Will Smith’s slap heard ’round the Oscars a year ago may have overshadowed its winners, but the 2023 Oscars will, one hopes, focus on admiring the achievements of last year’s top feature films. The 95th Academy Awards air this Sunday, March 12, so we’ve compiled a two-part viewing guide to the ten Best Picture Nominees for the 2023 Oscars.
Below, you’ll find brief snapshots of each of this year’s Best Picture Nominees and a recommendation on which ones to watch.
You’ll even find some biblical principles that can be identified in each—well, most—of the movies.
Top Gun: Maverick
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong language. Streaming on Paramount+.
From the music to the beach dances and the brief revival of the mustache, Top Gun: Maverick defined summer 2022. The smash hit quickly became an American favorite and single-handedly revived the post-pandemic box office as it soared to a total gross of $1.5 billion.
Maverick, unsurprisingly, stars a grounded but charming Tom Cruise in a reprisal of his iconic character Maverick from 1986’s Top Gun. This fast-paced action-drama will keep you on a highway to the danger zone for its entire 131-minute run time.
You will feel joy, sadness, anxiety, and awe as you take in the sights and sounds of real—yes, real fighter jets—swooping over mountains and along desert floors. Miles Teller, Glen Powell, and the timeless Jennifer Connelly comprise a stellar supporting cast.
While not a Christian movie, Maverick has biblical principles sprinkled throughout, such as supporting those you care about in times of trouble (Psalms 17:17), leaning on a brother or sister (Ecclesiastes 4:10–12), and offering sincere acts of forgiveness (Colossians 3:13).
If there’s a movie on this list you should see, it’s Top Gun: Maverick.
My rating: 9/10
Avatar: The Way of Water
Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity, and some strong language. Playing in theaters.
The second installment of writer and director James Cameron’s behemoth sci-fi series, Avatar: The Way of Water is a true exhibition of awe-inspiring world-building and groundbreaking imagery that has not been achieved by any other film to date.
With the story picking back up on the planet Pandora roughly a decade after the end of the first film, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his wife Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) now have a family of four Na’vi children. But when they come under attack following the return of humans to their planet, they must band together and seek refuge with a sea-based group of Na’vis and prepare for battle.
The Way of Water displays the importance of obeying parents (Colossians 3:20) and the unbreakable strength of a well-raised, tight-knit family (Proverbs 17:17; 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). For more on the continuing appeal of the Avatar films, read “Avatar: The Way of Water is beautiful and inspires our God-given imagination,” which provides further insight into how Cameron’s imaginative world-building reflects God’s own creation.
While the plot isn’t memorable, the unbelievable visuals and sound design more than pull their weight in keeping you glued to the screen. If you allow yourself to be fully immersed in the world that took five years and a $250 million production budget to create, I guarantee you will not walk away disappointed.
My rating: 8/10
The Banshees of Inisherin
Rated R for language throughout, some violent content, and brief graphic nudity. Streaming on HBO Max. Available for rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
Set on a lusciously green Irish island, Banshees of Inisherin tells the story of Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), two best friends who suddenly hit a massive roadblock in their relationship, forcing both to question their meaning in life and ultimately creating drastic consequences.
Limited to a few characters and taking place in a small island town, Banshees’ flashiness comes not in the form of big visuals or action-packed sequences but rather in Director Martin McDonagh’s script that perfectly meshes comedy and tragedy, illuminated by outstanding performances from the cast.
Banshees of Inisherin searches for the meaning of life and shows how human interference can create obstacles (Proverbs 19:21) and false understandings of how we are to use the bodies and skills God has given us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
A bit of a slow burn, Banshees rewards a patient watch with a stellar third act.
My Rating: 7.5/10
Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material, and smoking. Streaming on HBO Max.
Elvis journeys through the rock star’s childhood days in rural Mississippi, the early years of his culture-shocking music career, and into his decades of global stardom that eventually led to the tragic end of his life.
Director Baz Luhrmann has no shame in the bizarre style of the film, something his movies (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby) are well known for. While his unique style adds a flare reminiscent of Elvis himself, it’s also the biggest deterrent to Elvis. These odd touches come in the forms of cinematography, editing, and perspective. Elvis is told from the point of view of his cruel manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).
For the film’s few downfalls, there are many more achievements, the least being its mesmerizing musical numbers. But the crowning achievement of Elvis is the star of the film, Austin Butler. His ability to perform all of the music himself and create an on-the-nose portrayal of Elvis has rightfully landed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and single-handedly makes this movie worth seeing.
As seen in the film, Elvis had a rough personal life, but his family has detailed his faithful connection to God amidst all the fame. The movie even depicts him discovering music in a gospel worship service. Elvis shows the destruction caused by worldly idols like sex, drugs, and greed (Galatians 5:19–20), but it also shines a light on how God-given talents can provide a platform and an incomparable sense of joy when using those talents (1 Peter 4:10).
If ever there were a rockstar to have a Best Picture-winning biopic made about him, it was always bound to be the King of Rock and Roll.
My rating: 7.5/10
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including sexual assault, bloody images, and some strong language. Playing in theaters.
Starring Rooney Mara and Claire Foy, Women Talking is an adaptation of the 2018 novel of the same name. The story handles the heavy subject matter of sexual assault.
Women Talking is set in a religious Mennonite colony where many of the women have been attacked by the males in their community. Sadly, the women are uneducated and seen as lesser. Thus, the men give no credence to the women’s stories—until a teenage boy is caught in an abusive act.
The boy gives up the names of others who have also committed these terrible acts. When all the men leave the colony for twenty-four hours to bail the boys out of jail, the women hastily elect three families to decide for all the females whether they should leave the colony or stay and fight for justice, rights, and education.
The majority of the movie is set in the conversations between the women of the three families as they grapple with the attacks they have each suffered and their faith’s call to forgive those who have done them wrong.
Scripture is quoted throughout the film as the women reference the Bible to help justify their thinking and decisions. The movie displays the act of having faith and peace in the uncertainty of life-changing decisions (Philippians 4:6–7) and the power of a group suffering in empathy when one of its members is suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26).
This film’s top achievement is the strong acting from the female lead cast, but Women Talking is slow-paced and visually unappealing, which unfortunately takes away from its empowering central message.
My Rating: 6/10
In Part 2, I’ll cover the five remaining 2023 Best Picture Academy Awards nominees: Everything Everywhere All at Once, Triangle of Sadness, The Fabelmans, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Tár.