My Top 15 Films of the Year and Everything to Know About the 94th Academy Awards

Tonight, the year in film officially closes with the granddaddy of them all—the 94th Academy Awards. And now, the time is apt for me to share my thoughts on the past year in movies. During awards season, I usually spend a month or so blogging every few days. However, with a busy work schedule and an even busier time raising a two-year-old son (who turns three in 12 days—Happy Early Birthday, Paxton), my film blog has reached a new point in its evolution over the years. Today is my first post of the awards season, but I’m coming in hot with as much information as you’d possible need heading into the Oscars. Therefore, in advance of tonight’s 94th Academy Awards (which will honor the films released last year between March 1st and December 31st), I present to you: (1) my Top 15 Films of the Year; (2) my predictions for the biggest awards of the night (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor), including a discussion of the current betting odds in each of those categories; (3) a list of Oscar acting snubs and other noteworthy performances from 2021; (4) my personal ballot for all categories in which I have seen each film/performance (15 of the 23 total categories, with a total of 95 of the 120 nominees and 90% of the non-short nominees); and (5) a complete ranking of every film I saw from this year’s Oscars eligibility period.

This year’s Oscars is set to look quite a bit different than usual. One thing we haven’t seen since 2018 is a traditional host, but this year, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes will emcee the event, marking the first time the show has featured multiple hosts since that disastrous tag-team of Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011. I fully expect this year’s trio of hilarious women to absolutely kill it! Additionally, the live telecast is set to feature far less award categories than usual, a decision about which I am personally disappointed. Buckling under pressure from ABC executives, the Academy announced only 15 categories will be awarded during the live telecast—the other 8 will be presented by Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa off the air. A night celebrating the best in film is much more than just the sexy categories (e.g., acting, writing, and cinematography)—it’s also about recognizing the immense talent within the industry in short-film production, as well as vital technical artistry, such as film editing, sound, and production design. I hope this new format does not become the standard in years to come because it shortchanges both fans of cinema and those who work so hard behind the scenes to bring movies to life.

With that said, check out this post in greater detail below, and make sure to tune into the 94th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. Enjoy the show, film fans!

My Top 15 Films of the Year

No. 1 – The Worst Person in the World

Did I come into this past year in film with the general idea that my favorite movie would likely be a dark, Norwegian-language romantic dramedy? Nope. Is that exactly what ended up happening, though? Yep. This masterpiece of a film (directed and co-written by Joachim Trier) is a coming-of-age story about Julie, a young woman in Oslo trying to find herself as she approaches 30. The movie begins with a prologue, closes with an epilogue, and features a central narrative divided into 12 chapters (including “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo” and “Julie’s Narcissistic Circus”—the latter of which features the film’s wildest and craziest scene involving psychedelic mushrooms). It’s simply that kind of movie. The romance is relatable. The comedy is continuous. And the heart of the story is brilliant. It’s an absolute travesty lead actress Renate Reinsve (who won for Best Actress at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival) missed out on an Oscar nomination. Further, if any international film was going to land a Best Picture nomination this year, it most definitely should have been The Worst Person in the World over Drive My Car. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 2 – Candyman

Over the last few years, Jordan Peele has transformed from sketch-show funnyman to master of horror films with distinctive social commentary. And although his 2018 film Get Out likely set the standard in this arena, his greatest work is bringing this sequel to the 1992 film of the same name to fruition as a writer and producer, not a director. This film, directed by up-and-comer Nia DaCosta, is nearly perfect in every way. The cinematography is stunning (the opening credits sequence quickly became one of my favorites of all time), the acting is superb (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers one of the most haunting performances of the year), and the storytelling is remarkable (the greatest use of shadow puppetry in film history?!). Magnificent filmmaking. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 3 – Swan Song

If you’re in the mood for science-fiction, romance, and hard drama, look no further than Swan Song, a beautiful, thought-provoking film written and directed by Benjamin Cleary. The movie is about a terminally ill husband and father who considers switching places with a clone in order to save his wife and son from facing the life-shattering pain of his impending death. Mahershala Ali is clearly one of the greatest actors working in film today (as evidenced by his two Oscar wins), and in Swan Song, he turns in a dual performance for the ages, deftly portraying both the lead, Cameron Turner, and his clone, Jack. A good drama will make you cry, and without a doubt, Swan Song did its job with me. Streaming for free for subscribers to Apple TV+.

No. 4 – Encanto

I distinctly remember the colossal hold Frozen’s “Let It Go” had on kids across the world nearly a decade ago, but that sensation has now likely been eclipsed by five words—“We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Encanto, the latest production from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is a magical (literally) tale of family set in Colombia, and the film, which operates as an infectious musical, is enchanting. Encanto is more than just its music, though (although Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original tunes are, collectively, the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae)—it is a deeply gripping story of love, loss, and familial resolve. Moreover, the film stands as a shining beacon of cultural diversity—representation matters, and Disney delivers a beautiful love letter to Colombia. But back to that music. Although “Bruno” gets all the attention (it’s incredible, so I’m not complaining), the film features a number of other wonderful compositions, including “Surface Pressure” (my personal favorite) and “Dos Oruguitas” (which serves thematically as the heart and soul of the movie). Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+.

