It’s a movie buff’s favorite time of year: Oscar season. The 96th Academy Awards (aka the Oscars, held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) will honor some of 2023’s greatest movies on March 10, and public libraries are celebrating by hosting various programs. Read on to see what libraries are doing to bring awareness of the Oscar nominees to their patrons and what they think of this year’s crop of nominees, including the 10 Best Picture contenders: American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, Barbie, The Holdovers, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Oppenheimer, Past Lives, Poor Things, and The Zone of Interest.
Oscars Through the Years
The following is NewsBreaks’ coverage of previous Oscar seasons:
2018: “Oscar Nominees Through a Librarian Lens”
2019: “Librarians Discuss the Oscar Nominees” | “The Oscars at the Library” | “Why Librarians Love Movies”
2020: “A Librarian Looks at Oscars 2020: The Same, but Different”
2021: “A Librarian Takes on Oscars 2021: The Diversity We Deserve (From the Year That We Didn’t)”
2022: “A Librarian Looks at Oscars 2022: Inclusive Stories, Exclusive Access”
2023: “A Librarian Looks at Oscars 2023: Blockbusters, Big Names, and Underrated Gems” | “Celebrating Oscars 2023 at the Library”
Don’t miss additional coverage for 2024: “A Librarian Looks at Oscars 2024: International Diversification Finally Bears Fruit”
Oscars Programming at the Library
Lisa Palmer, reader services librarian at Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri, says, “Many of our branches look forward to creating displays to celebrate and encourage discovery. This year, I am creating social media pieces—fun facts and trivia to share in the week leading up to award day.”
Amy Morris, children’s services librarian at Dusenberry-River Library in Arizona, created a list of last year’s Oscar winners so patrons can discover the book companions of the movie nominees. It shows where each book is available (such as via hoopla) and what its movie was nominated for. “When books are the basis for film and television and streaming shows, people get interested in learning more about the story, and what better way than to read the book?” Morris believes. “When a film or show gets exposure, the book gets more peaked interest too.” For example, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, the basis for Killers of the Flower Moon, currently has 129 holds on the library’s 21 copies—and the number of holds has been higher, she says. “Another book that has heightened exposure is Erasure by Percival Everett [because] its movie counterpart American Fiction is up for five Oscars.” Morris always cautions patrons, “One thing is when you do get the book either before [watching a movie] or afterwards, make sure you take it with a cup of salt (not a grain of salt),” because the filmmakers “must pack so much information into a visual story, which sometimes cannot be a direct translation, or the team behind the screened version may take a lot of liberties.”
A Contest and Author Talks
Dan Lodge, adult services librarian at Dearborn Public Library in Michigan, runs an annual Oscar Contest that is open until March 9. Patrons can submit their predictions for who will win via Google Forms. “We will offer a grand prize of a basket full of movie candy, DVD copies of Barbie and Oppenheimer, and passes to a local chain of movie theaters,” he says. As a supplement to the contest to get patrons excited for the Oscars, Lodge is also planning a series of author talks via Zoom. Anyone can attend after registering, and local patrons can choose to attend in person. Copies of each author’s book will be available to purchase at the library. The talks, with Lodge’s comments, are as follows:
“I feel very fortunate to set up talks with all these well-known authors,” Lodge says. “As a movie fan, I am very excited for the conversations because each author offers their own perspective on the movie business.” Check out the fliers for Lodge’s events in the upper-right corner of this article.
Nola Thacker, program coordinator and reference librarian at Westhampton Free Library in New York, shares that Westhampton and nearby East Hampton Library are hosting Molly Haskell Talks About the Oscars on March 8. Haskell is a film critic and author who has spoken at the libraries of the East End of Long Island (Westhampton and East Hampton) several times. “We have quite a few film lovers in our community, including the seasonal library members who live in New York and spend the summer here,” says Thacker. However, making the talk a Zoom event “opens the discussion up to so many more people.” Thacker notes that pre-COVID, Westhampton hosted movie screenings and held predictions contests, but they haven’t resumed yet. The library is doing a “tried-and-true” books-to-movies display for the Oscar nominees this year. What Thacker hopes patrons take from Haskell’s talk is “an evening with an extraordinary and groundbreaking film and theater critic, an informed look at this year’s Academy Awards, and a lively discussion.”
