Oscar voting starts today with a very small window, the 17th through the 22nd.
Some might be on the fence about which film to choose for Best Picture. Maybe they didn’t really love any of them. Maybe their favorites didn’t make the list. Or maybe they don’t feel motivated to vote for their favorite because they fear it can’t win. Maybe they naturally drift, as humans often do, to the frontrunners because they want to be on the side that’s winning.
So let’s go through the movies that actually CAN win and make the best case for them to win.
The Power of the Dog should win because…
It isn’t just about Jane Campion, whose long career is finally earning due recognition. From The Piano to the Top of the Lake, her work has always been naked and uncompromising, inventive and original. She is an original, an iconoclast. which makes her not the best fit for the awards machine. How do you take an original and try to make her behave a carbon copy of a public relations parrot? You don’t. You can’t. She won’t do it and naturally, that has made her a target. But really, it’s about the movie. A movie that blew away the competition with 12 nominations. The only movie nominated for Best Picture to receive both a Directing and Editing nomination.
The Power of the Dog is a masterpiece about how men and women in the frontiers sought to conquer the natural world but couldn’t quite tame it. Dogs have been domesticated by humans, bred into the loving, devoted creatures that they are. This film, this story is about their natural-born power that still lives inside of them, even if we can’t see it. It’s about the land, the horses, the cattle. Everything we use and abuse. It is a film about our species – what we’ve done in our vain attempts to “civilize” the wilderness. And how we can be so easily undone by it. It’s a film based entirely on subtext and no, not everyone will be able to connect to that, especially right now. We need instant gratification — just tell me what I’m supposed to FEEL! Make me feel something. Everything we interact with now does that. Make me angry. Make me happy. Turn me on. But Campion’s film is like slow food to fast food. It’s meditative, moody, and oh so very beautiful. Campion is an artist. Her film is a work of art.
Campion is the first woman to be nominated for a second time for Best Director and she’s doing it at the age of 67. This is commonplace for men. It’s unheard of for women. In all ways. Surely that means something beyond the ephemeral shifting moods of awards season.
BAFTA-Winner Picture and Director
Golden Globe-Winner Picture and Director
Belfast should win because….
There isn’t any reason why Belfast will win. It wasn’t directed by a woman. It isn’t about any kind of marginalized group. It is by and about a white man’s life. That’s basically seen as a sin by some people in 2022, to care about that, to advocate for that, to vote for that. But the reason it SHOULD win, and there is only one, is because it’s a great fucking movie.
It’s a great fucking movie. It’s a great fucking movie. It’s a great fucking movie.
If you’re wondering why it is the only film with a SAG ensemble, DGA, and PGA nomination, that is why. If you’re wondering why it won the Toronto Audience Award, that is why.
It comes down to that. It’s great. All of the elements come together with the master’s touch. While Branagh has mostly and voluntarily lived in the shadow of William Shakespeare for much of his early career, here he finally put pen to paper to tell his own story of his life growing up in Belfast. He wrote the hell out of the thing. Every line of dialogue specific to the individual characters in the film, all written with the confidence of a master storyteller who has nothing to prove, who only wants to give back, and who has come to a place in his life when he’s able to do that. This isn’t something that can be gifted overnight. It comes from a lifetime of lessons, good, bad, and ugly. It comes from being a good listener, observer, and lover of all beautiful things, from years of knowing people, telling stories, and making movies. He’s been an actor, writer, and director. He’s done it all. He’s been a success, he’s been a failure. He’s been loved and loathed. All of that has brought him to Belfast, a story told with confident humility. It has the unbearable lightness of being combined with the heavy heart of letting go of the past, of saying goodbye to people you loved. That is what life is all about, after all, especially the older you get.
So what does the story of a young boy growing up in Ireland have to do with us in 2022? Branagh chose to tell this story right now because our country, and many other countries, are caught in tribal warfare. It feels like the end of everything. It feels like the apocalypse. Belfast reminds us that history has a way of repeating itself because our basic natures haven’t changed. This story is about living through something like that and reminding all of us that this too shall pass. To have love in your heart, as Van Morrison would say, that grows and grows is something you really do understand as you get older. It takes a while to get there. We’re lucky that we have storytellers who can do that for us.
Belfast stands apart because it is a true story. We know we can get through this time we’re living through and that one day we can remember to find our way back to one another.
Toronto People’s Choice Award – Winner
Why CODA should win
CODA has caught a last-minute wave that might ride it all the way to the shoreline. A real swell indeed. It is mostly due to the cast, their brilliant performances, especially Troy Kotsur, the Supporting Actor frontrunner. Films featuring actors with disabilities haven’t been that common, especially with the market that ordinarily relies on big stars to draw box office. It was hard for deaf actors to become stars at all, much less get the best roles, so deaf characters were often played by hearing actors. But the combination of a streaming platform like Apple removing the market constraints and the demands of activists, now the dream can finally be realized. CODA is a great movie because of the actors. The authenticity in this case makes all of the difference.
