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Breaking down this year’s Oscar best picture nominations

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

It’s officially Oscar season!

Last week was quite an important one for movie lovers because on Feb. 8, the Academy of Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards. If you don’t follow film news or know much about what movie got nominated for what, I’m here to break down the Best Picture nominees and pepper in some of my own opinions along the way.

This year, there are 10 films nominated in the category of best picture.

1. “Belfast” directed by Kenneth Branagh

“Belfast” follows the story of a boy and his family living in Belfast, Ireland in the 1960s. The family’s lives are suddenly upended when the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants worsens to the point of violence. The film stars big Irish names like Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe (who delivered my favorite performance of the film), Judi Dench and more.

I’ve seen this film and I honestly thought it was just mediocre. Branagh usually directs adaptations of Shakespeare plays and novels of all sorts, so a film like “Belfast” is quite different for him. Being that Branagh was born in Belfast, I had assumed that this film would be far more personal and poignant than his other films, but this was revealed to be only partially true.

In my opinion, “Belfast” was not as compelling as I had hoped it would be and does not deserve the Oscar.

Video via @belfastmovie on Instagram.

2. “CODA” directed by Siân Heder

CODA is actually an acronym that stands for “child of deaf adults.” In this film, Ruby is the only hearing person in her family of deaf adults.

Her family runs a fishing boat, and her hearing makes her a very important part of the business. However, Ruby has dreams of going to college, something her parents cannot afford, and becoming a singer, something her parents cannot understand since they cannot gauge whether she has talent or not.

I saw this film a few months ago and I never would have predicted that it would have gotten nominated for best picture. “CODA” is for the most part a sometimes cliché, and a typical coming-of-age film. The only distinguishing trait this film has compared to other coming-of-age teen films are the performances given by the deaf actors who play Ruby’s family (Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant).

I’m glad that Troy Kotsur has gotten nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year, he really deserves it. This film was more moving to me than “Belfast,” however I still don’t believe it deserves the award for Best Picture.

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Apple TV, CODA via GIPHY

3. “Don’t Look Up” directed by Adam McKay

This film is a satire about an asteroid moving directly towards Earth and the United State’s response to the imminent global doom. Its cast is so ridiculously star-studded that it’s easy to feel like this film was made to be nominated. But does it really deserve to be?

Anyone who has seen this film knows that the answer to that question is no.

This film honestly became the biggest laughingstock of all the films that were released in 2021. Most people found its attempts to be ironic and “woke” extremely cringe-worthy.

Personally, I did not hate this film as much as other people did. I didn’t like it, but I definitely do not hate it. That being said, it does not come even close to deserving the Best Picture award this year and I was astonished that it was even nominated.

Video via @dontlookupfilm on Instagram.

4. “Drive My Car” directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

“Drive My Car” is a Japanese film based off Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. The film follows an actor and stage director Yūsuke Kafuku who decides to put on a production of “Uncle Vanya” in Hiroshima after his wife suddenly passes away.

I have actually not gotten the chance to see this film yet! It seems like a film I’d really enjoy, and I want to be able to give it my undivided attention for the entire two hour and 59-minute run time. I’ve heard great things from those who have seen it, hailing it as meditative and moving.

5. “Dune” directed by Denis Villeneuve

“Dune” is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name. It is a sci-fi epic that follows a young man named Paul Atreides and his family who have just mysteriously been sent to the planet Arrakis (aka Dune) where they encounter trouble at every turn.

I have seen this film three times— I love everything about it. I’m beyond excited for the second part to be released in the coming years.

Villeneuve is a genius when it comes to modern-day science fiction, and this is all coming from someone who dislikes science fiction. From the score to the cinematography to the performances, “Dune” is simply enthralling.

I would not be mad if “Dune” were to win Best Picture.

Video from @dunemovie on Instagram.

6. “King Richard” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

This film is about Venus and Serena Williams and the coach that helped them become tennis champions, their father Richard Williams. I didn’t think much of this film when it originally came out because I am not a huge fan of biopics, or films centered around real-life people.

I certainly did not expect for it to be nominated for Best Picture when it came out because I did not hear much buzz about it until now. Even now, I think “King Richard” is definitely a very, very unlikely underdog in the Best Picture race this year.

Video from @kingrichardfilm on Instagram.

7. “Licorice Pizza” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

This strangely titled PTA film is about a boy named Gary Valentine and a young woman named Alana Kane who grow up and fall in love in California in the 70s. The film has been a little controversial due to its portrayal of a relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman.

“Licorice Pizza” feels like a typical PTA storyline. It is long and winding, but it is enjoyable and sweet.

As for the age gap discourse, I truly don’t believe the film or filmmaker is glorifying the dysfunctional relationship. Hence the film being called “Licorice Pizza,” the pair go together like licorice and pizza (they don’t).

I would say I enjoyed this film and the fantastic debut performances of the two main leads, but not enough for me to root for it in the Best Picture race.

Video from @licoricepizza on Instagram.

8. “Nightmare Alley” directed by Guillermo Del Toro

“Nightmare Alley” is about a dangerous pairing of a carnival worker and a psychologist. Once again, the cast is stacked with big names like Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchette, Toni Colette and Rooney Mara.

It’s yet another film on the Oscar Best Pictures list that I have not seen! Similar to “King Richard,” I have a feeling that this is a very unlikely pick for Best Picture because it seems like a film one would enjoy and then not think about afterwards.

Despite thinking that it won’t win the award, I think it’ll be a film I enjoy when I finally get to it.

Video from @nightmarealleyfilm on Instagram

9. “The Power of the Dog” directed by Jane Campion

Here it is! My prediction for the winner of the 2022 Best Picture. Jane Campion’s adaptation of the novel by the same name is subtle and beautiful and moved me in ways I did not expect.

It tells the story of a rancher named Phil Burbank who wreaks havoc on his brother’s new wife and her son Peter. It is absolutely fascinating to watch Phil and Peter teeter around the brink of chaos.

The shifting of dynamics between the characters is masterfully written and performed by the cast (all four of whom have been nominated in the acting categories).

“The Power of the Dog” is the most nominated film of the year, and this is for a good reason. The reason is: the film is completely brilliant.

Video from @powerofthedogfilm on Instagram.

10. “West Side Story” directed by Steven Spielberg

Last, but not least we have Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” We all know what this one is about.

I haven’t seen this one either, but I have heard a lot of good things about certain aspects of the film (specifically camerawork and Rachel Zegler’s performance). There is no doubt in my mind that this film will be technically well-made.

It was shocking to me that the filmmakers decided to keep Ansel Elgort in the film even after he was accused of sexual assault. Elgort’s involvement and my personal grudge with Spielberg were two main reasons I haven’t made an effort to see this film yet. I’m sure I will as with every nominated film on this list, but I highly doubt that I will root for its victory in the Best Picture category.

Video from @westsidestorymovie on Instagram.

To conclude, I would summarize by saying that:

  • “The Power of the Dog” and “Dune” are my favorites of the bunch.
  • “Licorice Pizza” is good but not Best Picture worthy.
  • “CODA” and “Belfast” are mediocre at best.
  • “Don’t Look Up” being nominated makes no sense.
  • “Drive My Car” looks beautiful and “Nightmare Alley” looks good, but I haven’t seen them yet!
  • I haven’t seen “King Richard” or “West Side Story,” but I’m guessing that I won’t feel too strongly about either of them.

With all that being said, I hope you can take away some film suggestions from my takes on the Best Picture nominees. All will be revealed on March 27. Until then, happy movie watching!

Hello! My name is Annika and I'm a first-year English major who loves to write and watch movies.