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The 2022 Best Picture Nominees Ranked

by Gabriele Del Busso 3 months ago in review · updated 3 months ago
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Who should win? Who will win? And the Oscar for Best Picture goes to...

2022 Oscar Best Picture Nominees Ranked

After having viewed all of the Best Picture nominees, I compiled this list of what I believe to have been the worst and the best of the bunch. Each film is accompanied by three paragraphs: an anecdotal one, a second one (most important) that deals with the reasons I believe the film to hold its specified place in the ranking, and a third one that contains spoilers (in case you wish to watch the film but have not done so just yet). I am submitting this article now (Sunday afternoon), so I estimate it to be published sometime tomorrow, after the Oscars have aired. I believe this year to be less of a "Who will win the Oscar?" as I strongly think the winner to be an obvious choice if I am being perfectly honest, but I might be surprised tonight!

10. Don't Look Up

The word that best describes Don't Look Up is "fun". Its satirical storyline is all over the place (but that's the point), the ensemble cast is composed of a variety of well-known actors (from Meryl Streep to Jonah Hill to Jennifer Lawrence to Ariana Grande), and it had me laughing throughout its entire run. For months, people were warning me: "Gabe, I really enjoyed this movie, but the ending is really weird." After ultimately watching it, unless they were referring to the bizarre comical post-credits that had a herd of naked people prancing amid new lands, I'm still confused as to how they believed the ending to be any weirder than every minute that came before it, for the whole film deals with quite the bizarre concept. Nonetheless, although somewhat surprised that Don't Look Up is a 2022 Best Picture nominee, I did find it enjoyable, albeit slightly lengthy for what it represents.

Don't Look Up is a very distracting film. Not only is there a wide variety of social themes upon which it attempts to tackle, but the clips unravel in an abnormally chaotic way, often displaying images that feel wholly unnecessary. Another problem with this film is its inordinate emphasis on reminding the audience that it is a satire on the actuality of the world: how the media responds to crisis, how the government responds to crisis, how people seem to want to make light of horrid situations, how the rich pounce on any money-making opportunity... All this could be great material for a movie, but when your film lasts two-and-a-half hours, it's more than alright to allow the audience to have a breather every now and then, especially when a lot of the jokes don't land. That's not to say Don't Look Up was not funny, because it certainly is. When that hopeful young girl was unexpectedly told not to speak by the billionaire CEO during one of his conferences, my sister and I must have roared out laughing for a solid minute at the very least. I honestly think of Don't Look Up as nothing more than a dumb amusing Adam McKay film that has its funny moments, but add to this that it is now an official Oscar nominee. A few final comments: I love the man, but does Jonah Hill always play Jonah Hill in every single one of his movies? They really tried to milk that recurring joke about the man charging for the snacks. Had the cast members been total unknowns, nobody would have care too much for this film. My two cents.

The ending feels all too predictable: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are the ones freaking out the entire time up until the final moments on Earth at which point they seem to be (along with their loved ones) the only human beings left who are not in a state of full panic, and then all that was once beautiful totally perishes. Dr. Strangelove did it better.

9. King Richard

Unless you were brought to life on the big screen by an inspired mogul like Scorsese or your name was T. E. Lawrence, most human beings are not two-hours worthy of a Hollywood-driven biopic when one can simply read or watch a documentary about the said person instead (and probably learn a whole lot more in the process). "Wow, so Queen had broken up, but Freddie Mercury learned he had AIDS, shared the information with his band members, and then they all came back together for Live Aid!" No... But I'm sadly willing to bet most people will actually think this in years to come. Needless to say, a Hollywood-driven biopic is arguably my least favorite type of film, but having done the fact-check at the end of King Richard, I am content to learn that the story presented in the movie was extremely accurate.