No. 5 – Dune

Every so often, the battery of Best Picture nominees includes a blockbuster film amongst the more prototypical artsy movies. This year, that blockbuster is Dune (although many film fans wish Spider-Man: No Way Home received the same adulation). In the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s famed science-fiction novel of the same name, visionary filmmaker Denis Villeneuve delivers a visually stunning experience—in fact, Dune is my favorite of all this year’s Best Picture nominees. The movie is epic in scale (it only covers half the book, with the second half to be dealt with in Dune: Part Two, to be released on October 20, 2023), and Villeneuve was the perfect vessel for this story, having previously directed Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. In some sense, Dune reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road, my second-favorite film of all time. Both movies are epic tales and examples of the masterful filmmaking balance between high-brow art and mass-appeal blockbuster. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.

No. 6 – The Harder They Fall

One of my new favorite westerns of all time is The Harder They Fall, an exquisite piece of original filmmaking by writer-director Jeymes Samuel (along with co-writer Boaz Yakin). When I think of this film, the first thing that will always come to mind is the opening sequence, which felt inspired by the opening scene in Inglourious Basterds. Had the movie kept up the energy from that opening scene (a tall task indeed, as that scene is perfect), this movie very well may have been my favorite of 2021. Led by an all-Black principal cast, this film is loosely based on real-life people in the American West during the 1800s. The movie is chock-full of unique style, gunslinging action, hard-hitting music, and immense acting prowess, including excellent performances from Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, Idris Elba, and Regina King. If you like westerns, this is a must-see. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

No. 7 – tick, tick…BOOM!

Although I’ve never personally watched Rent from start to finish, I know it is one of my wife’s favorite musical films. So, when I saw a new musical film was set to debut on Netflix about the life of the man behind Rent, I knew we had to watch. I am not really sure what I expected from this movie, but whatever those expectations were, this film exceeded them spectacularly. Tick, tick…BOOM!, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut, is based on the stage musical of the same name, which itself is an autobiographical story of budding Broadway composer Jonathan Larson’s life up to that point. The music is certainly Broadway, through and through, and the story (set in New York City in the early 1990s) pulls you in and emotionally wrecks you. I already can’t wait to watch (and sing along with) this one again. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.

No. 8 – Spider-Man: No Way Home

I’m going to start with a bold (yet maybe not that bold) statement: Spider-Man: No Way Home is Marvel’s best film yet. Yeah, I said it. I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Endgame, but I’m not certain any of those films has hit the mark more precisely than the third Tom Holland-led Spidey installment. I especially love the film’s introduction of a multiverse, which opens up immeasurable opportunities for future films. At a time when theater attendance is vastly dwindling (the COVID-19 pandemic sure didn’t do anything to help that), Spider-Man: No Way Home reinvigorated the industry, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year and the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time—it has made nearly $2 billion! Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms.

No. 9 – No Time to Die

No Time to Die is Daniel Craig’s final go-round as MI6 agent James Bond, and this iteration of 007 sure goes out in style. The previous four Craig-led installments in the Bond franchise haven’t necessarily been consistent—a couple were utterly incredible (Casino Royale and Skyfall), one was mehhh (Spectre), and one was downright dreadful (Quantum of Solace)—so I was a bit nervous about how this particular series would end. To my surprise, the Cary Joji Fukunaga-led movie was magnificent. For me, I now place No Time to Die right behind Skyfall for my favorite of the Craig films—it was that good! The film features a number of visually stunning set pieces (the trademark of any Bond movie), but it is the film’s emotional hook that truly drives No Time to Die to the finish line. Time to get out the gin and pour a Vesper in Daniel Craig’s honor. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 10 – The Green Knight

At the outset, I’ll say this about The Green Knight: It was definitely mismarketed. The publicity surrounding The Green Knight ahead of its summer 2021 release made it seem as though it was generally in the same vein as most summer action blockbusters. However, it was far from typical and definitely not action-packed, as the film’s pre-release promotion led on. All this means is that it is unsurprising that a lot of film audiences didn’t care for it. For me, it just means I had to adjust my expectations during the film. In the end, I still absolutely loved this adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a 14th century poem about a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. If you’ve seen A Ghost Story, you’ll know filmmaker David Lowery is far from conventional—this sentiment resonates in The Green Knight as well. The cinematography is exquisite and Lowery’s storytelling is distinctive and original. Not to mention, the acting is first-rate, led by Dev Patel in the lead role. Streaming for free for subscribers to Showtime.

