Every opinion about the Oscars is boring, including this one: I just don’t care about the Oscars.
Maybe especially that one. But opinions are like assholes—I’m quite attached to my own. Discussing the same half-dozen movies, which have been chosen by industry members who may or may not share my tastes, and then guessing which of those will be selected as “the best” by a larger number of industry members even less likely to share my tastes… is just not my idea of fun.
As for “Oscar predictions,” I have no special insight into how the collective mind of the Academy operates. (If I did, I’d be placing bets, not telling y’all.) My very limited interest in the institution is this: I want my favorite movies to win because it increases the likelihood that people are given the money to make more movies I like in the future. And my reason for writing about the Oscars is no less selfish—at the one time of year people are most engrossed in movies, you think I’m not gonna wedge myself into the discussion?
What I can do is restate what I enjoyed, and give you some links to what I’ve already said. I’ve listed the Best Picture nominees below, in my order of preference. My top two movies I endorse wholeheartedly, my third-place runner up comes with reservations I’ve increasingly overcome since I first saw it.
As for the rest? Both Nightmare Alley and West Side Story are what my friend Alfred Soto would call “sound, solid entertainments” (though he did not find either of them to be that). Catch me in a good mood and I’d say the same of Dune and King Richard—as sheer Oscar-bait goes, I’ll take Will Smith’s exercise in charisma over Kenneth Branagh’s crowd-pleasing childhood reminiscences.
I haven’t seen two of the Best Picture contenders because I’ve had other priorities and they didn’t seem up my alley. My inability to drum up any interest in checking out Adam McKay’s “mature” films extended to Don’t Look Up, while CODA looked too cutely Sundancey. Maybe I’m wrong. But for years I’ve told people to avoid Oscar nominees they’re not interested in—life’s too short—and I’m slowly learning to take my own advice. Are both probably better than Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which I did see for some reason? Look, I can’t defend all my choices.
For extra fun, I’ve attached some notes on the nominees in the acting categories, lumped together for my convenience and yours. (Note: In addition to CODA, I did not see tick, tick… BOOM or The Eyes of Tammy Faye.)
If awards shows are your jam, have a hoot this Sunday. But remember, you can always just watch a movie instead. Here are some I’d suggest.
Best Picture Nominees, ranked
Drive My Car (dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi) – reviewed here
The Power of the Dog (dir. Jane Campion) – reviewed here
Licorice Pizza (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) – discussed here
West Side Story (dir. Stephen Spielberg) – reviewed here
Nightmare Alley (dir. Guillermo del Toro) – reviewed here
Dune (dir. Denis Villeneuve) – reviewed here
King Richard (dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Belfast (dir. Kenneth Branagh) – reviewed here
Best Actor/Actress/Supporting Actor/Supporting Actress
The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch (Best Actor), Jesse Plemmons (Best Supporting Actor), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Best Supporting Actor), Kirsten Dunst (Best Supporting Actress)
Its four acting nominations, including two Best Supporting Actor nominations, are all “deserved,” as they say in Oscar discourse. Duh. Good movies usually have good acting, often by more than one performer. In fact, my initial worry (prior to seeing the movie) was that Cumberbatch would be too “Oscar-worthy” a suck all the attention to himself. Instead, here’s the sort of cast that makes individual acting nominations look silly by reminding us that acting doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Penélope Cruz (Best Actress)
There’s nothing quite like the commitment that Penélope Cruz brings to an Almodóvar film, her absolute understanding of his sense of tone, and his own devotion to her. (Reviewed here.)
The Lost Daughter
Olivia Coleman (Best Actress), Jessie Buckley (Best Supporting Actress)
Coleman is typically brilliant as Leda, a brittle woman whose dormant guilty memories are churned up by some chance encounters at a miserable vacation. Yet there’s a paradoxical flaw at the core of this film. The flashback sequences too neatly solve the mysteries Coleman’s performance exude. But Buckley, as the younger Leda, makes the woman whose actions led to that guilt no less compelling. Movies—they’re tricky sometimes!
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Denzel Washington (Best Actor)
Yeah yeah yeah, I know I said good movies have good acting, but while everyone here does their part, this is a director’s exercise. But while I’m ambivalent about Denzel Washington’s counterintuitively passive Macbeth, I’ve also puzzled over it for months. Anyway, Kathryn Hunter’s turn as the witches should absolutely have scored her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. (Reviewed here.)
West Side Story
Ariana DeBose (Best Supporting Actress)
DeBose is a dynamic Anita, and I’ll always have a soft spot for So You Think You Can Dance alums.
Will Smith (Best Actor), Aunjanue Ellis (Best Supporting Actress)
Some kvetch that this entertaining portrayal of a complicated man papers over his flaws, but as the scorpion said to the frog: “You knew I was a biopic when you walked in the theater.”
Ciarán Hinds (Best Supporting Actor), Judi Dench (Best Supporting Actress)
Nominating both charming old grandparents in these categories is just such an absolutely Oscary thing to do.
Kristen Stewart (Best Actress)
“You’ve gotta be a pretty great actor to deliver the kind of bad performance that Kristen Stewart commits to in Spencer—sharply calculated and precisely realized and missing the mark so broadly it’s an absolute challenge to endure.” I said that last year and I’m sticking to it. (Reviewed here.)
Being the Ricardos
Javier Bardem (Best Actor), Nicole Kidman (Best Actress), J.K. Simmons (Best Supporting Actor)
The Oscars love when actors play actual people, because so many of the voters have an overly literal idea of acting. You can compare the impersonation to the real-live person and “objectively” judge the quality of the performance. FYI, all six seasons of I Love Lucy are streaming on Hulu. (Reviewed here.)
Special Screenings This Week
Thursday, March 24
That guy is weird-looking! $12. 7:30 p.m. More info here.
Friday, March 25
La Vérité (1960)
Is Bardot a murderer? Gotta watch the movie to find out. $8. 7 & 9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 & 5:30 p.m. Sun. More info here.
Terra Femme (2021)
Walker Art Center
Courtney Stephens edits women’s personal travel movies from the first half of the 20th century into an essay film. Also Saturday. $12. 7 p.m. More info here.
Saturday, March 26
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
This world may have its flaws, but we sure do get a lot of chances to see Miyazaki films on the big screen. $10. 11:30 a.m. Also Monday 6:30 p.m. More info here.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Fake it till you make it. $5-$10. 1 p.m. More info here.
Sunday, March 27
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Killer power-pop soundtrack. Great Tara Reid comic performance. Plot a little rockist tbqh. $15. 6:30 p.m. More info here.
Millennium Actress (2001)
Satoshi Kon explores the 20th century through the life of an imaginary Japanese actress. $10. 8 p.m. Sun.; 7 & 8:45 p.m. Mon.-Tue. More info here.
Tuesday, March 29
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
The worst kind of hallows, if you ask me. $10. 6:30 p.m. More info here.
Wednesday, March 30
Army of Darkness (1992)
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell take on the Middle Ages. $10. 6:30 p.m. More info here.
Stunt Rock (1978)
Wild stunts! Mystical hard rock! Australians! $10. 6:30 p.m More info here.
Opening This Week
The Lost City
I thought you had it!
Ongoing in Local Theaters
Belfast (read our review here)