Was this amongst the most artistic cinematic masterpieces of recent memory? Once again, it's a Hollywood biopic, so no, not even close. Was the storyline enticing and make me live all sorts of wild emotions? To be quite frank, not really. The performances were good. That's pretty much the biggest and main compliment I can give to King Richard. Will Smith (who is supposedly favourite to win) did do a great job, but not to the point that it would prove shocking if say, Benedict Cumberbatch (who I thought provided the better performance) would win the Oscar instead. The most impressive fact with respect to King Richard's filming is that Saniyya Sidney (who played Venus Williams) actually had to learn to play tennis for her role, but that's not to lessen the other actors who all did a fine job as well.

The ending seemed a little rushed. Venus finally plays her first tournament. She loses, but a cheering crowd awaits her anyways. She tells her sister Serena to sign autographs with her as well for some reason, the family smiles, and the post-credits reveal the fate of the family. I probably could have simply read the post-credits to this film and learned everything I needed to know about the dawning of these tennis sisters instead.

8. Nightmare Alley

I'm not the biggest Guillermo Del Toro fan, but I do respect his style of filmmaking in that it is very unique. Every single time I watch any of his movies, I can tell it's a Del Toro film within the opening minutes. The setting is predominantly green, his camera is constantly moving ever so slightly (whether it be side-to-side, up-and-down or zoom-in-zoom-out), and his characters often seem improbable as if the whole is set within his very own fantasy world. Del Toro's style is very recognizable, and although I very much appreciated Pan's Labyrinth and was content to see him win for The Shape of Water, I admit never really anticipating any subsequent film of his since I believe to have already seen everything this director has to offer, but I know my lack of anticipation comes down to a matter of personal choice above everything else.

That being said, this was a fine film all the same. I much preferred the first half of the film during which Bradley Cooper's character works within a circus. The production design was well-executed, the entire atmosphere of Nightmare Alley was excellently established early on, and I was captivated from the very start. However, in the second half of the flick, I did ask myself a few times just where exactly the film was headed, and once it finally did conclude, there was no real shock felt on my end. Nightmare Alley is simply another fine Del Toro film to add to his collection, and there is no real negative I can attribute to it, but no real standout positive either.

In the closing moment of the film, after the wicked downward spiral that suffered Bradley Cooper's character throughout the second part of Nightmare Alley, he is asked to take on the job of geek (a callback to the first scenes of the film during which a geek is severely mistreated and ridiculed by all), which he accepts, having nowhere else to turn. I enjoyed this final moment, but once again, this film just did not stand out as much as the other Oscar nominees I have yet to discuss.

7. Dune

Having actually worked with Denis Villeneuve's son a short while ago, I will now admit something that at the time would have had me crucified by not only every single one of my coworkers but my proud city of Montreal as well: I am not the biggest Villeneuve fan, but that does not mean he's not good! Jeez, people are so sensitive. Villeneuve reminds me a lot of William Wyler in the sense that his capability to create well-crafted films is through the roof, but eventual reappraisals might slightly criticize the man for having not added any real emotional depth to his cinema. I might be wrong. He might not be a Montreal-turned-Hollywood director, and I will gladly admit fault in decades to come if such is the case. Also, I've never seen Incendies which is supposedly his best, so my mind is still very much open in that sense. That being said, Dune was a very well-crafted Hollywood blockbuster whose escapades served more as the building blocks of what is yet to transpire in the 2023 sequel.

In terms of special effects and visuals, Dune is flawless. This is the biggest compliment one can give to the movie (which goes hand-in-hand with Villeneuve being a director who is successfully able to make well-crafted films), but once again, I did not feel as if he poured any real emotion in this flick. It was a somewhat entertaining blockbuster; that's pretty much it. Also, although I am aware this film served more as a precursor to the upcoming sequel, this fact did not make Dune, Part I any less dull. "But you had to have read the book to enjoy it!" No, that's not how a great film works. A great film should serve as standalone to anything on which it was adapted. Lastly, a friend of mine, whose foremost critique of cinema rests on how well a film's score summons in him a sense of wonder, admitted not having felt that sense of adventure with this one, and if I do say so myself, I also could not recall how the music sounded like once it was all over.

