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The First Annual Film Obsessive Alternate Oscars

Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

By now, you’ve read a million Oscar predictions and have gone through multiple permutations. As has been the case in recent years, many of the categories seem settled and you’re hearing the same movies and actors in the conversation: Oppenheimer, Barbie, Maestro, The Holdovers, Christopher Nolan, Bradley Cooper, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, the list goes on. Let me get one thing straight—I really like these movies. Oppenheimer is the best movie of the year and I believe it should absolutely win Best Picture in addition to any other awards it garners. But, these weren’t the only movies that came out in a fantastic 2023 film year. The recent and controversial Oscar nomination proved my point; unfortunately, we didn’t get many surprising nominations. 

That said, I’m excited to announce the first annual Film Obsessive Alternate Oscar (FOAO) nominations and wins. The point of this exercise is to shine light on the movies and performances that didn’t receive much attention during this awards season as well as introduce categories that the current Oscars should have. You won’t see much Barbenheimer or Poor Things here, and if they do show up, it’ll be components from those great movies that weren’t highlighted as much as I thought they should be. Without further ado, let the FOAO begin. 

A woman claps high to lead a large dance in Barbie
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Picture

It’s a shame virtually none of these movies came close to the Best Picture conversation. Some of these films were in my top five of the year. John Wick Chapter 4, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, and Godzilla Minus One continue to show the innovation and exceptionality of action filmmaking where the action serves as a vessel to convey the story. The same can be said in the animated form of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which feels like a comic book come to life. We used to nominate blockbusters like these for Best Picture and they should have been recognized in some fashion. 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and The Taste of Things felt like throwbacks in the best way possible. Many people are lauding The Holdovers for its nostalgic value and I’d argue Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. and The Taste of Things do it in a much stronger fashion. The former is a classic coming-of-age movie featuring tremendous performances and the latter is a swooning romance where our protagonists express their love for each other through cooking. These vivacious films put a smile on your face—isn’t that what movies are for? 

Asteroid City, May December, and The Killer were the latest features from some of our strongest filmmakers (Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes, and David Fincher, respectively). All three of these auteurs took a genre they have familiarity with—quirky dramedy, melodrama, neo-noir thriller—and added a new twist to it. With Asteroid City, Anderson explores grief and mortality in a town full of people who find their lives changed after an alien comes to visit them. In May December, Haynes uses melodrama and camp to talk about trauma, insecurity, and the art of performing. And, with The Killer, Fincher decides to go meta in his execution as a director in what is one of his funniest and most entertaining movies about a hitman who literally messes up on executing a kill. 

But, the movie I still can’t believe didn’t get any awards love—because it seems like it would have no problem doing so—and one of my favorite movies of the year is The Iron Claw. This is a serious and tragic biopic with multiple towering performances, many of whom went through intensive physical transformation. It’s beloved by critics and audiences alike. The Iron Claw has everything a Best Picture contender should have and it feels more earnest than most awards bait. We’re going to look back in a few years and wonder why this heart-wrenching and incredible film wasn’t even close to making the Best Picture lineup. I adore this movie and am proud to give it the first-ever FOAO Best Picture award.

Winner: The Iron Claw

A wrestler with his hand held up threatens anothe wrestler.
Harris Dickinson (L) as David Von Erich. Image courtesy of A24

Best Director

  • Kelly Fremon Craig, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
  • Sean Durkin, The Iron Claw
  • David Fincher, The Killer
  • Todd Haynes, May December
  • Chad Stahelski, John Wick Chapter 4

Craig is one of my favorite working directors and it’s a shame she’s only made two movies since 2016. She’s been mentored by the legendary James L. Brooks and is making movies in the Brooks vein that we sorely miss. Both her films are favorites of mine and her way of creating these comforting tales feels so effortless. She tackles complicated topics in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. but never loses any heart or emotionality. Durkin had a monumental task in telling the Von Erich story by remaining faithful and respectful to the horrible tragedies this family faced. I could not imagine this was an easy job and knew it involved some hard decisions (including cutting a whole brother out of the story). But, he never loses control of the film and it never veers into something distasteful or egregious. 

