Documentary…

I’m trying to remember if two actors from an upcoming film have come to show a clip of an upcoming film before. Of course, the Oscars are on ABC so it’s not like anyone can stop it.

All Quiet on the Western Front is near the top of my must-see list.

And we’re back…

Fitting for the Discovery acquistion of Warner Bros. the Oscars are looking back on their 100 years rather than plugging an upcming release like Disney go to.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus dropping the National Lampoons Chirstmas Vacation reference.

A song from an Indian film being up for an Oscar is overdue.

Is it me or are Antonio and Salma always introducing International Feature now?

I’m all for international films being nominated, but when only one in the Feature is also up for Bes Picture it’s a dead giveaway.

So far as Best Animated Short is concerned please do search out all the nominees. I did see this program this year and they’re all quite good. My favorite was An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe Him.

“Basically a scrotum…” – Hugh Grant. Line of the night.

Yay, Cocaine Bear!

Resonable minds can differ on whether Jimmy Kimmel’s Robert Blake/In Memoriam joke was tasteful, but the seed of it is truthful: the Oscars In Memoriam is imperfect, political, and pales in comparison to what TCM does annually.

Having said that John Travolta’s introduction was truly moving and for once the musical acompaniment didn’t feel like a distraction. The link to the Academy’s page for a fuller appreciation is also a good touch.

Good on “Naatu Naatu” winning Best Original Song.

The live blog is not ideal for a night like this because this has been one of the best shows in a while.

A24 has deserves its followers because they dare to be different when most do not want to.

Closing thought for the night: predictability does not necessarily mean a bad show.

2022 BAM Award Honorees

Best Picture

Armageddon Time 

Avatar: The Way of Water

Crimes of the Future

The Cursed

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans



The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

The Woman King

This year felt like a split. Telling you precisely why I picked Crimes of the Future is tough in part because as it unfolded there was a tremendous interplay of ideas about creation, art, viewership, life, and death. Specific notes might be taken upon my next viewing. For now, suffice it to say that there was a repulsion/attraction to this film, identification with and fear of the themes, yet also its playful with filmic tropes. It’s a layered film worth revisiting that I think might garner more of an audience in years to come. 

Best Director

James Cameron Avatar: The Way of Water

David Cronenberg Crimes of the Future

Jame Gray Armageddon Time

Steven Spielberg The Fabelmans

Dan Trachtenberg Prey

This was a year that felt like a split. Spielberg’s work in The Fabelmans is so assured it seems effortless, and we all know it’s not. He can still tug on heartstrings as well as anyone, but here also it occurs with ease and without coercion. Emotions are felt acutely like in any great film and the accomplishment is so superlative. It his testament to his lifelong love that gifts us another wonderful film. 

Most Overlooked Picture

Armageddon Time 

Brian and Charles

The Cursed

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile

Mad God

Animation is a medium, not a genre. It doesn’t inherently mean the work is made for children. Mad God is virtually without dialogue and is a mind-blowing affair that as it goes on creates its own rhythm and meaning. If you want to challenge your preconceived notions about the medium and other things, check this out. 

Best Editing 

David Brenner, James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin Avatar: The Way of Water

Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn The Fabelmans

Christopher Donaldson Crimes of the Future

Elliot Greenberg Smile

Yorgos Mavropsaridis The Cursed

Aside from the sequence above, The Cursed also crosscuts through time. There are transformations, varied locations and the edits always work to heighten tension, add layers and create meaning. 

Best Actress

Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween Ends

Viola Davis The Woman King

Amber Midthunder Prey

Michelle Williams The Fabelmans

Michelle Yeoh Everything Everywhere All At Once

The leading ladies in this category for the most part kicked butt in the physical sense, but all of them of course had battles to wage. The battles Michelle Yeoh wages in Everything Everywhere All At Once are intergenerational, timeless, intense and put all her range on display. 

Best Actor

Kevin Bacon They/Them

Austin Butler Elvis

Nicolas Cage The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Daniel Craig Glass Onion

Viggo Mortensen Crimes of the Future

I knew Tom Hanks would win his second consecutive Oscar. People who weren’t sure he would were thinking about history and how back-to-back hadn’t occurred since Spencer Tracy in 1937 and 1938. The reason I “knew” was naivety really. I thought Hanks deserved to win regardless. The Oscars don’t often care about who deserves it, but since in my awards “deserves” is all that matters I asked myself would I only not pick Cage because he won last year? When I realized that was true I also realized what my favorite performance of the year was.

