Hello readers! Despite my lack of updates, I have continued watching movies. In honor of the Oscars on Sunday, here is a guide to the ten best picture nominees, with my thoughts and predictions.
All Quiet on the Western Front
The German Netflix film All Quiet on the Western Front joins a long tradition of war films that win over the academy. 2019’s 1917 is the easy comparison, but Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, and even Darkest Hour and JoJo Rabbit all were heavy-hitters within the last six years, and countless more before then. Because of that, it was easy for me to be a tad dismissive of the film going in (here we go again….), but now having actually seen it, it’s not to be dismissed: this is an excellent film. The battle sequences are remarkable technical achievements, maybe not as flashy as 1917’s one-continuous shot setup, but vivid and immersive nonetheless. The story is well-told, the ensemble is naturalistic, and the score is extremely memorable. Most uniquely, the film incorporates elements from the horror genre. There is a scene with tanks that feels directly drawn from War of the Worlds, or any number of monster-movies. This adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front is a worthy addition to the war genre canon.
Yet, overall, I’m torn. It’s excellently made, but except for a few unique creative choices, it feels too similar to other movies of its kind. Very good, but very similar. So I ultimately think it’s fair to give the film a nomination, but not for it to win best picture, and it doesn’t seem like it will. The real question is whether it’ll win best international feature, which it is also competing in. Logic would say it would, but maybe having it compete in two categories will end up splitting its votes, leading to an upset with the other nominees, particularly The Quiet Girl or Argentina, 1985, both movies I’ve heard excellent buzz for.
Avatar: The Way of Water
My friend summarized Avatar 2 this way: “It’s about how colonialism is bad, space whales are good, and how dads should chill and go hang out on a beach with their kids.” I couldn’t put it better myself. Avatar: The Way of Water accomplished what it set out to do: be a visually stunning technological achievement with a basic but satisfyingly archetypal story. It is far better than the original, and for me, scratches the fantasy-epic itch. But despite being the biggest movie in the world, there has been virtually no discussion of it. No one I know is clamoring to talk about the movie, because there’s just not much to talk about. I was highly entertained and impressed with the movie, but there’s no substance here. Because of that, it has no chance of winning, but as they say, it’s just an honor to be nominated.
The Banshees of Inisherin
I think Banshees is going to be the “Power of the Dog” of this year: a film with a lot of merit on its own, and a strong fanbase of academy voters, but is a little too niche to win using the Oscar’s ranked-order voting system, which favors the average #2 or #3 pick. I love Banshees more than Power of the Dog, and 100 times more than Martin McDonagh’s last award contender, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, a movie I, uh, did not like. McDonagh is in his wheelhouse here, though, crafting a parable that not only is about the Irish civil war, but more broadly, about friendship and legacy. We rarely see movies that deeply explore friendship, and certainly not one as unique as this one, a tragicomedy about a man’s existential despair and how it makes him self-destructively cut others out of his life in a desperate attempt at making a creative legacy for himself. I’d be happy to see it win, and if not for best picture, then for best original screenplay, or perhaps an upset from Colin Farrell for best actor.
Elvis is a bit of a mess, but it’s also one of the most interesting and enjoyable movies I watched this year. Baz Luhrman misses the mark in some regards, but these blunders can’t take away from Austin Butler’s momentous performance (and it’s looking like he might be the unlikely frontrunner, based on his recent Golden Globes and BAFTA wins). You walk away feeling like you’ve been transported to the 50s and 60s, blinded by the star power of a great icon. It is unlikely to win best picture, but again, Butler has a good chance of bringing home the gold.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
EEAO has become the dark horse frontrunner. It has become a movie that symbolizes the happy medium between the big blockbuster, audience-pleasing filmmaking of Top Gun and Avatar, and a successful, artistically impressive indie film. Coda, last year’s best picture winner, was similar in this regard. Also in EEAO’s favor is that it builds upon Parasite’s groundbreaking wins in Asian representation, and it has two star turns by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, with strong assists from fellow nominees Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu. While I didn’t personally love the film (in my review I talked about appreciating the family narrative, but thinking that it got lost in the chaos of the movie), I would gladly support its win. Quan is a near-lock for best-supporting actor, and Yeoh is in a neck-and-neck race with Cate Blanchett for best actress, it seems like a tossup. Angela Bassett was long-considered the lock for best supporting actress, but Jamie Lee Curtis has won several recent awards, which means the race is still wide open!
