With the conclusion of the Academy Awards this past Sunday, the 2022 film season is officially over. Now, to complete my own movie-watching journey from the past year, I present here a brief summary of my favorite films from 2022, along with a complete ranking of each movie I saw from the 2022 Oscars-eligibility period. See you next year!
My Top 15 Films of the Year
No. 1 –Aftersun
I will cut right to the chase on Aftersun—this is one of the greatest films I have ever had the pleasure to experience. The movie is one of the most unique coming-of-age stories I can recall, and writer/director Charlotte Wells delivers an unfathomable masterpiece in—get this—her debut feature film. Aftersun follows a father and daughter on a holiday in Turkey in the early 2000s, and it explores generational depression, grief, and the complexity of time and memories. This movie wrecked me in every possible way—during the final few scenes, I was sobbing. After I finished the movie, I emotionally paced around my living room for 30 minutes, processing what I’d just watched. No film had ever affected me like that. Until Aftersun. I imagine the fact I have a child and my own history with mental health issues contributed to my experience with this film. Oscar nominee Paul Mescal is fantastic, but newcomer Frankie Corio clearly stood out as the most impressive performance. The film also includes my favorite scene of the year (and one of my favorites of all time) in an emotional sequence, which features a deftly edited/remixed version of “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen—it is pure perfection. I have not stopped thinking about Aftersun since I first watched it. It will stick with me forever, which exemplifies the beauty of film. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.
No. 2 –Everything Everywhere All at Once
Had I not experienced such an intense emotional response to Aftersun, there is absolutely no doubt Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been my No. 1 film of the year—this is a perfect movie. For some reason, the “multiverse” is popping up in so many films in recent memory, especially Marvel properties (e.g., Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, etc.), but EEAAO is the single best example of what an exploration of multiple universes can be. This movie is fun. The editing is rapid-fire. The acting is phenomenal. But at its core, the most impressive part of EEAAO is its beautiful examination of generational trauma, depression, and identity. How is it that a movie which depicts a parallel universe wherein people have hot dogs for fingers can be so philosophical? How do you explain the emotional gravity of this movie when there is a scene (one of the film’s very best) depicting the characters as rocks? Writer/director team Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert somehow make it all work despite the absurdity. If you haven’t seen this movie yet and are wondering whether it is worth the hype (the film led the Oscars with eleven nominations and seven wins), I assure you it definitely is. Streaming for free for subscribers to Showtime.
No. 3 –Top Gun: Maverick
One of my dad’s favorite movies (if not his absolute favorite) is Top Gun. Thus, I grew up watching it a lot. Like so many other people, I really love that movie. However, I cannot help but admit I was worried about Maverickbecause legacy sequels are of such hit-or-miss quality. For every Creed or Blade Runner 2049, there’s an Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Mad Max Fury Road was in all ways flawless, yet Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was atrocious. (And let’s not even talk about Space Jam: A New Legacy.) In the end, Top Gun: Maverick excels in ways of which so many other films (legacy sequels or otherwise) could only dream. Is the story a bit gimmicky and unrealistic at times? Sure. But since film itself as an artform has evolved so much since 1986, Maverick benefits from the technical advancements in cameras and visual effects. This movie blows the original out of the sky. Streaming for free for subscribers to Paramount+.
No. 4 –All Quiet on the Western Front
I love debating which movie can call itself the greatest war film of all time. Over the years, in terms true depictions of the horrors of war, there have certainly been some serious contenders: The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Thin Red Line (1998), Downfall (Der Untergang) (2004), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Zero Dark Thirty (2008), Dunkirk (2017), and 1917 (2019). After this year, we can definitely add German-language film All Quiet on the Western Front—the second feature-length adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name—to that list. It is grueling and chaotic, yet it is masterfully crafted. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.