No. 11 – The Suicide Squad

Let me set the scene…It is the summer of 2016. My most anticipated film of the year comes out. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its release for a year. Jared Leto as the Joker. Will Smith as Deadshot. And in the end…a steaming hot pile of garbage. I can’t possibly undersell just how awful and disappointing Suicide Squad turned out to be—it’s probably one of the most drastic examples from the past ten years of a film failing to meet expectations. And yet, I was still hyped for the sequel/re-brand, The Suicide Squad. Luckily, the newest version is downright amazing and one of the most fun movie-watching experiences I’ve had in recent years. Margot Robbie is the epitome of perfection once again as Harley Quinn (her third turn as the character), Idris Elba is lights out as Bloodsport, and John Cena nearly steals the show as Peacemaker, a role in which he also stars on HBO Max’s subsequent TV series, Peacemaker. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.

No. 12 – Zola

The setup for Zola is both simple and mesmerizing—the film is based in part on a viral 148-tweet thread posted on Twitter by Aziah “Zola” King in 2015, wherein she describes a wild and crazy road trip she took to Florida with a random stripper she met, featuring tales of murder, prostitution, and much more. Zola is a thrill ride from start to finish, and the film is held up by wonderful acting performances from Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, and Colman Domingo. Streaming for free for subscribers to Showtime.

No. 13 – A Quiet Place Part II

Despite my love for A Quiet Place, I admit I was initially skeptical about what new ground writer-director John Krasinski could cover in a sequel and whether a second installment could be as captivating as the original. By the time I finished the film, my concerns were firmly put to rest—Krasinski knocks this out of the park. Part II features immense levels of suspense, thrill, edge-of-your-seat nervousness, and it’s anchored by two stunning performances by Millicent Simmonds and Cillian Murphy. If you loved the first film, I assure you, the sequel lives up to every expectation. Streaming for free for subscribers to Paramount+.

No. 14 – Last Night in Soho

The latest film from Edgar Wright adds another eclectic installment to the English writer-director’s filmography. Wright has created comedic zombie and science-fiction films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End), a cult-classic romantic comedy (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and an ambitious action film (Baby Driver), and in Last Night in Soho, he gives us a psychological horror for the ages. Wright’s blend of 1960s and modern-day London is striking, and the wonderful performances by Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy certainly make the film worth the watch. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.

No. 15 – The Tragedy of Macbeth

Based on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this black-and-white film adaptation provides a breath of fresh air to its nearly 400-year-old source material, displaying a masterful mixture of style, minimalism, first-rate acting (Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles), and captivating photography. Oscar winner Joel Coen wrote and directed this movie, and it marks the first time one of the Coen brothers directed a film without any involvement by the other brother. It turns out, Joel kills it as a solo artist. Streaming for free for subscribers to Apple TV+.

Who Could, Should, and Will Take Home Film’s Biggest Awards

Best Picture

Who Could WinCODA or The Power of the Dog

This year’s award for Best Picture is truly a toss-up between two clear frontrunners (-120 odds for each)—the more feel-good, formulaic CODA and the more daring, artistic The Power of the Dog.

Who Should WinDune

As discussed above, my favorite of this year’s Best Picture nominees is Denis Villeneuve’s bold and adventurous adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel.

Who Will WinThe Power of the Dog

I am truthfully clueless as to which film’s name will be in the final envelope tonight, but my gut says it is legendary filmmaker Jane Campion’s cerebral drama set in Montana during the 1920s. The film is certainly the more audacious of the two frontrunners, and I hope the voters reward that cinematic bravery.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Who Could Win: Penélope Cruz

In recent days, the odds have steadily shortened for Penélope Cruz to strike an upset in the Best Actress category—she now sits at +300, the second-best odds among the nominees. The four-time Oscar nominee delivered a beautiful, heartbreaking performance in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers (Cruz’s seventh cinematic collaboration with the renowned Spanish filmmaker), and if she shocks the world by receiving her second Oscar tonight, it will have been much deserved.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain

As much as I loved the performances from Cruz and Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) this year, from the moment I watched The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it has always been Jessica Chastain for me. If you’ve followed this blog since its inception, you’ll know Chastain is one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood, and for me, an Academy Award for Chastain is beyond overdue. If I had a vote, Chastain would get it for her awe-inspiring turn as the late televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.

Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Despite the surge of attention Cruz is receiving ahead of the Academy Awards, I still think in the end, Chastain (a -150 favorite) comes out victorious. Cruz has yet to win a single major award for her performance in Parallel Mothers, while Chastain took home the hardware at both the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Who Could Win: Benedict Cumberbatch

Based on current success this awards cycle, nobody in this category appears to stand a chance against Will Smith. However, if any underdog is going to do it, it’ll be Benedict Cumberbatch for his performance as Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog. Presently, Cumberbatch is receiving odds of +500.

