Last year, I spoke about how, initially, the nominees for Best Picture seemed pretty solid, but the opportunity to watch all of them proved to be lackluster. This year was kind of the opposite. At first, the nominees seemed very… we’ll say “odd” to me. Then, after viewing most of them, I’ve come around on them more than last year’s batch. It’s more consistently solid, though perhaps not entirely sensational.
Note that I said I saw most of them this year. Unlike last year, I did not have the same opportunity to see every nominee. As of writing, I have not seen Licorice Pizza (which, to me, seems like the frontrunner), CODA, or Belfast. As such, they will not appear on this list. Should that ruin this ranking for you, by all means, close the tab.
As frequent readers are aware, I did view a few Best Picture nominees during my currently continuing March of the Movies block, so I will simply link to those reviews for extended thoughts. All other extended thoughts on individual films will have links to their parent sources. (I believe I have reviews for all of them somewhere.)
7. Don’t Look Up
My Score: 5/10
My brother, whom is more cynical and more distasteful of Hollywood than I am, scoffed at this being selected for Best Picture. “Of course Hollywood would love this,” he said. Indeed, a film that cements itself as a passionate portrayal of all that is “wrong” with humanity and the current state of affairs in this country. Why wouldn’t a generally left-leaning Hollywood love it?
Now, while I don’t believe that this was nominated only because it’s a liberal circlejerk, there is some strange coincidence(?) in this director’s work being nominated for Best Picture twice in the last four years. Maybe Adam McKay is good friends with some big names within the awards?
All right, that’s enough of conspiracy theories. Obviously there is some manner of praise towards this film and the way it was presented. I simply do not agree, almost at all. A painfully preachy film with a pretty one-note cast of characters who act like subhumans to prove a point. Great. Comes across like sandpaper, though at least some of the performances were fun.
For extended thoughts, my Don’t Look Up review.
6. Nightmare Alley
My Score: 5/10
Okay, so this film doesn’t have much in terms of extended thoughts from me, so I’ll be a tad more thorough here.
I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, both other films from director Guillermo del Toro (the latter won Best Picture!). Another film of his, Crimson Peak, I didn’t like too much. So it’s come to pass that some things I like, some I don’t. Nightmare Alley is another in the “Don’t like” pile.
Long, overly simple, and a lot of build-up that doesn’t equal as rewarding a payoff. A fairy tale-esque plot, which seems to be del Toro’s thing, that doesn’t quite capture the same magic as prior films. While well-shot and with generally great performances, there was little for me to actually attach myself to emotionally or mentally. Things just… kind of happened in a very straightforward way.
Some credit can be afforded to the ending, which I believe is the best part. The last fifteen to twenty minutes or so were far more captivating than all that came before. Prior situations were, again, fairly cliché and did little to go against established narrative plotlines, or engaging enough to follow them with a similar gusto. Sometimes, even if all the aspects seem just right, it ends up being too shallow or too forgettable to end up well. (I saw this only months ago and I struggle to remember much.)
5. West Side Story
My Score: 6.5/10
Wonderful! Now we’re getting to films I actually have some positive thoughts on. Let’s start with the negatives, anyway:
The main couple has very little chemistry. Tony, played by Ansel Elgort, was kind of mediocre. Romantic progression between Tony and María was kind of funny at times (not to mention woefully unrealistic). Certain scenes looked a little too professionally lit, which looked fake, and it’s something you need to really immerse yourself into to enjoy, which doesn’t happen quickly.
Now then, the film also has superb performances outside of Elgort, does a fairly nice job with re-envisioning the original play’s music, and has a few really fun choreographed dance numbers. As mentioned prior, I ended up liking it more as it went along—when you have the original film, which is considered a masterpiece, to base it on, there isn’t much you can do to soil it. They even got the representation far better.
For extended thoughts, my West Side Story review.
4. King Richard
My Score: 7/10
Admission time: purely from an “objective” standpoint, this is probably a little worse than West Side Story. Why it’s above in this ranking is because I liked it a little more. Sports dramas do it for me, kind of.