Many people called The Killer Fincher-lite or something that he could do in his sleep. Look at the technical aspects of the opening Rear Window-inspired opening sequence, the way the score comes in and out of the movie, or how certain shots are framed. All of this involves precision, process, and practice. Most importantly, it involves a master who knows how to do his job. Michael Fassbender’s Killer may be bad at his job, but Fincher isn’t. At some point, we need to acknowledge the way Stahelski has changed the action movie genre as we know it. After all, he is a former stuntman and sees stunt work on a level other directors simply can’t. His work in John Wick Chapter 4 is breathtaking and cannot be replicated in any other movie you see.

Out of this group (and this year, in general), the director whose work impressed me the most was Haynes’ work in May December. In any other director’s hands, this film is a complete tonal disaster. How Haynes can use dark comedy and melodrama to tell such a disturbing story is astounding. Going in, I was worried the odd tone would give me whiplash but, as soon as Julianne Moore uttered the famous hot-dog line, I was fully on board. I laughed out loud at multiple times yet always felt the weight of the tragedy at hand. He gets outstanding performances from his trio who understand the intentionality and tone he wants to create. Simply put, no one does melodrama like Haynes nor should anyone try. 

Winner: Todd Haynes, May December

Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) studies Gracie (Julianne Moore) as she applies makeup in a bathroom. Elizabeth holds a notepad in the well-lit bathroom.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

Best Actor

  • Adam Driver, Ferrari
  • Zac Efron, The Iron Claw
  • Glen Powell, Anyone But You
  • Jason Schwartzman, Asteroid City
  • Teo Yoo, Past Lives

Some of you may scoff at the inclusion of Powell on this list and, sadly, you are all incorrect and I stand by it. Hollywood doesn’t make good rom-coms anymore and we need to acknowledge we got a big, fun, R-rated studio rom-com featuring two of our most exciting stars in Powell and Sydney Sweeney. Sweeney’s acting is something we can discuss but Powell is undeniable as the male lead in Anyone But You. This is someone who knows he’s a major deal and acts like it. He’s handsome, charismatic, and has terrific comic timing. He won’t be the winner here but fully deserves one of the five spots on this illustrious list. 

Yoo and Schwartzman gave quiet yet powerful performances in their respective films. Schwartzman, in particular, is having a fantastic year but his turn in Asteroid City has stuck with me since the moment I saw that wonderful movie. He’s played multiple memorable side characters in Wes Anderson’s films, but he finally gets to lead one for once and doesn’t squander the opportunity. He is the heart and soul of Asteroid City and I hope we see more leading roles from him. Yoo was a revelation in Past Lives in what is a very difficult character to play. Like Schwartzman, there is so much longing and pain in Yoo’s character. His character evolves as the movie goes along and, although we feel bad for him, he comes out a changed person—one filled with hope of what’s to come.

I don’t care what anyone says, if Driver wants to play Italian characters for the rest of his career, I would be ecstatic. He is electric in Ferrari and completely sinks into the role of Enzo Ferrari. It’s a very big, powerhouse of a performance and Driver is perfect, assimilating into the Michael Mann aesthetic with ease. Rumor has it he will be in Heat 2 and I cannot wait for that.

As good as all these actors were, no one comes close to Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. Again, I don’t know why this isn’t happening at the actual Oscars since Efron goes through a massive physical transformation playing a real person. It’s the conviction and dedication Efron has playing Kevin Von Erich that stays with me. His anguish and tears feel authentic and, like Driver, loses himself in the role. The final scene where he tells his sons that he used to be a brother will absolutely wreck you and, in a just world, would be the clip they play at the Oscars. We should also acknowledge Efron looks jacked to the point where his body feels like a special effect. He does some exercises that feel impossible for the human body to do. When you combine the physical aspect with the pathos of the role, Efron gives the defining male performance of the year.