There probably isn’t a film in the race with characters as likable as these. That makes CODA quite the powerful cocktail heading into final voting. Based on a French film, La Famille Bélier (equally effective, so please seek it out), CODA’s adaptation is written and directed by Sian Heder, who got her start as an actress, began making short films, and eventually directed Tallulah, which led to CODA. It was a hit at Sundance and bought by Apple for $25 million (famously). It might be CODA that changes the game of Oscar is all sorts of ways. We might be past the point of no return. Sooner or later a streaming platform is going to break the seal. CODA gives voters what they want – quality, emotional release, and a way to use their vote to do something good. For the deaf community, to see a film like this recognized by the Academy would be a very big deal. That is the best reason I can think of for voting it Best Picture.
SAG Awards – Winner Best Cast
Why West Side Story should win
Steven Spielberg is, without question, one of the greatest directors who has ever lived. That isn’t hyperbole. That is a fact. Even now, later in his career, he’s still challenging himself. Making West Side Story was his Everest, a movie he so admired by a director that he thought he might see if he could reimagine it and come anywhere near the 1960 version. Turns out, Spielberg has made his own unique version of the familiar story. There doesn’t need to be a comparison because they can both exist in their own right – one that was very much about the past and one that is very much about the same past refracted vividly through the prism of our modern world. Spielberg is a master of the frame. His compositions and edits are unlike any other. He works so well with actors, capturing emotion and movement and color and light all at once. You know when you’re watching a Spielberg movie because no one can do what he does. Many have tried. Few can even come close.
This movie should win because it is also about the inevitable tragedies of tribal warfare, and the urgency of ending division, ending hatred. It is about compassion and understanding in a fast-changing world. It is thematically timeless because these are things humans will always struggle with. Yes, on the one hand, it’s William Shakespeare, but on the other hand, it’s those incredible songs and that incredible music. That is what West Side Story is. Any movie of it, any production of it is a delivery system for that.
Spielberg has had two Best Director wins and only one Best Picture win for Schindler’s List in 1993. It’s about time he won another.
Why King Richard should win
Reinaldo Marcus Green directed King Richard. His name is the one missing from the DGA list. If it were there, King Richard would be a formidable contender to win the big prize, driven by Will Smith’s soon-to-be Oscar-winning performance. Green isn’t getting the credit he deserves for making such a winning, entertaining, POPULAR film. No, it didn’t earn a huge box office because it hit theaters when too many people in its target audience were still too hesitant to venture out, but it has now been discovered on streaming and currently has a jaw-droppingly high audience score on Rotten Tomatoes – 98% That is true love. It’s love for Venus and Serena, for sure, and for Will Smith, but it’s love for the movie too. In a different kind of year, this film would be running away with the whole thing.
Why Licorice Pizza should win
Paul Thomas Anderson is an American original. He’s made so many interesting, diverse films throughout his career and he’s yet to win a single Oscar. That’s because his work tends to be less universally appealing for a consensus of 9,000 voters. He tells stories the way he wants to tell them and has the freedom and support to do that. Here, we get snapshots of his childhood in the valley and that of Anderson’s real-life friend by his friend Gary Goetzman, a child actor in the early 1970s. The story is told through a dual point of view alongside Gary’s quirky muse, portrayed with disarming authenticity by Alana Haim. The Haim sisters in real life are whole movies onto themselves – their songs and videos and even their TikToks are wildly entertaining. Licorice Pizza is like a pizza with everything on it. There is a lot going on and your taste buds are a bit confused but there is a spicy-sweet after taste. You remember it well and before long you lie awake at night thinking about it and at some point, it compels you to revisit it again. It is a time and a place, the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s — I know it well – it’s running out of gas at all the worst times (which we always did somehow), waterbeds, and THE MOVIES OF TARZANA. Licorice Pizza should win to celebrate PTA – his lifelong contribution to American film.
In addition, each of the films below has different reasons why they should win. There is no need for me to make the case for them to win because none of them really has a shot. They will remain part of Oscar history as nominees because they struck a chord with voters at this particular moment in time. Each of them was named as among the best of the year, and rightly so.
Nightmare Alley is a darker look at humanity, the kind of public humiliation-as-sport we’re living through now. But what it’s really about is the collaboration of Guillermo Del Toro and Kim Morgan. That is what threads through the film visually – in the dialogue, the costumes, the production design. They have created a whole universe to pay tribute to the film noir genre. Dune is going to run away with the crafts wins not just this year, but for the next two sequels if they are as good as the first. Maybe by the end of it Villeneuve will culminate his epic achievement with a Best Picture winner. Don’t Look Up is a timely story about the madness of right now. Probably there is no better film to describe our country as it actually is in 2022, where it’s headed, and perhaps the low-frequency hum of hysteria and fear that it’s all about to end. Adam McKay has had Best Picture contenders with every film he’s made since 2015. That’s incredible when you think about it. What a record. Sooner or later he’s going to bring in a winner. Drive My Car is the kind of inventive storytelling we don’t see so much in this country. A somber long-form meditation on grief that takes us from the city to the country, through theater, and eventually down a long road of self-discovery. It probably won’t win but it makes history just being nominated.
So how about you, Oscarwatchers? What is your best case for the Best Picture of the Year?