Denis Villeneuve is evidently not to blame for the storyline itself, but there were a few moments that had me confused. Why did the villain survive Oscar Isaac's attempt to kill him? Pretty lame. Also, although this was a marketing strategy, I was expecting Zendaya to be remotely important to this film, but no, she only appeared at the very end. I did not love this experience, but it did make me somewhat curious to watch the sequel if ever the reviews for that one prove strong enough, so in that sense, it succeeded.

6. CODA

If there is one thing I sincerely could not care less for (nearly as much as I do not care for Hollywood-driven biopics), it's the remakes of recently successful films (often foreign) whose sole purpose is to cater towards those who would much more appreciate a setting familiar to them, as if they are somehow incapable of recognizing value in something disparate and/or outlandish. As an overzealous uncle of mine once said of the rock band Greta Van Fleet: "Why on Earth would I ever listen to a band that sounds like Led Zeppelin when I can just listen to Led Zeppelin?" In that same regard, why was a perfect film like Les Intouchables (2011) remade so many times within the same decade, and why in God's name would I ever watch any of its remakes when I could just rewatch the original? In this specific case, my personal reason for having watched the American remake of CODA is that I have traditionally always watched the films nominated for Best Picture prior to the Oscars ceremony; otherwise, I most likely would not have given my time to this flick. All that being said, ranking CODA proved somewhat difficult for me due to the fact that I still have yet to watch its original French version (which I am aware seems to be less critically acclaimed than this one). Endeavoring to keep an open mind throughout my entire viewing of the remake, I was left pleasantly surprised, for it truly did impress me, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

We finally come to the first film on this list that successfully managed to erupt heartfelt emotions out of me, and this, during multiple occurrences throughout the screening. Ruby is a CODA - a child of deaf adults - and is the only family member who can communicate with the other buyers and fishermen with whom her family does business. Ruby has a passion for singing, and she proves to be quite good. She then becomes conflicted, torn between helping develop her family's business by the docks and practicing her vocals that might land her an opportunity elsewhere. On paper, this tale seems to have the potential to suffer from over-sentimental transparency, but it genuinely made me feel for these characters, and I applauded everything the film had to offer. It was only after I finished viewing CODA that I found out there was meant to be subtitles at the bottom of the screen during the moments her family members employed sign language, which is somewhat disappointing for the following reason. At first, I found it difficult to grasp just exactly what Ruby and her family members were trying to communicate with one another, but I endeavored my best to understand (alas, to little success). Then, further into the film, Ruby is asked by her music teacher what singing means to her. She answers... via sign language, and the reply is of the most powerful scenes of the movie, for although I could not understand the words she was trying to communicate, her facial expressions said it all, and the goosebumps were felt. Once again, this becomes less striking a scene now knowing there were actually supposed to be subtitles at the bottom of the screen... Nonetheless, the film remains a poignant experience all the same. Also, none of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress were Best Picture nominees, and so I don't plan on watching any of the films nominated, but I wonder how those actresses compare to Emilia Jones who did an exceedingly superb job in this one. I was genuinely surprised to learn she was not nominated for her role in this.

Amongst the many other touching scenes of the movie, two really stood out to the point that I admit having turned teary-eyed. I think of Ruby's school choir show during which her father's perspective on life finally comes into play (all goes mute, and her father must observe the facial expressions of the audience to understand how talented her daughter truly is). I think of Ruby's final evaluated performance during which her family sneaks into the room to hear her (or rather, watch her); having noticed them, as Ruby sings her rendition of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, she also provides the necessary sign language for her loved ones to understand. This film was feel-good to its max.

5. West Side Story

The original film adaptation being my mother's all-time second favourite movie, we had both agreed that we would do everything in our might to watch the remake together on the big screen before theatres wiped it out of their schedules completely. With the December rise of the Omicron variant came strict measures here in Montreal (closures, city curfew, etc.), so we opted to delay our viewing in the hopes that all would shortly return to normal once more. Although theatres did reopen two months later, the only showing which remained at that point was in a cinema about an hour away from us both, and we had to rush to get there immediately after our respective work shifts had concluded, but still, we were determined and ultimately made it into the screening room. After being rudely notified by an entitled middle-aged woman from the West Island that we had (mistakenly) taken her seats, we headed for the very front row of the theatre and, heads gyrated fully upwards, were finally ready to breathe in the wonder of Spielberg's West Side Story. Verdict? We loved it.

