The nominees are out, which means the predictions are, too! Below are some random thoughts and (let’s face it) inexpert predictions about the ten nominees for Best Picture at the 95th Annual Academy Awards, listed in alphabetical order. Ladies and gentlemen: My opinions on Oscar!
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Edward Berger’s new adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel follows the Oscar-winning 1930 film; but this version is much more brutal, offering an unflinching portrait of the horrors of war unencumbered by the limits of 30’s-era socio-cultural propriety and special effects. Newcomer Felix Kammerer does solid work in the lead role; however, we never learn enough about his character Paul for us to care about his fate, except in the abstract “war is hell” sense— and the episodic structure of the piece doesn’t help, either. This is a serious contender in the Adapted Screenplay category, but the fact that it’s up for Best International Feature will almost definitely hurt its chances to win Best Picture.
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
One of only six films ever to earn $2 billion worldwide (along with not one, but two other James Cameron movies), this blockbuster features stilted dialogue, unfunny one-liners, two-dimensional characters, unearned emotional beats, and countless scenes of Zoe Saldana crying… but when that third-act Titanic-Abyss-Aliens-Terminator action sequence kicks in, you will understand why it’s on this list. And to think we all sneered at the thought of a sequel! (Yes, you did. Admit it.) Not likely to win Best Picture, but a shoo-in for one or more of the technical awards.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
According to breathless Oscar pundits, this Irish film written and directed by Martin McDonagh is the leading contender for Best Picture, and no wonder: It’s mesmeric, gorgeously shot, superbly acted, and often laugh-out-loud funny (READ FULL REVIEW HERE). Many will no doubt be turned off by the dark, gruesome turn the film takes around the halfway point (I know I was), but it hardly matters when the film is so otherwise watchable. It might not win Best Picture— because who knows, right?— but if Colin Farrell doesn’t win Best Actor, something has gone seriously wrong with the world. Ask any Oscar expert and they will tell you: “It’s his turn.” (Incidentally, Kerry Condon is absolutely my choice for Best Supporting Actress.)
It is a testament to Baz Luhrmann’s operatic, earnest, and frequently surreal biopic that it wowed not just his diehard fans, but also people like me who, despite acknowledging his monumental contribution to music, don’t really care all that much about Elvis. While Tom Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker with love-it-or-hate-it mustache-twirling aplomb, most of the acting credit goes to Austin Butler, whose transformative performance as the titular King of Rock and Roll marks him as a bona fide star. Oscar voters will likely deem him too young and inexperienced to win Best Actor prize this year, but trust me— this is not the last time they’re putting him on that list.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Outrageous, inventive, and frequently hilarious, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s “EEAAO” (which absolutely no one is calling it) is one of 2022’s major success stories, earning $104 million on a meager $25 million budget to become the definitive multiverse movie— much to Marvel’s chagrin. It also has the most Oscar nominations— 11, count ‘em!— of any movie on the slate. And while it overstays its welcome somewhat by including a few too many “what-a-great-ending-oh-wait” moments, this gleeful adventure romp more than makes up for it by reminding us of at least two things: 1) that Michelle Yeoh is, has always been, and always will be a major star; and 2) that we all really, really missed Ke Huy Quan. Best Picture Award? Maybe. Best Actress Award for Yeoh? I’d put money on it.
While all his trademarks are present and accounted for— the camera angles, the touches of humor, the sense of awe and wonderment, the evocative score— this film, like many of Spielberg’s recent works, somehow lacks the spark that would take it from good to great. Blame the occasional lack of narrative focus, or the middling performance of some of the supporting players, or the on-the-nose “Can’t you see how much I love you?”-type of dialogue, or even the fact that we (perhaps unfairly) expect more from Steven Spielberg. The film only really sings in the genuinely enchanting “making-a-movie” scenes, but I suspect those bits won’t be enough to make this win Best Picture… which will probably affect Michelle Williams’s Best Actress bid, as well.
Call it ignorance, call it bad taste, call it stupidity; but every year, there are a few well-crafted critical darlings—“Moonlight,” Nomadland,” “Call Me By Your Name,” to name a few— that I just don’t “get.” This year, the standout is “Tár,” a resolutely low-key, maddeningly ponderous story about the rise and fall of a fictitious orchestra conductor. The esoterica of the world of classical music, coupled with Cate Blanchett’s masterful performance, kept me riveted… up to a point. By the time the plot kicked into gear over an hour in (!), the movie had already lost me. Blanchett may win another Oscar for this Todd Field drama, but as far as I’m concerned she’s the only reason to see this thing.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Generally speaking, “fun” movies just don’t get nominated for Academy Awards. But with the steadily declining viewership of the Oscars, coupled with the fact that most people don’t go to the movies anymore (which, because of the rise of streaming, was already a trend even before the pandemic), the Academy can no longer afford to be so snobbish. Hence a Best Picture Nominee list that includes “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Everything Everywhere All At Once”… and, of course, Joe Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick.” But to say that this belated sequel was nominated solely for being “The Movie That Saved Cinema™️” would be to ignore its genuine merits: Simply put, it is the perfect summer blockbuster. Is it the Best Picture of 2022? Perhaps not; but it was certainly the most fun.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Character actress Dolly de Leon made history as the first Filipino ever to be nominated for a Golden Globe, and then made history again when she was later nominated for a BAFTA; so it was a shame that she was excluded from the list of Best Supporting Actress Oscar hopefuls. Because truth to tell, she is much better than the material she’s in. This Ruben Östlund movie, which is composed of three separate parts, is entertaining enough; but while the last two sections hang together quite well (and feature some of the best moments in the movie), the first section is so inconsequential to the main narrative that one wonders why it was included at all— especially since this film, like so many others on this list, was about 30 minutes too long. Not, in my opinion, a strong contender for Best Picture, but still worth a watch.
A title like this was sure to turn off male viewers— “Why the hell would I want to watch a bunch of chicks yapping?”— but that exclusion is kind of the point. Sarah Polley’s remarkable film really is nothing more than an extended conversation about the violence inflicted by men towards women; a conversation that men should be having… but tragically aren’t. And if the movie seems unsubtle at times, it’s because violence itself is not subtle— and the discussion about it shouldn’t be, either. A powerful, moving, and heart-wrenching film performed by a staggeringly talented cast, “Women Talking” was (sadly) not marketed well enough to be a serious contender for Best Picture; but here’s hoping its inclusion on the list of nominees will help it find the audience it deserves.