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Austin's favorite comedy festival, Moontower Just for Laughs Austin, is coming back in 2023 with even more big names than the 2022 lineup. The formerly four-day festival became a two-week festival in 2022 after Austin's Moontower Comedy teamed up with Montreal's Just for Laughs. Taking place over more than 10 venues around the city, the hilarious fortnight manages to balance big names and rising stars alike every year and 2023 looks no different.

According to an initial lineup release, next year's installment will bring everyone from Trevor Noah to local favorites to the stage, from April 12-23, 2023. The festival coincides with Noah's Off the Record tour, which he brings to Austin's Bass Concert Hall for four nights. Along with Noah, the release lists more than 20 Paramount and Stateside headlining shows, with more still to come.

A few returning faces include Seth Meyers, Felipe Esparza, and Vir Das, along with Brad Williams, Maria Bamford, Robert Kelly, and Preacher Lawson. Among the festival debuts are Kenny Sebastian, who rose to prominence on YouTube before releasing specials on Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as Chris Distefano, whose Brooklyn-born edge and nice-guy charm won over fans of MTV’s Girl Code/Guy Code series before releasing specials on both Comedy Central and Netflix

Saturday Night Live cast members, past and present, tend to make a good showing at the festival, with legends Dana Carvey and David Spade bringing their podcast to the stage in 2022 with new cast member James Austin Johnson as their special guest. 2023's lineup will feature some of the show's newest cast members, including Marcello Hernandez, Molly Kearney, Michael Longfellow, and Devon Walker, who cut his teeth in the Austin comedy scene before moving to New York.

“As we continue our quest of building the ultimate comedy event in Austin, our partnership with Just For Laughs adds more diversity, variety and fun for our comedy fans,” says Lietza Brass, Moontower Just For Laughs Austin festival director, in a release. “Together we bring a large and exciting roster centered on the brightest comedy stars of today from the U.S., Texas, and abroad. We’re proud to expand our program of presenting shows in Spanish in 2023. We truly have something to please everyone’s taste.”

Christine Melko-Ross, a vice president of Just For Laughs added, “We are excited to continue to expand the Moontower Just For Laughs Austin brand and footprint by curating a diverse line-up of international and U.S. stars and headliners while shining a spotlight on some of the best comedians and podcasts from around the world.”

Badges for the 2023 festival are already available for purchase, with new bundles and packages available this year. For more information, and to stay up to date with new lineup releases over the coming months, head to moontowercomedyfest.com.

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CultureMap film critic’s guide to the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees of 2023

Oscar analysis

The nominations for the 2023 Academy Awards have been announced, with 10 films vying for Best Picture. Everything Everywhere All at Once led the way with 11 total nominations, with The Banshees of Inisherin and All Quiet on the Western Front close behind with 9 nominations each.

Take a look back at what CultureMap’s film critic, Alex Bentley, had to say about each of the nominees (listed below in alphabetical order) when they were originally released. This year's Oscars ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 12.

All Quiet on the Western Front (not reviewed)
The epic anti-war German film, available to stream on Netflix, has been gaining steam on the awards circuit in recent weeks, also earning 14 nominations for the British Academy film awards, the most among films nominated there. With nine nominations at the Oscars, it's a serious contender to win not just International Feature Film, but Best Picture as well, a la Parasite.

Avatar: The Way of Water
There’s no denying that everything in the long-awaited Avatar looks spectacular, from the Na’vi to the different animals of the world to the abundant water. But writer/director James Cameron has also employed the high frame rate of 48 frames-per-second, giving everything a hyper-real look that, at least for this critic, does not make for a great viewing experience. Also, for a film that’s 3 hours and 12 minutes long, you’d think there would be plenty of time to devote to all aspects of the story, but somehow that isn’t the case. Though it's nominated for Best Picture, its best chances of winning lie in the three other technical nominations.

The Banshees of Inisherin
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this film reunited him with his In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for one of the funniest movies of the year, and also one of the saddest. The film is spectacular in its ordinary nature, with the story centering around Gleeson's character ending his longtime friendship with Farrell's character for seemingly no reason. All four main actors - Farrell (Best Actor), Gleeson (Best Supporting Actor), Barry Keoghan (Best Supporting Actor), and Kerry Condon (Best Supporting Actress) - earned nominations, and McDonagh was nominated for both directing and writing, making this film one of the favorites.