Who Should Win: Will Smith

So far this awards season, Will Smith has secured wins at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTAs for his performance as the real-life father of Venus and Serena Williams, Richard Williams, in King Richard. His trophy cabinet is full, but if I had a vote, he’d need to make room for one more.

Who Will Win: Will Smith

Will Smith has swept awards season with a vengeance. This performance in King Richard garnered Smith his third Academy Awards nomination in an acting category (he’s also nominated for Best Picture this year for his role as a producer for King Richard), and with frontrunner odds of -900, the Fresh Prince looks set to hoist the gold on film’s biggest night.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Who Could Win: Kirsten Dunst

Like the Best Actor category, the odds here do not favor a challenge to the favorite for the Oscar. However, in a universe where an upset takes place, my money would be on Kirsten Dunst to make that happen for her performance in The Power of the Dog—she is currently pulling odds of +600.

Who Should Win: Jessie Buckley

Although she likely stands no chance to actually win this year, my vote in this category would land undoubtedly on Jessie Buckley for her emotionally charged performance in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut, The Lost Daughter. As a whole, I didn’t find this film particularly captivating. Olivia Colman was stellar, per usual. But the story just didn’t make its mark with me. With that said, all of the film’s standout moments came courtesy of Buckley. It doesn’t matter that the film wasn’t one of the year’s best—her performance sure was.

Who Will Win: Ariana DeBose

After sweeping the season’s major awards in this category, Ariana DeBose is nearly certain to win the Oscar for her performance as Anita (a role made famous by co-star Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for the original 1961 film adaptation) in West Side Story—her odds currently sit at -1500. DeBose’s dominance in this category is not a fluke. Her performance is equal parts boisterous and crushing. A beautiful piece of acting.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Who Could Win: Kodi Smit-McPhee

As if The Power of the Dog didn’t have enough acting prowess with the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, the Best Supporting Actor category features nominations for both Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee for their respective roles in Jane Campion’s film. Of the two, Smit-McPhee was certainly the more impressive—if there is a surprise in this category (Smit-McPhee is currently getting the second-best odds at +450), it will be to the benefit of the 25-year-old Australian.

Who Should Win: Ciarán Hinds

He’s not going home with an Oscar tonight (+1600 odds for a win), but that doesn’t do anything to change how I feel about Ciarán Hinds’s performance in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a film set in Northern Ireland during the early days of The Troubles. For me, the 69-year-old Irish actor is the heartbeat of this movie—an utter masterclass in nuance.

Who Will Win: Troy Kotsur

As is the case in nearly every acting category (except Best Actress), the winner here appears to be a foregone conclusion, as deaf actor Troy Kotsur is currently getting -1000 odds to win the award. A Kotsur win is understandable, as he turned in a magnum opus of a performance in CODA, anchoring the film’s funniest and most heartbreaking scenes.

Snubs and Other Performances

If you think the nominees in the acting categories at the Academy Awards are always the five best from the previous year, you’re greatly mistaken. Each year, the Academy voters overlook a number of impressive performances. Here are my thoughts on some of the year’s best:

Lead Actress: The biggest snub in this category is Renate Reinsve, who delivered a revelatory performance as the lead in my favorite movie of the year, The Worst Person in the World—she absolutely deserved an Oscar nod this year. My other favorite lead actress performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Alana Haim in Licorice Pizza, Emilia Jones in CODA, Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho, Taylour Paige in Zola, Agathe Rousselle in Titane, and Millicent Simmonds in A Quiet Place Part II.

Lead Actor: One of the lasting memories I will have from 2021 in film is how in the world Mahershala Ali (a two-time Oscar nominee and winner) missed out on another nomination for his flawless dual performance in Swan Song—Ali proved again why he is one of the very best actors working today. My other favorite lead actor performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman, Nicolas Cage in Pig, Don Cheadle in No Sudden Move, Winston Duke in Nine Days, Frankie Faison in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Andrew Garfield in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jake Gyllenhaal in The Guilty, Jonathan Majors in The Harder They Fall, Dev Patel in The Green Knight, and Simon Rex in Red Rocket.

Supporting Actress: Aside from Mahershala Ali’s brilliance, Swan Song also features a beautiful performance from Naomie Harris (Ali’s Moonlight co-star), who depicts Poppy Turner (the wife of Ali’s Cameron Turner) with deft emotional skill. My other favorite supporting actress performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Caitríona Balfe in Belfast, Kathryn Hunter in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Riley Keough in Zola, Regina King in The Harder They Fall, and Milena Smit in Parallel Mothers.

Supporting Actor: Zola was one of my favorite films of 2021, and although Taylour Paige and Riley Keough were phenomenal, Colman Domingo stole the show—his depiction of the mysterious X was ruthlessly menacing. Domingo’s dynamite performance certainly deserved more love from the Academy voters. My other favorite supporting actor performances of 2021 were (alphabetically) Anders Danielsen Lie in The Worst Person in the World, Robin de Jesús in tick, tick…BOOM!, Mike Faist in West Side Story, Vincent Lindon in Titane, Cillian Murphy in A Quiet Place Part II, and Benedict Wong in Nine Days.

