My Oscars Quest 2023 Quick-Start Scorecard

Michelle Yeoh looking peaceful, eyes closed, with an explosion behind her.

Michelle Yeoh descends from the heavens to accept her honors.

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve seen every Best Picture winner from Wings to CODA, and every Best Picture nominee from 1987 to the present, many of which were worth the hunt. You take the good, you take the bad, and so on.

In addition, this will be my third annual Oscars Quest Expanded Challenge, which was inspired by that darn pandemic — to see not just all the Best Picture nominees, but as many nominees as possible in all the other categories as well. When new releases were going quickly or directly to home video while theaters were shuttered, the Expanded Challenge was easier for me. I saw all but two of last year’s nominees, and am still missing eight nominees from the year before that. Someday maybe I’ll complete those sets. In the meantime, I have concerns about this year’s logistics now that theaters are back in business. I’m probably looking at far more trips away from home to reach my pointless personal goal, mood and local cinema schedules permitting.

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2022 at the Movies at My House

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as astronauts just standing there looking pained.

Live footage of Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson exiled off-planet as punishment for costarring in Moonfall.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. Though I’ve tried to get back out there with my vaccines and my restlessness and whatnot, more often than not the motivation level still wasn’t quite where it used to be. As a sort of compromise, in the year’s back half I tried to overcompensate and catch up with 2022 through our various streaming subscriptions and a smattering of Redbox rentals. We don’t have HBO Max or Amazon Prime, but I nevertheless watched plenty by estimation, enough to present the third annual installment of the MCC tradition borne of the pandemic: a ranking of all the brand new films I saw on comfy, convenient home video in their year of release.

Whittling away any and every film with a pre-2022 release date, our living room hosted 28 films in 2022 that fit the specific parameters for this list. We’re not far away from the Oscars’ nominations announcement on January 24th, which for weeks I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind as the deadline for this listicle, so…on with the countdown!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: The Year’s Best

The Batmobile jumping through an explosion in "The Batman".

Brought to you by EXPLOSIONS! They’re good for what bores ya!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in 2022 I made 18 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. In Part 1 we ranked the Bottom 8 backwards from “Blockbuster Video clearance bin” to “groundbreaking yet ordinary”, which I realize makes little sense to anyone who lives outside my own head, but is the sort of convoluted flaw you need to expect from a hobbyist who super-likes movies, occasionally enjoys writing about them, but refuses to rate them on an ordinate scale comprising numbers, letters, stars, adjectives, or cutesy emoji.

And now, the countdown concludes with the ten most relatively awesome films I saw at a theater in 2022 that were released for general audiences in same. Onward!

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My 2022 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Worst

Jared Leto as Michael Morbius holds a hand up to the camera.

Talk to the Morb.

It’s listing time again! In today’s entertainment consumption sphere, all experiences must be pitted against each other and assigned numeric values that are ultimately arbitrary to anyone except the writer themselves. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

I saw 18 films in theaters in 2022 that were actually released in 2022, an 18.2% decrease over 2021 despite having taken more vaccines than ever, well short of my all-time high of 32 films in 2019. That number doesn’t include the seven Academy Award nominees that were officially 2021 releases, but which I saw later as part of my annual Oscar Quest. It definitely doesn’t include all the 2022 films I watched on streaming services, which will receive their own much longer two-part listicle.

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“The Menu”: Tonight’s Special is a 10-Course Massacre

Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes face off as diner and chef in "The Menu".

“No, miss, I will not recite today’s specials in Voldemort’s voice.”

Speaking as someone who’s been in customer service for 34years and counting: when everything goes well, the symbiosis between a service team and their customer — whether a singular exchange or a recurring relationship — makes for a heartening occasion that both sides can appreciate. They pull off the quid pro quo between creator/provider and receiver/consumer, and everybody wins.

When things go wrong between the two parties, the results can be anywhere from mild disappointment to small-scale war. The customer gets full of themselves, or the employees show up in a foul mood, or there’s a miscommunication between the sides that could be resolved with some calm negotiation, yet isn’t. No one wins, everyone’s miserable, and it’s another round of cringing when they look back on That One Time years later.

The Menu falls in the latter column as an extreme worst-case scenario. An evening gone wrong becomes no mere comedy of errors, but an all-out class-war ambush where no one is innocent.

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“Avatar: The Way of Water”, the Weight of a Waterworld and the Wonder of Warrior Whales

Na'vi characters greeting each other in "Avatar The Way of Water".

Jake Sully, a fish out of water, becomes a little fish in a bigger pond, fishes for compliments from his hosts, believes he has bigger fish to fry, and realizes there’re other fish in the sea.

It’s been 13 years since the original Avatar hit theaters in December 2009, made a zillion dollars, and was nominated for a couple of awards. It was two years before this site existed, four years before I signed up for our first streaming service, 4½ years before I bought my first smartphone, and seven months before I joined Twitter. My son was in middle school. Barack Obama had been President for less than a year. Breaking Bad was two seasons in and a handful of AMC viewers thought it was keen.