A very normal question one might ask themselves is: "How did this compare to the original?" Although the answer in my opinion is "The original is the much more accomplished cinematic achievement (if just for those first 10 minutes)", in creating a list like this, one SHOULD completely disregard the original and evaluate Spielberg's adaptation of West Side Story for what it is, but even then, this proved difficult as there were throwbacks to the 1961 version throughout the entire movie. The positives: Ariana DeBose provided an irresistable performance as Anita; the cast is actually diverse this time around; the dance numbers are flawless; the colors are lively and the production design is extremely pleasing to the eye; all in all, the whole experience is extremely diverting. The negatives: As much as I now love Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort, their love-at-first-sight romance did not feel genuine whatsoever; one gang (take a wild guess) was the clear villainous group of the movie rather than have both gangs equal rivals, which I was not too fond about; the fact that Rita Moreno sang "Somewhere" made no sense to me. A conversation between my mother and I: "Was it not weird that Rita Moreno sang "Somewhere" rather than the two lovers?" "Well, son, it was Rita Moreno's song." "No, it wasn't. It was Natalie Wood's song." "Oh yeah... Then, that was weird."

The objective part having been dealt with, in this section of spoilers, I will instead state what I believe to have been both the most pleasant and the most disappointing change from the original. The most pleasant change from the original has got to be the cast's rendition of "America" which was hands down the most captivating scene of the film. The most dissapointing change is a two-way tie between Rita Moreno for some reason singing "Somewhere" and the way the two young lovers meet at the dance. If you believe I'm wrong and that their encounter actually did feel genuine in the remake, go rewatch the original; you would be lying if you were to tell me you don't get goosebumps. In this version, it felt very much like two dumb lost kids not knowing what the hell they were doing more than anything.

4. Belfast

What a delightful, endearing, brief movie this was. It was by far the film that provoked the most laughter out of me. Other than during the few scenes of violence, I was never without a smile or a chuckle, and the entire experience felt profoundly warm. It was the only film this year (along with CODA) that I recommended to both my parents (who practically only enjoy cinema for its feel-good quality), and they unsurprisingly opted to not listen to me and watch The Power of the Dog instead during which I heard my father repeat in typical Italian fashion that he had "no idea what was going on" every twenty minutes or so before finally claiming to understand that the film was "ultimately about gay cowboys", so I'm genuinely hoping they will watch this one soon, for I know they would much prefer it. Side note, in 2021, I finally took it upon myself to listen to the works of Van Morrison (who I was pleasantly surprised to ascertain is one of the all-time greats) and was elated upon discovering, after the first few scenes, that the soundtrack to Belfast is but a collection of Van Morrison songs, old and new. Nonetheless, I swore to remain as objective as possible while constructing this ranking and firmly believe it holds its place in the better half of this year's nominees.

Clocking in at about an hour and a half, Belfast is such a beautiful coming-of-age film, I wished to rewatch it as soon as it had concluded. My expectations for this film were rather low, for I believed it would be some obvious film that either dealt with morality or simply made to cater to the Oscars. However, it was far from it. Buddy - the main character - bears such a realistically innocent soul, I as a viewer could not help but smile, ache and be taken back to my own nostalgic childhood upon watching his own unfold before my very eyes. Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Buddy lives a happy life in Belfast as he navigates through both an unravelling city violence and his youth in which he seeks to impress a female classmate of his by improving his skills in mathematics. The experience is so naive, and the exchanges between Buddy and his family & friends are so painstakingly hilarious, my life truly turned carefree for the entirety of the film's duration.

