I've written about the most famous movie awards, the Oscars, a few times on here. It's been twelve years since I last wrote about Academy Awards nominations. Last time my prediction of The Hurt Locker won the coveted best picture award.
Here are some of my thoughts on the nominated movies from the biggest categories, for the 94th Academy Awards.
- The Power of the Dog
- West Side Story
- Licorice Pizza
- Drive My Car
- King Richard
- Nightmare Alley
- Don't Look Up
Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog seems to be the current favourite to take home this award. It's a brooding, stripped down Western focusing on a character study of toxic masculinity and what is simmering beneath. I would describe the movie as a critic's and awards season favourite. However, it may not be a hit with the general public – that doesn't make it a bad movie, just one with a specific audience.
It's good to see Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic Dune in the Best Picture category, as big-budget action-adventure movies are often overlooked in the awards season. The entire movie is an absolute feast for the senses, with massive worlds, beautiful cinematography, intricate costume design and booming audio. I don't think Dune will win Best Picture, but like his previous sci-fi epic Blade Runner, the movie might take home best cinematography and/or visual effects.
CODA was a wonderful and intimate movie and represents a community that doesn't see much recognition. Since it's nomination, I hope more people will see it. It has a heartful story that keeps you engaged from beginning to end.
Licorice Pizza is an interesting movie, with an irregular screenplay, beautiful cinematography and loveable young characters. The whole movie is self-assured and infuses confidence.
I'm surprised that Don't Look Up was nominated for this award. The movie is good, with an incredible cast, contemporary screenplay and decent production, but the in-your-face satirical commentary doesn't normally fit in with awards narrative.
The other movies are the weakest on this list, but they're far from bad. King Richard, a biopic focusing on the father of the famous William's sisters. Nightmare Alley with its all-star cast. Belfast, set during the tumultuous 1960 troubles in Northern Ireland.
- Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
- Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
- Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
- Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
- Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car
I think Jane Campion is favourite for this award. This would add to the director's previous success, as she won an Academy Award for best screenplay for her 1993 movie The Piano. The movie has beautiful cinematography and excellent acting, a subtle but complex story and a lovely recreation of the early century middle America frontier.
I would love to see Paul Thomas Anderson recognised. The majority of his previous movies have been nominated for multiple Academy awards, especially There Will Be Blood which received eight nominations in 2008. However, the three wins his movies have received weren't for the director himself.
Steven Spielberg has an illustrious career. He won both Best Picture and this Best Director category for the epic war movie Schindler's List. And has been nominated for this award a further eight times, winning again with Saving Private Ryan. More recently he's had nominations with Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and The Post. Aside from this, I don't think he will win this year.
Kenneth Branagh's Belfast is a competent movie, as expected from the director, but there is nothing stand-out about the direction here.
I haven't seen any other movies by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, but his handling of a long, wordy and emotionally complex story is incredibly engaging. There are so many deep ideas that would normally suffer from the slow pace, but he manages to keep everything balanced and captivating.
- Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick... Boom!
- Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
- Will Smith – King Richard
- Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth
- Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos
This is an incredibly talented list.
For me, I think Andrew Garfield deserves the award. His role as Jonathan Larson, a theatre composer, is relatively quiet and unsure yet contrasted with his enthusiastic singing. You can't help but feel his joy and empathise with his despair in this biopic.
Benedict Cumberbatch might snatch the award, in a very subtle but powerful role. The movie has 12 nominations, including Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee for Best Supporting Actor and Kirsten Dunst for Best Supporting Actress, so it's almost a complete set of acting nominations. Benedict Cumberbatch might well deserve the award, I think it's a two-horse race.
Although not averse to personal roles, Will Smith is well-known for his big action movies. In King Richard he tackles a real-life character in a commanding role. The performance is great in an otherwise fine yet forgettable movie.
I felt the same about Denzel Washington, with praise heaped on his work in this Shakespearean adaptation.
I only watched Being the Ricardos because of the acting nominations it recieved. Javier Bardem is an actor who is often unrecognisable in his movies. He is best known for his villanous roles in Skyfall and No Country For Old Men, the later being one of my favourite movies where he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor. He seems to pick roles which are diverse and interesting, working alongside auteur directors, including; The Sea Inside by Alejandro Amenábar, Mother! by Darren Aronofsky and Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
- Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
- Kristen Stewart – Spencer
- Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
- Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
- Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos
I think Jessica Chastain was incredible as Tammy Faye. I was impressed by how young she looked in the beginning as well as the older version of her character. Being the titular character, the focus is constantly on her and she steals every scene. I would love for her to win this category.
