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What Film Should Win Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars?

With just a few days to go, we asked our regular contributors for their favourite nominees, from Dune to Drive My Car

Well, it's that time again. Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards, set to air this Sunday in Hollywood, we asked our regular contributors to wax lyrical about their favourite film from this year's Best Picture nominees – the feature they believe to be most deserving of the biggest prize. In a year where the options ranged from subtle dramas to riotous crowd-pleasers, turns out there's no accounting for taste  – the results made for a varied, interesting selection. You can read the justifications below.

Contributors: Alasdair Bayman, Jack Blackwell, Ben Flanagan, Steph Green, Jordan King, Emily Maskell, Alistair Ryder, Adam Solomons, Fedor Tot

 

Drive My Car – Alasdair Bayman

After bursting onto the international stage with Happy Hour back in 2015, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s output since has been nothing short of extraordinary. Arguably already his magnum opus, Drive My Car adapts famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s short story into a three-hour epic on the nature of friendship, grief and finding peace within oneself. Embedded in Hamaguchi’s adaptation are two central performances that quietly captivate, though its Toko Miura’s introverted role as Misaki Watari, who plays chauffeur to a widowed theatre director, who really shines. This is a unique piece of cinema that poignantly encapsulates the strange experience of being human and attempting to create art in the wake of tragedy. If it won the most coveted award in Hollywood, it would mark another momentous step forward for the Academy and the industry at large, a true embracement of the kaleidoscopic range of world cinema following Parasite’s historic win two years ago.

 

The Power of the Dog – Jack Blackwell

Last year, the Academy did something truly unexpected: it awarded Best Picture to the best of the nominated films (and the best film of the year) in Nomadland. To give top honours to The Power of the Dog would be repeating this rarest of tricks, putting this scorching film in its rightful place at the top of the 2021 movie pile. Though there are other films in the nominated 10 that I’d be happy to see win, Power of the Dog’s main rivals for the big prize (CODA and Belfast) are sappy mediocrities in the most boring tradition of Oscar-bait. With some brilliant and varied nominations – from exceptional blockbusters to Cannes favourites – these Oscars could be a true celebration of the best films of the last year, and there couldn’t be a better end to the night than the first Jane Campion film in 12 years taking home the trophy.

 

West Side Story – Ben Flanagan

The Oscars are awestruck by repetition of the familiar. So why not give the biggest prize to the film which most exuberantly celebrates itself? West Side Story, a majestic remake of a musical classic, tells us that Hollywood wants to write its own legends, even as interest in the art form of cinema becomes ostensibly more niche. Spielberg's film is a head-on collision with urban living, and how matters of race, gentrification, immigration, and policing have always been hopelessly corrupted. Setting his musical among the rubble of New York is a move akin to Charles Dickens’ excavation of Victorian detritus in his novel Our Mutual Friend. Like the author, Spielberg’s attention to character dynamics and movement takes on a radically vivid emotional sweep. That rubble, he reveals, is soon to be rebuilt as the Lincoln Centre – Spielberg’s way of questioning what it is that cinema can do. On the biggest night of the movies, let Oscar give us the answer.

 

The Power of the Dog – Steph Green

Not so much a slow burn than an inferno of infinitesimal power shifts, The Power of the Dog – no matter what happens on Sunday – is the film that will be remembered, studied, praised and parsed for years to come. None of its competitors can match the white-hot tension that smoulders behind Kodi Smit-McPhee’s steely eyes as he puppeteers the brutish Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) into a psychosexual knot. Nor can they boast the shocking power of the story’s final flourish, the film electrocuting you with increasing voltage without you even knowing it. Between Jonny Greenwood’s score that thrums with desire and unease, the subtle and sly direction, and Ari Wegener's stunning, bruised-ochre cinematography, the time has finally come for Jane Campion to take Best Picture.