Screenings and Parties
Rashmi Swain, adult education and career services librarian at Oak Park Public Library in Illinois, hosts an annual Oscarthon—this year on March 2 and March 9—to show nominated movies to patrons. There will also be popcorn and raffles. Swain doesn’t have a finalized list of movies to screen yet—because they’re not all available on DVD right now—but is hoping to be able to show Killers of the Flower Moon, American Fiction, The Zone of Interest, The Holdovers, and Oppenheimer (the last two are already on DVD). “The turnout for our Oscarthon program has always been great! For example, in 2023, a total of 151 patrons came at different times to watch three movies in one day,” says Swain. “I remember one comment that came through a program survey, in which an attendee wrote that she couldn’t afford to take her family to the theater for movies, and she appreciated that our library provided Oscar-nominated film screenings for free.” A raffle prize—a gift card for a matinee showing at a local theater—is awarded after each film screening. Swain offers advice for libraries looking to host their own event: “Build the Oscarthon program around your library’s strategic priorities. Offering a variety of films also helps appeal to a wide audience; an animated or family-oriented film in the morning often brings in parents and kids, documentaries and popular films offer a variety. Engage with your community and find out what their interests and needs are.”
Liz Stauch, a librarian in the children’s library at the main branch of Detroit Public Library in Michigan, is hosting her first Oscars Preview Party on March 9. The event, open to all ages, will feature a paparazzi-inspired photo station (participants are encouraged to show up “dressed to impress” to pose in front of a greenscreen with props), movie-themed crafts, popcorn, and screenings of the Best Animated Feature nominees throughout the day. The library hasn’t celebrated in this way before, and Stauch realized she could provide the opportunity because “the program lends itself to a lot of features our kids love!” She reveals the planned crafts: “We will be making Hollywood Stars (providing different category icons, like they have in the center of each star in LA) and letting kids choose what they would be famous for. Also, we will have supplies to make their own Oscar, giving them the chance to decide what category they’d like to win for. We may come up with additional crafts along the way, but those are our definitely’s.” Stauch aims to leave patrons wanting to come back to the library. “I am hoping the families will get the chance to enjoy their time at the library, maybe explore a film they may not have chosen on their own, let kids explore potentially award-winning entertainment, and of course have fun.”
Joe O’Brien, adult services and acquisitions librarian at Livingston Public Library in New Jersey, recently hosted afternoon screenings (with popcorn) of Past Lives—one on Jan. 25 and one on Jan. 27. Next up is The Holdovers, on Feb. 20 and Feb. 22. O’Brien screened Barbie and Oppenheimer last year, and they “hope to screen as many of the other Best Picture nominees as we can in the coming months. Though it wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, we’re also screening Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla in February, which is still an excellent movie, and an intriguing companion to Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated Elvis from 2022.” They scheduled Past Lives early on, hoping it would get awards buzz, which would make patrons want to see it. O’Brien hasn’t done any post-screening discussions yet, but they’re considering it for the future.
Take & Make Kits
Natalie Shadrick, adult/teen services programmer at the Carrico/Fort Thomas Branch of Campbell County Public Library in Kentucky, is providing Oscars Take & Make Kits from March 1 to March 8 that patrons can register to pick up and use at home. The kits have an awards ballot, predictions bingo cards, a DIY popcorn box, and a Barbie-themed craft (patrons will need to use their own scissors, glue, and markers to complete it). “I did this program last year in person, and I wanted to find a way to expand it. Our library doesn’t do Take & Makes on a regular basis (not since we moved back to in-person programming), but on the occasions we have offered them, they have gone over very well,” says Shadrick. “My one hesitation about running this as a Take & Make was the removal of the community aspect. When you love movies, you absolutely love talking about movies with other movie people. So, my advice would be to look for a way to incorporate an interactive element.” They say the bingo cards were a way to be more social, because patrons who take the kits can share them with their loved ones. “I’ll also have the option to submit your predictions to me ahead of time for a chance to win a gift card to the local movie theater,” says Shadrick. As for the craft, it is a spin on the Barbie movie poster meme that was part of the movie’s marketing: small, circular picture frames that patrons can paint blue and pink and label with their own “This Barbie …” message. Shadrick’s would be, “This Barbie works at the library.”
