Thanks to a combination of seeing two of these last year, a variety of streaming services, cheap showings at local movie theaters, and Oscar Week at the main theater I go to, I was able to do something I have never done before: view all this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. I feel like I can have an opinion as to what my favorite of these movies is, and, therefore, what my pick for Best Picture would be. Will it be the movie I named as my favorite from last year? Will it be something I viewed over the last few weeks? Let’s get to the rankings so we can see if Don’t Look Up was my favorite!
10. Don’t Look Up
Nope! This is my first foray into the more “serious” side (I say this, knowing all of his stuff has comedy at its core) of Adam McKay’s work, having seen neither The Big Short nor Vice, while also not really engaging with Succession in any real way. Thankfully, I understand to be the least of his efforts in this world, so I’m not necessarily swearing off his other work in this realm, because I well and truly dislike this movie. From the aggressive style (McKay loves quick edits, and showing random clips of animals and extras to make his points) to a wide range of just terrible people, this is an unpleasant, if, admittedly, occasionally funny, viewing experience. Credit to McKay for using his movie to make a salient point, with the film’s meteor, and humankind’s bored attitude towards it, and obvious metaphor for climate change and a wide variety of people (including, most unfortunately, powerful people) simply not caring about the long-term effects it has on our planet. It’s shocking to think that McKay wants this movie to be a plea for us to take climate change seriously so that the human race can continue, considering that every character in the movie seems to make a pretty good argument that the human race should probably end. Everyone in this movie is so terrible, it’s pretty easy to root for the meteor to show up sooner. I do understand that the point is humans are dumb and are letting the planet die, but also, if this is well and truly what the human race has to offer, maybe the planet should die. At least for us. This isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have good points to it, as the last act is surprisingly effective, especially as our “heroes” (lol) try to enjoy their last moments together as normally as possible, but getting to those moments made me want to slam my face into a wall. So. Yeah. This ain’t the one, y’all.
Other nominations: Best Original Screenplay (Adam McKay and David Siorta), Best Original Score (Nicholas Britell), Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: If I have to answer, Original Screenplay feels like its best shot. Feels like another movie I’ll discuss will clean up tech stuff, and there are much better scores. Original Screenplay feels like a tough category, but it did win the Writer’s Guild Award (although Belfast was not nominated there).
Nomination I would have liked to see: Lmao.
So this was the last movie I saw of the batch, and I went in expecting it to land somewhere in the middle, so I was unpleasantly surprised to find I deeply disliked this movie. Although I understand the purpose of the tonal shifts, since we are witnessing The Troubles in Northern Ireland from the point of view of a child, I found them to be jarring in a way that did not work for me. Any time the music kicked in, I was convinced that, somehow, music from a different film was being piped into the theater. There is a moment in this movie where I thought “I thought the scene where Jamie Dornan started singing in Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar was kind of jarring, but he just started singing “Everlasting Love” to his wife at what appears to be the reception for his father’s funeral, which includes a brass band wearing sunglasses inside, so, “Edgar’s Prayer” got one upped by an Oscar-nominated film.” Also, the movie effectively ends with Dame Judi Dench looking directly down the barrel of the camera, delivering a message. You know. Like in Cats. Look, this isn’t to say that any of this is necessarily bad. Clearly it worked for people, it’s nominated for Best Picture, among a handful of other wins. It just never remotely came close to working for me. The film’s short runtime (clocking in under 100 minutes) and having a more bearable writer/director (Kenneth Branagh) is the primary reason it snuck ahead of Don’t Look Up for me.
Other nominations: Best Director (Kenneth Branagh), Best Supporting Actor (Ciarán Hinds), Best Supporting Actress (Dame Judi Dench), Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Branagh), Best Original Song (“Down To Joy,” Van Morrison), Best Sound (Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Original Screenplay feels like it is a tossup between this, Don’t Look Up and Licorice Pizza. So. Maybe it will win that. I don’t know.
Nomination I would have liked to see: “Edgar’s Prayer” from Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar should have been nominated for Best Original Song last year. That was genuinely a thought I had while watching this movie. So. I’m putting that here.