Elvis
One of those love-it-or-hate-it type movies, the latest from writer/director Baz Luhrmann didn't hit the sweet spot for this critic, mostly because its focus was more on Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and not Elvis (Austin Butler) himself. That meant much more time for Hanks to deliver one of the worst performances of the year. Butler earned his Best Actor nomination, as there are times when he is absolutely electric. But there's a reason that six of its eight nominations are in technical categories - the story doesn't live up to Butler's performance.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
On the other end of the spectrum from Elvis is Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film that knew how to use its flashiness in much better ways. Featuring a breathtaking lead performance by Michelle Yeoh (who earned her first-ever nomination), the return of '80s kid star Ke Huy Quan (favored to win for Best Supporting Actor), and polar opposite performances by Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu (both nominated for Best Supporting Actress), the film was as wild and weird as it was emotional. With a couple of surprise nominations, including Best Musical Score and Best Song, it seems destined for a lot of wins.

The Fabelmans
The most personal movie ever from writer/director Steven Spielberg (nominated in both categories), The Fabelmans is a lightly-fictionalized chronicle of Spielberg's childhood, where he caught the bug of filmmaking and endured his parents' disintegrating marriage. With seven overall nominations, including Best Actress for Michelle Williams, a surprise Best Supporting Actor nomination for Judd Hirsch (who's in the film for less than 10 minutes), and another nomination for Best Score for the iconic John Williams (who now has 52 - !! - lifetime nominations), it would be unwise to discount this film's chances at taking home the top prize.

Tár
If ever a film was defined by its lead actor, it's Tár, featuring a towering - and now, Oscar-nominated - performance by Cate Blanchett as world-renowned - but fictional - conductor Lydia Tár. The first film in 16 years from writer/director Todd Field (nominated in both categories), it is notable for how much time it devotes to setting up Tár as a character. Though the story is set in the rarefied world of classical music, it has a grounded nature that keeps it balanced. The film is nominated for seven total Oscars, but its best chance at a win lies with Blanchett, who's the heavy favorite.

Top Gun: Maverick
My personal No. 1 movie of the year, the long-gestating sequel to 1984's Top Gun delivered everything you could want out of a summer blockbuster and more. Even though it it essentially offers up the greatest hits from the original in a slightly repackaged manner, it does so in a spectacular manner. Even though you'd expect its five nominations aside from Best Picture (which gives star Tom Cruise, who also served as a producer, his first Oscar nomination in 24 years) to be technical ones, it was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, an indication that its story was equal to its visuals.

Triangle of Sadness (not reviewed)
A black comedy that takes aim at the obliviousness of wealthy people, Triangle of Sadness is only nominated in three categories, but they're three big ones - Best Picture, Best Director (Ruben Östlund), and Best Original Screenplay (Östlund). Unlike some of the other films in this category, it was not among the best-reviewed movies of the year, but it's clear that Östlund has his supporters in the writer and director wings of the Academy, so one or two wins are not out of the realm of possibility.

Women Talking
Although it was one of my top 10 movies of the year, Women Talking is perhaps the least likely film among the 10 nominated to be in this category, as it only has one other nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay for writer/director Sarah Polley. Set almost entirely in a barn loft on a Mennonite compound as a group of women decide how to fight back against abusive men, it is a true ensemble film, with no actor truly standing out among the others. Still, with award-winning actors like Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, and Claire Foy leading the way, it deserves to be recognized among the year's best.

Where to see the once-in-recorded-history green comet approaching Austin

Seeing green

The world is buzzing with news of an approaching astronomical body, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), more often referred to in the news and social media as "the green comet." Its most recent appearance was 50,000 years ago — compared to the about 200,000 years since modern humans emerged.

"While the pictures of it have been impressive, its visual appearance differs greatly," explains Joe Wheelock, public program specialist at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin. "Currently you might glimpse it with the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch of light[,] but you would need to be away from city lights. Binoculars or a telescope would improve the view, and you might even glimpse a faint tail."

As tempting as it is — and as much fodder as its made on social media — this experience will not be easy for most Texans to photograph and share. "The pictures that have been posted on various websites were taken by experienced astrophotographers and in most cases cameras designed for astrophotography," Wheelock warns.

Some logistics to note when planning a viewing:

  • The comet will be closest to Earth (thus, likely the most visible) on February 1.
  • Wheelan says placement will also be good in late January and early February, and it will be best viewed after midnight. Since the new moon was on January 21, every day the moon will compete with it a little more.
  • The McDonald Observatory posts daily stargazing tips, so viewers will have a few chances at seeing something special, even if the comment doesn't work out.
  • Getting out of Austin is the best bet against light pollution.

