By Erika Mathieu
Every year, I make it a point to watch every movie on the Oscars Best Picture nomination list. It’s worth mentioning, I tend to approach the Best Pictures nominees with a few stand-outs in mind. 2015’s Birdman, however pretentious, stands out as a personal favourite, along with Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece, Get Out, Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, are some of the more notable nominees for me, in recent years. The more visceral, strange, and stylistically distinct, the more likely I am to enjoy. I thought 2022’s nominees were a fantastic group of movies and mostly well-deserving.
10) Liquorice Pizza
An oddly-paced, narratively wacky, and thematically confusing movie. While the film is a fantastic snapshot of the early 1970s with a great soundtrack, cast, and wardrobe, the problematic narrative made it a tough pill to swallow. The attempt to normalize, and even romanticize, the narrative of a 25-year-old woman’s pursuit of a 15-year-old child in high school, made this movie impossible to praise. Director, Paul Thomas Anderson had every opportunity to push the boundaries and still make it palatable, but between the anti-Asian sentiment and the exploitative power dynamic, I just didn’t understand why it had to be that way. Minor tweaks would have made this a fun snapshot of another era, but instead was a creepy mess.
This is your typical Oscar-bait, feel-good movie. If it wasn’t so well-acted, it might have crossed over into Lifetime movie territory. I am firm in my resolve to not like this one. CODA, short for child of deaf adults, is a mostly PG story about a teenager trying to balance her family’s business with her future music aspirations. The movie was a standard, medium-done, run-of-the-mill, coming of age story, and suitable enough academy fodder. The film also provides visibility to the deaf community, but 2021’s Sound of Metal was more memorable and bold with its experimental use of sound.
8) Don’t Look Up
While I don’t necessarily agree with the vitriol this movie received, it just didn’t contend with other movies in the Best Picture category. This movie’s timing and relevance to current events is probably the best thing about it. Wide-spread scientific denial as a theme just feels very “of the times.” I think it would be a bold film if it wasn’t so mediocre. Jennifer Lawrence seems genuinely bored a lot of the time in her role as a graduate student. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill attempt to capitalize on their chemistry in The Wolf of Wall Street, but I just don’t think it translated. The potential for a bold and cutting allegory felt undermined by how forgettable it was. The backlash it received after its debut on Netflix gave me very little hope, and though I don’t agree the movie deserved the outrage, I am more confused why everyone gave it so much attention to begin with.
7) West Side Story
Coming off the tail of the widely-streamed and applauded Hamilton, and it’s lesser hyped cousin by Lin Manuel Miranda, In the Heights, as well as 2021’s Tick, tick…BOOM, Spielberg was betting on the movie musical continuing its time in the spotlight. While the story and music are dependable and an example of quintessential contemporary theatre, I didn’t see this as a serious contender in the Oscar race. Spielberg is one of the most prolific filmmakers to date, and the movie was enjoyable, but it didn’t feel fresh enough when examined alongside the other nominees. That being said, this movie is in no way a dud, and I would still recommend it if you are a fan of the genre.
As a heartfelt movie shot in black and white during the period of unrest in Ireland, this movie was considered to be a front-runner for the award for best picture pretty early on. While narratively simplistic, the charm and warmth of each of the characters is appealing and comforting. There are elements of humour and grief, but I had no strong feelings toward it winning.
This film was a pleasant surprise. Narratively similar to Mad Max: Fury Road, without so much nostalgia and campiness, I appreciated this more than I thought I would for a movie deemed early on to be a blockbuster hit. The colour palette, cinematography, and soundtrack are stunning, and every actor did a great job making the characters lived-in. I thought it was just a bit too niche for the academy to select as Best Picture. I went into this one extremely skeptical since the previews felt flashy and substance-less, but it quickly changed my mind as a result of it being beautifully shot, scored, and acted.
4) King Richard
This film pulls at all the right heartstrings in its uplifting depiction of the story of raising two of the most dominant women in sport to ever live, Venus and Serena Williams. The film is nostalgic and empowering, while also showcasing the hardships the Williams sisters had to endure. Will Smith is reliable in his role as the strong, self-sacrificing, and stubborn parent to exceptional children, and the formation of the record-breaking tennis stars’ dominance in the tennis world. This is definitely worth a watch.
3) Drive My Car
Adapted by Nobel prize winner for literature, Haruki Murakami, this movie is another slow burn. I was initially put off by the three hour run time, and as a result, I went in with an automatic skepticism. Several critics have pointed out the film is very dialogue-heavy, and this is true. Rather than visual cinematic revelations, the narrative is sometimes constrained by its textual elements. For me, this is rarely an issue and as an English major, I tend to approach movies as a text out of habit. The film is in Japanese, so the dialogue appears as subtitles, so for non-Japanese speakers, the sense of the movie already being dialogue-heavy is compounded by the subtitles. That being said, I found the depiction of the performance of identity and story-telling really profound, but acknowledge that it definitely won’t be for everyone.
2) The Power of the Dog
This is the kind of movie you think about when you think about an Oscar-winning movie. Jesse Plemmons, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kristen Dunst do incredible work in this cowboy tale set in Montana nearly 100 years ago. Many critics have called it Cumberbatch’s career-high. I don’t necessarily think this is inaccurate, his talent is undeniable, and if you are okay with a little pretentiousness, you will probably like it too. It is the first film directed by a woman to receive more than 10 Academy Award nominations. The caveat to this movie is that it is a film-lovers film, so if you look forward to a well-executed movie with a slow burn, I would give it a try. This is the one I had betted on.
1) Nightmare Alley
If there is one thing you can count on, it is Guillermo del Toro constructing narratives which confront the intersections of humanity and the monstrous. The motif of the caged monster who straddles humanity emerges again in del Toro’s latest. However, there is limited thematic crossover between Nightmare Alley, and his Best Picture Winner of 2017, The Shape of Water. The movie instills the audience with dread, and even though the dramatic irony is plentiful, it doesn’t feel too heavy-handed as we watch in horror as the main Character Stan, played by Bradley Cooper, slips further to achieve his greatest dreams. Between the phenomenal acting, horrifying subject matter, and visual achievement, this was my favourite of the bunch, even though I didn’t anticipate it would win.