My Personal Ballot for the 94th Academy Awards

Best Picture

  1. Dune
  2. Belfast
  3. The Power of the Dog
  4. King Richard
  5. West Side Story
  6. Licorice Pizza
  7. CODA
  8. Don’t Look Up
  9. Nightmare Alley
  10. Drive My Car

Best Director

  1. Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
  2. Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
  3. Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
  4. Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
  5. Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  1. Will Smith – King Richard
  2. Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM!
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
  4. Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth
  5. Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  2. Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
  3. Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
  4. Kristen Stewart – Spencer
  5. Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  1. Ciarán Hinds – Belfast
  2. Troy Kotsur – CODA
  3. Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog
  4. Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog
  5. K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  1. Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter
  2. Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog
  3. Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
  4. Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
  5. Judi Dench – Belfast

Best Original Screenplay

  1. The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
  2. Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay (screenplay); McKay and David Sirota (story)
  3. Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
  4. King Richard – Zach Baylin
  5. Belfast – Kenneth Branagh

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion (based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage)
  2. Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth (based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert)
  3. CODA – Sian Heder (based on the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier)
  4. The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal (based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante)
  5. Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe (based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami)

Best Animated Feature

  1. Encanto
  2. Raya and the Last Dragon
  3. Flee
  4. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
  5. Luca

Best Original Score

  1. Dune – Hans Zimmer
  2. Encanto – Germaine Franco
  3. The Power of the Dog – Jonny Greenwood
  4. Parallel Mothers – Alberto Iglesias
  5. Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell

Best Sound

  1. Dune – Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, and Ron Bartlett
  2. No Time to Die – Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, and Mark Taylor
  3. West Side Story – Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy
  4. Belfast – Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
  5. The Power of the Dog – Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb

Best Production Design

  1. Dune – Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
  2. The Tragedy of Macbeth – Production Design: Stefan Dechant; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
  3. West Side Story – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo
  4. Nightmare Alley – Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
  5. The Power of the Dog – Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards

Best Cinematography

  1. Dune – Greig Fraser
  2. The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel
  3. West Side Story – Janusz Kaminski
  4. The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner
  5. Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen

Best Film Editing

  1. Dune – Joe Walker
  2. tick, tick…BOOM! – Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
  3. The Power of the Dog – Peter Sciberras
  4. Don’t Look Up – Hank Corwin
  5. King Richard – Pamela Martin

Best Visual Effects

  1. Dune – Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer
  2. Spider-Man: No Way Home – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, and Dan Sudick
  3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker, and Dan Oliver
  4. Free Guy – Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, and Dan Sudick
  5. No Time to Die – Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner, and Chris Corbould

Complete Ranking of All Films Seen from 2021

1 The Worst Person in the World
2 Candyman
3 Swan Song
4 Encanto
5 Dune
6 The Harder They Fall
7 tick, tick…BOOM!
8 Spider-Man: No Way Home
9 No Time to Die
10 The Green Knight
11 The Suicide Squad
12 Zola
13 A Quiet Place Part II
14 Last Night in Soho
15 The Tragedy of Macbeth
16 Belfast
17 The Power of the Dog
18 Shiva Baby
19 Raya and the Last Dragon
20 The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
21 Pig
22 Lamb
23 Attica
24 No Sudden Move
25 King Richard
26 Eternals
27 Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
28 Black Widow
29 Nine Days
30 Red Rocket
31 West Side Story
32 Flee
33 The Guilty
34 Licorice Pizza
35 Four Hours at the Capitol
36 The Eyes of Tammy Faye
37 CODA
38 Don’t Look Up
39 Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
40 Parallel Mothers
41 Those Who Wish Me Dead
42 The Last Duel
43 Val
44 The Mitchells vs. the Machines
45 Nightmare Alley
46 Reminiscence
47 Boss Level
48 Titane
49 Free Guy
50 Being the Ricardos
51 Stillwater
52 The Lost Daughter
53 Malignant
54 Worth
55 Drive My Car
56 Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In
57 False Positive
58 The Many Saints of Newark
59 Venom: Let There Be Carnage
60 Army of the Dead
61 Luca
62 Werewolves Within
63 The Killing of Two Lovers
64 The French Dispatch
65 The Humans
66 Spencer
67 PAW Patrol: The Movie
68 Coming 2 America
69 Space Jam: A New Legacy
70 Clifford the Big Red Dog

 

My Review of the 87th Academy Awards

 

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A15Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show. But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you. I really enjoyed the look of this year’s show. I could not get over the backdrop that the presenters walked out from to the stage. It looked like an old-school movie theater and included vintage-clothed ushers—it was awesome!! As I have stated in years past, the Academy Awards simply cannot continue lasting 3.5+ hours. By the time it finally gets to the final six awards or so (which are usually the ones people care about anyways), everyone in America is dead tired—yes, that includes me, the giant film fan! I did greatly enjoy Neil Patrick Harris as the host (as I suspected I would), and his vast experience as a showman paid large dividends to the quality of last night’s ceremony. However, his attempt at comedy did not live up to the “gold standard” that Ellen set last year (PLEASE BRING ELLEN BACK).