Winner: Zac Efron, The Iron Claw

Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons pose on a bench as the Von Erich brothers in the A24 film The Iron Claw
Photo: Erik Chakeen, A24.

Best Actress

Disclosure: I really believed Greta Lee would get a nomination for Past Lives since it is a marvelous performance and she was getting a ton of nominations elsewhere. Alas, that didn’t happen (darn you, Nyad) and she would definitely be on this list, but I want to highlight some of these other great actresses.

Many have slotted Binoche as supporting for The Taste of Things; I think she is a co-lead and a driving force in this delightful film. Binoche is radiant in a role of few words. But, the performance is in her eyes and cooking. She can convey so much without saying anything. Her character’s love for life, food, and other people is so pure but never veers into being schmaltzy. A beautiful performance, one of my favorites. 

Binoche is an established actress who gives a nuanced performance and, conversely, newcomer Spaeny gives an equally elegant and layered performance in Priscilla. Sofia Coppola cast the perfect actress in Spaeny, who convincingly plays Priscilla Presley at age 14 and age 35. She captures the innocence and claustrophobia of this character with aplomb and her small stature plays perfectly with Jacob Elodi’s towering frame. There are no outbursts or yelling sequences, but Spaeny’s quiet portrayal of the Queen of Rock feels monumental. She is a budding movie star.

For years, the Academy refuses to reward comedic performances—an asinine move since comedy involves a high level of difficulty. Thankfully, Julia Louis-Dreyfus received a million awards for her GOAT-tier performance as Selina Meyer on Veep, but she is wonderful in Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings. It’s a sad and funny performance of a writer whose life gets upended when she finds out her husband lied about liking her new book. With Enough Said and You Hurt My Feelings, I hope Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus keep making light-hearted dramedies. I said we were going to have fun on this list, and what’s more fun than Molly Gordon in Theater Camp? I’m a huge Gordon fan and she is on another level as Rebecca-Diane. Every scene she’s in is a riot, especially when she is leading the camp attendees in an acting class. Or the scene where Rebecca-Diane chastises one of the kids for using the “tear stick,” aka doping for actors. I love Theater Camp and Molly Gordon is a huge reason. 

Emma Stone in Poor Things, notwithstanding, Natalie Portman as serious actor Elizabeth Berry in May December would get my vote for Best Actress. If actors felt attacked or offended by Portman’s portrayal of a method actor (and that being the reason she didn’t get nominated), then grow a spine. It’s a scathing and hilarious performance, which is why it works so well. I just don’t know how you can watch her transfixing and mesmerizing monologue and not want her to win all the awards. Just watch her the way she moves her head when observing Julianne Moore or emulating her every move. Everything she does is so measured and perfect for playing this character. She’s truly one of our greatest actresses and, when she’s on one, few people can go toe-to-toe with her.

Winner: Natalie Portman, May December

Elizabeth looks directly at the camera as she delivers a monologue as Gracie.
Natalie Portman delivers a show-stopping monologue in May December.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Jamie Bell, All of Us Strangers
  • Jacob Elordi, Priscilla
  • Glenn Howerton, Blackberry
  • Charles Melton, May December
  • Tobias Menzies, You Hurt My Feelings

All of Us Strangers doesn’t totally work for me (the third act is a misfire), but the performances are incredibly effective, especially Bell’s. I’ll talk about this more, but the quiver in Bell’s voice when he apologizes to Andrew Scott’s character in a pivotal scene is devastating. Bell’s Dad comes to terms with his son’s sexuality all whilst being aware that he’s an apparition and is making up for time lost. He loves his son and wishes he could do things differently, but knows he can’t change anything. It’s a moving performance that should’ve gotten more love.