Although Belfast serves as an extremely personal film for director Kenneth Branagh, throughout the movie, the B-roll triumphantly provides the viewers with an appreciation for this city to which they might have no affiliation; this was to the point that, not only was I personally transported back to my own nostalgic youth, but I also understood Buddy's that much more. The mere fact that such a personal flick could be so universal all the same makes Belfast amongst the most powerful of the year. By the end of the movie, his family leaves Belfast, and we are graced with one final quote that leaves us all with a great feeling of satisfaction.

3. Licorice Pizza

Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine and I had promised one another we would one day make a movie together. At the age of twenty-one, I reconnected with him, and in the Summer of 2018, we worked on a storyboard, somehow convinced unpaid actors to join the project, miraculously found equipment and filmed an experimental story that dealt with one's faith under a wopping budget of a hundred dollars each. Needless to say, we were young and broke. Having been gifted with an old soul at birth, I wished for the short film to be reminiscent of the French New Wave while he very much believed modern cinema to be lightyears ahead of all that came before it. We often clashed due to conflicting ideas but, in highly oversentimental fashion, always came back to our senses and used Paul Thomas Anderson as our middle ground, for we both believed him to be the ultimate filmmaker of the past 25 years (and we still do to this day). As time went on, we saw less of one another, for our paths simply took us in different directions. Thankfully, Paul Thomas Anderson released Licorice Pizza, and we reconnected yet again a few weeks back to watch it on the big screen together. Although not his best, we very much enjoyed it.

Paul Thomas Anderson creates films no big-name American director would attempt today, which is the main reason I respect the man so much. Most likely his strangest film to date, Licorice Pizza deals with fifteen-year-old Gary Valentine who becomes romantically interested in twenty-five-year-old (possibly twenty-eight-year-old) Alana Kane, and guess what? She immediately becomes interested as well. "Do you think it's weird that I hang out with Gary and his friends all the time? I think it's weird that I hang out with Gary and his fifteen-year-old friends all the time." What a bizarre film. Although I agree it might not be for everyone (the flick does not present a definite story so much as it does amusing passages in both of these characters' lives), I do recommend it to any cinephile, for the execution is magnificent, the characters are splendidly written, the adventures these characters face are uproarious and there are not many cinematic experiences like this one anymore, so take advantage while you still can. Also, as Licorice Pizza is set in the 70's, the soundtrack is phenomenal, and the era is accurately depicted as well.

At the very end of the flick, both characters are in search for one another through the dim-lit streets of the city. One eventually spots the other at a distance (and vice-versa), and they run towards one another. Callbacks to earlier scenes in the film during which one of them sprints towards the other reappear once more, reminding the viewer that through it all, even when it did not necessarily feel as if it were the case, they had always been the single most important person in each other's lives. Finally, the lovers profess their love, and the viewers smile (after which, reminding themselves that Gary is a fifteen-year-old kid, they exit the showing room with a feeling of confusion, but not so much repulsion).

2. Drive My Car

In recent years, I have become more excited for the foreign films nominated for Best Picture (Roma, Parasite) due to my craving for discovery. Although I do not believe Drive My Car should sit at the very top of this year's throne, it rightfully deserves its spot amongst the most celebrated films of 2021.

The key to what makes this film such a triumph is its ingenious emphasis on the power of communication. Yusuke Kafuku and his wife Oto work in the entertainment industry. One day, he secretly catches his wife having an affair, but leaves his home quietly. A short while later, after she asks that they speak later that night about pressing matter, he attempts to avoid the conversation for as long as he could before ultimately arriving home to find his wife lying dead on the floor. The film is not a mystery as it is quickly revealed she died from a brain hemorrage, and then, nearly forty-five minutes into the movie, the opening credits finally appear, and the real purpose of Drive My Car begins. Yes, the movie is three hours long (which is not for everyone), but it did not feel lengthy in any way, and all scenes truly had me captivated the whole time. When Drive My Car finally begins, it is two years later, and Yusuke Kafuku is now a retired actor who wishes to stage a multilingual rendition of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. This implies that his cast does not necessarily understand one another (as some are Japanese, others are Korean, and one girl even resorts to sign language for her role), but the whole will be subtitled via a background screen so that his audience could understand. Throughout the flick, the man deals with the lack of communication he once shared with his wife Oto, the growing relationship he develops in his car with his provided driver (a setting in which it formerly seemed to have been the sole moment of his day that brought him silent serenity), and the cast members with whom he seeks to perfect their task of communication. The film is flawlessly executed, and its divine message remains deeply engraved within the viewer weeks after the flick has ended.