No. 5 –Pearl
In 2022, writer/director Ti West proved that despite the uptick of films produced in the newer “elevated horror” genre (which I love), there are still good-old-fashioned slasher movies out there, waiting to be made. In March, West released X, a slasher film about a group of aspiring porn stars in the 1970s in rural Texas, which featured Mia Goth in the leading role. I loved X. It was certainly one of my favorite movies of the year, just missing out on cracking my top 15. West then released a prequel film, Pearl (co-written by and starring Goth),a mere six months later. Although the two films are starkly different (X looks and feels like a ‘70s movie, while West stylizes Pearl to look and feel like 1918), Pearl is the superior picture. Not only is the character’s origin story compelling, but Mia Goth was sensational. I honestly cannot believe she wasn’t in contention for Best Actress awards this film season (although she did secure a nomination for Pearl at the Independent Spirit Awards). The highlight of the movie is a scene toward the end at a dinner table, which features a single shot of Goth delivering a chilling monologue to her character’s sister-in-law. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.
No. 6 –Babylon
While critics (and audiences) were sharply divided over Damien Chazelle’s latest feature (the film holds a critics score of 56% and audience score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes), I fell in love with it. Sure, at three hours and nine minutes, the runtime is certainly intimidating. However, this movie never oncefelt that long. Depicting the transition in Hollywood from silent films to the start of the “Golden Age” of sound films in the late 1920s, this movie is fast-paced, frenetic, and downright depraved. But it works. This movie is also hilarious—I laughed out loud many, many times. Clearly the film is not for everyone, but I do believe it is worth a shot for any film lover. Streaming for free for subscribers to Paramount+.
No. 7 –The Banshees of Inisherin
In 2008, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson collaborated with British-Irish director Marin McDonagh in the dark dramedy In Bruges, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Fourteen years later, the three joined forces again for the charming, yet tragic, dark dramedy The Banshees of Inisherin. The story is simple: The lifelong friendship of Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) is interrupted when Colm abruptly decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic. Farrell and Gleeson are phenomenal, sparring back and forth on screen like Ali and Frazier in Manila. Kerry Condon is also great in a supporting role, as is Barry Keoghan. This movie is fantastic and very funny in such subtle ways. I also cannot stop saying “fecking,” a delightful version of “fucking” in the characters’ thick Irish accents. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.
No. 8 –Cha Cha Real Smooth
If I could give an award to the most unexpectedly touching and purposefully funny movie of the year, I’d give it to Cha Cha Real Smooth without hesitation. Writer/director Cooper Raiff (who also stars as the aimless and awkward Andrew) is clearly a very talented young filmmaker (he just turned 26), and with this movie, he has added an essential entry to the romantic dramedy genre. I laughed repeatedly at Raiff’s quirky script, and yet I also cried during some surprisingly heartfelt scenes. This is such a great movie, and if you have an Apple TV+ subscription (I know you all do because everyone is watching Ted Lasso), do yourself a favor and watch it ASAP. Streaming for free for subscribers to Apple TV+.
No. 9 –Triangle of Sadness
I love when filmmakers satirize the 1%. Those folks are surely an easy target, but when done well, it is always a fun time. In Triangle of Sadness, Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund may have effectively perfected this subgenre of darkly comedic satire. This film won the Palme d’Or (the prestige award) at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason. The movie takes place in three distinct, yet related, parts, and each one is brilliant. I need someone I know to see this movie soon so I can chat about paying for meals, food poisoning, whistles, and donkeys. I also cannot stop saying “In den Wolken.” Enough with the inside jokes from the film—just go watch it! Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.
No. 10 –The Northman
One of my favorite movie-watching experiences last year was seeing Robert Eggers’s The Northman in the Dolby Cinema at AMC. An epic action tale of revenge set during the age of Vikings in Scandinavia, The Northman is marvelously surreal—I’ve really never seen a movie quite like this one. The cast is first-rate (I mean, when you put Alexander Skarsgård in a movie with Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, and Nicole Kidman, what else would you expect?), and Eggers’s precise direction and creation of such a grisly atmosphere are unmistakable. What an adventure! Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime Video.
No. 11 –Dinner in America
I really don’t know quite how to describe Dinner in America, but here is my best shot: It’s like if you re-made Napoleon Dynamite intoa filthy, R-rated punk-rock film. The movie is about an anarchist on the run who unexpectedly meets and befriends (in a very weird, unique way) an awkward (understatement of the century) young woman. It has all the quirk of Napoleon Dynamite and yet all the vulgarity of The Wolf of Wall Street. And in every way possible, this outlandish blend of genres works so well. The film originally premiered at Sundance in January of 2020, but, given the Covid-19 pandemic, it did not see a theatrical release until this past year. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.