Two young stars I want to spotlight are Jacob Elordi and Charles Melton. Much has been said about who played Elvis better between Austin Butler and Elordi and I am here to say Elordi blows Butler out of the water. Elordi plays Elvis with panache and ease, not nearly as sweaty as Butler’s. As a result, a more subdued Elvis feels scarier and more threatening, closer to what Coppola wants us to feel. I’m glad Elordi has moved on from the silly Netflix rom-coms because he’s clearly talented and can elevate anything he’s in (hot take: he’s better in Saltburn than Barry Keoghan). Let’s pour one out for Melton, who wasn’t in an earlier version of this article and, instead, Sterling K. Brown was here for American Fiction. As it would happen, Brown ended up being nominated and Melton was out. I’m ecstatic for Brown but Melton is outstanding as the broken and feeble Joe Yoo in May December. His character never got to be a kid and he embodies that feeling just by the way his character hunches over or shrugs. His demeanor and physical language capture his lost innocence. Without him, the movie’s third act doesn’t work at all. He didn’t get nominated here but I foresee future nominations for Melton. 

I found Menzies’ performance in You Hurt My Feelings very impressive because the character is not an easy one to play. He could come off as super unlikeable but Menzies imbues him with humanity and Holofcener writes his character with depth and, more importantly, without judgment. Don has his problems he’s dealing with and we can put ourselves in his shoes when he tells his white lie. Whom amongst us hasn’t told a white lie to a loved one? I’ve always enjoyed Menzies’ work, this might be his best yet.

I feel the best supporting actors are the ones where I go onto YouTube and type their name, the movie, and “best scenes.” This is precisely why Robert Downey Jr. will win the Oscar and why Glenn Howerton, the FOAO winner, should have gotten an Oscar nomination. A loud, bodacious, and hilarious performance, Howerton is sensational in Blackberry. Fans from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia won’t be surprised at him stealing scene after scene with his impeccable line deliveries. Watch the scene where he yells at a group of NHL owners and tell me he shouldn’t get awards recognition. The special thing about this performance is that he’s as good in the dramatic scenes as he is in the comedic scenes. His character has a rise and fall arc and Howerton shows all aspects of the journey with aplomb. I will definitely be watching “Glenn Howerton Blackberry Best Scenes” many times. 

Winner: Glenn Howerton, Blackberry

Best Supporting Actress

I find Cruz and Myers’s performances very similar. Both are in big movies with a ton of big performances but both talented actresses jump off the screen like a bullet train. Cruz is a veteran who has consistently given great performance after great performance and, in Ferrari, she is a firecracker. The movie absolutely does not work without the erratic and sad Laura Ferrari. Ferrari needs to have an emotional core for the stakes to feel high, which can be found in Cruz’s painstaking and otherworldly portrayal of Laura. Cruz is beloved by the Academy and I’m shocked she didn’t get a nomination. Next time you see Ferrari, focus on her eyes. The bags and dark eyes tell us so much about the anguish and pain this character has gone through. It’s an astounding performance. We’re exposed to the tragedies in Killers of the Flower Moon very early on, but Anna’s (Myers) doomed fate is the first event in a series of horrific ones of things hitting close to Molly’s (Lily Gladstone) family. With so many towering performances, Myers doesn’t squander a single second of screen time. It is her authority and strong-willed mind that forces the camera to stay on her. Her agency is being stripped away by many of the evil white men in town, but Anna will not go down without a fight. Just like Cruz, Myers is explosive yet never veers into overrating. I’m keen to see what Myers does next, she’s a special actress.