It’s in those primitive times that James Cameron unleashed Avatar‘s technological might. I saw it twice in theaters, both times in 3-D. The first time, I was enthralled and perhaps a little giddy. The second time, I nodded off during one of the space-pterodactyl taming sequences. Over a decade in the making, the first sequel Avatar: The Way of Water vows that any theater-goer who pays extra to see it in a deluxe format cannot possibly sleep through a single second of it unless the speakers give them a concussion.

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“Tár”: Classical Gaslighting

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar expounding upon the classical music world to a lunch companion in the film "Tar".

“But enough about me, let’s talk a little more about ME…”

Full disclosure: I suck at fathoming and sorting the full breadth and scope of classical music in all its storied splendor. I can be taught, but my retention sucks through no conscious choice on my part. My wife Anne is far more skilled at recognizing symphonies and suites, catching nuances, spotting themes in film scores and remembering titles of lyricless songs. But she hasn’t seen Tár and prefers to let/watch/make me write my own blog, so here we are with a philistine on the keys, hopefully not too tone-deaf.

Not that I wasn’t looking forward to this! I still recall writer/director Todd Field’s debut, 2001’s In the Bedroom, a Best Picture nominee in which Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek were equally moving as parents dealing with the death of their adult son, Terminator 3‘s John Connor. I never got around to his follow-up Little Children, but that’s my fault, not Field’s. This time I didn’t wait to be prompted by my annual Oscar quest to run out and catch his next work, a taut drama so impeccably dressed and so meticulously crafted within its very specific milieu that you’re halfway into the film before you realize you’re viewing the entire edifice through an unreliable vantage.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” End Credits

Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright as Okoye and Shuri, wearing expensive non-superhero fashions to "blend in" with mixed results, from Marvel's "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever".

Okoye and Shuri learned everything they know about “going undercover” from James Bond parodies.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: after going 2-for-2 on his first feature films Fruitvale Station and Creed, director Ryan Coogler raised the bar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Black Panther, and in turn gave Chadwick Boseman a long-overdue boost into super-stardom after years of his own fine works such as 42 and the still-underrated Persons Unknown. His death was among the many, many, many reasons we will never forgive the year 2020 for its endless curses.

Though we were blessed with chances to celebrate his life and talent posthumously in Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and the grand surprisie of an alt-timeline Panther reprise in What If…? season one, the MCU proper never got a chance to say goodbye, to give King T’Challa of Wakanda the big sendoff he would’ve deserved if only Boseman could’ve had a couple more years to perform the honors. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole return for that very purpose — and so, so much more — with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

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“Decision to Leave”: The Mountain Between Us

Movie poster for "Decision to Leave" with the two leads atop a mountain, standing next to a victim's chalk outline.

The detective. The widow. The mountaintop. The fall.

If you’ve seen director Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, perhaps you get why his name might strike fear into my heart, because I can never unsee that film nor unfeel the Grand Guignol trauma I carried for days after. (I can’t think of a single reason to seek out Spike Lee’s remake, and pray no one ever makes an all-ages cartoon prequel called Oldbaby.) I’ve been afraid to watch any of Park’s other films until now. His latest, the crime-drama romance Decision to Leave, likewise follows broken souls careening off each other amidst secrets and death, but is far more interested in examining the emotional contents of two hearts than in spatchcocking them.

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“The Banshees of Inisherin”: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Colin Farrell bothers Brendan Gleeson in "The Banshees of Inisherin".

“So who do you think would win in a fight, Grindelwald or Mad-Eye Moody?”

Years ago I heard a pastor (not at our home church) sermonize to an auditorium full of men about what he called “radical amputations” — times in his life when he made conscious, arguably over-the-top decisions to remove potential chances for sin to enter his life by any means necessary. He knew his limits and his temptations, and took hard measures to avoid jeopardizing his family, his job, his church, and/or his relationship with Christ. Historically speaking, some pastors have fared far worse at their sin management than others. God bless those who find ways to turn away from impulsive stupidity.

The most drastic example he cited from his own past concerned a onetime assistant of his, apparently a lovely woman who was good at her job. They were frequently alone in the office. She didn’t jokingly flirt with him or do anything remotely resembling a romantic gesture in his direction, but he felt himself growing attracted to her and, shall we say, entertaining impure thoughts on a recurring basis. He never acted on those thoughts or tried to perpetrate anything Weinsteinian on her, but his imagination and hormones wouldn’t shut up. After this had gone on for a bit, he realized something needed to change. So he fired her.

This “radical amputation” on his part amounted to punishment for her despite absolutely no wrongdoing on her part — no performance issues, no rules broken, no red marks on her permanent record or whatever. But he could feel himself in danger of moral/spiritual slippage and decided he needed her permanently and immediately out of his orbit for the sake of everyone and everything that depended on him. Years later that story still doesn’t sit well with me (not once in his sermon did he suggest perhaps he should’ve hit the road), but the concept stuck in my head.

I was graphically reminded of that confession (which he positioned to us as family-man advice) as I sat raptly through The Banshees of Inisherin, the latest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), in which blunt decisions, sin, and stupidity become man’s worst friends.

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