Best Supporting Actress

Asia Argento Dark Glasses 

Angela Bassett Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Jamie Lee Curtis Everything Everywhere All At Once

Stephanie Hsu Everything Everywhere All At Once

Thuso Mbedu The Woman King

Whether here or in other award shows, typically two nominees from the same movie in the same category that doesn’t bode well for either of those nominees winning. That’s not been the case this year with Best Supporting Actor and my awards are no different. It was hard to decide between Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, but the emotional charge in Hsu’s scenes were undeniable. 

Best Supporting Actor

Anthony Hopkins Armageddon Time 

Judd Hirsch The Fabelmans 

Pedro Pascal The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 

Ke Huy Quan Eveything Everywhere All At Once 

Donald Sutherland Mr. Harrigan’s Phone

Ke Huy Quan had a small role in a Netflix film called Finding Ohana. When I saw that I thought it was nice to see him working again but that was all. It wasn’t a role that challenged him. I certainly didn’t expect the powerhouse turn he gave in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Madalen Mills Tiger Rising 

Ryan Kiera Armstrong Firestarter

Rakel Lenora Fløttum The Innocents

Violet McGraw A Christmas Mystery

Momona Tamada Secret Headquarters

Gabriella Uhl 13: The Musical 

The Innocents is a movie that doesn’t jolt, instead it gets under your skin. To accomplish that a lot hinges on performance. Rakel Lenora Fløttum can unnerve with a smile and through stoic delivery rather than modulation.

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Winslow Fegley Lyle, Lyle Crocodile

Eli Golden 13: The Musical 

Brooks Repeta Armageddon Time

Walker Scobell The Adam Project

Mason Thames The Black Phone

Rueby Wood Better Nate Than Ever

To be a lead in a film and have an emotional arc and carry the dramatic moments is hard enough, to play a lead and to be a comedic foil against one of the current masters of the one-liner with impeccable timing is even harder, to do both is so near impossible that when it’s accomplished, you’re now a bona fide star. And that’s exactly what Walker Scobell did in The Adam Project

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Aria Brooks Better Nate Than Ever

Alma Brynsmo Ramstad The Innocents

Julia Butters The Fabelmans

Mykal-Michelle Harris Cheaper by the Dozen

Millie Kiss The Cursed

Madeleine McGraw The Black Phone

In The Black Phone Madeleine McGraw runs the full gamut: in moments of doubt she prays to a God she fears might not be there, she says what she’s thinking to the cops when she’s angry with them and talks to them calmly when they want her help, she fights for her brother, cowers from her father, and plays action hero when she has visions.

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Jack Champion Avatar: The Way of Water

Max Mackintosh The Cursed

Daniel Ranieri The Tender Bar

Javon ‘Wanna’ Walker Samaritan

Jaylin Webb Armageddon Time

Xinyu Zhang Dark Glasses

Due to the fact that Max Mackintosh’s character doesn’t just disappear like many young victim’s in horror films, The Cursed begins to set itself apart. What happens when he returns is what makes is special. Max Mackintosh’s ability to convey fear, to be the audience’s conduit into the story, and to later convey true terror and fear are what makes him stand out in this talented field. 

Best Youth Ensemble

Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Jack Champion, Britain Dalton, Bailey Bass, Duane Evns, Jr. Avatar: The Way of Water

Kylie Rodgers, Andre Robinson, Kaylee Blosenski, Aryan Simhadri, Leo Abelo Perry, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Christian Cote, Sebastian Cote, Alijah Francis Cheaper by the Dozen

Max Mackintosh, Tommy Rodger, Millie Kiss, Tom Sweet, Áine Rose Daley The Cursed

Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord, Keeley Karsten, Alina Bruce, Julia Butters, Birdie Borria, Sophia Kopera, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley, Isabelle Kusman, Chandler Lovelle The Fabelmans

Walker Scobell, Keith L. Williams, Momona Tamada, Abby Jane Witherspoon, Kezii Curtis Secret Headquarters

Mason Thames, Madeline McGraw, Miguel Cazarez Mora, Rebecca Clarke, J. Gaven Wilde, Spencer Fitzgerald, Jordan Isaiah White, Brady Ryan, Tristan Pravong, Jacob Moran, Brandy Hepner, Banks Repeta The Black Phone

The kids in The Black Phone have to play, in some cases, both dead and alive. Whether they cross that divide or not in many cases they aren’t interacting with the adults in the story, they are alone or playing off each other. When they are faced off with adults its combative. Without them this film would’ve had no chance of working. 

