Content Warning: This article includes references to Sexual Violence.
Listen, I get it. Who cares about the Oscars anymore? This year’s nominations saw several great pictures snubbed. Babylon (2022) and The Batman (2022) receiving little mention was sad to see, but the amount of acclaimed Black-led movies such as Nope (2022) and The Woman King (2022) that barely got acknowledged was downright egregious. With these omissions, previously low viewership ratings, and an overall sense of disdain for the Academy, the people have had it up to here with the award show. Yet, something compels me to tune into the train wreck every year. So, I figured I might as well make something useful out of it.
- Tár (2022)
Perhaps the article’s title is misleading. Did I “watch” Tár or did I barely make it through the first 40 minutes before closing my laptop out of boredom? I’ll let you decide whatever answer keeps you reading. Either way I didn’t catch Tár-fever the same way others did, which is a shame because the plot was right up my alley. A psychological drama about the downfall of a renowned perfectionist musician—I was on the edge of my seat the moment the trailer dropped. Too bad the movie couldn’t deliver that same feeling.
- All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
Okay, you caught me—I didn’t finish this one either. While the story of naive WWI soldiers gradually becoming hardened by the battlefield was engaging and the cold brutal cinematography made for fascinating shots, the film dragged far too long. Now I’m no film puritan, I believe you can make your movie whatever length you please. Just so long as you don’t have me snoring by the end.
- Triangle of Sadness (2022)
Another incomplete watch (last one I promise). Comedic characters and a chaotic cruise ship setting made for a perfect first half. But it was at the halfway mark that I could feel the plot slip away from the film’s grasp. It simply furthered my hot take that this and other recent movies of the “rich people bad” genre—see Glass Onion (2022), and The Menu (2022)—have turned the once-fresh satire a little stale as they no longer have anything further to say than that. Sorry, not everyone can be Parasite (2019), but that’s a topic for another article.
- Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
I never watched Top Gun (1986)—it was before my time. Plus the military propaganda of it all was certainly not my vibe. So, I was surprised to hear everyone’s rave reviews of the latest installment in the franchise, and even more surprised to have the same review upon watching it. There’s a certain kind of sincerity found in this movie, one that counteracts the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm seeped into most popular media of the 2010s. Maverick leaves me feeling nostalgic for things I never experienced. With recurring themes from the last movie served through a new slate of young characters, the movie connects past and present, all through the starpower of its leading man. The “charismatic but stubborn character that defies authority by proving himself time and time again” is so Tom Cruise, you can see why he’s the face of American movie stars. True representation for a country full of some of the most stubborn people ever. USA!
- Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
Here we have yet another big-franchise sequel that dropped decades later and proved to be miles better than the first movie. Just like the previous entry, ethical controversies of this franchise’s first movie resurface with the sequel. Several Indigenous activists spoke out against The Way of Water’s cultural appropriation and lack of involvement of Indigenous people, especially with the increase in Indigenous storytellers within Hollywood in the 13 years between the release of Avatar (2009) and the sequel. (My friends and I couldn’t hide our giggles of disbelief in the theater at this movie’s almost all-white cast). But while the former was an industry-redefining slog of a movie (to me), the latter at least improves on storytelling foundations laid by the former. Not only does the shift to an aquatic setting allow for more breathtaking visuals, the action’s high stakes and the heartfelt messages of family create an engaging well-rounded story. Another win for sincerity!
- Elvis (2022)
A 2 ½ hour mess of a movie with cartoon-ish villains, whiplash-inducing editing and overall sensory overload. And yet here it is at #5. Baz Luhrman, what can I say, you’ve charmed me. The Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge (2001) director is known for his unconventional style but it brings an energetic flair to his movies, one that is needed to make a film about Elvis. Before the movie’s release, I wondered what story it would tell: the “man, myth, legend” narrative? The hard fall from grace? The tale of an artist who owes everything to the Black musical influences he profited off of? The film shows a bit of each, all served with high levels of camp to remind viewers how little the movie—and the biopic genre as a whole—should be taken seriously.
- Women Talking (2022)
One of the least discussed movies of the award season, Women Talking is a relatively quiet film with so much to say. As viewers, we sit in on a difficult debate between women of a religious colony deciding their next move after the men that drugged and raped them have been exposed. With just an hour and 44 minutes, the movie masterfully uses the conversation to unfold the past, present, and possible futures of these women with nuance, using the simplicity of its one-room setting to deliver a sharp screenplay through even sharper performances.
- The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
“I just don’t like you no more.”
“But you liked me yesterday.”
“Oh, did I, yeah?”
“I thought you did.”
Right. Excuse me while I go bawl my eyes out. This dialogue comes from the start of a film that follows the sudden but complex end of a friendship between two men living in a remote island off the coast of Ireland. The film is brimming with symbolism about the Irish Civil War and explores these national matters on an extremely intimate level, with a close look at the human condition. Wikipedia describes it as a tragicomedy … sure, I laughed here and there, but the deeply unsettling, physically real ache of despair the film left in my chest leaves me inclined to pin it more on the tragic side. Who knew I could have so much in common with two fictional middle-aged men living in 1923 Ireland?
- Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
A film that needs no introduction! (But I’m going to give it anyway.) As pop culture began its foray into the multiverse at the end of the last decade (see MCU Phase 4, Rick and Morty, etc.), A24’s sci-fi adventure film burst onto the scene at the start of the new one with a fresh take on the concept. Led by global cinema titan Michelle Yeoh and featuring dynamic newcomer Stephanie Hsu in a supporting role, the movie starts off following an Asian American family through a tense morning. From there, the movie’s rollercoaster dive into just about everything possible leaves you awestruck. This may sit at #2 in terms of my enjoyment, but make no mistake. As one of the biggest shapers of 2022 pop culture, a massive moment for Asian American representation in Hollywood, and the most ambitious film on my list, this is the movie I’d most love to see win.
- The Fabelmans (2022)
I didn’t watch this expecting it to be my top Best Picture nominee. I didn’t even watch this expecting to like it. I pressed play on it during a school night, hoping it would help me fall asleep. But as the credits rolled and I stared at my reflection through the laptop screen, I knew this was #1 long before the idea to form this list even came to me. This semi-autobiographical Steven Spielberg film follows a young boy called Sammy who falls in love with the camera, using his filmmaking powers to understand the dysfunction around him. Sammy films integral moments of his life—from his humorous senior year field trip to the saddening split of his family. He makes casual references to the idea of a hypothetical movie he’ll eventually make about his life. But it’s a standout scene featuring a rant from Sammy’s uncle predicting the dissolution of his relationships due to his love for film that makes us realize the very movie we’re watching is the result of what little Sammy Fabelman would grow up to do. It’s heartbreakingly meta. The Fabelmans isn’t Spielberg putting on a self-aggrandizing showcase of his talent and the “magic of cinema” like some might assume. If you look deeper, it’s one of the figures that shaped the film industry taking an introspective look at the blinding pursuit of the perfect movie about his life and what it cost him in the end. Chills.
There may be much to complain about this Oscars season, but I have to say I’m impressed. The previous batch of Best Picture nominees was mostly unbearable to get through but I’d recommend just about every movie on this list. Objectively, there’s something for everyone, from fun mainstream blockbusters to solemn character-driven narratives. This has made for a fun awards season, with the general public showing more interest than in the past few years. So as we await the big night, join in on the fun and get yourself ready with this quick guide. Let’s tune into the train wreck together once again.
Join in on the fun with Halftime’s coverage of the show on Twitter @VoiceHalftime at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 12.