Kristen Stewart has been acclaimed by critics for her portrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales. She is brooding and depressed, forced to keep appearances with the Royal Family with family traditions. In contrast to the enthusiasm and fun found in Tammy Faye, this is a much more subdued performance.
Olivia Colman is a phenomenal actress. She won this category for her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite in 2019 and was nominated for The Father in 2021. For her role in The Lost Daughter, she plays a rather unlikeable and unwanted mother. She steals plenty of close-ups and explores her evolution from a confident woman to a broken shell towards the end. It's a performance that has range but never feels over-the-top.
Out of all the acting nominations for Being the Ricardos, including Javier Bardem and J. K. Simmons, Nicole Kidman was the best of them. The Australian won the category at Golden Globes, so looks to be the favourite to take home her second best actress Academy Award.
Best Original Screenplay
- Belfast – Kenneth Branagh
- Don't Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
- King Richard – Zach Baylin
- Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
- The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
The screenplay for Belfast is an interesting one. The movie is full of hope in an otherwise gloomy circumstance, with lovely moments scattered throughout. There are a few subplots that don't add anything to the movie. It is told primarily from the perspective of an impressionable young boy. I think this excuses it from the unresolved issues, such as his parent's issues with the taxman.
The highly satirical comedy/tragedy Don't Look Up follows the same absurd and unsubtle traits as the writer/director's movie Vice. There is a lot packed into the movie and it does well to give each of them enough space to make their point. The production design, acting and story are all excellent, but the screenplay doesn't have much flair.
King Richard was an interesting look at the sensational tennis sisters; Serena and Venus Williams. Yet the screenplay deemed to focus the story more on their father. It was an interesting story about family, dedication and sticking up for yourself. It follows standard biopic conventions, so doesn't exactly stand out.
Licorice Pizza doesn't follow an overarching story, with a few individual stories featuring weird situations and larger-than-life characters. The screenplay coalesced with the two main characters and the movie itself conveys a feeling.
The Worst Person in the World is my pick of these movies, although I don't think it will win the award. The story focuses on the life of a young woman as she explores and meanders through different stages of her life, with problematic relationships and tough decisions. The screenplay is full of flourishes and drama but has a deep sense of realism. It has an emotional heart but never strays from a complex take on contemporary Western society.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth; based on the novel by Frank Herbert
- CODA – Sian Heder; based on the original motion picture screenplay La Famille Bélier written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg and Éric Lartigau
- Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe; based on the short story by Haruki Murakami
- The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal; based on the novel by Elena Ferrante
- The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion; based on the novel by Thomas Savage
Frank Herbert's novel is notoriously dense, with complex ideas wrapped around a lot of world-building, exotic locations and warring societies. The 1984 version by David Lynch feels rushed, a reason why this new interpretation is split into two movies. This version of Dune has a good mix of history and lore interspersed with intimate fights and grandiose battles. Although there is a lot to understand initially, the direction shows you what is important and re-iterates it throughout the story. You are introduced to otherworldly factions and rulers, an Emperor and a shadowy organisation manipulating the galactic order in a way that is easy to follow.
It is very easy to tell CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults, was written by someone who truly knows and cares about these characters. The subject could easily have descended into melodrama, but this is an incredibly grounded story. The main characters, their interactions with the wider society and within their own family are rounded and intricate.
Drive My Car has a heavy screenplay. There are many monologues and long conversations about regret and grief. I am unaware of the short story it is based on, but the movie must expand on it a lot, due to the intertwined and complex themes running through it.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is well-known for her role as an actress, so it's quite astonishing that The Lost Daughter is her first writing and directing credit. This adaptation jumps between past and present, each complimenting and revealing more as the story progresses. The narrative is simple enough – a character study on a mother who regrets having children – but there is nuanced trauma that is handled really well.
As I've previously mentioned, The Power of the Dog features a subtle but complex story. There are layers that should reveal more depth on subsequent watches, but there is little on the surface. Stripped-down character study stories usually do well during award season, so it may win this award.