Adriana Alvarez, assistant manager of studio services at Fountaindale Public Library District in Illinois, is hosting an Oscars Trivia Night on March 7, when patrons will answer trivia questions for prizes, have snacks, and fill out prediction ballots (the winners will be announced after the Oscars and get a grand prize). This event started as an Oscars viewing party that featured trivia questions during the commercial breaks. “It was a way to create some competition within the audience. We had a variety of prizes that included candy, mini Oscar-style trophies, copies of the Best Picture movies, and movie gift cards,” Alvarez says. But post-COVID and after some staffing changes, Alvarez decided to skip the viewing party and have a full trivia night instead, starting in 2023. She does have some advice for libraries intending to host a viewing party: “Plenty of snacks! This event can be quite long, so keeping people comfortable and fed is important. Also, keep the momentum going. The Oscars can be lots of fun to watch, but the commercial breaks, of which there are many, can create a lull, [so] a movie-themed activity like trivia is perfect for keeping people engaged.” Alvarez is looking forward to putting together the questions for this year’s trivia night. “Sometimes, I even surprise myself at some of the facts I can learn while looking into film history,” she says.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been making efforts to be more inclusive in what movies it recognizes since the #OscarsSoWhite controversies of the past decade. It has always been adding members from countries outside the U.S. to better appeal to the Oscars’ global audience. Deadline reports that this year, ballots for the nominations were cast by people in a record 93 countries. Other milestones, according to The Hollywood Reporter, include the following:
- Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) is the first Native American person nominated in an acting category.
- This is the first time three of the Best Picture nominees were directed by women: Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet), Barbie (Greta Gerwig), and Past Lives (Celine Song).
- Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown are the first Black actors nominated for Best Actor (Wright) and Best Supporting Actor (Brown) for the same movie (American Fiction).
- Colman Domingo (Rustin), who is gay, is the first out Black actor and first out Latino actor to be nominated for Best Actor.
Alvarez shares, “To me, the Oscars are a celebration of not only filmmaking, but life as well. Many times, when I have led or been part of discussions [at the library,] I always emphasize what movies make us feel, experience, and learn. There is always something to take away from films that then become part of our lives and vernacular. I cannot tell you how many times I find myself quoting a movie while having a conversation.”
Shadrick is relatively new to Oscar season, saying, “I only started paying attention to the Oscars in 2017. I started reading a lot of interviews and articles about the films, and I had so much respect for the time, creativity, and energy that was going into all of these works. I’ve always been very interested in the creative process, particularly live theater, but watching the nominated films and then the Oscars was an exciting and accessible way for me to see what was happening now in the industry.” Their hope is that “given both of the strikes in 2023, the ceremony can truly focus on celebrating every single person that helped these films come to life.”
Stauch is looking forward to seeing if the movies she likes will win, but she also watches the Oscars to learn about movies she hasn’t heard of or hasn’t seen. Palmer concurs, saying, “I like that the Oscars are a great place to learn about movies I wouldn’t have been aware of. Nominations/winners are based on votes from industry peers—which adds a layer of interest to the nomination lists. Most years, I’ve seen all or most of the nominations—[but this year] half the list is new to my movie radar, so I’m hoping the ceremony will give insight into these films.” Alvarez takes a different approach; she spends the weeks between the nominations announcement and the ceremony watching all of the nominees, including ones she’s seen before to refresh her memory. As of now, “I am rooting for Oppenheimer and Barbie, which was a fun surprise to be sure,” she says. She is most looking forward to the Original Score category: “I am eager to see if John Williams will take home another Oscar. John Williams has scored some of my all-time favorite films, and his scores make those films very special.”
Swain ties the Oscars to the library, saying, “I like watching all the films I can, and I feel well-equipped to suggest films to our patrons and promote our physical/digital film collections.” Swain has strong feelings about the Best Actor and Best Actress races: “Based on interviews and articles I’ve read, it’s clear that all of these nominees did deep research and tremendous preparation for their roles. Consequently, they were able to give superb performances and evoke powerful emotional responses from their audiences.” Swain singles out these performances as ones to root for:
- Colman Domingo, Rustin
- Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
- Jeffrey Wright, American Fiction
- Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
- Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall
- Emma Stone, Poor Things
Palmer wants Barbie to win Best Original Song (two from the movie are nominated). And she has opinions on the male actor races in particular. “I had read many articles about Ryan Gosling being cast as Ken, [with] critics stating he’s too old for the role—sparking the hashtag #notmyken. How wrong they were! Though I don’t see him winning, I am rooting for the underdog.” She continues, “I am rooting for Cillian Murphy as Best Actor—his portrayal of Oppenheimer was incredible; the complexity of character, the emotional depth in telling the story of the theoretical physicist leaps off the screen. I think the art of portraying real people and captivating the audience to believe you are that person is a hard task to perform to exemplary standards.”