8. Licorice Pizza
Only my second ever Paul Thomas Anderson film, this one does not remotely work for me as much as 2007’s There Will Be Blood. Although our leads (Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, the latter the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) are both extremely engaging, the story around them does not really capture me. The oft-talked about age difference is a bit odd at times, but their relationship rarely feels excessively sexual to the point it becomes truly icky (although, your mileage may vary. Don’t yell at me, I don’t care about this movie enough to defend it!) The other hot topic of this movie is the weird depiction of a racist business owner, which, the joke is on the man being a racist tool, but also, that’s a fine line to walk, so people can be frustrated with it if they want, again, don’t really feel strongly enough about this one to get into any fights on it (although PTA being unreceptive to critiques does not help the situation at all). My favorite part, aside from the gas-less truck rolling down the hills of LA, was seeing John C. Reilly briefly play Fred Gwynne. Give me that movie!
Other nominations: Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Original Screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: This feels like it has a realistic shot at Screenplay, although the racist restaurant owner could sway people away from it. Still, feels like a very solid shot there, even if it lost the WGA award to Don’t Look Up
Nomination I would have liked to see: Alana Haim is extremely good in this, and I’m genuinely kind of bummed she didn’t get a nomination here.
7. Nightmare Alley
This one is a bummer. The follow-up to his Best Picture-winning The Shape Of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s first venture into a film without any fantasy/sci-fi elements is not quite what I was hoping for. Based on a book that had already been adapted in the 1940s, the movie is at its best in the first 40% or so, as del Toro spends time with a traveling carnival. The sets and the chatacters all feel so lived in, as we engage with it alongside Bradley Cooper’s lead chatacter. del Toro, who obviously has a soft spot for those who are typically Othered, never treats the carnies with any kind of disrespect, which feels rare for this kind of setting. I could spend hours in that carnivam and never get bored. Alas, that is only the first act, while the rest of the movie portrays Cooper’s fall from grace as he uses his false psychic powers in the wrong ways and engages with a suspect psychoanalyst. Even with Cooper’s strong performance throughout, the back half of this movie never comes close to the magic its original setting creates.
Other nominations: Best Production Design (Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau), Best Cinematography (Dan Laustsen), Best Costume Design (Luis Sequeira)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Again, if I have to choose one, I’d go Production Design, I like the look of the carnival a bunch. That said, I don’t see Dune losing that, Cinematography feels like there’s at least three better options here, and I think Cruella will get a well-earned win for Costumes. So, I’m guessing empty hands for del Toro’s newest.
Nomination I would have liked to see: Cooper is a performer that I always trick myself into thinking I don’t like, because my first exposure to him were The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, where he’s good at playing a tool, but is also a tool. He does great here, especially in the film’s bleak closing moments.
6. Drive My Car
This movie is almost for sure the best movie of the bunch, but it is also a three hour movie in a foreign language that is heavily focused on a man processing his guilt through a production of a Chekov play that he is directing. All that to say, I’m probably not literate enough, in, like, Film to truly understand the impact of this movie. The performances are great and as the lead and his chauffeur who brings the title to life begin processing the guilt over their involvement in the death of their wife and mother, respectively, the performances carry significant weight and probably should have been recognized but the Academy doesn’t really care about foreign language performances. That said, it was a pleasant surprise to find this movie among these nominees, let alone with a director and screenplay nomination in tow. I’m glad I got to see something like this, even if my brain is too broken by, like, three Spider-Men spider-manning together to truly appreciate it.
Other nominations: Best Director (Ryusuke Hamaguchi), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe; based on the short story by Haruki Murakami), Best International Feature (Japan, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Although Flee moved me in really profound ways, it’s hard to see this nominated for Best Picture alongside no other international features and not pick it to win that category. The fact it’s nominated for Picture feels exciting enough, though.
Nomination I would have liked to see: The lead performances from Hidetoshi Nishijima and Tōko Miura are both heart wrenching and I wish the Academy would recognize more performances from Asian actors.
This is the point where we transition into movies I really liked for what they are, with this one having the caveat of I have no idea how it got nominated for Best Picture. I like this movie a bunch. It’s a pleasant story about the sole hearing member of an otherwise deaf family, and how she struggles with acting as an interpreter for them and their fishing business, while also wanting to go to school for her genuine singing talents. I have no real complaints with it as an actual movie, it would have fared pretty well on my overall ranking last year, as it was a well acted film that made my heart very happy. It’s also one of the lightest movies I have ever seen nominated for Best Picture. Earlier I called it pleasant, which I think is an appropriate word to describe it, I just don’t know if a movie with the primary adjective of “pleasant” deserves to be in this category. It is very possible the nomination is recognizing the film for its primarily deaf cast, including the presumed Best Supporting Actor winner Troy Kotsur, whose performance as the father is genuinely funny but also profoundly moving. The movie’s final twenty-five minutes are emotional ones, as we witness the daughter’s audition for music school, during which she signs Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now,” and goes off to college with a last sign of “I really love you” to her family. It’s very sweet! It’s emotional beats work! It’s a movie I won’t think of very much in a few years, even if it does turn being a frontrunner for Best Picture into a win.