No. 12 –Barbarian
Barbarian is such a wild ride, and I loved every minute of it. I cannot say too much about the film and its plot, as it is quite easy to accidentally reveal too much. What I can say is this movie was both exactly what I thought it might be and unlike anything I had ever anticipated it to be. It feels like three separate stories told respectively in each act, but all the while the film maintains an intriguing through line. If you like horror movies, this one is a must-see! Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.
No. 13 –Nope
Following Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), Jordan Peele unveiled Nope, the third film in which he directed, wrote, and produced. I loved Get Out, but Us didn’t quite land for me in the same way. Regardless, I was always going to see Nope, as the Mad TV and Key & Peele alum clearly maintains a knack for horror. Ultimately, Nopeexceeded my expectations. The cinematography was captivating, the production design was stunning, and the acting was stellar, especially Keke Palmer’s performance. Further, Nope featured one of my favorite scenes of the year—Gordy the chimpanzee stole the show. Streaming for free for subscribers to Peacock.
No. 14 –Watcher
In 2014, actress Maika Monroe had her breakthrough performance in It Follows, one of the best horror films of the past ten years—she was a revelation in that movie. Eight years later, Monroe delivered another brilliant performance in Watcher, an eerily deliberate psychological thriller about Julia, a young woman who relocates from the United States to Romania with her husband for his job, who constantly feels watched by a man across the street. Writer/director Chloe Okuno, in her feature film debut, crafts an incredibly chilling, anxiety-inducing tale. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.
No. 15 –The Fabelmans
One year after giving audiences an amazing West Side Story remake, Steven Spielberg delivered his most personal movie ever—The Fabelmans, which was loosely based on his own childhood. Each of these two films received seven Oscar nominations, including back-to-back Best Picture and Best Director nominations for Spielberg. Despite being over 50 years into his filmmaking career, Spielberg proves with The Fabelmans why he’s still got it! Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms
Complete Ranking of All Films Seen from 2022
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Top Gun: Maverick
All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)
In advance of tonight’s 95th Oscars (which will honor the films released in 2022), I present to you: (1) 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; (2) a list of Oscar acting snubs and other noteworthy performances from 2022; and (3) my personal ballot for all categories in which I have seen each film/performance (14 of the 23 total categories, with a total of 91 of the 120 nominees and 86.67% of the non-short nominees).
Rather than releasing the list of my favorite films from 2022 with this post, I will publish it separately this week. So be on the lookout for that post, which will provide reviews of my 15 favorite movies of the year and include a complete ranking of all 89 films I saw from this year’s Oscars eligibility period. With that said, check out this post in greater detail below, and make sure to tune into the 95th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. Enjoy the show, film fans!
Who Could, Should, and Will Take Home Film’s Biggest Awards
Who Could Win: All Quiet on the Western Front OR The Banshees of Inisherin OR Top Gun: Maverick
This year, the Best Picture category has a clear frontrunner: Everything Everywhere All at Once. However, if there’s a chance any film could score an upset, it is unclear which one would do it. All Quiet on the Western Front, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Top Gun: Maverick are all tied at +1400 for the second-best odds.
Who Should Win: Everything Everywhere All at Once
This is now one of my favorite movies of all time. Enough said.
Who Will Win: Everything Everywhere All at Once
At -1500 frontrunner odds, the Daniels have already secured this award at the British Academy Film Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards. A24 is hours away from securing its second Oscar win for Best Picture, after Moonlight won six years ago.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Who Could Win: Cate Blanchett
There is a clear two-horse race in this category, and either Michelle Yeoh or Cate Blanchett will take home the Academy Award. Blanchett won at the British Academy Film Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the Golden Globes (in the drama category). While Michelle Yeoh is a slight betting favorite, Blanchett is scoring +190 odds to win her third Oscar.
Who Should Win: Michelle Yeoh
This is simply a perfect movie, and one of its greatest strengths is its acting performances. The core in that department is Michelle Yeoh, who delivers one of the most exceptional performances of the year.