Two performances I had an absolute hoot with were Kirby in Napoleon and Pike in Saltburn. Saltburn is largely a mess (one that I enjoyed, nonetheless) that has taken the internet by storm. There are many issues to be had with the writing of the movie in addition, but the performances are largely good to great. My favorite, by far, was Pike as the airy and hilarious Catton matriarch Elspeth. I wish Saltburn had been two-plus hours of Elspeth talking—that’s how good Pike is. Every line she says is laugh-out-loud funny and she is truly having a great time. I especially loved her rude and devious comments towards her poor friend Pamela (played by a fun Carey Mulligan). I mean, how could you not love a line like, “I tried being a lesbian once. It was all too wet for me,” delivered impeccably by the always great Pike?  Similarly, every single one of Kirby’s line deliveries as Josephine is delectable and highly entertaining. Napoleon doesn’t come together as a final product, but everything between Napoleon and Josephine is A+. When the movie plays out like a psychosexual romp, it’s firing on all cylinders and Kirby is a big reason why. She looks stunning and plays Josephine like a mastermind—someone who can get into Napoleon’s head and feel like the most important person in the world. I wished there was more of her in this cut of the movie (I imagine there’ll be more of her in the inevitable director’s cut) because she’s in the part of the movie that works and everything around her falters to varying degrees. 

It’s Rachel McAdams, however, in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. that will win this award and should win the actual Academy Award had she been nominated. This is a top-five performance of the year for me and the best McAdams has been. She’s always been one of my favorite actresses to watch (her stellar turn in Game Night should have also been nominated for Best Actress) but Craig can tap into something we haven’t seen before. In this wonderful movie, she plays Barbara, a mom who doesn’t have it together. Not in the sense that she’s losing her mind, but that her love for her family and her love for life aren’t coming together as easily as she wants. Barbara is trying her very hardest but her frustration and determination feel so earnest and real. There’s no transformation or accent work or any bells and whistles. This is an actress who is in line with the director’s vision taking a tropey character and making her feel unique. Moreover, even though the movie is set in the 1980s, the character feels modern because of McAdams’ strong work. This movie and performance are going to age so incredibly well. McAdams is always a delight to see on screen and is one of our best working actresses. She will win an Oscar one day for something I’m sure is great, but this will be the performance I will always come back to. 

Barbara and Margaret in a department store
Photo Credit: Dana Hawley


Thus far, we’ve covered categories that the Academy Awards currently give out. However, they are really missing out by not creating more categories that would allow more movies to be recognized. Some of these are featured at other shows but it’s baffling how a struggling show won’t implement these. Regardless, we’ll award them at the FOAO. 

Best Stunts

  • Ferrari: The Crash Scene
  • Godzilla Minus One: Godzilla uses Atomic Breath for the first time
  • John Wick 4: Night Club Fight Scene
  • Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Fiat Drive in Rome
  • The Killer: Battle with the Brute

Action filmmaking has gotten more advanced in the last decade, largely a result of the John Wick stuntmen turning into directors and telling their stories through action. This “New Wave Action” has ascended what was previously trashy cinema into something more prestigious. As a result, the Academy should honor the best stunt scene or stunt work every year.

The only scene from this year I audibly gasped in was the climactic crash in Ferrari. I was not familiar with the Mille Miglia and was completely unaware of the awful tragedy that took place. Throughout Ferrari, Michael Mann keeps everything grounded and, while the racing sequences are a blast, it seems the movie is building up to a big action moment. Mann subverts our expectations by creating one of the most horrific scenes to grace the silver screen in recent times. It’s not an awesome or cool scene, but a consequence of great ambition. The crash itself is graphic and hard to look at, but it is executed to a high level. On the flip side, when talking about shock value, there’s not much to be shocked about in a Godzilla movie. You expect a giant lizard to stomp around, scream, and use his atomic breath. We get all of that in Godzilla Minus One and it rules. It rules so hard. This is the coolest Godzilla yet and the reason why he separates himself from the other iterations is director Takashi Yamazaki portrays his atomic breath in the most badass way. Each sharp vertebrae of Godzilla’s spine elongates as his atomic breath is loading and each spike lights up in a bright color. There’s a slow build-up with a more than satisfying payoff as his atomic breath truly feels scary and gargantuan. Not dissimilar to Ferrari, Yamazaki shows the damage Godzilla causes by showing the deaths of many innocents caught in his atomic breath. The first time he uses it is one of the greatest feats of CGI I’ve seen and you could feel everyone pumping their fists in the theaters. 