A little Oscar-baity, a little melodramatic—it counteracts this by also being very straightforward and predictable. I wouldn’t quite call it akin to Bohemian Rhapsody, but it’s dangerously close to that specific territory. Though frankly, it reminded me a tad more of Green Book—a feel-good story that scratches the surface of a lot of interesting topics without going too deep. Because reasons.
Despite all of that, I enjoyed seeing Will Smith perform as a controlling patriarch who loves his kids more than anything. I enjoyed seeing the evolution of Venus Williams (and some hints towards Serena, as well). The film managed to grip me fairly quickly and rarely let go… outside the random acts of convenience, anyway.
Just a nice film. I’m cynical generally, so it’s nice to simply say that I enjoyed something despite the flaws. Even so, my current score isn’t enough to justify earning a Best Picture nominee.
For extended thoughts, my King Richard review.
3. The Power of the Dog
My Score: 8/10
A pleasant surprise being ranked this high, as I wasn’t sure what to make of this going in. Many critics liked it, Sam Elliott really didn’t. Upon sitting through the first thirty-ish minutes, I wasn’t sure what the point was. As it went along, the little streaks in the sand began to form a clearer picture.
Like a couple other films on this list, The Power of the Dog benefits from a pretty great closing act. When all signs finally align to give the viewer a concrete vision, everything that came before suddenly has meaning. How the characters behave, why these energies permeate an air of tension. A deeply psychological piece that plays with the idea of what a “Western” is.
At some point, I’d like to re-watch this so as to better understand the things it unearths from the start. Puzzle-like in nature, it is, admittedly, fairly slow-going with it. And, boy, does Jesse Plemons play the best “Awkward person in a group” character my eyes have ever seen. Dude really knows how to make you feel uncomfortable.
For extended thoughts, my The Power of the Dog review.
2. Drive My Car
My Score: 8/10
This, out of all nominees, seems to be the fans’ choice for Best Picture, at least based on average ratings on Letterboxd. After seeing it for myself, I would not mind at all if it won.
Also, in terms of overall quality, this is pretty close to The Power of the Dog for me. They’re similar, except they have different outcomes. This is more about the journey rather than the destination; Power of the Dog is less about the journey and more about the destination. Is that a roundabout way of saying Drive My Car‘s ending is anticlimactic? Perhaps.
Nevertheless, it’s another very puzzle-like, deeply psychological piece that is also three-hours-long and… hoo, that was a very early hurdle. Thankfully, the long runtime didn’t deter me from paying careful attention, even if it wasn’t entirely necessary thanks to the occasionally blunt exposition dumps disguised as emotional communication. It has its ups and downs; mostly ups!
I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the broody nature of the slow pace, and the way internalized feelings eventually came to life. Made me want to be a little nicer to people.
For extended thoughts, my Drive My Car review.
My Score: 8.5/10
In a surprise to no one who knows me, my top choice for Best Picture is Dune, the re-imagining of the acclaimed sci-fi novel, directed by Denis Villeneuve, my probable (likely) favorite director in film today. How incredible it is that, no matter how many sci-fi films he takes on, they always come out spectacular. Blade Runner 2049 is my favorite film. Arrival is another near-masterpiece. Dune, while not quite to their level, is still very good.
Visually, it’s marvelous. Probably one of the better-looking films I’ve seen in a considerable amount of time. Sand is the major setting component here, and yet the marvel continues. Everything that could be implemented in a breathtaking way, it does. Villeneuve just knows how to make sci-fi epics.
It could, however, be a little more emotionally captivating. A lot of characters are kind of blank in terms of emotions, with only a few exceptions. Some have criticized the film for being too clean, too sleek; I like that it establishes some sense of professionalism to aid to its realism, despite some absurd elements. Some minor issues aren’t enough to take away from what’s otherwise a very, very good film.
For (semi) extended thoughts, my Dune review.
Have you seen any Best Picture nominees? What do you think of them? Do let me know if you have any input to provide.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.