Those who are willing to make a trip out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should consider their best chances at out running the city lights. The closest popular option to Austin proper (especially for those who live farther North) is Canyon of the Eagles, which hosts an observatory and campsites about 70 miles from the center of Austin. Devil's Cove at Lake Travis and McKinney Falls State Park are less formal, but a popular choice, and generally closer. The McDonald Observatory, although it is an entity of the University of Texas at Austin, is in Fort Davis about 450 miles away.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) maintains records of some of the world's least light-polluted skies and works to protect them, ensuring that these places stay available for reliable stargazing retreats. There are four IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks in Texas: Enchanted Rock (100 miles from Austin), South Llano River (150 miles), Copper Breaks (330 miles), and Big Bend Ranch (520 miles).

In addition to the certified parks, there is a smaller group of Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which are especially dark and carefully protected. There are two in Texas: Devil's River State Natural Area (250 miles) and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (460 miles).

For more reading that goes in-depth on the comet's trajectory and context, Wheelan suggests an article in Sky & TelescopeSky & Telescope.

Alt-rock icons Beck and Phoenix bring co-headlining tour to Austin

Gen X and Millennials unite

In what’s sure to be a dreamy double billing for hipsters of not one but two generations, Beck and Phoenix have announced a co-headlining “Summer Odyssey” tour that will make three stops in Texas: August 20 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston; August 21 at the Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas; and August 22 at the Moody Center in Austin. Special guests Weyes Blood and Sir Chloe will open all shows.

What makes this musical coupling so compelling is that both acts have certainly stretched the boundaries of exploratory rock music, and in their own discographies have never ceased to evolve their sound, lyrics, or approach.

While Beck burst onto the scene in 1994 with his debut record Mellow Gold and Gen X slacker anthem “Loser,” the Lord of Lo-Fi proved far more than a on-off novelty hitmaker in records like the buoyant Odelay (and hit singles “Where’s It’s At” and “Devils Haircut”), the dance funk of Midnite Vultures, and the somber Sea Change. Side trips into country, psychedelia, and ‘60s sounds also dot his discography. Not surprising, given a pedigree that found parents with careers in visual arts and music, and a grandfather who was a pioneer in the Fluxus art movement.

Beck has also collaborated with a wide arrange of other artists including Childish Gambino, Sia, Phillip Glass, The Chemical Brothers, Gorillaz, and even Sir Paul McCartney. His last album was 2019’s Hyperspace. A true sonic seeker, he was a 2022 nominee (but not finalist) for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The also critically acclaimed Phoenix met while friends in high school in Versailles, France. The pop rockers came to worldwide attention with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and singles “1901,” and “Lisztomania.” The album won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, and they became popular on festival stages around the world, including a headlining slot at 2013’s Coachella.

Follow up records included the Grammy-winner for Best Rock Album Bankrupt! (“Entertainment”) and Ti Amo (“J-Boy”), increasing an already-dedicated fanbase. Their most recent record was last year’s Alpha Zulu.

The Beck and Phoenix “Summer Odyssey” tour will bring together two cutting-edge acts that discerning Gen X and Millennials can both agree upon.

Tickets for all Texas dates go on sale Friday, January 27, at www.ticketmaster.com.

Beck and Phoenix - Summer Odyssey Tour Dates

08/01 Seattle, WA - Climate Pledge Arena ^#
08/03 Bend, OR - Hayden Homes Amphitheater ^#
08/05 Concord, CA - Concord Pavilion ^#
08/07 Inglewood, CA - Kia Forum ^#
08/08 San Diego, CA - Viejas Arena +#
08/09 Orange County, CA - OC Fair*
08/11 Phoenix, AZ - Footprint Center +#
08/12 Las Vegas, NV - Michelob Ultra Arena +#
08/15 Morrison, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheatre +#0
8/18 Rogers, AR - Walmart AMP ~#
08/20 Houston, TX - Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion ~#
08/21 Dallas, TX - Dos Equis Pavilion ~#
08/22 Austin, TX - Moody Center ~#
08/31 Chicago, IL - Huntington Bank Pavilion #
09/02 Detroit, MI - Pine Knob Music Theatre ~#
09/03 Toronto, Ontario - Budweiser Stage ~#
09/05 Boston, MA - MGM Music Hall at Fenway ~#
09/08 Philadelphia, PA - TD Pavilion at the Mann ~#
09/09 New York, NY - Madison Square Garden ~
09/10 Columbia, MD - Merriweather Post Pavilion ~#

^ with Jenny Lewis
+ with Japanese Breakfast
~ with Weyes Blood

Bob Ruggiero