Ranking this year's Best Picture nominees
For the first time in 11 years, the Academy Awards nominated 10 films in their coveted Best Picture lineup. The lineup is a full spectrum of scope and scale, ranging from domestic family dramas to sci-fi epics.
Apart from being the most important category at the Oscars, best picture is also the only category that gets voted on by a preferential ballot where voters rank their choices in order from least favorite to favorite. While I don’t specifically get to vote on what wins at the Oscars, I can have a little fun and illustrate to all of you how I would rank my hypothetical ballot.
And if any of these films catch your interest, I have provided the location of where you can stream them (if possible) in the parentheses next to the title.
10. CODA (Apple TV+)
A genre I am allergic to is the coming-of-age indie. Unfortunately for me, the Sundance bowing CODA is the perfect model for that. It’s a crowd-pleaser that plays the same notes as those that have come before but has enough emotion and heart-tugging performances to make it worthwhile. If you’re not like me and find comfort in that sort of thing, this will surely be a fine watch.
9. Dune (HBO Max)
It’s big, it’s grand and it’s empty. Dune is an odd case of style over substance, in that the substance is there but was intentionally left out for another time. It’s a gamble that may pay off once Part 2 is released, but until then it leaves this first part as a desert-sized disappointment.
8. Don't Look Up (Netflix)
Does it count for anything if the feeling a film is intended for you to have is the same one you feel every day? Don't Look Up is fan service for the people that already agree with McKay's politics. It doesn't really matter that he's right about the climate situation, because his film is too antagonistic to convert anybody from the other side, and not insightful enough for everyone else.
7. Nightmare Alley (HBO Max, Hulu)
Heavy on atmosphere, light on substance. I'm happy Guillermo del Toro got to indulge himself once again in the macabre material that he so lovingly adores. I actually wish he would have indulged himself more! It's all a little too pristine for my tastes. Almost as if he's cognizant that he needs to appeal to Oscar voters now that he's in the club. But, that restraint worked in getting the film nominated, so the egg is on my face.
6. King Richard (HBO Max)
A huge thanks to Will Smith for keeping this by-the-books sports biopic from being completely boring. You know this story (in a general sense) and how it's going to play out. But you keep watching and stay invested because of Smith and Aunjanue Ellis, both of which give their best work here.
5. Drive My Car (HBO Max)
Too dense for a single watch, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's film can often be a tiresome and frustrating endeavor. Its methodical pacing and setting, much of which takes place in real-time within the confines of a Saab 900, does not make for an easy viewing experience.
The simplicity in the filmmaking is made up by the complexity of the emotional throughline. I may not have been able to connect all the dots and have the same soul-affirming experience as others, but I was invested for all 179 minutes.
4. Licorice Pizza
At this point, Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera operator has to be an Olympic athlete. Turning away from the youthful chaotic energy of his earlier San Fernando Valley films of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Licorice Pizza marks PTA's shaggiest film to date, which is truly something considering the aloofness of Inherent Vice.
It's often a meandering film where you never truly know where it's going. Sometimes you like where you've ended up, and sometimes you don't. Maybe that's just what PTA intended for, because sometimes in life - specifically in the area of love - you never truly know where you're going to be.
Would you look at that, Kenneth Branagh finally directed a great film! Despite being autobiographical and about a specific place, Branagh's film tells a universal story with sweet simplicity. There's true passion behind every frame and performance. It's not a perfect film, but it hits nearly every emotional beat it sets out to accomplish, with much of the credit going to the incredible cast, especially the discovery of the young Jude Hill as the Branagh stand-in.
2. The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
The Power of the Dog doesn’t stray too far from director Jane Campion’s other work as she tightly wounds this surprise psychosexual drama. There’s a cutting edge to each frame, epicly lensed by Ari Wegner. From the directing, writing and the acting, it all combines to make this a grand return to feature films for the New Zealand auteur, who crafts an enigmatic, modern take on the well-worn genre of the Western. It’s the film equivalent of fine wine, as it’s near-perfect at the moment, and will only get better with age.
1. West Side Story (Disney+)
With so many stars-in-the-making, Steven Spielberg is able to harmonize the past and the present, making this remake feel like a Golden Age musical made with modern craftsmanship. With The Great Musical War of 2021 coming to a close, Spielberg has emerged as the predictable winner. Perfectly melding the work of Bernstein and Sondheim with the newfound acting talents of Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist and Rachel Zegler, this new West Side Story makes the case for why some remakes should be allowed to happen.