Best Animated Feature Film
Disney has made another colourful and fun musical with Encanto. There is a nice story about fitting in with your family, complicated with magical powers. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who directed Tick, Tick... Boom!, the catchy tunes and exuberant animation is easy on the eyes and ears.
Another Disney animation, yet I've kind of forgotten about Raya and the Last Dragon. The computer-animated fantasy adventure looks gorgeous, with lush landscapes and is intricately rendered. The story is fine and it's not a bad movie, just a little forgettable.
Flee – which is also nominated for Best Documentary – combines multiple evocative animation styles to convey an incredibly emotional true story of a man and his family as they escape war. The animation really helps to communicate the heart-breaking story in a way conventional documentaries struggle with.
Pixar knocks it out of the park again with Luca. The literal tale of "fish-out-of-water" is visually appealing. The town feels like a character itself and the story of friendship is heartwarming. In any other year, this would probably win this award…
But this year, I would definitely say that The Mitchells vs. the Machines should win. Similarly to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that won the award in 2019, the movie is just full of energy combined with whacky animation styles and a fun story.
I'm disappointed that The Summit of the Gods didn't get a nomination. It's an incredibly beautifully animated movie about determination, with intricate recreation of mountaineering and the dangers the mountains pose.
- Dune – Greig Fraser
- Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen
- The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner
- The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel
- West Side Story – Janusz Kamiński
Dune looks just spectacular. From the concrete-looking spaceships, the epic worlds, to the dust and lighting. Every scene could be a painting. There is a solid tone throughout, with no harsh lighting techniques like other movies in this category.
Nightmare Alley combines incredible production design with beautiful cinematography. The colours match those of their setting, from the colourful circus to dark corridors and seedy office environments. The locations each have their own distinct aesthetic.
Like the story, The Power of the Dog uses subtleness to its strength. There are muted colours set against a burdensome wilderness and striking contrast of the ominous mountains in the background.
The Tragedy of Macbeth has striking black & white cinematography, flooded with light and high contrast, set against an MC Escher-esque set design. Close-ups are treated with the same style, bouncing light around the actors' faces.
West Side Story is bright and colourful, although set against a dreary 1950s backdrop. Each scene oozes a meticulous craft and deliberate camera movement gives even more energy to the dance sequences.
Best Visual Effects
- Dune – Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer
- Free Guy – Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick
- No Time to Die – Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver
- Spider-Man: No Way Home – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick
Each of these movies has strengths in their visual effects, but they're all quite different. I am not sure which one is more deserving.
Dune, is an epic visually impressive sci-fi movie, with huge spaceships and planets. But because of the compelling screenplay, you forget you're watching so much CGI – which I guess is the point of good visual effects.
Free Guy is the opposite. It leans into the fake world, with over-the-top action, explosions and ungodly sequences. It's fun, especially the whole cross-over with Star Wars, Marvel and other pop-culture references that are blended together in a grin-inducing sequence.
The final outing in the current James Bond incantation sees Daniel Craig perform impressively action-filled set pieces in No Time to Die. The visual effects in this movie are far removed from the rest of the nominations. They are grounded in hyper-realistic physics that we understand.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not your run-of-the-mill grounded-in-reality Marvel movie. There are some impressive action sequences, but the fight sequences with the dragons in the climactic scenes are visually impressive.
Spider-Man: No Way Home feels like a standard superhero movie we've been seeing for the last decade. There are some fun web-swinging scenes, with the first battle with the electricity pylons and Doc Ock's tentacles the standout CGI.
Best International Feature Film
- Flee (Denmark)
- Drive My Car (Japan)
- The Hand of God (Italy)
- Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan)
- The Worst Person in the World (Norway)
Aside from Lunana, which I haven't seen, all the movies are good yet incredibly different.
The animated documentary Flee is the most visually impressive and deals with such turmoil and suffering in a caring and hopeful way.
Drive My Car is stripped-back, dense, poignant and full of grief. It's a long movie, but only really suffers in the last 20 minutes. Full of long conversations, it doesn't suffer from being stifling.
The Hand of God is a very Italian movie. Beautiful towns, beautiful people and beautiful cinematography. There are a lot of cultural-specific nuances, humour and drama. It changes focus halfway through and drags a little in the last act.
The Worst Person in the World is my favourite, a slice of youthful life, with incredible acting, drama and flourishes that make it wonderful to watch.
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