Killers of the Flower moon: The best film of 2023?

Killers of the Flower moon: The best film of 2023?

Killers of the Flower moon: The best film of 2023?

Hudson Hsieh

Not many movies that came out in 2023 had the distinction that it was going to be an Academy Award magnet before it was released like Killers of the Flower Moon. From an Oscar “Fit” standpoint the movie checked every box that the members of the Academy look for in a movie that they would nominate and choose as an Oscar winner: the most famous and arguably most talented actor that ever graced Hollywood: Leonardo DiCaprio, one of America’s most celebrated directors that embodied the meaning of American cinema: Martin Scorsese, a powerhouse within the crime drama genre and who’s acting seems to get better with age Robert DeNiro, an American story adapted from a critically successful novel, and finally the support and financial backing of one of the most powerful companies in the world: Apple. It wasn’t a surprise when the movie was announced shortly following the publication of the novel with the same name by David Grann that the cinema industry predicted that the movie was going to be packed for the award ceremony. 

When it premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in early 2023 it was received by a 9-minute standing ovation although Scoreses and Apple decided to not submit the movie for competition for the Palme d’Or. During the Cannes, numerous Film critics were already taunting the film as one of Scorsese’s best, according to Ben Kensingberg reviewing for Robert Ebert “Once again, Martin Scorsese has managed to leave his peers in the dust.“Killers of the Flower Moon,” which had its premiere at Cannes on Saturday, is a gigantic film that would be unwieldy in most directors’ hands, but in Scorsese’s, it becomes an epic of gratifying density and complexity.” What was surprising about the premier was the performance of newcomer Lily Gladstone which many critics were saying deserved nomination in the upcoming award season. 

Although its release was less than ideal with the movie only grossing 154 million against an almost 200 million dollar budget, it serves to further cement Apple’s spot as an up-and-coming powerhouse within the film industry. 

The majority of the film’s acclaim rests on the masterful ability with which Scoreses was able to tell such a sprawling story. From the screenplay, the movie was extremely ambitious both in its scope and story as Scoreses wanted to tell a story that placed the Osage people at the center of the story. He departed from Mann’s novel by zeroing in on the relationship between Leo and Lily, exploring the complexities and nuance between the two. An important aspect of the relationship that Scoreses wanted to maintain was the love that existed between the two. Although Earnest was taking advantage of his wife’s wealth, he did genuinely love her. That love does shine through at the beginning of the relationship as Scorsese can take advantage of Lily’s reserved and Leo’s emotional performance to allow audiences to see how the relationship between the two evolves rather than telling audiences through dialogue. It also prevents the movie from being overstretched and pulled in too many directions. By focusing the movie primarily on the relationship, Scoresces was able to accomplish his goal of creating a movie that told the story from the perspective of the Osage. 

The movie also combines elements of the crime genre that take place in a western setting. Scorsese didn’t aim to create a Western movie but instead focused on the crime elements of the story to create a movie centered around crime. In an interview with Indie Wire Scoreses answers a question asked him was Killers of the Flowers Moon a Western by saying, “No, not really. That’s what I’m saying. It’s kind of a gangster movie. Yeah, there is not much difference between what [Bill Hale and his cronies] do and what the crime families did in Chicago, and then New York at the turn of the century 1900 to 1950, where I grew up around them. It’s just that it may have been not as wide-ranging. With organized crime, you have an overall structure of evil. Here, it’s specific, to certain areas, and locations. It reflects a point of view, and a sense of, “We are superior to you. You don’t know what’s good for you, you don’t know how to handle money.” This marks another departure from the source material as the novel focuses on the examination of the Osage murders from the perspective of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By bringing the victims of the crimes to the forefront, Scoreses was able to tell the stories from the perspective of those who perpetrated it and those who fell victim to it. 

Complementing the performances of Gladstone and Decaripo was the chilling villain performance of Robert De Nero, who in his older age proves that he still has the dexterity to play a cold and calculating villain. Di Nero, who is a prominent actor in Scorsese films along with DiCaprio was originally known for his ability to transform into the roles of his characters, especially for thematically rich villains. In Killers of the Flower Moon, Di Nero proves that even at 80 he is more than capable of delivering an Award Winning performance. He provides a delirious mix of a concerned protector of the Osage and a cold-blooded killer. The perfect definition of a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing. 

The cinematography of the movie was breathtaking as the movie was filmed on location in Oklahoma and it also marked the highest-budget movie to be filmed in the state’s history. On-screen, Scoreses wanted the film to have the authentic coloring and contrast of the vintage film. Choreographer Rodgio Prieto was able to achieve this by modifying anamorphic lenses to create a warmer and slightly distorted look that a camera would have in the 1950s. Combined with the fact that the movie was primarily shot on film, it gives a texture that draws audiences into the period and location of the story. Much like his sprawling crime drama The Irishman, Killers of the Flower Moon utilized still camera shots where the action is tracked. This creates an extremely unique viewing experience as it slows down the action of the film and enables audiences to take in a scene. When the action does arrive, the lack of quick-cutting scenes makes the crime seem colder and realistic like the audience is seeing it in real-time.  

Although solid acting, engaging cinematography, and thoughtful story and direction help to establish that Killer of the Flower Moon is a good movie, it doesn’t answer the question of why so many critics consider it the best movie of 2023. While the movie sits upon the higher echelon of Scorsese’s movie, it wasn’t groundbreaking work by the director by any means. Furthermore, 2023 was a year chocked full of well-made movies that competed with Killers of the Flower Moon’s storytelling and quality but performed better at the box office. For example, Barbie by Greta Gerwig received praise from critics for its direction and acting, helping to kick off a global movement that enabled it to become the highest-grossing film of this year. Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan was another movie that competed with Killer of the Flower Moon due to its similar nonfiction inspiration and sweeping scope of the movie. Cillian Murphy’s performance as well as Nolan’s practical effects were lauded for being some of this year’s best. That is not even mentioning other smaller and independent films that oftentimes make their way into award ceremonies. 

That leads to the fundamental fact that trying to quantify art is impossible. Movies encompass a wide scope from comedy, action, and cartoons, to drama, and trying to compare every one of these on the same scale is impossible. Each requires its technique and appeals to a wide range of audiences that watch movies for different purposes. How awards such as the Academy Awards judge what movies to choose of the hundreds that are produced to crown as that year’s best is objective. As mentioned in the introduction, the movies that the Oscars tend to favor are overheating dramas or drama-adjacent movies. This is because the Oscars look for movies that capture the essence of humanity and what it means to be a human. These are movies that are highly philosophical and offer an underlying message regarding the larger world around them. These are films that can all border on Art House but are still able to be commercially consumed by the larger audiences. Furthermore, the Oscars favor movies produced by larger and more powerful production companies such as Amazon Prime, Apple, Netflix, Paramount, MGM, Warners Brothers, and A24 who have the budget to promote their movies to the academy body. In terms of star power, it doesn’t have a huge impact on the film’s ability to win Oscars. For example, Margot Robbie who arguably has the most star power in Hollywood hasn’t won an Oscar, and even veteran filmmakers like Scorescaeses, Nolan, Charlize, and Tarintino each have no more than two best picture awards. 

In the case of Killers of the Flower Moon, the movie does shine a spotlight on an often underrepresented aspect of American history. It does so with so much thought and care as Scorescpes explores as much as he can about the Osage murders in three and a half hours. He takes the source material to also create a rich character study that enables Decaripo and Gladstone to show off their acting prowess. Throughout the film, there is an underlying sense that this movie is a true film about America like that of There Will Be Blood and Wolf of Wall Street. The scope of the story is what cements it as Scoreses was able to stay laser-focused on his goal of creating a story about the Osage murders and keep the audiences engaged in it throughout the three-and-a-half-hour runtime. What emerges is a distinctly Scoresces film that hits all the boxes as a western-crime epic told with the quality and storytelling of Academy Award caliber.


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Hudson Hsieh, Editor

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