As many of you know, every year I rank the Oscar Best Picture nominees from my least favorite to my favorite. What qualifies me to do such a thing? Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. I have a doctorate in history and am a novelist; these are not qualifications in acting, movies, or anything related. So why do I undertake this task? Because Paul and I started watching all the best picture nominees back in the mid-1990s, and have never missed a year. It’s a fun little hobby. Enough of this nonsense – to my rankings, from worst to first!
Movies that did not deserve a nomination:
10-Tar: I loathed this film. There is nothing pleasant about sitting through an entire movie about a hateful, power-hungry person who is exploiting people. I am not thrilled that we get a major motion picture with a lesbian lead getting a lot of attention, and this is the story they tell. Blanchett was very good, as were the other actors . Their performances did not make up for a bland, horrific experience.
9-Women Talking: I feel sad placing this one so far down on the list. I think the topic is a crucial one to engage, especially as the United States devolves toward a religious cult atmosphere more and more. Women empowering themselves after years of exploitation at the hands of religious zealots is good stuff. However, this movie as the vehicle for the message fell flat. I didn’t expect the title to be so literal – that we watch the group of women talking and talking and talking and talking and talking for the entire movie. The script missed opportunities for more flashbacks or different methods of relaying the story. The story failed to grip me the way it could have.
8-Triangle of Sadness: This was the movie equivalent of White Lotus. But where the TV series has depth, nuance, and the drama and insanity flow together, this movie feels more inclined to go over the top simply for the sake of being over the top. How many barking and poop scenes can one movie really handle? I get the message it delivers about our contemporary world, with income inequality, racism, and weird social media influencers. This farce was too much for me, in terms of bashing you over the head with the message and therefore missing opportunities for a more poignant tale.
Movies that probably deserved recognition:
7-Everything Everywhere All at Once: I know my ranking of this one down here will be ENORMOUSLY unpopular, especially after it takes home the trophy tomorrow night, according to most prognostications. I have one friend in particular who I know is going to force me to walk the plank if she sees this movie at #7. The acting in the film was extraordinary. And the premise is intriguing and amusing. In our world of big blockbuster insane superhero movies, this was a nice departure. It had me laughing out loud a number of times. However, I wasn’t convinced it was a grand telling of the story. It spun into too much silliness, which wasn’t always funny in the way they intended. I walked away feeling like I had a nice time, but a tighter rendition would have better convinced me to bump it up higher on my list. Sometimes the script was muddled and confusing.
6-The Fablemans: Paul and I laugh, because almost every year the Academy nominates one film simply because they love a movie that celebrates themselves. (Looking at you, La La Land.) It doesn’t matter how good the movie is, it just has to show the industry with a rags to riches story, and within that how brilliant the people are in Hollywood. Thus we get The Fablemans this year. This movie delivers a poignant coming of age story, with passion, angst, and beauty all wrapped in one package. The pace is nice, the setting and periodization authentic, and the raw emotion very real. At the same time, I didn’t feel like it soared to the heights of being a slam dunk best picture nominee. It was merely another coming of age drama. But its subject (Steven . . .) made people pay attention in a different way.
5-Avatar: The Way of Water: I believe it was the New York Times review that described this movie as, and I am paraphrasing, the first Avatar movie but under water. Lol. That pretty much summed it up to me. I get annoyed at 3-D movies that are longer than they need to be because they are showing off the 3-D technology. Knocking that nonsense off would have shortened this by 30 minutes without detracting from the experience. Also, too many characters represent toxic over-the-top marine masculinity; tone it down a bit, I get your meaning. The story itself isn’t tightly written or thought out, which is surprising given how long Cameron worked on this one. Why on earth would the father stick around with the family, when he knows he’s being hunted? And leave everyone else to die in the forest? Anyway, we still had fun going to this movie. It felt like an enjoyable blockbuster experience. The movie is beautiful and moving. You fall in love with the characters and root for them.
Worthy Best Picture nominees:
4-Top Gun: Maverick: Fast paced, thrilling, and a great summer blockbuster, we were excited to go see this one in the theater last summer. We rewatched the first one from the 1980s, and while it brought back fond memories, a lot of it did not age so well. However, the sequel was extremely well done. The cinematography and fighter jets scenes were amazing. An action adventure that also pulls off authentic feelings and a range of emotion is especially great to see. In our polarized world today, the ability to make a movie to bring back a bit of patriotism and togetherness for the cause of democracy served as delightful escapism.
3-Elvis: We have now reached the point where it became harder and harder for me to differentiate between the movies. In an alternate universe or with a different flavor of coffee this morning, I could easily talk myself into Elvis landing at number one. Austin Butler was stunning as Elvis, and just as gorgeous. The story is well laid out and compelling. The emotion punches you in the gut, the intrigue and ups and downs of Elvis’s life come to life. We get to experience another Baz Luhrmann dreamlike extravaganza, but his way of movie making fit so well with this story. I absolutely loved the score. For example, the use of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” whenever Priscilla appeared was incredibly moving. By the end, when they are separated and she sees him spiraling out of control, the song behind them becomes haunting and tragic. The script is well written, too. I absolutely loved this movie.
2-The Banshees of Inisherin: Breathtaking cinematography, powerful story telling, and so much amazing acting bring this movie to life. I almost gave it my best picture nod overall, and like Elvis, if a different mood may have. However, the actions of the one character in cutting off digits because of his depression really went over the top. I think a more subtle, authentic approach could have delivered the same message. Yet I get the point – and it’s a testament to the impact of the story that you go with the insanity because there is truth woven throughout. For so much of the movie you want to reach out and hug Padraic, and I felt thrilled when Siobahn escaped the island. A drama that plays like an action thriller is hard to accomplish, but here it is. This was amazing storytelling.
1-All Quiet on the Western Front: Never in my wildest dreams did I sit down to watch this movie with any thought whatsoever that it would come in at first place for me. It had too much going against it: I don’t love watching movies with subtitles because they keep me from falling completely into the story; it was a remake of a remake of a novel, do we really need to see it again?; and it was another bloody war movie, Oy. But then I experienced the movie and was overcome with the power of its message. This version of the novel brought forth the antiwar message in such an authentic way, juxtaposing the lives of common soldiers as they move from blind loyalty and exuberance to death and horror, with the aloof leaders in their luxury and out of touch negotiating. I’m not sure the change in the ending from the novel and actual events of World War I was necessary, but I comprehend what the film wanted to convey in doing so. The cinematography takes your breath away, as you view the expanse of war and its destruction before zooming in to see the individuals dying for an insane cause. I have studied and taught about World War I trench warfare – this brought it to life in stark reality. This movie was amazingly done. Bravo.
Thank you for indulging my amateur rankings! We can’t wait to watch the Oscars tomorrow!!