As one might have guessed, the main character and his driver, though rather silent in their initial contact with one another, become all the more open as the film progresses. As Yusuke Kafuku becomes more expressive with her (and vice-versa), he seems to be more willing to accept his wife's death, and he comes to terms with his regret of never having properly spoken to Oto about their growing distance towards one another. Drive My Car provides such a beautiful message, and it is a very heartbreaking experience. However, I do believe the next film to have that slight edge over this one, which is why it does not take the top spot.

1. The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion, this is your year. I might be wrong, but I cannot fathom for the life of me how the Academy would pass on the opportunity to finally honour you with the Best Director award after so much time. Once again, I might be wrong. However, even if Campion and the film both lose in their respective categories, The Power of the Dog was undeniably my favourite of 2021 (and I maintain this even after managing to sit through the stomach-churning Palme d'Or winner that was Titane).

Campion is such a beautiful storyteller. The visuals are breathtaking. The performances are phenomenal (Kirsten Dunst is finally nominated for an Oscar, and Benedict Cumberbatch, along with all the actors, was beyond impressive). The theme of cruelty is so effectively depicted. The progression of The Power of the Dog is splendidly unhurried, and all details of the film are vital to its powerful ending (more on that in the following paragraph). There is really not a single element wrong with this film, and I believe this to be 2021's cinema at its finest and most polished.

I admit being completely flabbergasted by the ending of this film, for I truly was not expecting it. Once The Power of the Dog concluded, I thought back on previous scenes of the movie, and all made perfect sense. It's absolutely nuts to me that Campion so subtly aligned all previous details of the film in a way that I was unaware of Peter's plot to murder Phil until his very last smile as he looks out the window to his mother and stepfather. Thinking back on it all, not that it is necessarily obvious, I'm still surprised at myself for not even once thinking of its possibility. The one time in the film during which I did think to myself "That's a little weird", although I was quick to dismiss the exchange, was when Peter admits to Phil that his father believed him to have a horrid soul to which Phil responds that his father was sure wrong about that. Not entirely. In fact, although the first half of the film sees Phil tormenting Kirsten Dunst's character (Peter's mother), the second half of the film is very much Peter getting closer to Phil and ultimately plotting to murder him in the most impressive of ways. Just like the film itself. Subtly. The whole time, the viewer believes Peter to be a gentle soul who for some reason enjoys dissecting animals, but it's his love for this act that allows him to ultimately kill Phil, and the viewer then realizes that Peter's persona conveys much more than just what Phil believed to be a wimpy kid at the start of the film. You might think I sound a little intense. I suppose it's not that Peter has a "wicked" soul, but taking advantage of Phil's one possible pathway towards love in order to ultimately kill the man for your mother's sake is not something a saint would necessarily do. I truly hope this film wins and I genuinely believe it will, but there have been upsets in the past before. Who knows? Maybe Don't Look Up might actually take home the victory (and in the process become perhaps the least deserving Best Picture winner of all time after the mess that was 1931's Cimarron).

[Edit: I maintain my ranking but am genuinely really happy CODA won the Best Picture award (and Jane Campion won Best Director nonetheless). I honestly cannot wait to watch the original French version now to see how it compares. Still don't know what was more of the shock to me: CODA winning the big award or the "incident" people might be talking about for years to come.]

review

About the author

Gabriele Del Busso

Anglo-Italian having grown up within the predominantly French-speaking city of Montreal.

Passion for all forms of art (especially cinema and music).

Short stories usually deal with nostalgia and optimism within a highly pessimistic society.

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