This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (Tie: The show’s opening number AND Julie Andrews)

A7As I predicted about a month ago, Neil Patrick Harris utilized his time during the traditional “monologue segment” to sing and dance—it did not disappoint. NPH performed a song called “Moving Pictures,” a fantastic ode to the movies over the years that spark an undeniable imagination in each of us as viewers of cinema (the song was penned by Robert Lopez and wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez—the couple took home the Oscar for Best Original Song last year for “Let It Go” from Frozen). The song poked some harmless fun at Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and included a fantastic cameo from Into the Woods star Anna Kendrick. One of the funniest parts of the musical number was Jack Black, rising from the crowd to the stage to perform hilariously cynical lyrics about the film industry, only to have Kendrick throw her Cinderella slipper at him for ruining the moment. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual joke-filled, completely oratory monologue.

A5Also, let’s give a round of applause for Julie Andrews. When it comes to musicals, Dame Julie Andrews is the best to ever do it! This year is the 50th Anniversary of the iconic film The Sound of Music, and Lady Gaga delivered one of the best musical performances of the night in her tribute to the film’s best songs. Julie Andrews (the star in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) long ago set the bar extremely high for what a musical performance on the silver screen should look and sound like. She is one of the greatest actresses in film history, and her presence (and validation of Gaga’s performance) was amazing.

Worst Moment: (Sean Penn’s “green card” comment)

A14Last night Sean Penn brought some actual racism to the show. When announcing the winner of the night’s biggest award (Best Picture), Penn preceded his reading of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name by stating, “Who gave this son-of-a-bitch his green card?” Although Penn and Iñárritu are friends (Penn acted in Iñárritu’s 2003 film 21 Grams) and Iñárritu later called the joke “hilarious,” it was a bit too much. Although some people knew of the two men’s history, most probably did not, and this makes for plenty of material for critics to blast the Oscars for racism.

Most Endearing Moment: (Tim McGraw’s performance)

A16Tim McGraw performed “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” the final song ever written by country-music legend Glen Campbell (the song was nominated for Best Original Song). Gwyneth Paltrow introduced McGraw by telling the story of Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell wrote the song to tell his family that the one silver lining to his bout with Alzheimer’s is that he will not be able to feel the pain of his loved ones. His family was in attendance, and McGraw delivered one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire night.

Most Boring Moment (Neil Patrick Harris’s Oscar-prediction gag)

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowAt the beginning of the show, NPH teased that he is amazing at predicting the Oscars. He then introduced a briefcase that had been locked and overlooked by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that tabulates the Oscar ballots. He picked out past Oscar winner Octavia Spencer from the crowd to “keep an eye” on the briefcase box during the show (which she awkwardly accepted to do), and every so often, NPH continued to discuss the locked box containing his predictions. At the end of the show, he had the box opened, revealed his predictions (which were 100% spot on about all of the night’s most memorable moments), and the crowd half-heartedly laughed along. Although it sort of had a funny ending, the gag went on way too long, and the ridiculously long ceremony should have cut that completely from the script—it was an utter waste of time.

The Most Awkward Moment: (The “Dress Covered in Balls” Lady and NPH’s subsequent, ill-timed joke)

A13When Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry were announced as winners in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category, I could not help but laugh. My amusement had nothing to do with the film but everything to do with Perry’s dress and star-struck demeanor. The two won for their documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, a film about a very serious, touchy subject. Perry, dressed in a black gown that was covered with giant black pom-poms, stood on stage gawking at the stars and awkwardly waving to them. I felt bad about my entertainment with her as she then announced that the film was special to her because her own son committed suicide. It then got noticeably serious in the room. That was until NPH returned to the stage and could not help but to poke fun at Perry, stating, “It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that.” Although Perry had just dropped the suicide bombshell on everyone, it was still ridiculously hilarious (which I admit I felt bad about, considering her revelation on stage). NPH’s double entendre was one of the best jokes of the night, but it sort of came at a less-than-opportune time.

Best Joke: (Poking fun at John Travolta’s infamous “Adele Dazeem” moment)

A17The best joke from the entire show was poking fun at John Travolta for his horribly memorable mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name (aka Elsa from Frozen) at last year’s ceremony. Neil Patrick Harris made a hilarious reference to Travolta’s mistake by stating that Benedict Cumberbatch is “the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.” I literally fell on the floor laughing. Then, as Idina Menzel came to the stage to announce the winner for Best Original Song, she brought out Travolta for a bit of playful revenge, introducing him as “Glom Gazingo.” Even though Travolta completely blew his chances for redemption (by weirdly stroking Menzel’s face and acting, well, like John Travolta), it was still the most hilarious moment of the night.