When it comes to practical stunt work and blocking, both Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning and The Killer feature two outstandingly choreographed sequences. Tom Cruise seems the heir apparent to Buster Keaton with his love to put himself in danger for our enjoyment and he’s never been more Keaton-like than in Dead Reckoning. He and movie MVP Hayley Atwell have a rollicking car chase sequence in Rome while driving in a small yellow Fiat. Everything is practical here (unlike the similar and horrendous Rome car chase in Fast X) and there is a ton of screwball comedy. Both actors are handcuffed to one another and have to navigate through crowded Rome in this comically small car. Oh, also psychotic Paris (a phenomenal Pom Klementieff) is chasing them in a huge armored car. It’s invigorating and funny simultaneously. They even managed to sneak in a double-entendre bit that will have you in splits. David Fincher’s The Killer is all about precision and methodology, so it’s fitting the movie’s centerpiece fight between the titular Killer (Michael Fassbender) and a literal giant brute is precisely choreographed and blocked to a tee. The two men move from room to room and use every household item they can get their hands on to their advantage. There’s even a drugged pitbull that awakens and makes a surprise appearance. Fincher doesn’t usually have big fight sequences and he does his first one as one would expect: perfect. 

In a year with a John Wick movie, there’s no way this award could have gone to any other movie than John Wick Chapter 4. This franchise has changed Hollywood and the way we direct action films. There is very little CGI and an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, in a way where each punch feels real. Some of the John Wick rip-offs aren’t as successful because they keep doing the same things over and over again. What makes this franchise, and Chapter 4 in particular, is they keep finding a way to surprise us. Watching Chapter 4, I kept asking myself, “How are they doing this?” It’s a marvelous feat of filmmaking, there are no two ways to say it. I could have gone with so many of the sequences in this movie since they’re all jaw-dropping amazing. The three-part Sisyphean climactic showdown(s) is just astonishing, especially the Arc-de-Triomphe battle which had me incredibly stressed. But, when I think of this franchise and why I love it so much, I think back to the club shootout in the first movie. That scene is the turning point of this industry. Stahelski harkens back to that in this film with an outrageous nightclub set piece in the rain; Neon lights abound, rain splattering everything, and hundreds of extras who are seemingly high on ketamine as they dance carelessly around these men brutally fighting each other. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has to fight a larger-than-life Scott Adkins and it’s as beautiful as you can imagine. Again, each punch, fall, scratch, and wound feels authentic and puts you in the place of action. That is what action movies are supposed to do. 

Winner: Night Club Fight Scene, John Wick Chapter 4

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close
Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo Credit: Murray Close

Best Needle Drop

This year had some really creative needle drops, none more than when Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” comes out of nowhere toward the end of Ari Aster’s nightmare comedy, Beau Is Afraid. We find out Beau has never, um, climaxed in life which causes him to have enormous testicles. A brave and game Parker Posey gets him to bed and you hear the glorious voice of Carey play as this weird sex scene takes place. The song choice is even wilder when you consider Beau’s climax is so explosive, it literally kills Posey’s character. Another fun needle drop can be found in Saltburn where Oliver (Barry Keoghan) finally takes control of the luxurious estate by killing multiple members of the Catton family. What better way to celebrate than strutting naked through the house you’ve conspired to gain to the tune of “Murder on the Dance Floor”? Is it too on the nose? Maybe. Does it make it any less fun? Most definitely not. 

The Iron Claw and The Holdovers have needle drops that transport you to the era the films are depicting. The Holdovers starts with the relaxing voice of Cat Stevens and it sets the stage perfectly before a single line of dialogue is uttered, which is what a great needle drop can do. The same can be said for the adrenaline-pumping “Tom Sawyer” sequence in The Iron Claw. No sports movie can be complete without a training montage and pairing that sequence with a good song is essential. Durkin chooses a great song that makes you want to get into the ring yourself. Out of all the needle drops, this one feels the most cinematic and will have you hyped as hell.

