One year in the late 1990s, Paul and I began a tradition of going to see all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees. We love watching movies, but otherwise I’m not sure why we began this odyssey. I started posting my ranking of the nominees each year just for fun. What qualifies me for such a pronouncement? Absolutely, positively, nothing. Zip. Nada. However, I love movies and therefore like to share my thoughts with all of you, and hear yours in return.
Therefore, without further adieu, the ten Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars, from last to first in my humble opinion:
10. “Licorice Pizza”: Paul and I share a theory that some movies receive a nomination, and often win awards, because the voters love movies that celebrate themselves. If a movie explores Hollywood, the life of an actor, director, writer, producer, or whatever – voters fall in love with it because of Hollywood narcissistic love for themselves. Why, you ask, am on giving such a soliloquy when I should be addressing “Licorice Pizza”? Because otherwise I have no explanation for why this movie received a single vote for best picture. An odd assortment of random storylines and weird plots make up a script that makes no sense, and a movie that makes even less sense. This one did not deserve a nod.
9. “Drive My Car”: There have been times in the past when a foreign language film deserved a best picture nomination, in addition to recognition in the foreign language category. “Drive My Car” is not one of them. First, here you can insert my note from “Licorice Pizza” again about voters loving themselves and therefore nominating a picture. The movie has merit, however, with the repressed emotion portrayed in the main character, and his struggle with love and life. I didn’t loath this movie. However, at three-plus hours long, someone needed to edit it down – by at least an hour. Although a solid movie about an interesting topic, “Drive My Car” does not deserve a best picture slot.
8. “West Wide Story”: We had a pleasant evening, watching this movie. It’s well done and entertaining. That being said, I am not convinced it rose to the level of a best picture nomination. I came away feeling more like I took in a date night movie than something extraordinary. And the more I thought about the movie, the more I don’t like some of the changes from the original musical and/or original movie. So then I wondered if we really needed a remake of “West Side Story?”
7. “Don’t Look Up”: Unlike the two previous movies , I very much enjoyed “Don’t Look Up” and believe it deserves a best picture nomination. Witty and well paced, its commentary on contemporary America nails our culture. The movie makes a passionate plea about climate change. A masterful blend of satire with a most serious point to make, the star studded cast delivers. However, in comparison to other nominees, the story isn’t as tightly wound and the overall “feel” less sophisticated. This is a very good but not great movie, and thus my lower ranking.
6. “King Richard”: Will Smith and cast bring passion and believability to the story about the rise of the Williams sisters in the tennis world. This story about race in America, perseverance, and resistance is well told. Smith is particularly strong in his role. The pace is fast and, even though we know the ultimate outcome, the suspense palpable throughout. Yet there is something about the overall story, and about Richard in particular, that leaves the viewer feeling a little uneasy about his motives and treatment of his daughters. Does such behavior warrant a celebratory movie? That experience left me unable to give this one a higher ranking though I think it belongs among the best picture nominees.
5. “Nightmare Alley”: I must say, I enjoy a good film noir. “Nightmare Alley” brings to us another loaded cast, all of whom perform at their very best and blend their various characters together with perfection. The writers did a nice job with the twists and turns of retelling of this story. They blended the sense of a 1940s film noir with a contemporary aesthetic in a beautiful way. The moral of the story builds to its climax, keeping you watching and wondering to the end. The cinematography, sets, and costumes were brilliantly done as well. This one belongs in the upper tier of nominees, but the fierce competition left it in the middle of the pack.
4. “Dune”: Please remember, I am a complete amateur here, with no qualifications for making this list except in our modern world everyone can share their opinion whenever they want. I preface with this reminder because “Dune” was the only “popular” film nominated among the ten, and as nothing more than a cinema fan I love a good pop movie. Without our tradition of going to see best picture nominees, this one and maybe one or two others would have been on my list to see, anyway. But “Dune” is more than entertaining, in terms of where I ranked it. The sets, sounds, and atmosphere were amazingly well done in this sci fi imagining of the classic novel. I liked how the writers told a complex and multi-layered story without losing the audience. This was no easy task, given the factions and intrigue involved in the plot. The acting was good, the action exciting, and I can’t wait for the next movie to come out and continue the story. Yeah, “Dune” aimed for a mass audience with a popular genre and cast, but in doing so the producers and director landed on a movie worthy of a best picture nomination.
3. “Belfast”: My rankings got tricky for me at this point. In fact, the top three came in neck and neck. I could argue with myself to make “Belfast” my best picture of the year, but that would make me sound like a crazy horror writer with voices in my head. “Belfast” is the dramatic story of one family’s experience in Ireland in the late 1960s, amid the brewing Protestant/Catholic civil war. The true nature of the story and its tragedy comes through, as does the family’s struggle with money and personal issues. The historian in me loved how the tale told about violence, migration and family from a personal point of view, bring to life the raw emotion and tearing apart of families and communities civil war and combat always bring. However, what elevates “Belfast” even higher as a best picture in my eyes is how the viewer experiences this story through the eyes of a child. Yes, you feel the tragedy, tension, and first experiences of loss in the young boy’s life. But the movie also conveys resilience, especially that of a child’s. There is sadness and bewilderment, along with hope and love. It’s a marvelous tale.
2. “CODA”: As with “Belfast,” “CODA” could have come in as my pick for best picture. Like “Belfast” and its child’s point of view, “CODA” does a marvelous job of telling a story of overcoming hardship through the eyes of a teenager. Ruby often seems like a typical teenager, wending her way through first crushes, school, and deciding about her future. Yet she has a very adult role in life, and has from as young age, because she is the only hearing member of her family. Full disclosure about my bias: my dad was deaf but could hear in one ear with the aid of a hearing aid. I grew up both knowing about his disability and never thinking of it as a handicap because he never acted that way. But I saw prejudice aimed at him . So having such a well written, acted, and directed movie to tell one story about the hearing impaired community spoke to me. The movie can be raw and true, while also hopeful and uplifting. I absolutely loved this movie.
My Vote for Best Picture, “Power of the Dog”: It is incredibly difficult to tell a true to life story of darkness, evil, and longing, full of flawed but relatable characters, as well as with villains and murder and mayhem. A movie can lose the audience in the vile nature of humanity or spin itself into a farce. “Power of the Dog” avoids fate – it does a masterful job and therefore received my best picture award. (I know, I know, this will mean more to the producers, directors, and actors than any other accolades.) The cinematography is breath taking, and the entire movie throws you into the world of the American west of the 1920s. The story brings to life struggles with femininity, masculinity, women, men, and sexuality. The movie is so complicated you leave wondering where to land, in terms of trying to identify the villains , and wondering whether you sympathize with them or think them criminal. The tension builds within your very being as you watch and never lets you exhale until the final credits, and then only because we have to breath or die. As with a couple of my other rankings, I do need to add a disclosure to this review: I’m a horror writer, so dark and sinister are right up my alley. And I really appreciate dark and sinister in a world that feels oh so real. Bravo. “Power of the Dog” wins my Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.