Oscar Best Picture Rankings 2023

As many of you know, every year I rank the Oscar Best Picture nominees from my least favorite to my favorite. What qualifies me to do such a thing? Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. I have a doctorate in history and am a novelist; these are not qualifications in acting, movies, or anything related. So why do I undertake this task? Because Paul and I started watching all the best picture nominees back in the mid-1990s, and have never missed a year. It’s a fun little hobby. Enough of this nonsense – to my rankings, from worst to first!

Movies that did not deserve a nomination:

10-Tar: I loathed this film. There is nothing pleasant about sitting through an entire movie about a hateful, power-hungry person who is exploiting people. I am not thrilled that we get a major motion picture with a lesbian lead getting a lot of attention, and this is the story they tell. Blanchett was very good, as were the other actors . Their performances did not make up for a bland, horrific experience.

9-Women Talking: I feel sad placing this one so far down on the list. I think the topic is a crucial one to engage, especially as the United States devolves toward a religious cult atmosphere more and more. Women empowering themselves after years of exploitation at the hands of religious zealots is good stuff. However, this movie as the vehicle for the message fell flat. I didn’t expect the title to be so literal – that we watch the group of women talking and talking and talking and talking and talking for the entire movie. The script missed opportunities for more flashbacks or different methods of relaying the story. The story failed to grip me the way it could have.

8-Triangle of Sadness: This was the movie equivalent of White Lotus. But where the TV series has depth, nuance, and the drama and insanity flow together, this movie feels more inclined to go over the top simply for the sake of being over the top. How many barking and poop scenes can one movie really handle? I get the message it delivers about our contemporary world, with income inequality, racism, and weird social media influencers. This farce was too much for me, in terms of bashing you over the head with the message and therefore missing opportunities for a more poignant tale.

Movies that probably deserved recognition:

7-Everything Everywhere All at Once: I know my ranking of this one down here will be ENORMOUSLY unpopular, especially after it takes home the trophy tomorrow night, according to most prognostications. I have one friend in particular who I know is going to force me to walk the plank if she sees this movie at #7. The acting in the film was extraordinary. And the premise is intriguing and amusing. In our world of big blockbuster insane superhero movies, this was a nice departure. It had me laughing out loud a number of times. However, I wasn’t convinced it was a grand telling of the story. It spun into too much silliness, which wasn’t always funny in the way they intended. I walked away feeling like I had a nice time, but a tighter rendition would have better convinced me to bump it up higher on my list. Sometimes the script was muddled and confusing.

6-The Fablemans: Paul and I laugh, because almost every year the Academy nominates one film simply because they love a movie that celebrates themselves. (Looking at you, La La Land.) It doesn’t matter how good the movie is, it just has to show the industry with a rags to riches story, and within that how brilliant the people are in Hollywood. Thus we get The Fablemans this year. This movie delivers a poignant coming of age story, with passion, angst, and beauty all wrapped in one package. The pace is nice, the setting and periodization authentic, and the raw emotion very real. At the same time, I didn’t feel like it soared to the heights of being a slam dunk best picture nominee. It was merely another coming of age drama. But its subject (Steven . . .) made people pay attention in a different way.

5-Avatar: The Way of Water: I believe it was the New York Times review that described this movie as, and I am paraphrasing, the first Avatar movie but under water. Lol. That pretty much summed it up to me. I get annoyed at 3-D movies that are longer than they need to be because they are showing off the 3-D technology. Knocking that nonsense off would have shortened this by 30 minutes without detracting from the experience. Also, too many characters represent toxic over-the-top marine masculinity; tone it down a bit, I get your meaning. The story itself isn’t tightly written or thought out, which is surprising given how long Cameron worked on this one. Why on earth would the father stick around with the family, when he knows he’s being hunted? And leave everyone else to die in the forest? Anyway, we still had fun going to this movie. It felt like an enjoyable blockbuster experience. The movie is beautiful and moving. You fall in love with the characters and root for them.

Worthy Best Picture nominees:

4-Top Gun: Maverick: Fast paced, thrilling, and a great summer blockbuster, we were excited to go see this one in the theater last summer. We rewatched the first one from the 1980s, and while it brought back fond memories, a lot of it did not age so well. However, the sequel was extremely well done. The cinematography and fighter jets scenes were amazing. An action adventure that also pulls off authentic feelings and a range of emotion is especially great to see. In our polarized world today, the ability to make a movie to bring back a bit of patriotism and togetherness for the cause of democracy served as delightful escapism.