There was only one needle drop, however, that was both eccentric and integral to the plot: the steel drums cover of “P.I.M.P.” Justine Triet, you mastermind, the choice to make this song such an important part of Anatomy of a Fall was a stroke of genius. Finding out this was the song that Samuel (Samuel Theis) was killed/committed suicide to is dark comedy at its best. Not only that, the song is played numerous times throughout the movie and is even used as evidence during the trial (French court remains one of the wildest things I’ve ever witnessed). I imagine Triet had a bunch of songs to choose from, but she chose the perfect one. The fact that it’s the steel drums cover makes it so much more hilarious. 

Winner: “P.I.M.P (Steel Drums Cover)”, Anatomy of a Fall

A man lies dead on the snow as his wife and son look on him in fear.
Anatomy of a Fall. Photos Courtesy of Neon.

Best Breakthrough Performance

  • Abby Ryder Fortson, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
  • Alina Khan, Joyland
  • Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers
  • Marshawn Lynch, Bottoms
  • Milo Machado-Graner (and Messi the Dog), Anatomy of a Fall

A really bad kid performance can tank a movie, but this year we got two of the strongest kid performances in recent times. Fortson is stellar in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. She plays Margaret with the perfect combination of charm and curiosity. In addition to that, she has great comedic timing and fits in with the ‘80s aesthetic perfectly. On the other end of the spectrum, Machado-Graner has an extremely difficult role. His character plays an integral part in the plot of Anatomy of a Fall, including delivering the climactic testimony. A lot of the movie hinges on his conviction and emotions—the talented young actor does not squander his opportunity. This is not one of the best breakthrough performances of the year, it’s one of the best performances, period. I have to give a shoutout to Messi the Dog, as well. I was truly amazed at some of the acting he was doing. Easily the best dog performance ever. 

As I mentioned in my review, I can’t be unbiased about Lynch’s performance in Bottoms. I’m a die-hard Seahawks fan and I was elated to see him in a movie. Not only that, he is hysterical in Bottoms. He’s parodying the conventional high school teacher role in his fashion and it is aligned with Ayo Edibiri and Rachel Sennott’s sense of humor. I had a fantastic time watching him advocating for feminism, abandoning it completely, and talking about his impending divorce. He needs to be a lynchpin in all comedy movies going forward. 

Khan is fearless in the underseen and incredible Joyland. She plays a transgender dancer in Pakistan whose new dancer falls in love with her, even though he’s married. This is a brave performance just for the subject matter alone, but Khan has such a groping presence. She’s confident yet wounded; passionate yet full of anger. Her character is treated like a queen in her dancing troupe and Khan acts like a bonafide movie star. That’s probably because she has all the makings of one and hopefully will continue to give powerful performances. 

It’s Sessa, though, who is the breakout star of 2023. Not only was I shocked to see that The Holdovers was his first movie, but I couldn’t believe he had never acted before. When you see him in this delightful film, he acts like he’s done this all his life. There’s nothing rough about his performance—he’s an absolute natural. His co-star Paul Giamatti is a seasoned veteran but Sessa doesn’t seem the least fazed. He’s up to the task by sinking into the role of Angus and plays him like a teen you would encounter in the ‘70s. He acts like a superstar and looks like one too (based on his recent red-carpet outings). Keep an eye out for him, I think he’s going places. 

Winner: Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers

Two men stand on a sidewalk in the snow.
Image courtesy of Cinema/Chicago,

Best Breakthrough Feature

Past Lives is a masterpiece and Celine Song has introduced herself as one of the signature voices of Hollywood, only one film in. The delicacy with which she approaches her story, the comforting ambiance she creates, and her layered approach to writing her characters are all aspects that make her a special filmmaker. She was rightfully nominated for Best Original Screenplay and would easily win a Best First Feature award if the Oscars had one, and rightfully so. Another first-time female director who impressed me was Chloe Domont and her film Fair Play. The movie takes a lot of bold swings—not all of them work—but Domont’s desire to shoot for the fences is admirable. She gets great performances from her leads and isn’t afraid to show the ugly sides of her characters. 