Who Will Win: Michelle Yeoh
I truly think this category could go either way, but in the end, with -275 betting odds, I’m taking Michelle Yeoh to land her first Oscar.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Who Could Win: Austin Butler
Another tight race this year is for Best Actor, where Brendan Fraser (-200) and Austin Butler (+150) will duke it out. Fraser is currently the frontrunner, but don’t count Butler out—his performance as Elvis Presley has already secured him awards at the British Academy Film Awards and the Golden Globe Awards (in the drama category).
Who Should Win: Colin Farrell
Although I really did enjoy both performances from Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser this year, if I had a vote, it would go to Colin Farrell for his stellar and profound work in The Banshees of Inisherin. Although Farrell won’t land the award (he’s currently getting third-best odds at +1400), he deserves it (in my opinion).
Who Will Win: Brendan Fraser
Talk about a comeback for the ages. Brendan Fraser was sublime in The Whale, and I really think the 54-year-old will leave the ceremony tonight with his first career Academy Award.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Who Could Win: Jamie Lee Curtis OR Angela Bassett OR Kerry Condon
The most wide-open race this year in an acting category is Best Supporting Actress, as there is no clear betting “favorite.” One of three performers will win out for the award—Jamie Lee Curtis (+120), Angela Bassett (+135), and Kerry Condon (+260). The actresses have split the awards this season, with Curtis winning at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Bassett taking home the prize at both the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globe Awards, and Condon landing a victory at the British Academy Film Awards.
Who Should Win: Stephanie Hsu
Despite the tight race among the top three in this category, my favorite performance came courtesy of 32-year-old performer Stephanie Hsu. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a beautifully wild tale of intergenerational trauma, and although Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are the most impressive actors in the film, Hsu is very, very close behind. At +2000 odds, Hsu won’t win tonight, but that shouldn’t diminish her shine in any way.
Who Will Win: Angela Bassett
Again, this category is a toss-up, but I think Angela Bassett ultimately wins.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Who Could Win: Barry Keoghan OR Brendan Gleeson
This category is all but locked up, but just for fun, the two supporting actors in The Banshees of Inisherin are getting the next-best odds at +1400. I loved this film, and I loved both performances immensely.
Who Should Win: Ke Huy Quan OR Barry Keoghan
I simply cannot decide who I’d vote for if given the chance this year. On the one hand, Ke Huy Quan is absolutely legendary in Everything Everywhere All at Once. On the other hand, Barry Keoghan is perfect in Banshees. Either of these two performers would make a worthy winner tonight.
Who Will Win: Ke Huy Quan
After tonight, Ke Huy Quan will be etched into the history books, no longer known simply for playing Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Data in 1985’s The Goonies. At -4000 frontrunner odds, the only major award Quan didn’t land was the BAFTA, which went to Keoghan.
Snubs and Other Performances
Last year, I said the following: “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.” That could not be truer this year. Here are my thoughts on some of the best performances of 2022, which should have landed an Oscar nomination:
Lead Actress: Not only did Mia Goth provide a wonderful performance in Ti West’s X this year, but she co-wrote and again starred in West’s prequel Pearl. In Pearl, Goth gives one of the single best performances from any actor in 2022. Further, I am stunned that Danielle Deadwyler was snubbed for her heart-wrenching performance in Till. My other favorite lead actress performances of 2022 were (alphabetically) Olivia Colman in Empire of Light, Rebecca Hall in Resurrection, Maika Monroe in Watcher, Florence Pugh in Don’t Worry Darling, Margot Robbie in Babylon, Taylor Russell in Bones and All, and Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.
Lead Actor: Despite the polarizing critic reviews, I loved Babylon, and although the film features stellar performances from Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jovan Adepo, and Jean Smart, the breakthrough role was Manuel, played by Diego Calva—he delivered a lights-out performance. Another under-appreciated performance this year was Jeremy Pope in The Inspection, wherein Pope played the role of Ellis French, a gay Black man who endures a brutal experience at a Marines boot camp—the film is based on writer/director Elegance Britton’s real-life experience, and Pope played it masterfully. My other favorite lead actor performances of 2022 were (alphabetically) Christian Bale in Amsterdam, Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, David Earl in Brian and Charles, Caleb Landry Jones in Nitram, Felix Kammerer in All Quiet on the Western Front, Cooper Raiff in Cha Cha Real Smooth, Adam Sandler in Hustle, Alexander Skarsgård in The Northman, and Sebastian Stan in Fresh.