3-Elvis: We have now reached the point where it became harder and harder for me to differentiate between the movies. In an alternate universe or with a different flavor of coffee this morning, I could easily talk myself into Elvis landing at number one. Austin Butler was stunning as Elvis, and just as gorgeous. The story is well laid out and compelling. The emotion punches you in the gut, the intrigue and ups and downs of Elvis’s life come to life. We get to experience another Baz Luhrmann dreamlike extravaganza, but his way of movie making fit so well with this story. I absolutely loved the score. For example, the use of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” whenever Priscilla appeared was incredibly moving. By the end, when they are separated and she sees him spiraling out of control, the song behind them becomes haunting and tragic. The script is well written, too. I absolutely loved this movie.

2-The Banshees of Inisherin: Breathtaking cinematography, powerful story telling, and so much amazing acting bring this movie to life. I almost gave it my best picture nod overall, and like Elvis, if a different mood may have. However, the actions of the one character in cutting off digits because of his depression really went over the top. I think a more subtle, authentic approach could have delivered the same message. Yet I get the point – and it’s a testament to the impact of the story that you go with the insanity because there is truth woven throughout. For so much of the movie you want to reach out and hug Padraic, and I felt thrilled when Siobahn escaped the island. A drama that plays like an action thriller is hard to accomplish, but here it is. This was amazing storytelling.

1-All Quiet on the Western Front: Never in my wildest dreams did I sit down to watch this movie with any thought whatsoever that it would come in at first place for me. It had too much going against it: I don’t love watching movies with subtitles because they keep me from falling completely into the story; it was a remake of a remake of a novel, do we really need to see it again?; and it was another bloody war movie, Oy. But then I experienced the movie and was overcome with the power of its message. This version of the novel brought forth the antiwar message in such an authentic way, juxtaposing the lives of common soldiers as they move from blind loyalty and exuberance to death and horror, with the aloof leaders in their luxury and out of touch negotiating. I’m not sure the change in the ending from the novel and actual events of World War I was necessary, but I comprehend what the film wanted to convey in doing so. The cinematography takes your breath away, as you view the expanse of war and its destruction before zooming in to see the individuals dying for an insane cause. I have studied and taught about World War I trench warfare – this brought it to life in stark reality. This movie was amazingly done. Bravo.

Thank you for indulging my amateur rankings! We can’t wait to watch the Oscars tomorrow!!

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Windy City Reviews Praise for THE VAMPIRE’S WAR!

Woot! Windy City Reviews, the official review website for the Chicago Writers Association and a publication from my home here in the Chicago area, weighed in on The Vampire’s War! The link is below!

From reviewer Shanti Nagarkatti: “For readers who enjoy books by Anne Rice and Rick R. Reed, as well as fans of vampires, ghosts, horror, and thrills, The Vampire’s War is an exciting, timely addition to the gothic canon.”

Windy City Reviews: The Vampire’s War!

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Oak Park, IL Library Appearance!

Hey, Everyone! If you live in the Chicago area or will be around on March 23rd, come check out the local Horror Writers Association Chicago Chapter appearance at the Oak Park Public Library! I will be participating and would love to see you there!

Here is the promotional flyer, with the details!

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Rick R. Reed Blog

Super excited that “I” stopped by Rick R. Reed’s blog to share the release of The Vampire’s War! Here’s the link: Damian Serbu Visits Rick R. Reed!

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Hi, All!

I am super excited to share that THE VAMPIRE’S WAR is now available in paperback! The e-version has been out for a while, but an unavoidable delay caused the paperback to trail behind. Better late than never, get it here: THE VAMPIRE’S WAR in PAPERBACK!

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Cover Art!

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As always, I can’t tell you how excited I am to announce the release of my latest novel! THE VAMPIRE’S WAR came out today, Dec. 27th! One quick note: websites still haven’t caught up with listing the paperback version. It will be available in paperback, soon! I’ll keep you posted. But for those who love an e-version: go get it!

Click here for THE VAMPIRE’S WAR!

War brews among vampires. Facing extinction at the hands of an ancient one, the Vampire Council plods along with a secret strategy. Jaret Bachmann, both vampire and witch, fears the Council elders move too slowly. He has the power to assist them in defeating their enemy, but the longer they keep him at arm’s length the more defiant he becomes. He’s already pushing the boundaries to assert his will when tragedy strikes, devastating him and compelling him to become even more rebellious. A young vampire alone in the world, Jaret struggles to find his true self and discover how he wants to spend the remainder of his eternal life, even as the vampire war intensifies and the rogue vampire strikes again. To compound his problems, he’s faced with the allure of a hot renegade vampire, not sure if he is friend or foe. Who will win the war, and where will Jaret’s soul-searching lead him? Find out in The Vampire’s War.

