Oscar predictions abound as Hollywood prepares for the 94th Academy Awards that will air on March 27. Drawing from four media sources (Variety, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly), I have compiled a list of frontrunners and contenders for best film, all of which I have seen. Descriptions of these movies are readily available, so instead, I will offer a brief summary of my response to each film. Like music or art, films are a matter of personal taste, and while awards are coveted, I sometimes think the film industry would be better off without them. Having said that, here are some of the most talked-about Best Picture Oscar contenders:
“The Power of the Dog” (streaming on Netflix) appeared on all four lists and took home the Golden Globe for Dramatic Motion Picture. The story is powerful and complex (this is a film you will want to discuss with others.) The entire cast turn in master-class performances, another reason it is a front-runner for the Oscar.
“Belfast” (theatrical release) appeared on three lists. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast” draws from Branagh’s life as a child who witnessed the violent riots that broke out in 1969 during the Troubles, a conflict between Protestants and Catholics living in Northern Ireland. Beautifully shot in black and white and supported by moving performances, it is my pick for Best Picture.
“King Richard” (theatrical release) appeared on all four lists and follows the incredible early journey of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams and the family that encouraged them every step of the way. Will Smith is also a Best Actor front-runner for his depiction of Richard Williams.
“West Side Story” (theatrical release) appeared on all four lists and won the Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy. Remaking an iconic movie musical is a daunting task, but who better to shoulder the responsibility than Steven Spielberg. It is a magnificent film, and in my estimation, deserving of the nomination and even the win.
“Dune” (not currently streaming) appeared on three lists. “Dune” is a spectacular film adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel of the same name. It boasts a stellar cast, incredible soundtrack, and spectacular cinematography (it deserves to be seen in a theater.)
“CODA” (Apple TV+) made all three lists and stands for “child of deaf adult.” I first saw “CODA” as part of the virtual San Luis Obispo Film Festival and immediately knew it was special. At the time, I never imagined it would emerge as a strong candidate for an Oscar Best Film nomination, but am thrilled with the recognition it has deservedly received.
“Licorice Pizza” (theatrical release) made all four lists. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s awkwardly sweet coming-of-age film stars Cooper Hoffman (son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.) The film unfolds in a series of vignettes, some that work better than others. It is one of those films that will resonate ever so sweetly with some but less so with others. Filmworks’ audiences will likely admire the quirky characters and offbeat story that is supported by a ’70s soundtrack that is “out of sight!”
“Don’t Look Up” (Netflix) made three lists. Writer/director Adam McKay skewers the vapidness of television news and social media, government corruption, and I’m guessing what he sees as the ignorance of the masses. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but knew as I was watching it there would be a definite split between those who felt like me and those who didn’t like it.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple TV+) made three lists. Joel Coen reworked Shakespeare’s text to create a stripped-down version of this famous tragedy. His direction is stark and beautiful and the performances are superb, but I never found myself fully involved in the film. I was more fascinated by Coen’s artistry as a director than I was moved by the story.
“No Time to Die” (theatrical release) made two lists. While I loved Daniel Craig’s final foray as James Bond, I was surprised to see it on a number of Oscar prediction lists. Hollywood tends to overlook films that are huge commercial successes, especially those that are part of beloved franchises. It may not make the final cut, but bravo to those critics who bucked the trend and put it on their lists.
“Nightmare Alley” (theatrical release) made two lists. Guillermo del Toro returns with his first film since his 2018 Oscar-winning Best Picture, “The Shape of Water.” His fairy tale-esque films often explore the darkest parts of human nature. The A-list cast is exceptional, and while I found watching the ugliest aspects of humanity on full display disturbing, I still deeply admired the masterful direction and excellent performances.
There are some years I have intense opinions about who should take home the coveted gold statue. Perhaps this pandemic year has mellowed me a bit as I find myself less invested in this year’s nominees. Having said that, if I could cast the winning ballot for any one Oscar, it would be for Andrew Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” Are you listening, members of the Academy?
For further consideration, the following films are considered contenders for a Best Picture nomination:
“Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Prime)
“House of Gucci” (theatrical release)
“Tick, Tick…Boom!” (Netflix)
“The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
“The Tender Bar” (Netflix)
“The French Dispatch” (theatrical release)
“C’mon C’mon” (available for purchase on streaming platforms)