Oscars 2022: The Race For Best Picture

oscars 2022 best picture

The Oscars may feel like they diminish in importance every year, especially in the middle of an ongoing pandemic that has forced half the films around to flee for the streaming hills, but they are still the most recognized mark of achievement in cinema. And while the scaled-down proceedings of the last couple of years may make the Oscars less glamorous, they at least make it more accessible.

After all, a good chunk of nominees can be found on Netflix or Apple TV. But the slow inclusion of international talent also helps the ceremony feel a smidge more global. Parasite shocked viewers worldwide when it won Best Picture in 2020, and the next year the Oscars awarded Best Supporting Actress to Youn Yuh-jung for Minari.

This year, the Best Picture category welcomed Japan’s Drive My Car. And though there may not be as much racial diversity as one would hope, even after years of “Oscars So White” campaigns, the inclusion of CODA offers hope for the future of disability visibility in the industry.

And now the reason you’ve all come: the 2022 Oscars and what they hold in the opinion of one very biased critic. Unlike many Academy Voters themselves, I have seen all the nominees, and will rank them from least to favorite. I base my rankings on my own perception of each film as well as how it has fared in the awards season thus far. For each Best Picture nominee, I include a synopsis along with its worthiness vis-à-vis the Oscars. Then perhaps I will hazard a guess as to what else it might win.

oscars 2022 licorice pizzaLicorice Pizza

Alana Kane and Gary Valentine grow up, run around, and fall in love in California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s.

While I have seen plenty of odes to this film’s poetry and defenses of the statutory romance at its center, I can’t see past the latter to truly admire the former. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a love letter to the San Francisco of the 1970s, and that nostalgia factor alone may make the movie worthwhile to many. But for me, it reads as a typical coming-of-age romcom that happens to select a 15-year-old boy as the love interest for its 25-year-old heroine.

Though Licorice Pizza had plenty of early movement, even being named AFI’s movie of the year, the lack of either an individual win or an ensemble nomination at the SAGs may hold it back at the Oscars.

Could Win: Best Original Screenplay is a possibility, based on how much critics seem to be drawn to the quirky depiction of the film’s romance.

2022 nightmare alleyNightmare Alley

In 1940s New York, down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle endears himself to a clairvoyant and her mentalist husband at a traveling carnival. Using newly acquired knowledge, Carlisle crafts a golden ticket to success by swindling the elite and wealthy. Hoping for a big score, he soon hatches a scheme to con a dangerous tycoon with help from a mysterious psychologist who might be his most formidable opponent yet.

Nightmare Alley is the second film to base itself on the eponymous 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, and writer-director Guillermo Del Toro fills his adaptation to the brim with stars. Given the delicious noir aesthetic of the story and the delightful ensemble cast, it is something of a wonder that the movie didn’t get more awards attention.

Perhaps the reason is that it is somewhat more grounded than Del Toro’s previous works, and doesn’t spark the same feeling of magically transporting viewers to another world. Not every film needs to, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who went in expecting a grander message than a con man getting conned himself. Once again, the lack of acclaim for individual performances (though Cate Blanchett did score a SAG nomination for her iconic villainess) does not bode well for the Oscars.

Could Win: Costume Design would neatly cover the valiant efforts of the producer to lure you into the land of carnival tricks.

oscars 2022 don't look upDon’t Look Up

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

Speaking of star-studded ensembles, Don’t Look Up has a galaxy worth of Oscar winners in this dark satire about how the planet is orchestrating its own global warming demise through sheer apathy. The premise is solid and the performances range from humorous to “hitting home,” but the pacing is arguably wonky. The film dragged on longer than needed to make its point, and the tonal whiplash of its climax may not resonate with voters.

Despite a whopping 4 nominations at the Oscars, the polarizing reception to Don’t Look Up – not everyone understands it even is satire, and some who do felt it was too on the nose – has led to fewer nominations elsewhere than one would expect for a frontrunner. With not a PGA nomination in sight, for example, it’s something of a longshot.

Could Win: Film Editing. This may sound like a contradiction, given the pacing problems, but the actual cuts were good. That, and I don’t want to give it anything bigger.

2022 power of the dogThe Power of the Dog

A domineering rancher responds with mocking cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son, until the unexpected comes to pass.

The Power of the Dog is the first film in this ranking whose stacked cast truly paid off nomination dividends. Not only is it tied for most nominations period at this year’s Oscars, but 4 of them are for acting. Of course, this didn’t lead to any wins at the SAG Awards, but director Jane Campion is shoo-in at the DGA for her subtle evocation of a different kind of Western.

Personally, I appreciated the nuance in the script, the beauty of the cinematography, and the dread drenched throughout the atmosphere. But I still couldn’t bring myself to profoundly invest in the world of the story, and so it still ranks in my bottom half.