Best Cast

Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Nigel Betts, Stuart Bowman, Simon Kunz, Amelia Crouch, Max Mackintosh, Tommy Rodger, Áine Rose Daly, Millie Kiss, Tom Sweet, et al. The Cursed

Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Jenny Slate, Biff Wiff, et al. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Gabriel Labelle, Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord, Keeley Karsten, Alina Bruce, Julia Butters, Birdie Borria, Judd Hirsch, Sophia Kopera, Jeannie Berlin, Robin Bartlett, Sam Rechner, Oakes Fegley, Isabelle Kusman, Chandler Lovelle, et al. The Fabelmans

Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr.,Kate Hudosn, Dave Bautista, Jessica Henwick, Madeline Cline, Noah Segan, Jackie Hoffman, Dallas Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Hugh Grant et al. Glass Onion

Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Jordan Bolger, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Jimmy Odukoya, Masali Baduza, Jayme Lawson, Adrienne Warren, Chioma Umeala,  et al. The Woman King

The work of all these casts is of course exceptional, what separates the cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once is that they have to play a consistent storyline in varying modalities and genres. Previous moment meets present genre to make a cohesive whole (not unlike the everything bagel) and it does so in large part due to the commitment of all of its players. 

Best Original Screenplay

Sean Ellis The Cursed

Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Daniel Kwan, Dan Scheiner Everything Everywhere All at Once

Jordan Peele Nope 

Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner The Fabelmans

What you get in these Best Original Screenplay nominees is reinventions: reinvention of werewolf lore, reinvention of first-generation American family dramas, alien invasions, artists as young men, and Nicolas Cage. What makes the Unbearable Weight so exceptional is that it plays on persona, genre tropes, and film as metaphor for life in ways both humorous and profound. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Patrick Aison, Dan Trachtenberg, Jim Thomas Prey

David Cronenberg Crimes of the Future

Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill and Joe Hill The Black Phone

James Vanderbilt, Guy Busick, Kevin Williamson Scream

Rian Johnson Glass Onion

The common thread of these adapted screenplay nominations is the unexpected twist on the expected story. In Prey to have the Predator encounter a Comanche tribe centuries ago makes the series feel refreshed and more vital than ever. The changes to Joe Hill’s short story “The Black Phone” are cinematic and perfect. The Glass Onion takes a well-known trope of a man and makes his disassembly as surprisingly exacting as it is hilarious. When Scream returns you expect precise dissection of horror tropes, but feeling as if the series had never left and didn’t miss a beat and could swing as big at the current state of play was a pleasant surprise. However, while it might seem as if adapting one’s own earlier feature into a new version might seem simple but Cronenberg made this version of Crimes of the Future as apropos to 2022 as the original was to 1970, perhaps more so. 

Best Cinematography

Bruno Delbonnel The Tragedy of MacBeth

Janusz Kaminski The Fabelmans 

Charlie Sarroff Smile

Larkin Seiple Everything Everywhere All At Once

Mandy Walker Elvis

In this category I have one hold-over from last year’s awards season. Delbonnel’s black and white work is so stunning that deserves the recognition though it was a January wide release. It can be easy to be numbed to Kaminski’s brilliance, but he brings brilliance and luminescence to Spielberg’s images like no one else has. Seiple films many worlds and conveys them as one because they are. Mandy Walker makes Elvis’s life a show and shows us his life. However, what Sarroff does in Smile is to move the camera so smoothly and persistently, twisting big and small as the world around the characters turns upside down. 

Best Visual Effects

Avatar: The Way of Water

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Everything Everywhere All At Once



Awarding Avatar Best Visual Effects might seem like a no-brainer, but for the edition to top what it did visually the first time around was expected, to exceed that to reach the cutting edge again and to also be the most successful high frame-rate I’ve seen so far is not to be overlooked. 

Best Score

Terence Blanchard The Woman King

Cody Carpenter, John Carpenter, Daniel A. Davies Firestarter 

Howard Shore Crimes of the Future

Cristobal Tapia de Veer Smile

John Williams The Fabelmans

John Williams’ music is almost indistinguishable from the classical pieces that Mitzi plays; Terence Blanchard’s score, like The Woman King, deserved more recognition this awards season; Tapia de Veer’s music is a huge part of why Smile is so unnerving; The Carpenters and Daniel A. Davies outdid their Halloween work in the Firestarter remake; however, Howard Shore’s work on Crimes of the Future is not only his best in some time but sets the surreal and unsettling tone from the beginning. Listen to it here.

Best Soundtrack

The Adam Project


Metal Lords

Minions: The Rise of Gru Spirited


The performances by Austin Butler and the select few non-Elvis singers in this film are a large part of what had me almost create two best song categories. Ultimately, I had to decide how to handle these two categories because the real possibility existed of having songs from Elvis be multiple if not all Best Song nominations and Best Soundtrack. Elvis’s work is a shortcut to Best Soundtrack but the performances in this film make it a worthy victory. 