In a year of brand movies, Johnson created the best one in Blackberry. What separates Blackberry from the others is Johnson’s approach and intent. The other movies (Air, Tetris, etc.) felt like long ads for the companies they were depicting. Blackberry is the opposite of those and is more interested in showing the fall of the tech company rather than lauding them for their success. This isn’t Johnson’s first feature but it’s his most acclaimed one and put him on the map. He’s a talented guy and I hope to see him tackle other genres and put his twist on them. Similarly, Goldhaber took intellectual property and put his flair on it. His movie adapts the non-fiction novel How to Blow Up a Pipeline but uses it as a basis for the imperative story he wants to tell. The movie feels like Ecological Ocean’s 11 and you feel the importance of what these characters are doing from the moment it begins. Not a lot of films feel important these days—this is one that everyone should and must watch and Goldhaber’s approach is a big reason why.

Joyland is a special movie, however. I have to applaud Sadiq for making this movie because I know it wasn’t easy to get this released given the subject matter. Pakistani cinema has never made a dent internationally until Joyland because first Cannes selection from the Pakistani film industry. As a Pakistani-American, I was so proud to see this happen and even prouder once I saw how amazing this film was. Sadiq came under tons of controversy upon the release of Joyland to the point where the movie was banned in Pakistan for a long time. That didn’t stop Sadiq, though, and he made the movie he envisioned making. The performances are wonderful, the movie looks stunning, and handles its sensitive topics with care and respect. Hats off, Saim Sadiq, you have made Pakistan proud with this outstanding movie.

Winner: Saim Sadiq, Joyland

Biba leans in to kiss Haider
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Best Scene

  • Dad Apologizes to Adam, All of Us Strangers
  • The Recorded Argument, Anatomy of a Fall
  • Barbara Talks About Her Parents, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
  • Augie Speaks to The Actress, Asteroid City
  • “I’m Just Ken,” Barbie
  • The Epilogue, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Dream Ballet, Maestro
  • Elizabeth’s Monologue, May December
  • Austerlitz, Napoleon
  • Gymnasium Speech, Oppenheimer
  • “See You Then,” Past Lives
  • Bella Dances Amidst Polite Society, Poor Things
  • The Big Spider-People Chase, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
  • Kerry Sails to his Brothers, The Iron Claw
  • Dodin Cooks for Eugénie, The Taste of Things

All of these scenes are worthy of this award and I have gone back to these movies specifically to see these scenes. Some of them make you cry: All of Us Strangers, Past Lives, The Iron Claw, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Others encapsulate their whole movie in a single scene: Killers of the Flower Moon, Elizabeth’s Monologue, The Taste of Things, Anatomy of a Fall, and Asteroid City. And the rest are just exhilarating sequences that reinforce your love for the movies: Barbie, Maestro, Napoleon, Oppenheimer, Poor Things, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. 

I’ll go with the Gymnasium Speech in Oppenheimer as the scene of the year. Oppenheimer is the movie of the year and this scene is the single most impressive thing Christopher Nolan has directed. He captures the anxiety, guilt, and horror of J. Robert Oppenheimer during this speech in the most cinematic way. The cheers and stomps are indistinguishable from screams and explosions. People are so emotional, you can’t tell if they’re cheering or crying or screaming for help. He uses silence to build up the atmosphere and brings in the sound in a startling fashion. This propels us into the third hour of Oppenheimer (the strongest one) and prepares us for what’s to come. It’s haunting, astonishing, and a masterpiece, just like the movie itself.

Winner: Gymnasium Speech, Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


That wraps up the first annual Film Obsessive Alternate Oscars. Hopefully, the actual Oscars implement some of these new categories and shine a light on the movies and performances that don’t get talked about as much. 

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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