Mini Reviews: 2023 Oscar Nominees

Another year and another round of mini reviews for some of this year’s nominees. In a last-ditch effort to see some of the biggest award contenders, the following four films made the cut. Best Picture nominees The Fabelmans, All Quiet on the Western Front and Tár were all on my watchlist so I’m glad to have gotten to them. Then there’s The Whale, which I needed to see for Brendan Fraser’s performance alone. So with a week to go before the big night, let’s get stuck into it.

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg is in the director’s chair once again for this loosely semi-autobiographical look into his upbringing, and the power and importance of film. The Fabelmans follows a young filmmaker who pours his heart into film while family secrets come to light.

As much as this film is well crafted and impressively directed by Spielberg, it didn’t resonate with me from a storytelling perspective. In nearly all technical areas this is a stellar feature. With Spielberg’s partner in crime Janusz Kaminski behind the lens and John Williams helming the score, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to admiring their craftwork. It’s beautifully shot with this ‘old Hollywood’ feel that only Spielberg can capture this well. There’s a sense of visual awe and wonder in nearly every shot, playing into the narrative and journey of our main character who is constantly awestruck by the beauty of the film medium.

It’s clear Spielberg’s heart and soul is put into this emotionally-charged, family-focused narrative. It’s coming from a place of love and that makes it all the more grounded and powerful. There are key moments where the narrative shines and produces some equally heartbreaking and heartwarming results. For instance, the initial setup of the characters and introduction to this family is well done, and also the way the climax plays out is rewarding in the end. But overall I couldn’t get myself to stay engaged in Sammy’s journey along the way. I didn’t feel a connection to the character and so I found myself drifting in and out of the journey, despite enjoying the ride overall.

Another thing to note about Spielberg is that he has this effortless ability to get great performances out of his cast. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano shine in their respective roles. The passion and heart they put into every line of dialogue really fleshes out their respective characters and makes their relationship feel very real.

In the end, The Fabelmans is a great piece of art from the mind (and heart) of Steven Spielberg. This personal narrative is one of innocence and ambition, one that will resonate with most people more than it did with me unfortunately. Despite that, the technical achievements are astounding and it would be very well deserved if Spielberg was to win for Best Director.


All Quiet on the Western Front

Another year in film means there’s yet another war film making waves in awards season. All Quiet on the Western Front is a German international war epic that follows a young German soldier’s harrowing experiences on the front line.

The ‘war’ subgenre is one that has produced many truly mesmerising films that are brilliant in nearly all technical areas. However it’s never a guarantee that a war film is going to hit that mark. I can safely say that this adaptation of the 1929 novel of the same name is breathtaking in every technical area – so it’s no wonder it has received so many Oscar nominations. The cinematography captures the scope of a WW1 battlefield in a way that paints it as this land riddled with dread and despair. The production design emphasises the grittiness of the era and enhances the realism of the film. The sound design, as is to be expected, is incredible – drawing you in to the intensity of every edge-of-seat moment. All of these elements work to create an immersive and harrowing cinematic experience.

Having not seen the 1930 American adaptation of the source material, this narrative surprised me with how touching and character-driven it is. The scale and scope of the story still encompasses all the horrors of WW1, but there’s a real ‘band of brothers’ feel, one that grows stronger as the film progresses. Even through all of the politically-focused moments, it never loses sight of the lead character’s journey and tries to keep this experience from his perspective. It’s all wrapped up nicely with a poignant climax that beautifully brings everything full circle.

Performance-wise, Felix Kammerer’s leading performance as Paul is great – handling every tense emotional scene in a way that effortlessly sells the horror of what he’s experiencing in every moment. There’s a specific scene he shares with a nameless French soldier that is an exceptional display of acting – there’s barely a word spoken but you feel every emotional beat. I also have to highlight Albrecht Schuch’s performance as Katczinsky, as he’s incredible in every moment. It’s a touching role and he shares some joyfully uplifting and hauntingly distressing scenes alongside Felix.

In the end, All Quiet on the Western Front is a great war thriller that excels in every technical department. My one gripe would be that the pacing of the narrative is too drawn out over the first half. There’s some great haunting moments, but it feels too much like it’s padding the runtime out – meanwhile the latter half is exceptionally well-paced. Anyone looking for a thrill ride that’s wrapped in an emotional little bow will find one here.