Best Song

“The Bloodmaster” Eli Golden, Frankie McNellis, JD McCrary, Lindsey Blackwell, Shechinah Mpulwana, Nolen Debuc, & Ensemble 13: The Musical

“On Broadway (Busking Version)” Rueby Wood, Lucky Chops  Better Nate Than Ever

“Machinery of Torment” Skullflower Metal Lords

“One Way or Another” Bette Middler, Sarah Jessica Parker & Kathy Najimy Hocus Pocus 2

“Good Afternoon” Spirited Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell, The Spirited Ensemble Spirited

This year I came close to creating two best song categories to recognize both covers and originals. Combining the performance of the number with how intrinsic the song was to the film is what placed “On Broadway (Busking Version)” over the other deserving nominees. 

Best Art Direction

Andrew Babbitt Glass Onion

Rossitsa Bakeva Barbarian 

Mark Beneceraff Armageddon Time

Dylan Cole, Ben Procter Avatar: The Way of Water

Paulo Gonçalves, Patrick Schmitt The Cursed

With these art direction nominees, there are other worlds rendered on screen, other eras, what puts Barbarian above the fray is that there are figurative worlds created, even for fleeting moments, that are vivid: the apartment of a Hollywood player (not pictured), juxtaposes against a suburban house turned AirBnB, the long corridor and underworld it hides, and also the past of the same neighborhood and house. The art direction is as much a part of making the mundane horrific as the characters are. 

Best Costume Design 

Ruth E. Carter Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Madeline Fontaine The Cursed

Catherine Martin Elvis 

Gersha Phillips The Woman King

Stephanie Porter Prey

With costume design I tend to gravitate toward projects that are not just period pieces. This can mean multiple periods if they’re period at all or more toward the fantastical realm. Catherine Martin’s work in Elvis covers the 20+ year trajectory of Elvis’s career and his stage-wear was always a bit more fantastic, a bit more extra than anything else anyone was wearing. This representation of Elvis’s bigger-than-life attire puts the film over the top.

Best Sound Editing and Mixing 

Johnny Burn, Keith Kohn Nope

Dave Chrastka Avatar: The Way of Water

Dave Grimaldi, Angelo Palazzo The Adam Project

Dan Kenyon Smile

Gary Rydstrom, James Mather, Al Nelson Top Gun: Maverick

The soudtrack of a film is perhaps the most visceral way to drive home intended emotion. All these films do an exceptional job of that, but in a movie that derives many of its scares from creepy smiles and what follows immediately thereafter, Smile does a brilliant job of infusing it soundteack with inherently unnerving and discordant sounds in both the effects work and music as can be seen in the above video.

Best Makeup

Alexandra Anger Crimes of the Future

Mark Coulier and Shane Thomas Elvis

Clarisse Domine The Cursed

Camille Friend, Joel Harlow Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

John Russell, Natasa Krstic Hellraiser

Hair and makeup are also world-building. For the nominated titles they were no small art of selling the story: whether it be the tale of death and rebirth in Wakanda, the outfits and personae of Elvis Presley, the clashing cultures and tumultuous times in Cursed, the novel organs in Crimes of the Future or Hell being raised, hair and makeup is a a crucial storytelling tool in visual media. 

It’s a telling indicator about the state of an art form when filmmakers bend over backwards to announce how much practical makeup they used, but those who worked on Hellraiser (2022) did, the use of practicals here was something I expected and thought was necessary but it doesn’t make their work any less impressive.

Robert Downey Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

See this year’s honoree here.

Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

See this year’s honorees here.

Special Jury Award

See this year’s honorees here.

Neutron Star Award

See this year’s honoree here.

2023 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Awards

This award is named after Bergman because when I was set to establish an award of its type his last film blew me away and was nominated for many awards. The idea then is that it’s not a parting shot but rather recognition of someone still very much at the top after many, many years.

Phil Tippett

If you’re already an FX aficionado then you already know Phil Tippett’s name. I knew of him and some of his credits but it wasn’t until I saw Light & Magic that I came to appreciate the depth and breadth of his influence. Not long after that was done streaming on Disney+; Mad God, his stop-motion animation opus 30 years in the making debuted on Shudder. 

Even when his stop-motion work isn’t directly seen on screen, for without Phil Tippett’s groundwork and instincts as an animator, the technological advancements made in CG made leading up to Jurassic Park would’ve been meaningless. Static photorealism is useless if the movement doesn’t seem natural and that’s where he was invaluable to the project. 