“I’m rooting for all the small production stories,” says Morris. While watching the ceremony, “I enjoy hearing the joy in the voices of the winners and what current events/issues they may mention. My favorite categories are Animated Short Film and Best Documentary Short. I am blown away by how much detail and vibrant of a story the team behind them can put in. It’s amazing! Also, how timely these films are.” Here’s a fun fact: Morris says that she and Cord Jefferson, American Fiction’s writer, director, and producer, share Tucson, Arizona, as their hometown. She hasn’t seen the movie yet, but she’s heard good buzz, and “from the previews, the movie really portrays the hypocrisy and stereotypes of Black tropes.”
Lodge shares his picks for winners: “The famous production designer Jack Fisk is nominated for Killers of the Flower Moon; his former assistant Ruth De Jong is nominated for Oppenheimer. Both Mr. Fisk and Ms. DeJong did great work. I would be very happy if either Paul Giamatti or Cillian Murphy won the Best Actor award; both did amazing work—Mr. Murphy showed the devastation, disbelief, and sadness in his eyes during the last [scenes] of Oppenheimer, and Mr. Giamatti showed the wounded pride and humanity of his character through his acting choices in The Holdovers.”
Thacker would like to see Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, and The Boy and the Heron take home some gold hardware. Thacker is also rooting for Colman Domingo, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, and Lily Gladstone in their respective categories, and if Greta Gerwig can’t be a write-in vote, Thacker jokes, Martin Scorsese deserves to win Best Director.
O’Brien is happy with the overall quality of the nominees. “Though it feels like Oppenheimer is the heavy favorite to win Best Picture at the moment, I’m looking forward to seeing if there might be a surprise upset. This year’s Best Picture category arguably has the highest number of great nominees in Oscar history—I’d say at least eight of them would be worthy winners. There are also so many outstanding nominees in other categories, and I’m hoping to see a lot of first-time Oscar winners get their moments in the spotlight.” They’re rooting for Past Lives to win Best Original Screenplay. Here are their thoughts on the acting categories:
- For Best Actor, I’m pulling for Paul Giamatti, who once again showed how he can play ‘loveable curmudgeon’ better than anyone. Jeffrey Wright is close behind as my second favorite.
- I thought what Emma Stone did in Poor Things was genius, though I’d be just as happy to see Lily Gladstone or Sandra Hüller win Best Actress. (If Margot Robbie and Greta Lee had also been nominated, it might’ve been my favorite Best Actress race ever.)
- Best Supporting Actor is even tougher for me to pick a favorite in. As amazing as Robert De Niro was in Killers of the Flower Moon, he’s the only one I’m not totally rooting for, simply because he’s already won a couple of Oscars, and I like when the Academy spreads the love.
- For Best Supporting Actress, however, my clear favorite is Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Though The Holdovers is mainly about the relationship between Paul Giamatti’s and Dominic Sessa’s characters, Randolph’s character adds a great deal of dimension and perspective to the story, and I would’ve loved to see a feature-length movie just about her and her family.
The Best Picture Contenders
A novelist who’s fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment uses a pen name to write a book that propels him into the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain.
O’Brien calls American Fiction “a hilarious and provocative satire of publishing and racism in America, rooted in a touching family drama. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as usual, and it’s always great to see Sterling K. Brown flex his comedic muscles.”
Lodge says he was “surprised by how good a family drama it was.” He praises the movie’s screenplay and notes, “I loved the ending. I was happy that Jeffrey Wright was nominated as Best Actor.”
Anatomy of a Fall
A woman is suspected of her husband’s murder, and their blind son faces a moral dilemma as the main witness.
O’Brien calls Anatomy of a Fall “a fascinating mystery/courtroom drama that’s ambiguous in the best way. Sandra Hüller’s performance strikes a perfect balance between inscrutability and vulnerability that always keeps you guessing.”
Lodge agrees, noting, “I enjoyed the story structure of the trial for the last three quarters of the film. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again to study Sandra Hüller’s performance.”
Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colorful and seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land. However, when they get a chance to go to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
O’Brien shares, “I laughed a lot, and I appreciated how Greta Gerwig used an iconic mainstream property like Barbie as a vehicle to explore complex ideas about gender and culture. My main gripe is that it seems like it was written not as a story first, but rather as an op-ed essay that was shoehorned into a narrative.”
