Ranked

Every 2022 Best Picture Nominee, Ranked

Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards, we look back at the Best Picture nominees and ask: which one deserves to take home the big prize?

The 94th Academy Awards are almost upon us – yet another Hollywood celebration of the year's “best” films (according to, well, Hollywood). Though this year's ceremony has already been the source of several controversies (who will host? Why was Rachel Zegler not on the guest list?), the Best Picture nominees are a fairly eclectic bunch, at least, spanning an enigmatic western, a neo-noir throwback, and a three-hour drama almost entirely in the Japanese language. In the lead-up to the big day, we've looked back at this year's Best Picture nominees and ranked them from the least deserving to the most…

 

10. Belfast

A mostly Oscar-baity effort from one of modern cinema's most inconsistent directors, the joke goes that Kenneth Branagh saw Roma and decided to do the same for his native Belfast, blending black-and-white photography and a sense of the semi-autobiographical as a shortcut to nostalgia. The difference is that Roma thrives on its gorgeous camerawork and a feeling of reality, while Branagh's own cinematic memoir feels for the most part empty and surface level. Defenders will claim that it's done this way on purpose – that we're seeing “The Troubles” through the eyes of a child. Fine, but that theory can't make up for a leaden script, amateurish camerawork, and some terrible performances from actors who are usually better (hello, Judi Dench). Saying that, Belfast is brief and watchable, and there is a good scene where Jamie Dornan sings “Everlasting Love” – it's just not the stuff of Awards glory.

 

9. Don't Look Up

You cannot really call Don't Look Up a satire, because that would imply some degree of cleverness and wit. Neither a comedy or a drama, but straddling the line to awkward effect, writer-director Adam McKay continues his run of smarmy, far smarter than they think they are features with this obvious climate change parable about an unstoppable asteroid. In moments, it shows glimpses of a better film – its final sequence is surprisingly poignant, and there's a wonderful part for Timothée Chalamet. But much of this feels like the stuff of lesser SNL sketches – Meryl Streep's Trump-like president and a tech billionaire played by Mark Rylance give what is supposed to feel extremely timely a dated edge. McKay's targets are always obvious, though Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawerence's presence means it's still easy viewing (we're only human). This is set to become Netflix's most-watched movie ever. Make of that what you will.

 

8. Nightmare Alley

A gorgeous evocation of film noir, rendered through stunning camerawork, a real sense of time and place, and some of the best production design this side of the century… all let down by a plot that promises twists, turns and clever reveals and delivers nothing of the sort. Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett keep our eyes gripped to the screen for the majority of this film's excessive two and a half hour runtime, but Nightmare Alley suggests a lot and then opts to stay entirely in the straight lane. This remake is about a carnival grifter, for God's sake, a man who tricks people for a living, and yet Del Toro's pedestrian script can't figure out where to go with its premise after the first hour (!) of extensive set-up. Where was the drama? A serviceable exercise that needed to go through a few more drafts.

 

7. Dune

The vast world on show throughout Denis Villeneuve's new adaptation of Dune is a feat of phenomenal production design, its ambition relatively unprecedented in this day and age (a 165 million dollar blockbuster up for Best Picture?). But it's also a movie that fails to make us care much about its protagonists, rendered here as bland, forgettable, and samey. Compare this three-hour film, to, say, The Fellowship of the Ring, and you can see how it's possible for a director to juggle dozens of characters, locations, and a dense plot and still make us feel something. Few could deny Dune is an impressive technical achievement. Yet with sluggish pacing, and pleasures that extend mostly to the aesthetic, it mostly fails as a piece of entertainment. Also, the fact that it's “half a movie” feels slightly insulting (there was no guarantee a second film would be made at the time of its release). And would it have killed Dune to have been a bit more fun?

 

6. King Richard

Will Smith has almost certainly secured the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the sort-of sports biopic King Richard, a rousing, enjoyable slice of Hollywood filmmaking that just manages to avoid feeling like something off a conveyer belt on account of his presence. After all, King Richard is a movie that keeps threatening to be a conventional sports movie about the early years of tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams, except each time it does their father, Richard Williams (Smith), does something unexpected to spin it off its axis. It's a film of simple pleasures – nothing groundbreaking, but never dull, and nice to look at (thank you, Robert Elswit). The big issue? Though it makes an effort to paint its titular figure as a complicated, flawed man, it's still an “authorised biopic” – are there two less inspired words in the English language?

5. Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson's more recent work has felt weighed down by an unmistakable sense of pompousness – a filmmaker asserting himself as a serious filmmaker. His latest, then, turns the tables, tapping into the free-spirited energy of 1970s California, complete with the kind of aimless, rambling plotting that would give screenwriting gurus like Syd Field a breakdown. In its telling of a sort-of romance between a teenager (Cooper Hoffman) and a young woman (Alana Haim) in '70s California, Licorice Pizza often like its unravelling at random, yet it's held together by razor-sharp wit, heaps of humour, a sensational soundtrack, and excellent performances across the board. It's also very weird. Best of all, an unlikely star is born in Alana Haim as an likeable-unlikeable twentysomething trying to find her place in the world. Oh, and that Bradley Cooper cameo as Jon Peters stays with you more than his entire performance in Nightmare Alley.

 

4. Drive My Car

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's latest is a testament to this thing we call “pacing” – proof that, in the right hands, a quiet, three-hour drama can simply fly by. This beautifully made and thoughtful adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami chronicles the growing relationship between a widowed theatre director and his chauffeur, the pair slowly coming to understand one another – and their pasts – within the confines of a now iconic red Saab. Hamaguchi's control is exemplarily throughout: 40 minutes passes before we realise – thanks to the opening credits finally appearing – that we've only witnessed the prologue. In the role of said director, Hidetoshi Nishijima is excellent, but the film's MVP has to be Tōko Miura as his driver, who gives the subtle, perfectly pitched performance that ties the whole piece together. It probably won't win Best Picture (and let's face it, it's a miracle it was nominated in the first place). Thankfully, Best International Feature seems like a shoo-in.

 

3. West Side Story

Steven Spielberg proves, once more, that few directors know how to, well, direct, like he does – his spectacular remake of West Side Story is a masterclass in form, blocking, and all the other words they teach you at film school, and an evocative and stunningly choreographed musical that functions as both a work of neo-classicalism and its own unique thing. Though it was sadly a box office flop, rest assured this West Side Story is no arbitrary remake, but a fresh and considered adaptation that recontextualises the cultural flaws of the original while still offering the iconic elements that make the first film great. West Side Story came under fire for its casting of Ansel Elgort (and he's fine in this), though its the astute casting of newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria, giving the definition of a “star-making” performance, that pushes the movie into the stratosphere.

 

2. CODA

The big complaint you've likely heard about CODA is that it's a “Disney Channel movie” undeservedly bumped up to the level of Best Picture nominee. But it comes down to this: this tale of a young woman and her deaf family offers a near-perfect execution of a particular type of movie – the “crowd-pleaser.” It manages to be effortlessly engaging and heart-warming without doing what so many similar, Oscar bait-y movies do: patronising its audience or its character. Whereas there's something manufactured about, say, Green Book, CODA glows with authenticity for every second of its runtime. And it's harder to pull off this kind of picture than it first appears – to keep you on its side in spite of the cliches. The winning combination of Emilia Jones' natural performance, exemplary turns from the supporting cast, and some absolute bangers on the soundtrack, means that CODA, for all its conventionalities, transcends its origins and shows that even the most familiar ideas can be redeployed with enough heart and skill as to make them feel new again.

 

1. The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog is a work of slippery brilliance, not to mention an unlikely contender for Best Picture on account of its western setting, tricksy narrative, and a plot hinged around queer desire. But the moody mystery of this Thomas Savage adaptation, the way it falls through your fingertips for all its runtime, makes it the most interesting of this year's Best Picture nominees… and maybe also the best outright feature of the bunch. In the capable hands of the always fascinating Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog is a festering parable of human sensuality, told through the story of characters whose motives are never quite clear, played in a trio of remarkable performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. This movie doesn't really feel quite like any other, somehow as fuzzy as it is starkly drawn, as Campion – along with composer Jonny Greenwood and cinematographer Ari Wegner – creates a mood of pure anxious energy that doesn't let up until the shocking climax. And when it's over with, turns out The Power of the Dog is only getting started: there it sits, on the precipice of you mind, calling you back to bask in its singular mood all over again.

The 94th Academy Awards air this Sunday and will be shown in the UK on Sky Cinema.

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