Worst Joke: (NPH’s A Million Ways to Die in the West reference)

A19While introducing Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as presenters, Neil Patrick Harris referred to the two actors’ film successes, while additionally stating his own: he mentioned that he is the guy that pooped in his hat in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Some people laughed, while others did not—I was a proud “did not” laugher. For me, the joke sucked because it forced me to remember that A Million Ways to Die in the West actual was a movie that was made and that I had personally wasted nearly two hours of my precious life watching it—terrible memories, for sure.

The Most Honest Dude in the Room: (Mat Kirkby—Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short)A11

During his acceptance speech for winning an Oscar for his live-action short The Phone Call, writer/director Mat Kirkby was hilariously honest about his giddiness for winning a coveted Academy Award. Kirkby, a native of Suffolk, UK, stated, “I’m particularly happy because this now means I can get a free doughnut at my local bakery, the Pump Street Bakery.” His funny, but honest speech is a reminder that not all of the Oscar winners are multimillionaire film stars—some of these “little guys” are simply happy to be there and revel in their victory in many ways. The name-drop, however, is sure to land Kirkby more donuts from his local bakery than even he expected. A12The owner of the British bakery was later quoted as saying, “I think an Oscar win deserves more than one free coffee or doughnut, so we’re definitely going to be giving him free doughnuts for good now, as a thank you for the mention.” Looks like Kirkby’s honesty earned him a deserved treat!

Best Acceptance Speech: (Paweł Pawlikowski—the director of Ida)

A4For the very first time in Academy Awards history, a Polish film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film; thus, writer and director Paweł Pawlikowski had plenty to be pumped about. He gave a heart-felt speech, that included genuine emotional sentiment and some comedy, and it was the product of a man that was sincerely appreciative of the award he was simultaneously hoisting on the big stage. It had all of the same elements that other great speeches over the course of the night contained, but for me, I was most impressed by Pawlikowski giving the greatest “F.U.” to the orchestra’s “play-off” music (although he did not do it whatsoever in a rude manner). I have long been a critic of the Academy’s direction to the orchestra to cut off speeches that it deems too long because in my opinion, these speeches are not the actual cause of the horrendous length of the ceremony—instead, it is the structure of the ceremony in general by the Academy. The orchestra tried to play Pawlikowski off of the stage, and after a while (when he had not stopped thanking people) they quit. Then, shortly after, the orchestra tried again, and it was only at that point that Pawlikowski finally wrapped up. Winners of these “not-so-significant” awards are never allotted much time anyways, and if the Academy is going to recognize these winners, it needs to show the same amount of respect for them that it does for winners of awards like Best Original Score and the like. Kudos, Pawlikowski.

Best Musical Performance: (The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome”)

A10You may not believe that The Lego Movie was the best movie of the year (and you would be correct). You also may not believe that it was the best animated feature of the year (which would be debatable, but that view is clearly warranted). But I will wholeheartedly disagree with anyone that believes The Lego Movie was not one of the five best animated movies from 2014—it absolutely was. Despite the snub, “Everything Is Awesome” was still nominated for Best Original Song, and the performance that accompanied this nomination was by far the highlight musical moment from the night. Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island both brought their respective A-games, and their performance brought an amazing “fun factor” to the traditionally buttoned-up Oscars ceremony. A6The performance included Questlove on the drums and a cameo by Will Arnett as Batman (his character in the film), and the Lego Oscars that were simultaneously handed out to various stars in the crowd added a perfect childlike flare. It was, pun clearly intended, AWESOME!

Worst Musical Performance: (Maroon 5 performing Begin Again’s “Lost Stars”)

A3I have seen Maroon 5 live in concert, so I have firsthand knowledge that lead singer Adam Levine is an impeccable performer outside of the studio. With that said, last night he sounded terrible. Now let’s be honest, I am not Simon Cowell—I simply do not know the technical intricacies of “singing.” But like most laypeople, I know when something sounds blatantly off-pitch and horrendous; unfortunately, that was Adam Levine last night. The performance was restrained and boring to start off with, and the dreadful vocal performance did not help its cause whatsoever. With amazing musical performances from the “Everything Is Awesome” collective, Jennifer Hudson, and Lady Gaga, Levine’s performance stands out—and NOT in a good way!

