No, You Don’t Need To Know Any of the Films to Enjoy the 2023 Oscars


Rob Corder

Fairfax Movie Theater Displaying Doctor Strange, Bad Guys, The Northman, and Everything Everywhere All At Once

Scanning through the 2023 Oscar nominations, I realized I’d watched only one film nominated for Best Picture: Elvis. Ultimately, I believed playful yet ambitious editing and very intentional costuming made the movie reasonably enjoyable despite the excruciating long run time (I had to watch the film over a course of two days) and a script that under-acknowledged the role of black musicians in the creation of The King. However, I can’t deny my true motivation to watch Elvis came from my desire to be comforted by the familiar, seeing Tom Hanks once again after a lifetime of seeing him on screen, and a movie musical in the heat of summer.

As Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water, and Jurassic World: Dominion were, respectively, the highest-grossing movies of 2022, all sequels of well-established franchises, I know I’m definitely not alone in seeking out the familiar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acknowledges this through very populistically curated nominations for Best Picture from the previously mentioned box-office hits of Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water alongside many lesser-talked-about features such as Women Talking and The Fablemans, despite having Hollywood royalty behind them like Francis McDormand and Stephen Spielberg. Searching over the list, however, I saw a film in particular that caught my eye, Everything Everywhere All at Once.

I started watching the film on a flight in mid-August, after I underestimated my flight time by about an hour, just completing my previously downloaded comfort entertainment such as Community and When Harry Met Sally. Without any music, and with my summer reading already completed (I hadn’t waited until the week before, for the first time in my high school career), I decided to browse the in-flight entertainment options, navigating a website I seldomly used to check the minutes remaining until we touched the ground. After a few minutes of rigorously scrolling through the unknown movie selection, my eye caught onto the dynamic, ruby billboard of Everything Everywhere All at Once. Despite hearing many positive reviews, I hadn’t made the time to sit down and watch it.

However, at 36,000 feet, I had no better option, so I removed my headphones from their case and tuned in. I was instantly drawn in by the opening scene at the laundromat, Michelle Yeoh’s labored interactions with Jamie Lee Curtis, and James Hong’s pungent remarks. However, after about 30 minutes in, it was time to disembark, the movie majorly unfinished and never revisited. I was instantly back to whatever my immaculately curated streaming services recommended for me, whether that be a variety of The Great British Baking Show or a celebrity biopic from Netflix, a classic like The Parent Trap or The Sound of Music from Disney Plus, never to explore anything truly new, everything again so familiar.

This gets down to the fundamental problem with how we consume media today. We’re systematically tracked by algorithms that have, in the words of Elinor Carmi, research associate at Liverpool University’s communication and media department, specific ways of indicating and nudging people into what they should choose—from prioritizing things at the ‘top’ of search/display buttons, colors, and even images,” making it seamless for us to forget the plethora of media not directly hitting our eyeballs. Inherently, this isn’t an awful premise. Algorithms try their best to ensure that we will receive recommendations we’ll like. (Of course, this isn’t always successful; I’m looking at you, the For You section of HBO Max, which recommended for me the dumpster fire of Velma.) But by simply relying on data on material we’ve enjoyed in the past, what would ever influence us to explore outside of our perfectly curated bubble?

Effort. Maybe we should take the advice of Franklin Leonard, the founder of the Black List. “Make a little bit of effort to find the great movies that are out there … look for movies that other people say are great and check those out, you’ll find a lot of surprises you might not otherwise know about.”

Effort. Hence, I personally choose to interpret his reasoning as an opportunity to sit down and watch an Oscar-nominated movie for 2023, as I’d historically been emotionally moved and mentally pushed by Best Picture winners like 2016’s Moonlight and 2020’s Parasite. However, instead of watching a Best Picture nomination that would require me to extract my body off the warm, ever-comfortable couch to grab my credit card, I choose to watch Argentina, 1985, nominated for Best International Film on Amazon Prime. Hence, my effort could only go so far.

While watching Argentina, 1985, I found myself not engrossed by familiarity, but enticed by all the mundane new material around me, whether that be the dull color scheme, realistically heightened interactions between a father and a daughter, the noisy curiosity of a child, the hospital-like architecture of the ‘80s, creating new synapses within my brain.

This enriching experience only exacerbated my search for film hidden by my streaming services’ recommendations, guiding me to explore not only other international films like The Handmaiden (visually stunning, horrifying concept) but allowing me to once revisit the vibrant world of black and white cinema through Brief Encounter (painfully gorgeous, emotionally draining). Although not every film I’ve come to explore has been a gem, I’m completely dumbfounded by how simply reading the Oscars’ recommendations opened my eyes to numerous galaxies of cinematography, taking me out of the cinematic universe in which I’d grown too comfortable.

We all need something familiar, something nostalgic once in a while, but film can be so much more. Your comfort movies will always be easy to find, trust me. But the Oscars provide a valuable opportunity to explore media that will otherwise never hit your radar. So I challenge you to burst your bubble, looking at the Oscars as a launching pad to explore the uncanny, the eerie, however vast, and titillating world of cinema, one we’ve all forgotten.