For those of you who have been keeping up with all of the Oscars buzz this year, you’ll know it’s been a whirlwind of an awards season. There have already been numerous scandals ranging from the Academy’s decision to not broadcast eight of the categories, to the COVID-19 protocols for the ceremony (or lack thereof) and even some shady acceptance speeches. All of this and the ceremony hasn’t even happened yet!
School is busy and time is limited, so to prepare you for this year’s Oscars ceremony, let me give you a run down on this year’s nominations for everyone’s favourite award and the most anticipated of the night — Best Picture.
Directed and written by Kenneth Branagh, Belfast is a heartfelt coming-of-age-drama that takes place in Belfast during the Troubles. Told from the perspective of a young boy named Buddy, the film follows the life of a working class, Protestant family grappling with their love for the city and their desire to live a violence-free life.
In addition to Best Picture, the film also scored nominations for Ciaran Hinds, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh and Van Morrison, in categories spanning from acting to sound work. Between the film’s beautiful cinematography and heartfelt story, Branagh is sure to make you both laugh and shed a few tears.
Don’t Look Up
Probably the most mainstream of the nominations this year is Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up. The film is a political satire about the current climate crisis and collective denial. Released on Netflix and in a limited number of cinemas, the film stars some big name actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep and Timothee Chalamet.
McKay’s film is definitely the most controversial nomination of the year. While it still remains Netflix’s number one film, it wasn’t received super well by critics, like most Oscar-nominated movies usually are. There are a lot of reasons why it could have done so well on Netflix, including algorithms, the star studded cast, pertinent themes, and advertising that pushed the film at audiences. While not my favourite of the year, it definitely does have its funny moments and does its best to tackle a pressing issue.
Drive My Car
I have to admit, this is the one film I haven’t seen yet. Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car is a three hour adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story about an actor/theatre director navigating grief after his wife passes away. I can’t speak from my own experience, but other people who have seen the film have explained their experience of watching the film as meditative. Although available on iTunes, Drive My Car is definitely one of those films that would benefit from seeing it in a theatre, and, as of now, is still showing at the Park Theatre on Cambie.
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was one of the most highly anticipated films of 2021. Filmmakers have been trying to adapt the sci-fi book into a film since the novel was published in 1965. First pitched by Alejandro Jodorowsky, his vision for the film was highly ambitious and expensive. Some of the early drawings pitched to the studios look shockingly similar to Star Wars which came out 12 years later. Aside from Jodorwsky, some other big names he managed to attach to the project were Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Pink Floyd. Ultimately, it didn’t end up getting made when it was first pitched because no studio was willing to take on such an expensive and experimental project. Nonetheless, it was picked up and made in 1984 by David Lynch, but it was a box office failure. Needless to say, Dune’s long production history created tremendous anticipation for the film. Making over $400 million at the box office and scoring over ten nominations, Villeneuve’s Dune was far from a flop. Although criticized for its lack of narrative, its impressive visuals are sure to make it worth your time.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard is about the father of everyone’s favourite tennis stars and sisters, Venus and Serena Williams. Although after seeing the trailer I originally did find it strange that he decided to make a movie about their father over Venus and Serena themselves, it does make total sense after watching the film. I’m not generally a sports movie fan, but Green balances the sports scenes and biopic scenes well so that there aren’t too much of either. Aside from the story itself, what is most impressive about this film is Will Smith’s dramatic acting. I tend to see him more as a comedic actor, so I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see an actor succeed in a role that is the opposite of what I would think to cast them in.
Licorice Pizza was definitely my most anticipated film of the year, and it did not disappoint. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film takes place in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s. There’s no way to make this plot sound not creepy; the film is a love story between a child actor and his sort of babysitter. Starring Cooper Hoffman (Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son) and Alana Haim from the band Haim, the film also features Haim’s sisters and parents. Yes the directing is great and the soundtrack is stellar, but there’s a certain warmth and authenticity the cast brings to the film that I’ve never seen replicated in this way. Anderson paints the Valley as dreamy and dangerous. It’s perfectly plotted, yet unpredictable – the narrative will keep you on your toes in the best way possible. The film’s world is frustrating and petty, yet it's also wonderful and warm, making you never want to leave. If you only watch one movie from this list, let it be this!
As much as Guillermo del Toro will refute it, this film is a remake of the 1947 film of the same name. What’s probably most interesting about this film is that the lighting was adjusted in such a way that two versions of the film could be made, one in colour and one in black and white. Although I’ve only seen the colour version, the black and white cut of the film is being dubbed by critics as a whole other movie. As for the narrative, this film is a noir, psychological thriller follows the demise of a mentalist and carnival con man named Stan Carlisle. The film balances gore and violence with melodrama to create characters that the audience actually cares about.
Power of the Dog
Power of the Dog is Jane Campion’s first film since 2009. In it, she uses the conventions of the Western genre to interrogate ideas of gender and sexuality. While only two hours and five minutes, making it one of the shorter films on this list, its slow pacing and sometimes uninteresting parts makes it feel much longer. Needless to say, even in the film’s quietest moments, the tension is palpable and enticing. Its strong performances will keep you engaged and its sharp ending is not something you want to miss.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg’s remake of this classic musical is one of the most under talked about films of the entire year. Aside from one questionable casting choice that probably sidelined the film from most conversation aimed at younger crowds, it features some impressive new talent such as Rachel Zegler, and return of old talent, Rita Moreno. If you’ve seen the original film, there are a few additions that make the story feel fresh, but not in a way that ruins its integrity. Despite being a box-office bomb, it’s definitely more than worth a watch. Overall, it’s smooth, captivating and just down right joyous, as musicals are. If you’re looking for a two and a half hour escape, this is definitely the movie for you.
And last but certainly not least, we have Sian Heder’s film Coda. Adapted from a French film that came out in 2014, Coda is about a teenage girl named Ruby who is the only hearing member of her family. About to graduate high school, Ruby struggles with creating boundaries with her family who heavily rely on her and following her passions and carving out her own path in life.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film took home the Oscar. It’s being criticized for being “Disney Channel-like,” but in what world do all films have to be serious and depressing? Heder managed to take a terribly cheesy and predictable narrative, and turned it into a sentimental and totally endearing coming-of-age story. This movie will make you laugh and cry and at the end, you’ll turn off the tv feeling like the world isn’t as horrible as the news sometimes makes it seem.