Supporting Actress: I loved Jordan Peele’s newest film Nope this year, and the standout performer was Keke Palmer—she absolutely brought this film to life. Further, although I am glad Paul Mescal was nominated for Best Actor for Aftersun, the greatest performance in that film comes from the young breakthrough actress Frankie Corio. She was truly brilliant. My other favorite supporting actress performances of 2022 were (alphabetically) Jessie Buckley in Women Talking, Claire Foy in Women Talking, Thuso Mbedu in The Woman King, Sadie Sink in The Whale, and Jean Smart in Babylon.
Supporting Actor: Two actors who definitely deserved more awards love this year were Mark Rylance, who portrayed quite possibly the creepiest film character of 2022 in Bones and All, and Micheal Ward, who was a revelation in an otherwise average film Empire of Light. My other favorite supporting actor performances of 2022 were (alphabetically) Jovan Adepo in Babylon, Sean Harris in The Stranger, Rory Kinnear in Men, Daryl McCormack in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Pedro Pascal in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Brad Pitt in Babylon, Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse, Seth Rogen in The Fabelmans, and Ben Whishaw in Women Talking.
My Personal Ballot for the 95th Academy Awards
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Top Gun: Maverick
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Banshees of Inisherin
Triangle of Sadness
Avatar: The Way of Water
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin
Steven Spielberg – The Fabelmans
Ruben Östlund – Licorice Pizza
Todd Field – Tár
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Fraser – The Whale
Austin Butler – Elvis
Paul Mescal – Aftersun
Bill Nighy – Living
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Cate Blanchett – Tár
Ana de Armas – Blonde
Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans
Andrea Riseborough – To Leslie
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Barry Keoghan – The Banshees of Inisherin
Brendan Gleeson – The Banshees of Inisherin
Brian Tyree Henry – Causeway
Judd Hirsch – The Fabelmans
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Kerry Condon – The Banshees of Inisherin
Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All at Once
Hong Chau – The Whale
Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Best Original Screenplay
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
The Banshees of Inisherin – Martin McDonagh
Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
Tár – Todd Field
The Fabelmans – Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner
Best Adapted Screenplay
Top Gun: Maverick – Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay); Peter Craig and Justin Marks (story); based on the film Top Gun (1986) written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
Living – Kazuo Ishiguro; based on the original motion picture screenplay Ikiru (1952) by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
Women Talking – Sarah Polley; based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Miriam Toews
All Quiet on the Western Front – Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell; based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – Rian Johnson; based on characters created by Johnson and the film Knives Out (2019)
Best Original Score
Babylon – Justin Hurwitz
All Quiet on the Western Front – Volker Bertelmann
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Son Lux
The Fabelmans – John Williams
The Banshees of Inisherin – Carter Burwell
Top Gun: Maverick – Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon, and Mark Taylor
All Quiet on the Western Front – Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel, and Stefan Korte
The Batman – Stuart Wilson, William Files, Douglas Murray, and Andy Nelson
Avatar: The Way of Water – Julian Howarth, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Dick Bernstein, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, and Michael Hedges
Elvis – David Lee, Wayne Pashley, Andy Nelson, and Michael Keller
Best Production Design
Babylon – Production Design: Florencia Martin; Set Decoration: Anthony Carlino
All Quiet on the Western Front – Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck; Set Decoration: Ernestine Hipper
Elvis – Production Design: Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy; Set Decoration: Bev Dunn
Avatar: The Way of Water – Production Design: Dylan Cole and Ben Procter; Set Decoration: Vanessa Cole
The Fabelmans – Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Elvis – Mark Coulier, Jason Baird, and Aldo Signoretti
The Whale – Adrien Morot, Judy Chin, and Anne Marie Bradley
The Batman – Naomi Donne, Mike Marino, and Mike Fontaine
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Camille Friend and Joel Harlow
All Quiet on the Western Front – Heike Merker and Linda Eisenhamerová
Best Film Editing
Everything Everywhere All at Once – Paul Rogers
Top Gun: Maverick – Eddie Hamilton
The Banshees of Inisherin – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
Elvis – Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond
Tár – Monika Willi
Best Visual Effects
Avatar: The Way of Water – Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon, and Daniel Barrett
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Geoffrey Baumann, Craig Hammack, R. Christopher White, and Dan Sudick
Top Gun: Maverick – Ryan Tudhope, Seth Hill, Bryan Litson, and Scott R. Fisher
All Quiet on the Western Front – Frank Petzold, Viktor Müller, Markus Frank, and Kamil Jafar
The Batman – Dan Lemmon, Russell Earl, Anders Langlands, and Dominic Tuohy
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
Who Could Win: CODA 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 Win: Dune
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 Win: The 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
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Will Smith – King Richard
Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM!
