91.7 WVXU | By tt stern-enzi
Published January 24, 2023 at 3:12 PM EST
Awards season, in my home, is a mash-up on par with my birthday, Christmas, and the finals of any and every major sports tournament. It is less about the competition and truly more about the celebration of storytelling at its best. As a film critic with over 20 years of experience covering the industry, I was hooked long before I ever shared my critical take on any specific film. Since my late teens, I’ve studied the lists of nominations, tracking my annual viewing against the world-wide critical community and members of the various industry guilds. I wanted to see what were considered the best films and determine how my taste and perspective stood in comparison.
Not much has changed; other than the fact that now, I am ensconced in that critical community, as an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic and a member of the Critics Choice Association, which means that I am a voting member of an awards season group. I actively participate in the creation and dissemination of narratives that help sway voters for the biggest prize of them all — the Oscars.
So, let me share 10 plot points to consider as we approach the lead-up to the 95th Annual Academy Awards. The nominations are out, and while I’ve swayed what and who I could within the Academy, I hope to sway you to pay attention to the below mentions — nomination or no nomination.
The women in front of the camera
Sadie Sink (The Whale) — 2022 found Sink running up that hill, eager to stay one step ahead of apocalyptic danger in Season 4 of Stranger Things (Netflix), but it seems like she had her sights on a much larger prize as the snarky daughter of an absent father (Brendan Fraser) struggling with grief and his mission to eat himself to death. Sink’s expression of her character’s rage is the last threadbare lifeline in this finely wrought drama.
Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once) — Yeoh just earned her first Oscar nomination for her role in Everything Everywhere, a part that also saw her take home the Best Actress statue at the recent Golden Globes. Before that, she earned a BAFTA nomination in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She’s had past success onscreen in a variety of films — Tomorrow Never Dies, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Crazy Rich Asians — but thanks to writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Yeoh found a role that allowed her to bring a multiverse of experiences to life in one dynamic and somewhat insane film.
Danielle Deadwyler (Till) — Sometimes history offers moments that are too big to contain within the frames of a biopic. Before Chinonye Chukwu delivered Till, it would have been easy to place the story of Emmett Till’s 1955 murder in that category. Zeroing in on the aftermath of that attack meant embracing the seemingly impossible task of casting Mamie Till-Mobley, but Deadwyler allows audiences to bear witness to this horrific tragedy by fearlessly stepping into that moment and holding our hands as we follow her.
Dolly De Leon (Triangle of Sadness) — Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) is known for crafting surreal social critiques that indict both his film’s subjects and their world-wide audiences. He certainly does his job once again with his latest film, a deliciously wicked class commentary, but he is ably assisted by De Leon who subverts the social order when vacationers on Triangle’s luxury cruise run aground on a desert island. Unfortunately, it seems the Academy was afraid of having her crash the Supporting Actress category, though the movie did earn nods in the Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Director categories.
Janelle Monáe (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) — Monáe, as a recording artist, tried to convince us that she was a futuristic savior with the funkiest heartbeat, but I’m far more intrigued by Monáe, the actress, who guarantees that every frame she’s in feels like the most immediate moment we’ve ever seen. Operating amongst a cast full of scene stealers, she pilfers the whole film right out from under each and every one of them, probably before the camera started rolling.
The little film that could
Bad Axe (director David Siev) — Full disclosure, as the artistic director of the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival, I lead a dogged programming team on the hunt for award season sleepers. Our 2021 closing night film — Apple’s CODA — earned the top prize at the Academy Awards that year and now, Bad Axe, the winner of the festival’s Freedom Film Award, was shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature. While it didn’t earn a nomination, the film — where Siev focuses on his Asian American family as they seek to keep their family business and their piece of the American dream afloat during Trump’s COVID-plagued reign in 2020 — is well worth your time.
The movie star
Tom Cruise (Top Gun: Maverick) — So often we focus on celebrity and perception, especially in the case of a performer like Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. Does he flash that million-watt smile, sprint across the screen a couple of times, and dangle off the side of the planet in a heart-stopping action sequence? The better question seems to be is when Cruise will be in position to snag another elusive acting nomination? (His last one was in the Supporting Actor category for Magnolia back in 2000.) While Top Gun: Maverick earn a slew of nominations, none where for Cruise. Still, if anyone can stick the landing years later, it just might be the Top Gun himself.
The directors to watch
Todd Field (Tár) — With only two previous feature films as a director, Field has earned three Academy Award nominations (once for Best Picture and twice for adapted screenplay — In the Bedroom and Little Children) and these films have garnered a trove of performance nominations as well. Field has a nose for material and talent and the ability to elevate both even further. Tár, which features the latest otherworldly star turn from Cate Blanchett, continued this streak with multiple nominations, including Field for Best Director.
Ryan Coogler (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) — To transition from revelatory small world recreation (Fruitvale Station) to franchise blockbusting with rich cultural significance (Black Panther), Coogler has nothing left to prove. But returning to Wakanda without his (and our) heroic king was the task at hand and not only did Coogler succeed, he also introduced audiences to yet another revolutionary kingdom. Maybe film lovers should be chanting Ryan Coogler Forever.
Sarah Polley (Women Talking) — What happens when a promising young actress decides to step behind the camera and reveal her true calling? Polley rocked my world with her documentary Stories We Tell that examined her family’s uncanny knack to transform myth and memory into something alive and immediate. Women Talking goes even further, illustrating the power of female agency. The Academy has made great strides in acknowledging female directors the last two years, but I will be the first to line up in opposition since they dropped the ball this time.
The 95th Academy Awards take place Sunday, March 12, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Hear more from tt stern-enzi about the Oscar nominations on Wednesday’s (January 25, 2023) Cincinnati Edition.