Other nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder; based on the original motion picture screenplay La Famille Bélier written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Éric Lartigau)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Based on the way other awards ceremonies have gone, Supporting Actor feels like Kotsur’s to lose, which I’m pretty content with. It won the screenplay award from the WGA (although The Power Of the Dog wasn’t eligible), and it seems to be in place to potentially pull off a Best Picture upset, but I’d be very surprised.
Nomination I would have liked to see: Actually going to leave this blank. The other performances are fine, but Kotsur’s being recognized feels right, anything else would feel odd.
4. The Power Of The Dog
The true frontrunner of this slate, The Power Of The Dog is a character-driven Western about how toxic masculinity in the West, as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, could push people into negative situations, whether that be repressed homosexuality being overcompensated for through homophobia, alcoholism, or murder. You know. The big three. A character study lives and dies by its cast, and this cast, including Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, all give top tier performances, leading to nominations for all of them. Unsurprisingly, considering he is a man known for playing an extremely arrogant Sherlock Holmes and a similarly arrogant Doctor Stephen Strange in the MCU, Cumberbatch plays a cruel man extremely well, but he is also able to play quieter moments as he remembers his former teacher/object of his affection with the same skill. Plemons plays his softer and more caring brother with a subtlety that is great to see considering some of my favorite performances from him (Game Night and Jungle Cruise) are more broadly comedic. Dunst plays the loving mother and victim of toxic masculinity with a heartbreaking quietness. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Dunst’s son/aspiring doctor who grows close to Cumberbatch’s character with a quiet that feels like something much more malicious upon the end of the story. This isn’t the most exciting movie on this list, but Jane Campion’s direction of her stellar cast puts it in a prime position to win Best Director and Best Picture, a more worthy winner than CODA, even if it wouldn’t be my top choice.
Other nominations: Best Director (Jane Campion), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actor (Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee), Best Supporting Actress (Kirsten Dunst), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jane Campion; based on the novel by Thomas Savage), Best Original Score (Jonny Greenwood), Best Sound (Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb), Best Production Design (Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards), Best Cinematography (Ari Wegner), Best Film Editing (Peter Sciberras)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Director feels like Campion’s to lose, although some weird comments to the Williams sisters feels like it could be a “oh no, she lost it” moment (I don’t think it should be, even if the statement was pretty stupid). I’d like to see it win score, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s work there feels ominous in the best ways even in the early goings of the story. Of the two choices I feel like I have, Best Picture feels more right here.
Nomination I would have liked to see: It was nominated in all but 3 categories it theoretically could have been. It’s fine.
3. King Richard
Full disclosure, recency bias could help push this movie so high on this ranking, but I’m also a sucker for inspiring sports stories, with extra points for it being based on a true story. This movie isn’t without its flaws, with a handful of scenes of familial drama feeling like padding at times during its nearly two and a half hour runtime, although those are also the scenes where the movie actually holds Richard Williams’s feet to the fire a bit. His dedication can be at times admirable, but it also can be perceived as cruel and excessive, and ignoring that would feel false, but also movie was long and it never felt like it was going to hold enough weight to really merit the time spent on it. The film could also have spent more time showing Serena Williams yearning to get the attention and opportunities that Venus was receiving. I do see the irony in saying I wish it was shorter, but also wished we got more of something, but I feel like there was a way to combine my desires into a shorter movie. All those critiques aside (and I know it’s odd to spend this much time critiquing a movie this high, but, again, I saw this, like, 12 hours ago so it’s fresh lol), this movie is a joy to watch. Will Smith gives a tremendous performance as Richard Williams, somehow balancing the fact he is a tremendous screen presence with playing a quiet, yet confident, man. Although he is great, I think my favorite performance belongs to Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams. She brings tremendous life to the older of the tennis-playing sisters, with every appearance on screen bringing a joy to the proceedings. Her joyful elation in a mirror after her first professional win is contagious, and it is that energy that really helps the tennis sequences in these movies soar. Is this truly a better film than some of the other ones on this list? No, but it’s hard to see an inspiring sports biopic and not feel tremendously happy.