Palmer also has a critique, albeit one that might not be the movie’s fault: “I didn’t love it as much as I was expecting. I think the hype built up my expectations to an unattainable standard.” When it comes to awards, it deserves a shot, she says, because “movies like Barbie are generally not the styles of stories that make their way to the Oscar list—but I feel that Barbie makes a statement in showing you can have silly fun and still have substance.”
Stauch praises that substance: “I think it has a lot to say about the current climate women are facing, while also introducing a different way of doing things. Plus, it has a lot of humor and fun mixed in.”
Lodge also calls Barbie fun, and he “enjoyed the performances from Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Cera as Allan.”
A cranky history teacher at a remote prep school is forced to remain on campus over the holidays with a troubled student who has no place to go and a grieving cook.
Morris says The Holdovers is one of her favorite nominees: “Most may call it a sleeper underdog, but it’s an understated but very relatable and lovable story.”
Lodge agrees, saying, “Another great Alexander Payne movie; it had a Harold & Maude and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (with all the snow and the title ballad) vibe to it. The three leads (Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Dominic Sessa) were top-notch.”
O’Brien has similar warm feelings: “Of all these [nominated] movies, this feels like the one that I’ll want to rewatch the most in years to come. Old-fashioned, but in a ‘timeless classic’ way that feels as lively and relevant now as it might have had it been made 50 years ago. It’s both very funny and surprisingly poignant, with nuanced characters you grow to truly love.”
Killers of the Flower Moon
When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one—until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.
O’Brien says Killers of the Flower Moon is “a vital history lesson wrapped in a devastating true crime story. No other movie this year featured a better trio of actors than DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone. Another Scorsese masterpiece.”
Palmer advises, “If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to do so. So many true stories can be sensationalized by the film industry, [but] this film is kept firmly within this reality of this time—bringing to light the injustice in the Osage Nation. Scorsese knows how to create a film that leaves a lasting impression.”
This love story chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.
Alvarez says Maestro “captivated me from the first note on the piano, with many moments that make you reminisce on the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
O’Brien opines, “Maestro has four or five fantastic set pieces and solid performances from its leads. But overall, as a portrait of Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre’s marriage, it feels underdeveloped, like an unfinished symphony.”
The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.
Lodge says, “What a great movie filled with great performances! I was so happy that Universal [Pictures] took a chance on it. The 10 minutes leading up to the atomic bomb test are a great example of editing to build tension.”
Morris also praises the movie’s performances, along with its screenplay. “The movie really transported you” back to that era, she says.
Alvarez notes, “I will say that Oppenheimer is a strong contender for me. Christopher Nolan continues to create films that leave lasting impressions.”
O’Brien can’t fully endorse Oppenheimer as the front-runner, saying, “There’s a number of other nominees I’d rather see take home the Best Picture Oscar, but if this ends up winning, I won’t be disappointed.” However, they have high praise for the movie: “A spectacular epic that captures both the urgency of Oppenheimer’s work and the terrifying implications of its aftermath.”
“I’m glad that I watched this at home,” says Palmer. “I knew nothing of Oppenheimer before this film, [so] there were many parts that I pressed pause on just to digest the complexities of this man’s life. It took me down the rabbit hole in wanting to know and learn more. The more I learned, the more I understood the emotions in the realizations that unfolded.”
Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrested apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Twenty years later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront notions of love and destiny.
O’Brien says, “Past Lives was my favorite movie from last year. I hope that people who see Past Lives come away feeling much like I did: that it’s an engaging, moving, and unique love story unlike typical Hollywood romances. And that it also has some compelling ideas about themes like fate, identity, and connectivity in the 21st century.”
The incredible tale about the fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter.
Although she hasn’t seen it yet, Morris observes, “Poor Things has piqued my interest and reminds me of Everything, Everywhere All at Once for it being a movie in its own category.”
O’Brien explains its uniqueness: “A twisted, steampunk counterpart to Barbie’s postmodern feminist coming-of-age odyssey. This movie made me laugh more than any other nominee, thanks largely to Emma Stone’s brilliantly gonzo performance.”
The Zone of Interest
The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.
O’Brien says The Zone of Interest is “a Holocaust movie that focuses on a Nazi’s seemingly idyllic home life and relegates the victims and their suffering off-screen—which somehow makes it even more disturbing and powerful. It’s far too bleak for me to see it winning Best Picture, but it’s certainly one of the boldest and most unforgettable films of 2023.”
Movie posters and synopses are from imdb.com; Dearborn Public Library fliers are courtesy of Dan Lodge