The Whale

If ever you’re in the market for a movie that’s guaranteed to bring you to tears, The Whale is that movie. The gut-wrenching narrative follows a morbidly obese English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter, Ellie.

Darren Aronofsky is a master at his craft, an auteur director who weaves his magic and puts his all into every project. Taking a screenplay penned by Samuel D. Hunter, writer of the original play, Aronofsky presents this gripping psychological drama that will put you through the ringer. The narrative is aggressively sad and absolutely unrelenting in the way it slams together back-to-back distressing scenes with only brief moments of reprieve. Every scene is as impactful as the last, and as a result I was hooked the entire way through. It’s an emotionally-gruelling character study that delves deep into Charlie’s life and even acts as a mini character study of his daughter’s own psyche.

So much of the emotional impact of the film is a result of Brendan Fraser’s truly phenomenal performance. This is without a doubt the best performance of the year. Brendan pulls out all the chops, bringing this distraught character to life in a way that’s heartbreaking, heartwarming and beautifully tragic. He taps into the darkest parts of his own psyche to bring out the inner conflict and distress the character is experiencing in his daily life. It’s a star-turning role and Oscar-worthy display that I hope means we see more of Brendan’s dramatic prowess going forward.

The presence of Sadie Sink drastically enhances the heartbreaking elements of the story. She’s incredible in every single scene, going back and forth with Brendan in a way that elevates both their performances. Coupled with her Stranger Things performance, I can see big things on the horizon for her. At one point I believed the focus on her character’s subplot with Ty Simpkins’ Thomas was an increasingly unnecessary addition dragging down the film, but it all comes together and shows its relevance nicely.

In the end, The Whale is a distressing and devastating narrative that will make grown men cry, yet it’s impossible to look away from the intense drama unfolding. It showcases Brendan Fraser’s best performance, for which he should earn his first coveted Oscar – the biggest reason why this is a must-watch.



Writer/director Todd Field presents this brilliant psychological drama, hooking you in from the opening scene and getting gradually more intense and engaging with every minute. Tár follows one of the greatest living conductors as she leads a German orchestra to their live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, while exploiting the power of her high-profile status along the way.

This narrative is just spectacular. Loaded with drama and injected with a hint of mystery, I was locked in from the get-go and wholly invested in the life of Lydia Tár. As the chilling aspects of the story settle in, I found myself loving the narrative for different reasons as time went on. Initially, it was the orchestral content and dramatic beats that hooked me, while by the latter half it was the deep psychological aspects that really captivated me. The character herself gets more complex and interesting as new revelations come to light, paving the way for an Oscar-worthy Cate Blanchett performance. The only narrative element I didn’t like is the way the ending is a little too dragged out – it could have been a bit more succinct and punchy, but it’t not major.

We are watching a master at work in Cate Blanchett. This is undoubtedly the performance of her career, and for that she should win the Oscar. Right from the opening scene, in which she’s on the receiving end of an interview, I was mesmerised by her presence. As her character spirals, her performance only gets stronger, nailing every single scene with undeniable perfection. When I say she’s perfect I mean it. The two earliest sequences are two one-take scenes (one has edits while the other is entirely presented in one shot). These two 10-minute (approximately) sequences display her remarkable acting talents – disappearing into the role and remaining fully in character for the entire duration.

These scenes set the stage for the entire film – a credit to Florian Hoffmeister’s incredible cinematography, for which I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins the Oscar. Even Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is spellbinding, enhancing the impact of the thematic elements. The social commentary is unfortunately shockingly relevant in today’s society, and Todd Field handles its implementation brilliantly. It’s prevalent in the story but never overbearing.

In the end, Tár is a fantastic film that’s expertly written and directed by Todd Field. It’s a psychological drama that beautifully balances both of those elements – never getting too dark while still remaining drenched in suspense and chilling. The highlight is Cate Blanchett’s perfect performance, one that should be celebrated for how she commits herself to the role and transforms herself into Lydia Tár. Heading into the Oscars and beyond, this should be high on everyone’s watchlist.



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