The Academy’s decision to guarantee that all ten possible best picture slots are filled this year has given the chance for more movies to call themselves “Best Picture Nominees.” In recent years, wonderful films, like If Beale Street Could Talk and Carol, have been left out potentially due to the sliding voting system that usually favors eight or nine films being nominated rather than a full ten. So naturally, as a self-proclaimed Oscars expert, I had to rank all ten recognized films in the category this year.
#10: Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay’s latest satire after the dreadful Vice is another obvious and annoying film with a messy tone. It has an extremely effective and powerful ending that drives home its themes of the inevitable dangers of climate change—along with an excellent Nicholas Britell score—but it ends up falling a bit flat with its weak humor. If nothing else, the film’s popularity will at least bring more attention to the issue of climate change.
The most oscar-baity film in the lineup, Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white quirky family drama is extremely forgettable. While not a bad film by any means, and with some strong performances from Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe, it leaves a lot to be desired and feels more like a scattershot family portrait rather than a complete story.
#8: Nightmare Alley
Another solid film from Guillemero del Toro with beautiful production design and cinematography that brings a haunting human story to life. The film does drag at times and would have benefitted from re-writes in the first and second acts to keep the audience more engaged, but the excellent performances and Del Toro’s visual style make it worth seeing.
Last year’s charming Sundance hit has broken into the Oscars race, showcasing many beautiful sequences that allow the audience to live in the space of these deaf characters. They’re also played by deaf actors, which is so rare! It’s a cheesy and predictable script, but it works nonetheless and has a lot of well-earned sincerness and amazing performances.
#6: King Richard
Aunjanue Ellis and King Richard absolutely carry this solid sports drama that is compelling and entertaining to watch all the way through, even if it runs a bit too long in duration. The tennis scenes are surprisingly exhilarating to watch and the writing keeps the audience’s attention. The story of how Serena and Venus Williams were raised into becoming two of the best tennis players in the world is nothing short of inspiring.
#5: Licorice Pizza
While not without some head-scratching choices, like an uncomfortable scene with a racist character mocking a woman’s Japanese accent, Paul Thomas Anderson’s stunning vision envelops the audience in the world of 1970s San Fernando Valley with a very strong script. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are clear stars in this vibe-filled roller coaster of a movie. In watching the two characters form a connection, the audience gets transported into a time capsule they won’t want to escape.
#4: West Side Story
Steven Spielberg should’ve been directing musicals all along, as evident with this excellent re-telling of the iconic musical that absolutely justifies its existence (aside from the casting of Ansel Elgort). Ariana Debose gives the iconic role of Anita a new light on screen and the musical sequences are just as brilliant as in the original film.
It’s a sci-fi epic directed by master Denis Villeneuve adapted from Frank Herbert’s sprawling, iconic novel. This was never not going to be an absolute banger. Jaw-dropping visuals, sound design, music and world-building all bring this vision to life. It feels a bit incomplete, but Part Two should hopefully fix that.
#2: The Power of the Dog
Deeply layered with subtext and brilliantly directed and written by Jane Campion, this best picture frontrunner is an excellent feat of film-making, storytelling and acting that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since watching. It’s an extremely effective portrayal of suppressed homosexuality and the effects of toxic masculinity in society. With a brilliant and terrifying performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, along with strong turns from Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee (who totally sneaks up on the audience), this film is quite powerful.
#1: Drive My Car
I won’t say much here (see my full review), but if the Academy did one thing right this year, it was honoring this incredible film from Japan with Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and International Feature Film nominations. Hopefully, this is a sign of progress for even more worthy international films to break into the Oscars for years to come.
Matt Minton is a first-year writing for film, TV and emerging media and writing double major who already knows what their plans are for the evening of March 27th, 2022. They can be reached at [email protected].