Dune – Jordan King

Shockingly, a science-fiction film has never won Best Picture at the Oscars. But Denis Villeneuve’s operatic opus Dune – nominated in 10 categories, including Best Picture – could, and absolutely should, rectify that. Dune is a masterfully crafted adaptation of Frank Herbert’s once-deemed “unfilmable” spice yarn, navigating planets, politics, and dense lore with effortless grace and spectacle to spare. It’s also, more importantly, a film that reminds us in these deeply troubled times of the true power of cinema. Here is a colossus of a work that fills every inch of the big screen with wonder, whose ethereal Hans Zimmer score sonically awes as a galaxy of stars tell a perennial tale of legacy, ascension, dreams, and fate. It’s a film that tells us “the mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience,” and then spends 150 minutes bringing that reality to jaw-slackening life. Dune isn’t just 2021’s best picture – it’s probably its most important, too.

 

CODA – Emily Maskell

As the big day draws closer, the likelihood of CODA taking Best Picture feels as though it is steadily increasing. Sian Heder’s heartfelt film is the tale of a young woman (Emilia Jones) who dreams of chasing her passion for singing but is tied to her hometown as the only hearing member of her family. Even within the confines of a familiar formula, this coming-of-age drama focuses on the intertwined family unit with a refreshing amount of humanity. CODA’s pleasing and empathetic sincerity holds significant meaning for deaf culture in the landmark portrayal of deaf characters by deaf actors. And after his BAFTA win, Troy Kotsur’s performance as the supportive father makes him a very promising contender for Best Supporting Actor come Sunday. The finale, a heart-wrenching rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” is the cherry on top of an already rousing crowd-pleaser.

 

Drive My Car – Alistair Ryder

We’ve come to an end of an awards season more chaotic than any other in recent memory, culminating in an Oscars that feels like a car crash in the making. It’s shaping up to be so crazy that it’s easy to overlook that several of this year’s Best Picture nominees are some of the best in quite some time – and the most worthy of that bunch is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, a win for which could steer the ceremony away from all-but-certain disaster. The director’s understated, epic-length adaptation of a Murakami short story was one of the year’s best arthouse discoveries; a powerful story about grief whose impact in the race grew very naturally via word of mouth. Producers of the ceremony feel under pressure to attract viewers this year, but Drive My Car is the film most deserving of an elevated platform – rather than celebrating the blockbusters, this is the perfect time to shine a light on a great film that for many will have slipped under the radar.

 

Licorice Pizza – Adam Solomons

It increasingly feels less like a trend and more like law: every time Paul Thomas Anderson makes a new film, it’s one of the year’s best. This is especially jarring as Anderson’s films have, since Punch-Drunk Love, all been period dramas of a sort, intentionally free of ties to the present. Anderson’s recent focus on timelessness over timeliness is profoundly refreshing, but it can also be a blind spot, evidenced in many Asian-Americans’ upset at the racial politics of Licorice Pizza. That aside, his latest is all we could’ve anticipated and more, a fluid and funny romp through 70s California. It is, to quote Ryan Gosling in La La Land, “very, very exciting,” and truly deserving of Best Picture. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are joint revelations in the lead roles, while old hands Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn and Harriet Sansom Harris (who knew!) steady a groovy and well-guided ship. The journey is a joy.

 

Nightmare Alley – Fedor Tot

Guillermo del Toro’s previous feature The Shape of Water made for a solid choice for Best Picture, but for all its stylistic brilliance, it was let down by an overdose of Hollywood schmaltz. Unsurprising, then, that Academy voters, for whom schmaltz is kryptonite, plumped for it. Nightmare Alley is far too nasty a film to have a serious chance of winning, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. In a film landscape consistently demanding “nice” protagonists who dispense worthwhile moral lessons, Bradley Cooper’s slick con-man is deeply unpleasant – as are most of the supporting cast, with generosity emerging only in the form of Rooney Mara – and the film is all the better for it. Del Toro, one of the best craftsmen around, is on fine form in building an elegant, shadow-drenched world for Cooper to slink through – and what finally emerges is a deep, rich filmic landscape that’s easy to get lost in.

The 94th Academy Awards airs 27 March and will be broadcast in the UK on Sky Cinema.

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