The Best of the Best Pictures at the 96th Academy Awards

Writer Brendan Parr reflects on the choices made by The Academy at this year’s Oscars, weighing in on what he felt were the best films.

The 96th Academy Awards took place March 10 and honored the year’s best cinema in a night full of glamor and history. Of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, “Oppenheimer” took home the final award of the night. The Phoenix takes a look at five of the best films from the year. 

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” failed to secure any of its nominations for the 96th Academy Awards, but the filmmaker’s latest epic is possibly his greatest.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” details the Osage Indian Murders of the early 20th century which deprived wealthy Native Americans of oil-rich land. At 81 years old, Scorsese (“The Departed,” “Goodfellas”) directs better than most men half his age. The film is shot stunningly, complementing vast landscapes with passionate performances. 

Lily Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart acts as the film’s beating heart. An Indigenous woman violently deprived of her people, Gladstone (“Billions,” “Fancy”) stands apart from Hollywood heavyweights Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio with an unyielding performance arguably snubbed of the Actress in a Leading Role accolade.

At over 3 hours long, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a behemoth of watch mirroring a stage performance more than a film. It’s a sweeping tragedy rich in pathos that moves at a commanding pace.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is available on Apple TV+.

“Anatomy of a Fall”

Taking home the award for Writing (Original Screenplay), Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall” is a dramatic thriller about loss, love and differing points of view. The film follows a woman on trial for the potential murder of her husband — with only their blind son and his dog as witnesses.

Sandra Hüller’s heart-wrenching performance as the lead on trial is nothing short of hypnotic.  Hüller (“The Zone of Interest,” “Toni Erdmann”) monologues about marriage, depression and creativity with an honesty that puts “Marriage Story” to shame. 

With intricate direction from Triet (“Sibyl,” “Age of Panic”), the feature focuses on the motivations for a crime rather than how it happened. Even Messi, the emotive service dog, compels for the delicately dense film.

“Anatomy of Fall” juggles storylines masterfully — from criminal investigation to familial drama. Each portion comes together to lead to an enigmatic-yet-moving finale. It’s a strikingly-written film that demands attention. 

“Anatomy of a Fall” is set to stream on Hulu March 22.

“The Holdovers”

“The Holdovers” is more than a cozy film — it’s a new holiday classic. Earning the Actress in a Supporting Role win for Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb, the film tracks the budding friendships between a professor, student and cook all abandoned on campus during winter break.

Taking place during the 1970s, the film perfectly captures the essence of its setting. Given grainy film quality, warm color grading and slightly muffled audio, the feature is closer to ‘80s offerings like “Dead Poets Society” and “The Breakfast Club” than anything of this decade.

Randolph (“Only Murders in the Building,” “Rustin”) as the grief-stricken chef holds her own against Paul Giamatti as the prickly Professor Hunham. Newcomer Dominic Sessa likewise moves with a debut performance layered with turmoil.

For some, the premise may be too simplistic or familiar. What makes “The Holdovers” stand apart is its gorgeous New England cinematography and compassionate, endearing characters. 

“The Holdovers” is available now on Peacock.

“Poor Things”

Beating out “Barbie” for Production Design, Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling, “Poor Things” is a kaleidoscopic spectacle. Yorgos Lanthimos’ adaptation of the “Frankenstein” inspired novel depicts the resurrected Bella Baxter on a journey for personal discovery — and pleasure. 

Having the body of a grown woman but the brain of a newborn, Bella explores all avenues of Europe with childlike enthusiasm. Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “The Favorite”) matches Bella’s perception of the world with eye-popping visuals and technicolor sets. Food, clothing, sex, gore — it’s all depicted with a heightened vibrancy.

Emma Stone as Bella nabbed Actress in a Leading Role with a performance that gradually builds upon itself. The more Bella experiences, the more Stone (“La La Land,” “Birdman”) matures. As Bella’s mind grows from simple to sophisticated, Stone manifests the shift with comedy and care.

The film’s excessive nudity is a mission to discomfort the viewer, hammering home themes of sexual freedom while satirizing infantilization and patriarchies. “Poor Things” is a frantic, self-aware farce whose philosophy can be overshadowed by an audacious display.

“Poor Things” is available now on Hulu.


“Oppenheimer” is the culmination of 20 years of filmmaking for Chrstopher Nolan. The blockbuster biopic brought to life physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s creation of the atomic bomb, winning a total of seven awards — including Best Picture.

Rousing musical scores meet political drama to create a race against the clock to amass an apocalyptic weapon. “Oppenheimer” narrowly navigates time periods, settings and color gradings without losing focus. It’s visually brilliant and thematically profound.

Ludwig Göransson’s Oscar-winning score emblematizes the spiraling mindset of Oppenheimer and his distress. Similarly, in winning awards for editing, directing and cinematography, there can be no question “Oppenheimer” is an engrossing experience. 

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss effortlessly bounces from comfortable to spiteful. Cillian Murphy compelled as the enigmatic Dr. Oppenheimer wrought by guilt. Both actors earned leading and supporting awards for lending dramatic gravity alongside a grandiose vision from Nolan (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight”).

Despite being a 3-hour-long R-rated biopic, “Oppenheimer” nearly made a billion dollars at the box office. With all of its accolades, the film is a clear 2023 standout and a paramount filmmaking achievement.

“Oppenheimer” is available now on Peacock.

Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr