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Looper Movie Awards 2023: Best Actors, Directors, Writers, & More

When audiences reflect on 2023's best movies, one thing might loom larger in their memories: the SAG-AFTRA and WGA dual strike. Hollywood's now-historic dual strike spanned eight months, causing release dates of films like "Dune 2" — originally slated to open in 2023 — to be pushed well into 2024. Movies like "Barbie" saw their press tours cut short so actors wouldn't cross picket lines. Actors in "Oppenheimer" walked off their red carpet premiere in solidarity. Sadly, some films — even the $275 million budgeted blockbuster "The Marvels" — never received a press tour.

Strike notwithstanding, 2023 was a pretty great year for movies. From dream ballets inspired by Hollywood classics to the resurgence (and well-deserved recognition) of former teen heartthrob Josh Hartnett, 2023 had a lot in store for cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. 

In honor of that, the intrepid staff at Looper decided to hold a private awards ceremony — before the Golden Globes and the Oscars steal our glory. After deliberating our nominations, here are the winners ... including one category that ended up deadlocked in a tie.

Best Movie - Barbenheimer!

Are you really that surprised that this tie happened?

When "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" were released on July 21, the world was overtaken by a phenomenon immediately dubbed "Barbenheimer" (which really only came about because the producers of both movies were too stubborn to relinquish the release date). Now it's safe to say that both movies reaped the benefits of this choice at the box office. "Barbie," co-written and directed by auteur Greta Gerwig, made over a billion dollars at the box office, and "Oppenheimer," a three-hour historical drama crafted by Christopher Nolan, became one of the top-grossing movies of the year alongside its bubblegum-pink cohort.

But that's not why Looper staffers overwhelmingly voted for "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie." These two films are tied because of their sheer excellence and because choosing between them feels impossible. "Barbie," which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, is an unexpectedly introspective film about what it means to be human. The toy-based movie is carefully pieced together by Gerwig and her life partner Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the sharply funny and layered script. "Oppenheimer" casts Cillian Murphy as the real-life scientist who helped create the world's first atomic bomb ... and then had to grapple with his life's work ushering in an era of nuclear devastation and paranoia. 

Both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" prove that Gerwig and Nolan are two of the finest directors working today. These films delve deeply into their characters' complicated psyches in outstanding ways. You just can't choose between "Barbie and "Oppenheimer." That's why you've gotta go full "Barbenheimer," make it a double feature, and bask in their glory ... though, maybe, press play on "Barbie" second. -Nina Starner

Best Performance - Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon)

In a movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, it's astounding (in the best of ways) that the standout performer amongst these titans is Lily Gladstone. Yes, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) and William King Hale (De Niro) have more screen time, forcing the audience to confront their biases and places within systemic issues that still plague Indigenous communities. But Mollie (Gladstone) becomes an observer of the injustices facing the Osage, giving a voice to those impacted by those who sought to slaughter them.

Many examples of "good" acting amount to performers offering over-the-top performances, shouting to indicate they're angry, or snotty-nosed weeping to demonstrate sadness. Gladstone does more with less, and when she does speak, she conveys multitudes with a handful of sentences. "Killers of the Flower Moon" is a horror story, with Mollie often helpless to save those around her. She brings the human touch that the story needs to hammer home the violent reality of the Osage murders and how the United States is complicit in the degradation of Indigenous people.

While it was initially assumed Gladstone would be submitted in supporting acting categories, it came to light that they would compete as a lead actress, including at the Oscars. Awards don't automatically correlate to quality. Still, Gladstone truly deserves everything coming their way this awards season. They delivered not just the best performance of 2023 but one of the best of the 21st century. Any project would be lucky to have her going forward and using their immeasurable talents. -Mike Bedard

'I Am Kenough' Award for Best Supporting Performance - Ryan Gosling (Barbie)

Of course, the movie of the year has one of the best supporting performances ever ... at least in this Mojo Dojo Casa House!

"Barbie" is a great movie from start to finish, but it does lie to the audience right off the bat. Barbie (Margot Robbie), it explains — through narrator Helen Mirren — is everything. As for Ken (Ryan Gosling)? He's just Ken. That couldn't be further from the truth! Whenever Ken isn't on-screen, most viewers are inclined to ask, "Where's Ken?" Gosling is a committed actor, and according to Greta Gerwig, she handpicked the Oscar nominee for the role because she'd seen him show off his goofier side on "Saturday Night Live." What Gerwig must have seen, though, is that Gosling has never met a bit that he didn't want to commit to, marry, and have grandkids. 

His talent is on perfect display as Ken, who starts as Barbie's sidekick (desperate for her to love and adore him) and eventually becomes a would-be edgelord who introduces a shoddy, half-baked, largely misunderstood version of the patriarchy into the matriarchal Barbie Land. Gosling is a tour de force here, whether he's crashing headfirst into fake waves, battling other Kens with the power of his abs, or stealing library books about war and horses. Yes, it's Barbie's movie and ostensibly Barbie's world, but Gosling's Ken is a scene-stealing superstar. In every frame of the film, he is "Kenough" ... even if it takes Ken a little while to figure that out for himself. -Nina Starner

Best Animated Movie - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Truly, a marvel.

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" was a revelation, doing just well enough at the box office to warrant a couple of sequels. As time passed, its reputation grew stronger. Fans found more things to appreciate regarding its story or cutting-edge animation style. Somehow, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" manages to top the original in pretty much every way. Instead of just a few extra Spider-People, there are hundreds. Instead of Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) being the villain with a loose way to access the Multiverse, there's now the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) who's more threatening to reality's thin fabric. "Across the Spider-Verse" goes the extra mile, questioning what it means to be Spider-Man and how to tell a Spider-Man story. For decades, writers and artists have confined themselves to the same basic beats, but "Across the Spider-Verse" asks whether we can move on from those plot points (or canon events) and craft innovative mythology.

That's to say nothing of the animation style, which feels like something that shouldn't exist but somehow coalesces into a beautiful mosaic. The franchise is leading to even greater stylization across the industry, breaking away from trying to make animated movies look realistic and cool. Can "Beyond the Spider-Verse" manage to top this one? Well, it would be an impressive feat, but if any franchise has already proven it can top greatness, it's "Spider-Verse." -Mike Bedard

Best Director - Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer)

Christopher Nolan has been a well-established fixture of the cinematic world for decades. Still, he took his directing prowess up a notch for 2023's "Oppenheimer." From assembling a stellar cast to constructing literal bombs to mimic the Trinity Test, the director dove into his 20th-century tale with gusto. Despite the lack of action footage (there are no violent depictions of World War II fighting and explosions apart from the actual test), the movie remains a riveting retelling of a world-shaking titan who is expertly (and appropriately) portrayed as neither a hero nor villain.

Nolan even tackled the historically focused project with a relevant message in mind. During the press tour for the film, Nolan said the movie serves as a cautionary tale, comparing the creation of the atomic bomb to the early days of artificial intelligence.

On a practical level, the British director's execution of "Oppenheimer" is top-notch. After scouting and planning to perfection, the director shot all the principal photography he needed in 57 days — on IMAX cameras and 70 mm format film, no less — leaving more room in the budget for the painstaking recreations of historical sets. Do the math, and he averaged capturing more than three minutes of final footage daily! Nolan may be a household name already, but he earned his place as the top director in 2023 by flawlessly executing a movie, story, and message that will continue to resonate for years to come. -Jaron Pak

Best Score - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

2023 has been a standout year for movie soundtracks and scores. Ludwig Göransson's "Oppenheimer" score is some all-time great music that coats the entire film, defining the story's emotional tone. Naoki Satō gave us a new kaiju score in "Godzilla Minus One" that's simply incredible (especially that one "Resolution" track). But when the votes were tallied, the Looper team gave the edge to Daniel Pemberton and his "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" score.

Like "Oppenheimer," the "Spider-Verse" sequel has a score that essentially constructs the whole sound of the movie. In Pemberton's case, the score becomes even more intertwined with the other aesthetic elements of the film because of the animation. Comic book panels, split screens, and shifting visual styles are all underscored by the frenetic music, which changes beats and genres as often as the movie jumps dimensions. The first 15 minutes of "Across the Spider-Verse" are basically an extended music video, with Gwen's diegetic drum beats bringing you into the story. Little recurring motifs like Gwen's screeching echo and Spider-Man 2099's crunchy distortion connect the score to the action in a palpable way, giving the movie one more paintbrush with which to construct its colorful, cyber-punk-rock world. -Rick Stevenson

'Don't Call it a Comeback, I Been Here For Years' Award - Josh Hartnett (Oppenheimer)

Here's to the unsung talents of Josh Hartnett!

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hartnett seemed poised for greatness. He had breakout roles in "The Virgin Suicides," "Pearl Harbor," and "Black Hawk Down." But by the time the 2010s came around, Hartnett was hard to find. His career fizzled out over that decade, and he would later say in interviews it was to focus on his family. He's kept acting in mostly smaller projects, but it's safe to say that for many, they were reintroduced to the actor when he played Ernest Lawrence in Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer."

"Oppenheimer" has an absolutely stacked cast, making it easy for any single actor to get lost in the shuffle. And while Lawrence isn't necessarily the flashiest, funniest, or most extreme character, he's a pivotal figure in the story. In a way, Lawrence represents the kind of man Cillian Murphy's Oppenheimer could've been — someone brilliant but who's able to reign in his more base impulses. Ernest Lawrence may not be as infamous as J. Robert Oppenheimer, but perhaps that's for the best ... As he doesn't have the same blood on his hands as Oppenheimer.

Hartnett delivers a subtly brilliant performance that's vital to understanding the nuanced politics of the story. Above all else, Hartnett's presence in the movie demonstrates to everyone how he's more than just a pretty face. He's an incredible actor, and hopefully, other filmmakers continue to utilize him in increasingly interesting roles. -Mike Bedard

Best Fight Scene - Steps of Montmartre ending fight (John Wick: Chapter 4)

He got knocked down, but he got back up again ... and we're still thinking about how the heck he did it.

Throughout the "John Wick" franchise, some of Keanu Reeves' best moments as the titular killer have been when epic action sequences end on pitch-perfect punchlines. However, it's John's brutal stroll up the steps of Montmartre in "John Wick: Chapter 4" that encapsulates everything we love about the franchise and its stoic shooter. The sequence drags us through hell and then chucks us — and John — back down all over again. Even after bringing John up the stairs once, the sequence was not only one of the best moments in the franchise but a jaw-dropping moment in action movie history. But director Chad Stahelski dared to send the Baba Yaga bouncing his way back down to the beginning and give it one more try, with feeling (plus Donnie Yen).

Like so many other wince-inducing instances throughout John's story, this is a sequence that stands strong for its entirety and doesn't falter in either its choreography or camerawork. Layered with many ingenious moving parts but still keeping the audience clear on what they're seeing and who is caught on the receiving end of it, the Montmartre steps sequence is an undeniably masterful bit of filmmaking. Sure, the overhead Dragon's Breath shootout might be great and John zipping around the Arc de Triomphe is grand. But in the end, seeing our hero essentially fight his way through what feels like a video game level only to be forced to restart is the best Mr. Wick has ever been. -Nick Staniforth

Best Screenplay - Barbie

With a final line like, "I'm here to see my gynecologist," how could we not choose this?

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker — or perhaps any other filmmaker — "Barbie" could have been one of the worst films ever made. Luckily, star and executive producer Margot Robbie tapped Greta Gerwig, known for her writing and directing work on coming-of-age films "Lady Bird" and "Little Women," and the words "Greta Gerwig's 'Barbie' movie" whipped an entire subsect of the population into a frenzy. To be blunt: The movie is so much smarter than it needs to be — thanks to Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach (a beloved and celebrated filmmaker in his own right). The script makes deft use of narration using the voice of Dame Helen Mirren, so it never feels obtrusive or cloying. When Barbie (Robbie) is accused of being a "fascist" in the real world, she tearfully says she can't be because she doesn't control the railways or the flow of commerce. After Ken's (Ryan Gosling) haphazard attempt at patriarchy is handily dismantled, he admits — also in tears — that he stopped caring about patriarchy once he realized it doesn't have a lot (or anything) to do with horses. 

Yes, "Barbie" has great jokes — but it's also deeply emotional. Consider America Ferrera's rousing speech about the contradictions of womanhood or when Barbie tells her creator Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), "I want to do the imagining, not be the idea." The script for "Barbie" is touching, funny, absurd, heightened, and continues to prove Gerwig's cinematic excellence. -Nina Starner

Best Breakout Performance - Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon)

They win again! (Good.)

The beating heart of "Killers of the Flower Moon," Lily Gladstone is more than just an actor to look out for — they're a damn movie star. Their turn here proves that they're one to watch as their career grows from here. In the Martin Scorsese epic, Gladstone's turn as Mollie Kyle is nothing short of career-defining. Tender, warm, and hesitant, Gladstone provides the charm that gives life to Mollie. Their character feels complex as we watch Mollie become taken advantage of by her husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his sinister uncle (Robert De Niro). Gladstone holds their own against DiCaprio, playfully receptive to his character's flirtatious advances in the picture's opening hour.

As the film progresses, Gladstone adds considerable depth to Mollie. When the film sidesteps their character, Gladstone's presence is sorely missed. They're towering in the project, and their silence speaks volumes — especially in the film's final act. While they've had a handful of roles, including one in Kelly Reichardt's "Certain Women" and a Gotham Award-winning role in "The Unknown Country," Gladstone works like a master here and operates with a level of self-assurance that's just rare to see on screen these days.

For Gladstone, "Killers of the Flower Moon" isn't just a career-defining role ... it's the start of a new adventure. Before the film's release, Gladstone was interested in stepping away from acting altogether, ready to register for a data analytics course. But thanks to Scorsese, the world of data science will have one fewer worker. Empathetic, charming, and powerful in "Killers of the Flower Moon," Gladstone should be at the top of every casting director's list in 2024. -Aahil Dayani

Best WTF Moment - The bathtub scene (Saltburn)

Let's take a dip into the "Saltburn" discourse, shall we? Get on in, the water's ... well, actually it's quite polarizing and — oh, gross, what's that floating at the top?

"Saltburn" is a curious film. In its own way, it's a queer, stylish fever dream of treachery and gothic literary themes that's draped in a cloak of class politics. But there's also been a lot of disagreement over how well those different elements are executed. Some have criticized the film's queer storylines for falling short, and director Emerald Fennell has received plenty of backlash on the class commentary due to her well-to-do background. But we're not here to talk about any of that, oh no! 

We're here to talk about that one scene where Oliver spies on Felix masturbating in the bathtub and then slurps up his dirty bathwater as it drains. That's the sanitized way to describe it. "Saltburn" has plenty of WTF moments — like later on when Oliver (spoilers!) has sex with Felix's grave — but the bathtub scene has already become the defining moment of the movie. For years to come, this will be the thing people talk about — an addition to the great pantheon of grotesque movie moments. Unquestionably, it's the biggest WTF movie moment of 2023. -Rick Stevenson

Best Monster Moment - Godzilla's attack on Ginza (Godzilla Minus One)

Frankly, Godzilla is a moment right now.

Godzilla made a spectacular return in 2023 with "Godzilla Minus One," which has been widely heralded as one of the kaiju's greatest movies ever. The film is an emotional story about Japanese reconstruction at the end of World War II, crafting a powerful saga about self-forgiveness and found family on a level of stirring Spielbergian proportions. But it also doesn't skimp on the monster carnage. Godzilla's attack on Tokyo's Ginza district isn't the climax of the movie, but it is the monster's biggest spotlight in the film. He lays waste to the city, paying tribute to the original 1954 film along the way with the music and some recreations of iconic shots and sequences. But it's the end of the Ginza sequence that lands it in this prestigious spot.

After having decimated Ginza with hardly a scratch on him, Godzilla faces down the row of tanks that constitute the city's meager military defense. The spines on his back and tail unlock and start to glow, and he fires a single concussive blast of his atomic fire breath. The result is jaw-dropping. This is the kind of sci-fi scene so brutal it'll turn your stomach. In most movies, Godzilla's heat ray acts like a beam of fire, but in "Minus One," it's essentially a nuclear warhead. The blastwave alone kills nearly everyone on screen, leaving Godzilla alone to roar at the sky defiantly like the hateful god he is. The historical context only makes the scene more devastating. -Rick Stevenson

The Sequel That Didn't Suck Award - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

How do you follow a movie like "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"? The 2018 outing was a revelation for the animation industry, the Spider-Man mythos, and broader superhero media all at once. It had a lasting impact on pop culture, cementing Shameik Moore's Miles Morales as a rightful claimant to the Spider-Man mantle.

Unsurprisingly, some fans worried "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" wouldn't match the original's lightning-in-a-bottle appeal. A complete directorial overhaul seemed risky, with Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson taking the reins. Reports that fan-favorite characters like Nicolas Cage's Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney's Spider-Ham wouldn't be returning were disappointing. Could this sequel really stand up to the original's lofty legacy?