Best Actor

Best Actor NomineesAlthough you will likely recognize each and every Oscar nominee in the Best Actor category this year, four of the five nominees are receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. The only veteran to the prestigious ceremony: Bradley Cooper (receiving his third consecutive Oscar nomination this year). Despite the fact that Cooper was stellar in American Sniper, there are two other actors that will be duking it out on Oscar night, meaning the winner will be taking home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

RedmayneEddie Redmayne proved in 2014 that he is a rising star in the film business and will be a force for years to come—his breakout performance in The Theory of Everything (portraying Stephen Hawking) was absolutely captivating. Although the other nominated acting performances this year were brilliant and deserved of critical acclaim, nothing compares to the physical demands required of Redmayne for his portrayal of Hawking. With every passing moment after the character is first diagnosed with ALS, Redmayne handles the physical deterioration with meticulousness. The best way to explain the complexities of this performance and Redmayne’s superb acting comes from my post earlier this week about The Theory of Everything: “He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible.” Redmayne was incredible, and his performance in this movie will go down in film history as one of the most remarkable portrayals of a physically disabled character since Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (side note: Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his aforementioned performance—here’s hoping that Redmayne will join him in that elite fraternity). Redmayne has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

KeatonLeading up to the Oscar ceremony in two days, critics and experts have been torn in their Best Actor predictions between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton (it is considered the tightest race in all of the acting categories). Even though I am personally hoping for a Redmayne victory, there will be no disappointment from me if Keaton ends up taking home the coveted statue. Michael Keaton rediscovered his own personal acting career with a tour-de-force portrayal in Birdman of Riggan Thompson, a once-relevant film actor turned Broadway performer hoping to attain critical success again. If it were not for Redmayne’s incredible performance this past year, Keaton would blow the rest of the nominees out of the water—in most years, this performance wins an Oscar 99.9% of the time. Keaton depicted his character with outstanding dynamism, exuding a magnificent blend of serious drama and black comedy. He is miles away from his Batman days with this painstaking depiction, and I hope this newfound Keaton comes back in the near future with equally magnificent performances. Keaton has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

AMERICAN SNIPERBradley Cooper has established himself as the most decorated actor in the business in recent years (this is his third consecutive trip to the Academy Awards for an acting nomination), and although his performances in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) were unmistakably deserved, I would argue that his portrayal of the real-life Chris Kyle in American Sniper is the greatest of his career. In order to more accurately inhabit the late-Navy SEAL (the most lethal sniper in American military history), Cooper notably consumed 6,000 calories per day, while also lifting weights—his physique in the film is representatively colossal. Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation is only part of the noteworthiness of his role—he additionally delivers a rigorous, inspired performance as a brooding man with hidden vulnerabilities. Chris Kyle will forever live on as a legend in the hearts of America (except Michael Moore—but nobody cares about him anyways), and Cooper’s depiction of Kyle in American Sniper does the late-SEAL complete justice on the screen. Bradley Cooper has been previously nominated twice in acting categories at the Oscars: Best Actor (Silver Linings Playbook) and Best Supporting Actor (American Hustle). 

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

CarellIn Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays the real-life multimillionaire John du Pont, the heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune, who recruited US wrestling Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to train at his family’s Foxcatcher Farm. As the ill-fated story goes, du Pont murdered Dave Schultz in cold blood in 1996. If you have not seen this film, you really need to—it will not be the most amazing movie you ever see, but it is well worth it for the acting performances alone. Channing Tatum is astonishingly good, as is Mark Ruffalo; however, Steve Carell is the showstopper. The character of John du Pont is inexplicable, menacing, and gripping, but not in ways that make anyone feel physically intimidated by him—instead, he is just flat out creepy! Carell, the career funny man of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, is completely unrecognizable in this role (in fact, according to Entertainment Weekly, Carell spent five months with an Oscar-winning makeup designer to develop du Pont’s look prior to shooting). Carell wholly submerges himself into this complex dramatic role, and the result is one of the better performances I have ever seen—I almost wish this year’s category were weaker because Carell would surely take home the Oscar. Carell has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

CumberbatchIn the Best Picture-nominated film The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the real-life British cryptanalyst—Alan Turing—who led a team during World War II that cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma code. In my opinion, The Imitation Game as a whole is vastly overrated. Although I do contend that it is a good film, it is far from great. Part of my feeling that the movie is merely average is due to Cumberbatch’s performance. In parts of the film (specifically when the war is over and Turing is being punished—by chemical castration—for being gay), Cumberbatch boasts riveting acting abilities—in these scenes, the unearthing of Turing’s cold vulnerabilities is done so in an emotionally fueled manner. However, in the bulk of the film, which deals with the actual cracking of the Enigma code, I was not overly blown away by his performance—it did not leave me in awe whatsoever (i.e., it simply was not memorable to me). I do admit that Cumberbatch is a great actor (I was immensely impressed with him in 2013’s August: Osage County), but for me, his spot amongst the others in this category is more deserving for Jake Gyllenhaal, who I believe was gravelly snubbed by the Academy this year for his role in Nightcrawler. Cumberbatch has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actors snubbed in this category: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Jack O’Connell (Starred Up), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Tom Hardy (Locke), Brad Pitt (Fury), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).