If you want to familiarize yourself with this man’s work Mad God is his prowess on fullest display and from there dive in to his filmography. Much of the filmography you’ve seen but can come to appreciate in a a new way. 

Anthony Hopkins

Being a nominee this year for Armageddon Time, Anthony Hopkins already more than fulfills the preferred requirement of working at a high level at the point where he’s being given this lifetime honor. He also recently revisited his Oscar winning character in The Son. Even in roles that don’t have legendary standing, Hopkins has some line-readings that live rent-free in my mind.  Whether he’s playing Shakespeare or not Anthony Hopkins brings that kind of exactitude to all of his roles. He’s still more than capable of weaving magic regardless of how much or little he’s given to work with.

2023 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year: Ryan Reynolds

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

The entertainer of the year award is not always a matter of being in three movies well spaced out during a year, though achieving that formula does help. 

Ryan Reynolds has been a favorite of mine for some time in large part because he finds projects and roles that play to his strengths. Within those roles he’s grown but in ways that were part and parcel of the narrative and not a distraction. 

His year began with The Adam Project which had plenty of heart, laughs, and cool sci-fi elements (as can be expected from a Sean Levy directed project). What worked best here was Reynolds’ chemistry with Walker Scobell. Reynolds having started acting as a kid surely helped the rapport and they indeed felt like they were the same person. 

A bonus to this project was their working together on this commercial.

Then he popped up uncredited and announced (as he tends to do sometimes to great effect) in one of the summer’s best movies Bullet Train

Finally, his pairing alongside Will Ferrell in Spirited could not have been more inspired and it feels like they are now part of what might be a staple for years to come. 

2023 Special Jury Awards

Top Gun: Maverick

The verisimilitude achieved in Top Gun: Maverick the camera in the cockpit and the amount of real flying by the actors that was done is its greatest achievement and deserving of special recognition.

1996 BAM Award – Best Actress – Sharon Stone Last Dance

This one is a bit of housekeeping and righting a wrong. I’ve written many times the BAM Awards are like a yearbook of my year at the movies. A while back in a brief bout of revisionism (before I ever posted these online) I changed the Best Actress winner. The only real reason I did it was that film was too reminscent of Dead Man Walking. Even though I’ve long chosen these awards in a highly compartmentalized way that decision was incongruous to what I normally do. So, in light of that and the exceptional work Sharon Stone did in this film that deserves recognition she’s restored as a winner for Best Actress in 1996.

I’m committed to not being the olympics, Resse Witherspoon will not have to forfeit her award. On a related note, if you haven’t seen Freeway you should do so.

2023 Neutron Star Award

neutron star is one that glows more brightly after it “death,” similarly these filmmakers and actors do. It’s a counterpart to the Lifetime Achievement Award which is intended for filmmakers and actors who are very much alive and kicking.

Jean Painlevé

Jean Painlevé was a pioneer of science documentary and I saw many of his films this past year at last. In most cases they stand up and there’s a hypnotic quality to many of them that people seek to emulate to this very day. His works are known to most now after having been distributed by The Criterion Collection. I’ve seen most of his oeuvre over the course of the last year streaming them on The Criterion Channel. They have also a new feature-length compilation that was just created that includes new music. It’s a testament to the staying power of his work. 

31 Days of Oscar 2023

During TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar every year I like to keep a running log of what I see. It’s a great chance to check off a number of films I should’ve seen already. My goals this year are: At least 31 films, 100 nominations accounted for by the films seen. As of this writing I’ve not yet seen a TCM selection this year. When I see either those or something from my To Be Watched list I’ll try to guess what the nomations are as I watch the film.

Starting with trying to get as many best animated shorts seen as I can. This is a representative list. I have viewed many, you can see which on my Letterboxd, these are the ones I’m quite sure I’d never seen all the way through.

Close (2022)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

A full write-up of this film will follow.

Weekends (2017)

Watch it here.

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Ersatz (1961)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 1

A Place in the Sun (1960)

Munro (1960)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 1

The Violinist (1959)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Sidney’s Family Tree (1958)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Trees and Jamaica Daddy (1957)

Perhaps the worst nominated animated short films I’ve seen. It’s also a weird little two-fer.

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

The Jaywalker (1956)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

When Magoo Flew (1954)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 1

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Christopher Crumpet (1953)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952)

First short produce outside of the US to be nominated.

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Can be viewed here.

Pink and Blue Blues (1952)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Trouble Indemnity (1950)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Robin Hoodlum (1948)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Gypsy Life (1945)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

Dog, Cat, and Canary (1944)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0

How War Came (1941)

Nominations: 1

Wins: 0