Other nominations: Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actress (Aunjanue Ellis), Best Original Screenplay (Zach Baylin), Best Original Song (“Be Alive” by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), Best Film Editing (Pamela Martin)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: After two previous nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith seems in line to win his first Oscar. Although I prefer the performances that Andrew Garfield and Denzel Washington give, I am perfectly happy to see Smith finally take home a win
Nomination I would have liked to see: Although Ellis does great work as Brandy Price, Venus and Serena’s mother, Sidney is so electric as Venus, I would have been so excited to see her nominated in Best Supporting Actress
We’re now into the movies I saw before nominations came out and despite wondering if anything would top these two, nothing proved up to the task. I said a lot of things in my year end review about this movie, and those are all going to stand. But the more I sit with this movie, the more impossible it feels. People have said for decades that this book is impossible to adapt into a worthy film, and now look at it! It’s a Best Picture nominee! It made a bunch of money! This movie had the second most nominations of any movie this year, and it honestly feels like there’s at least one more it probably should have gotten. Although this obviously was not my favorite movie of this year’s batch, it’s the one I kind of want to win the most. A remake of another Best Picture-winning film made my an already two-time Best Director winner, whatever, we don’t need to see that take home the night’s biggest award. A massive-feeling adaptation of one of the most influential genre novels of all time? Let the spice flow, babyyyyyy!
Other nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay (Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth; based on the novel by Frank Herbert), Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer), Best Sound (Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett), Best Production Design (Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos), Best Cinematography (Greig Fraser), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr), Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan), Best Film Editing (Joe Walker), Best Visual Effects (Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Most of the tech stuff seems like a solid bet, although Cinematography feels like a tossup and I think Cruella‘s gorgeous designs will rightfully win. Production Design and Visual Effects, in particular, feel like if anything else wins, I’d riot. Also, the fact this isn’t the favorite to win Adapted Screenplay is NUTS.
Nomination I would have liked to see: Speaking of nuts, genuinely impossible to understand how Denis Villeneuve puts this movie together and doesn’t get a Best Director nomination. I swear if he pulls off Dune 2 (he will) and doesn’t get nominated again, I’m going to burn it to the ground. What “it” is will be determined at a later date.
1. West Side Story
C’mon. If y’all read my wrap up blog from last year, it feels genuinely impossible that anything could have topped this movie, and, surprise, nothing did. This is a movie that I watch and I’m like “Oh yeah, movies are the best! Musicals are the best! This is why I like engaging with this stuff!” Even with a dull male lead, everything else in this movie is so top notch I’m willing to quietly push that under the rug (unlike the accusations attached to that actor lol). From the film’s opening moments, I just wanted to run around the theater and high five everyone there. This is what movies are about, baby! The shots! The performances! The costumes! The music! C’mon! I don’t know how to talk about this movie without gushing, and I’ve gushed enough about it before on this blog, which you can read here. Just. *Swedish Chef doing a Chef’s kiss*.
In the words of Vin Diesel: the movies!
Other nominations: Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose), Best Sound (Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy), Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kamiński), Best Costume Design (Paul Tazewell)
Award it has the best shot at winning, in my likely wrong opinion: Ariana DeBose is going to become the second person to win an Oscar for playing Anita, and she absolutely should. Anita is such a wonderfully written character, it doesn’t take much to make that role watchable, but DeBose *demands* your attention here. It’s a star-making turn, and considering she’s already booked a gig as a comic book villain (in the Sony-verse, but, whatever, a win’s a win), it appears she is well on her way to being a household name. This is great news. (I’d also like to see it take home Cinematography for the gorgeous shots Kamiński creates, but it’s hard to deny the gorgeous shadow work Bruno Delbonnel creates in The Tragedy of MacBeth).
Nomination I would have liked to see: The fact Mike Faist is not the favorite to win Best Supporting Actor is a crime, against me personally. His performance as Riff is heartbreaking. It’s my second favorite performance of 2021, second only to DeBose, and it’s close. I try not to get too worked up about award nominations, but, c’mon. Faist should be the name on everyone’s lips.
Thank you all for reading! This was an adventure, getting to watch all of these before the big show, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts. I love you all.
Information for this post was taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/94th_Academy_Awards