I felt more mixed emotions watching The Fabelmans than I did any other movie on this list. Is this story by Steven Spielberg, about his childhood and early career, self-indulgent? Is it okay for it to be? Is this story about his mother’s affair brave for him to tell, or strangely voyeuristic? Is he saying artists, by necessity of their craft, must be somewhat selfish and willing to sacrifice close family ties? Does he show remorse and regret about it? Or all of the above? More than anything, perhaps, The Fabelmans is a movie that exemplifies the complexity of an artist telling his own story, memorializing himself with the kind of insight an outsider couldn’t get, but without the distance and perspective history can give. I think ultimately The Fabelmans is a movie anyone interested in filmmaking, film history, and Spielberg’s work should see. While it hasn’t stuck with me enough to be one of my favorite movies of the year, I respect that it made me deeply feel, think, and debate. At this point, The Fabelmans doesn’t seem to be the forerunner for best picture, but never underestimate Hollywood’s desire to reward a movie about Hollywood. And, early on, Michelle Williams seemed to be the frontrunner for best actress, but her momentum has seemed to slip in favor of the other Michelle in her category.
I loved Tár, but it’s understandably one of the most polarizing films of the year. Initially, I had been told this movie was a brash takedown of cancel culture, which I was uninterested in. It actually is a much more thoughtful, ambiguous movie about high art, prestige, and power, and how prestige and high art must, by definition, hold levels of exclusivity and power to remain prestigious and considered high art. Cate Blanchett is, unsurprisingly, absolutely incredible. She’s impossible to take your eyes off, she carries this movie effortlessly, and we’re lucky to get to see such a skilled performer in such a juicy role. If you don’t have patience for long scenes of talking, symbolism, and cryptic endings, this might not be the movie for you, but you might surprise yourself if you try it.
There’s a lack of chatter about it that seems to indicate it won’t win, but Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh are in a deathmatch for best actress. I would be happy with either; I think Blanchett’s role is more classically awards-friendly (although not at all cheap, and she carries this movie more than Yeoh does EEAO), but I would love a science-fiction/fantasy genre performance like Yeoh’s to be awarded.
Top Gun: Maverick
What can I say about Top Gun: Maverick that hasn’t been said? It saved the box office. It’s also a sequel and reboot of a nostalgic franchise. It’s a great ensemble, and Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are fantastic. It also kinda feels like military propaganda. Its stunts are incredible and it is a really well-made, highly enjoyable, audience crowd pleaser. And, it’s not breaking any new ground. In my humble opinion, I don’t think Maverick was the best film of the year, but it certainly was one of the most significant films of the year, and will be looked back on in film history as defining 2022, so I think its recognition is very well deserved. When it comes to the Academy, I think it will treat Maverick similarly to how it treats Marvel movies, in giving it several technical awards in lieu of any of the bigger ones.
Triangle of Sadness
In a year full of movies and shows that took on the 1% (Glass Onion, White Lotus, The Menu), Triangle of Sadness managed to get the academy attention the most. Why? I honestly have no clue. Triangle of Sadness resists normal storytelling conventions with an almost episodic-like structure that loosely follows a young modeling, Instagram-famous couple on a cruise. The first act dwells on their selfishness and dysfunction, the second act features a barf-o-rama that knocks everyone down a few pegs, and in the third act, a working-class hero emerges for us to root for. But I found the commentary of the film to be blunt, unoriginal, and not particularly funny or insightful. I just didn’t find it to be interesting, and its lack of awards chatter makes me think it won’t walk away with any awards.
Women Talking, based on a novel of the same name and the story loosely based on real-life events, follows a group of Mennonite women deciding whether to leave their religious community, where they’ve been continually subject to sexual assault, or to stay, or to fight. There are some choices made in how the film is structured that makes it less engaging (for example, we don’t get some important scenes for individual characters until much later in the film, making it hard for the first part of the film to understand and connect with some of the key characters). However, some of these structural problems are overcome by the strength of the ensemble (Rooney Mara and Ben Whishaw are particular standouts), and the story is deeply compelling.
There has been no discussion about it actually winning best picture, but I’m glad it has been recognized with a nomination. And while there was a bit of an uproar about no female directors being nominated, I’m not particularly disappointed director Sarah Polley was not nominated; I think she leads the film well but the direction is not particularly remarkable. I would have loved to see Charlotte Wells for Aftersun or Gina Prince-Bythewood for The Woman King.
I predict will win: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
Dark horse pick: The Banshees of Inisherin
My personal favorites: The Banshees of Inisherin, Tár, Elvis, Women Talking
– Madeleine D.