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Holiday Wishes

I am someone who loves the holidays. I enjoy the transition as we move into winter, and the festive lights and seasonal traditions fill me with joy. I like that so many different traditions, beliefs, cultures, and customs exist. The diversity is magical. I like viewing decorations in stores, on homes, and in public spaces. As you know if you follow me on social media, I do a lot to decorate our house, with 24 Christmas Trees and more stuff all over the place!

I also recognize that my excitement is not always shared by others. I have close friends who do not enjoy this time of year. I can think of one who sees the commercialization and amount of decorations and celebrations as out of control. Another friend gets exhausted by the demands to gather with family and friends, all packed into a short amount of time. And one more: for him, the season brings depression, feelings of sadness, and frustration.

I hope my Holiday Wish applies to everyone, whether you place yourself in a category with me, loving the holidays, or if you find them trying for so many reasons.

I wish you peace. I wish for healing in your world. I wish for all of us to be part of a solution in bringing people together and celebrating diversity. Whether we are close friends, have met only in passing, or even if I know you simply because you have read my writing, I wish for you to know I love you.

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Human Connection through Loss

If you check out the titles of my books or the themes of my writing, vampires, ghosts, scares, and thrills pop out at you. I label myself an author of speculative fiction/horror, so those genres of writing often define me.

However, and I think this is true of a lot of genre writers, the motivating influence on my writing is to explore humanity. I delve into the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want my stories to entertain – but I also hope they prompt contemplation and reflection.

I mention the above because I recently experienced one of those moments in life where emotion and human connectivity roar to the surface, in both shocking and comforting ways.

First, the bad and the ugly. My aunt died. She had battled breast cancer valiantly for a long time. Paul and I traveled to be with family, to celebrate her life and to mourn. The death of a family member is such a sad time, and the sorrow hovers in the air, even in brief times where you talk about something different or remove yourself for a minute to take a breath.

Yet remarkable connection occurred, too. I had not seen my family for quite a while. In going to be there with them, we had a great deal of loving time together in a short burst of two days. My mom also flew in to be with us. The love and caring swirled around our family. I grew closer to them, as did Paul, and I hope they feel the same way.

And therein I find inspiration for writing, to make sense of our humanity. Why, at such a sad time, did the love and togetherness also become so powerful? How do we make sense of feeling great loss while also remembering binding ties, no matter how often we see each other? I don’t have a great answer to include in this blog. But I know my writing today and in the future will search for the answer, and to express these profound and contradictory emotions for myself; and, in the process, maybe for you, too.

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A Couple of Friends for You to Read!

Hey, Everyone,

I’m super excited because Halloween is almost here! Today is a great fall day: rainy, chilly, with the beautiful fall trees coming down to the ground.

I have a couple authors who recently published some stories I wanted to share with you! They are fellow NineStar Press authors. I love giving a shout out to my friends from NineStar, and hope you will all read their stuff!! P.S. I read these two stories already, and really enjoyed them!!!

S.E. Smyth brings you Criminal by Proxy:

Christine is on the hunt to find out more about her great aunt, Rose, hoping to decipher their severed relationship and the murder Rose committed, for which June is in prison. With a stroke leaving Rose incapacitated, it’s a rush against time to find the truth.

Things are doubly complicated when Christine’s girlfriend Terrie is accused of assaulting someone. Nervous about what she might do next, Christine and her friends avoid Terrie. With everything at stake, Christine must stick to the cold hard facts, reminding herself not to let her emotions get in the way.

Christine must evaluate everything happening in her life. The weight of the events buried by her aunt so many years before and the shame of the actions of the love of her life rest squarely on her. If the eyes of the law are always 20/20, how do love, emotion, and insecurities distort fact?

Buy Link: Criminal by Proxy

Also, my friend Kevin Klehr has a short story for you:

Every time a shooting star is scheduled, Arthur, Carol and Tim choose a house with the best vantage point to haunt, carefully making sure its residents are not home.

But this time Arthur recognises the decor. The furnishings belong to his ex-boyfriend, Alexander, a man he never got over. And judging by the happy snaps in the photo frames, Alexander lives with a new lover.

Just as the ghosts settle in to watch the celestial event, the occupants return home early.

Buy Link: Three Ghosts

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