Yes. Yes, it could.

Any doubts about the quality of "Across the Spider-Verse" wash away as soon as its opening prologue gets rolling with Hailee Steinfeld's Gwen Stacy. With rich and moody visuals, a deft blend of emotional and witty moments, and a helping spoonful of intrigue, the movie immediately shows it understands what made the original so great and is doubling down on it. What follows is a sophomore outing more ambitious on every front, from its incorporation of numerous art styles to its multiversal scope, all woven together by a thematically rich narrative that turns the first film's question of what it means to be Spider-Man on its head. "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" doesn't just not suck, nor is it simply a worthy successor to "Into the Spider-Verse" — it's the new standard for superhero movies. -Ethan Zack

Best Movie You Never Saw - How to Blow up a Pipeline

Appreciating a film like Neon's "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" might hinge on one's political beliefs. Director Daniel Goldhaber's thriller, which he co-wrote with Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol and is based on the book by Andreas Malm, is about a group of friends who set out to destroy an oil pipeline in Texas. What can possibly go wrong with that plan?

"How to Blow Up a Pipeline" is pretty up-front about its eco-friendly message, so some viewers might be put off by protagonists who lean toward the more extreme side of activism. That said, the characters' passion for their cause is arguably what makes them interesting. Overall, the film does a great job establishing motives for their mission. Their city is riddled with pollution, and one of them has experienced heartbreaking loss due to climate change. One doesn't have to agree with their intentions to understand why they're driven to pursue their goal.

Political message aside, though, this is just good moviemaking. "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" will appeal to fans of ensemble mission films like "Ocean's Eleven" and "Sorcerer" as the thrills and tension are through the roof, making for a nail-biting experience that also provides some food for thought. -Kieran Fisher

'It's Me. Hi. I'm the Problem' Award for Best Villain - William King Hale (Killers of the Flower Moon)

William King Hale may just be the most wicked character Robert De Niro has played, and that's saying something.

Sure, 2023 had no shortage of terrifying movie villains. The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" tortures animals and sees himself as a god. The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) from "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" threatens the fabric of the Multiverse. Many villains have grand, reality-altering machinations, but there's nothing more sinister than the real-life implications of what someone like Hale (De Niro) represents.

In "Killers of the Flower Moon," Hale offers a veneer of nicety, befriending the Osage people. But beneath that lies a man interested in profiting off their genocide. He plots the deaths of many high-profile Osage to acquire their oil head rights. He's the one who tells Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) to poison Mollie (Lily Gladstone). What's most terrifying about Hale is that he is a real person. The things he did in the movie aren't exaggerated, and yet, he was merely one figure in a larger plan to disenfranchise and eradicate Indigenous communities.

More fantastical villains can certainly symbolize real-world evil. In the film, Hale serves as a figurehead for everything the United States has done to strip Indigenous people of land, access, and power. Even when the Osage got ahead just a little bit by striking oil on their land, white people came slinking back to take it for themselves. De Niro brings pure terror to Hale, to the point where even when he's acting nice, something isn't quite right. -Mike Bedard

What the heck are the Looper Awards and how did we determine the winners?

Creating a new awards show from scratch is no easy task ... But it is a fun one!

First, our team picked 15 categories for our awards that best represent our brand of entertainment coverage written for (and by) the fans. Of course, we had to include industry standard categories like "best movie," but we gave equal attention to what makes these projects great — like best villains! We then asked our seasoned team of entertainment writers and editors to send in their selections for each category, relying on their professional opinion, critical analysis, and love of movies. From our nominees, we picked the top four results from each award category to be our official nominations. The team then had the (unenviable) task of voting for their favorite option in each category.

While the most popular selection ultimately won, there were several close neck-and-neck calls — particularly with best supporting performers, most underrated movie, and best score. While they won't appear on this list, it'd be a disservice not to call out the films that frequently came up in our voting results (but didn't make the cut) as honorable mentions: "Polite Society," "Past Lives," "Bottoms," "The Holdovers," "May December," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," and "No Hard Feelings" all struck a chord with our team too. 

Here's to 2024 and what these filmmakers here (and more) will delight us with next. We're already eyeing that dual release date of Robert Eggers' "Nosferatu" and Jordan Peele's mysterious new film as next year's hottest (and creepiest) double feature event. -Cass Clarke