Could Win: As stated above, if Jane Campion doesn’t win Best Director, someone may have to contend with my wrath.

oscars 2022 duneDune

Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

Out of all the nominees, Dune is closest to being the people’s choice. After all, it was all anyone could talk about until Spider-Man: No Way Home swung into theaters and wiped out all other conversation. Denis Villeneuve succeeded in creating a sweeping and all-consuming cinemascape in which to house Frank Herbert’s often bewildering novels. The cast was more than up to par, and the plot had the ability to captivate even unbelievers.

If Dune has a flaw, it’s that it simultaneously overstays its welcome while also not delivering complete satisfaction. This is simply due to the film ending before the first novel does, but about half an hour after the climactic battle that could have served as its last act. Thankfully, there will be at least one more movie to come – but that along with the general avoidance of sci-fi fantasy as as genre could spell doom for its chances at the Oscars.

Could Win: Best Cinematography needs to go to Dune, or I will call the power of the Bene Gesserit to my aid.

2022 king richard 2King Richard

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Calif., Richard shapes the girls’ unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.

The biopic about Serena and Venus Williams’ father, made with the approval of the family, is a feel-good film about pursuing your dreams against all odds. It has garnered a healthy number of acting nominations – with Will Smith already snapping up a few awards along the way – and seems to stand a chance on the writing front as well.

There’s really nothing bad I can say about King Richard, and it certainly had me cheering and crying at the appropriate spots. It’s the kind of crowd-pleaser that would fare very well in any year that didn’t have quite so many contenders about whom you could say the same.

Could Win: Fresh off his Golden Globe and SAG wins, Will Smith is poised to take the Best Actor award off Andrew Garfield’s hands.

oscars 2022 codaCODA

Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family from Gloucester, Massachusetts. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school’s choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her latent passion for singing.

Some might argue that the awards love CODA has received is due to a “diversity kick,” but the truth of the matter is that it’s just plain good. It is uniquely situated to tackle family dynamics between members who are deaf and who aren’t, as well as between members of the deaf community with and without participation from hearing relatives. But beyond that, it’s a coming-of-age story for Ruby that’s at least every bit as worthy of attention as Licorice Pizza.

Winning the big award at SAG, not to mention Tony Kotsur taking home Best Supporting Actor, was an upset in the right direction. Anyone who was writing this sweet family drama off before is now forced to see it as a real contender.

Could Win: Tony Kotsur may just repeat his Supporting Actor win, especially if his rivals over at The Power of the Dog split the vote.

oscars 2022 belfastBelfast

A semi-autobiographical film which chronicles the life of a working class family and their young son’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital.

Director and screenwriter Kenneth Branagh has dubbed Belfast his “most personal film,” and it’s another one that benefits greatly from the nostalgia that seeps through every frame. The black-and-white look at growing up in the midst of the Troubles keeps itself from getting too dark by filtering the ethno-nationalist through the eyes of a young child who just wants to have a good time with his family.

Belfast was an early favorite when it released, so the real test is whether it cane withstand the late upsets and momentum gained by its competition. The subdued version of its central conflict is part of its charm, but it also may lead to a loss if it’s deemed to lack grandeur.

Could Win: The personal nature of the tale might wrest Original Screenplay away from Licorice Pizza. Otherwise, the only likely option is Sound.

oscars 2022 west side storyWest Side Story

Love at first sight strikes when young Tony spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks — two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

West Side Story had plenty going against it when it was first announced. First, it was hard to imagine any moving topping the original without being too cheesy to live down. But later, another issue was lead actor Ansel Elgort’s personal scandals (although one might make an argument against his performance too). Despite that, the film became a critical darling and a favorite in many awards circles.

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation manages to capture the fluidity of the Broadway revival production while still serving the cinematic medium well. And where Elgort may fail to dazzle, everyone around him shines – especially Ariana DeBose’s Anita and Rachel Zegler’s Maria. Really, the only thing going against it is that only one musical has won Best Picture in the last 50 years. And to that you can say, “Well, West Side Story won the last time it was nominated!”

Could Win: I frankly cannot fathom anyone other than Ariana DeBose winning Best Supporting Actress.

oscars 2022 drive my carDrive My Car

An aging, widowed actor seeks a chauffeur. The actor turns to his go-to mechanic, who ends up recommending a 20-year-old girl. Despite their initial misgivings, a very special relationship develops between the two.

Based on a Haruki Murakami short story, or rather a few of his short stories, Drive My Car is a beautiful exploration of love and grief. Furthermore, it meditates on how the theater can communicate those emotions beyond language – much like how its leads share a grief beyond words.

Its early 3-hour runtime is a huge mark against it, as is the fact that it’s primarily in Japanese, but it’s also easily the nominee with the most to say. Not a second of screen time is wasted, and the multiple themes converge on each other perfectly. That being said, it’s no Parasite in terms of western recognition, so it’s unlikely to pull off the same feats. I have ranked it first because that’s how much I loved it, but West Side Story or Belfast will do perfectly well.

Could Win: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe script is so full of emotion and symbolism that it would be a shame if Drive My Car didn’t win Best Adapted Screenplay. But failing that, Best International Feature is sure a lock.

Who would you reward with Oscars if they were yours to give? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media!