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth
Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers
Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
Kristen Stewart – Spencer
Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Ciarán Hinds – Belfast
Troy Kotsur – CODA
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog
Jesse Plemons – The Power of the Dog
K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter
Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog
Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
Judi Dench – Belfast
Best Original Screenplay
The Worst Person in the World – Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier
Don’t Look Up – Adam McKay (screenplay); McKay and David Sirota (story)
Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson
King Richard – Zach Baylin
Belfast – Kenneth Branagh
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Power of the Dog – Jane Campion (based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage)
Dune – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth (based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert)
CODA – Sian Heder (based on the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier)
The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal (based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante)
Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe (based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami)
Best Animated Feature
Raya and the Last Dragon
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Best Original Score
Dune – Hans Zimmer
Encanto – Germaine Franco
The Power of the Dog – Jonny Greenwood
Parallel Mothers – Alberto Iglesias
Don’t Look Up – Nicholas Britell
Dune – Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, and Ron Bartlett
No Time to Die – Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, and Mark Taylor
West Side Story – Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy
Belfast – Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
The Power of the Dog – Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb
Best Production Design
Dune – Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
The Tragedy of Macbeth – Production Design: Stefan Dechant; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
West Side Story – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo
Nightmare Alley – Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
The Power of the Dog – Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards
Dune – Greig Fraser
The Tragedy of Macbeth – Bruno Delbonnel
West Side Story – Janusz Kaminski
The Power of the Dog – Ari Wegner
Nightmare Alley – Dan Laustsen
Best Film Editing
Dune – Joe Walker
tick, tick…BOOM! – Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
The Power of the Dog – Peter Sciberras
Don’t Look Up – Hank Corwin
King Richard – Pamela Martin
Best Visual Effects
Dune – Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer
Spider-Man: No Way Home – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, and Dan Sudick
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker, and Dan Oliver
Free Guy – Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, and Dan Sudick
No Time to Die – Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner, and Chris Corbould
Well, I am surely not the only person to use this pun to describe last night’s Academy Awards, but for a ceremony that primarily took place at Los Angeles Union Station, it certainly went off the rails at the end. This ceremony was never going to be perfect or look the way we’ve grown accustomed to as an audience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I could never have imagined just how crazy this year’s Oscars, which was for the most part fairly uneventful throughout, would end up. The show still had some great moments, hilarious parts, and inspirational speeches, albeit along with some very miscalculated bits—here’s my review of the 93rd Academy Awards.
It’s probably necessary to get to the show’s twist ending first. At every Oscars since 1948 (with the 1971 ceremony being the lone deviation), the Best Picture award has been announced last. Clearly, if you dig into Oscars history, you’ll find that most early ceremonies didn’t utilize this setup, but nearly every film fan, for the most part, has grown up watching the biggest award in world cinema deservedly announced last. This year, things got weird when Rita Moreno stepped onto the stage and started reading off nominees for Best Picture—I was quite confused, wondering if I had somehow blacked out for the two lead acting categories, rewinding my TV a bit to make sure. The nominees also looked a bit stunned by the reorganization of the show’s homestretch. At that point, it felt like the Oscars producers (which this year included previous Best Director winner Steven Soderbergh) mixed things up to deliberately set up a massive emotional climax for the night—Chadwick Boseman becoming the third actor to win a posthumous acting award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. My goodness, was that a mistake. The Academy famously doesn’t know the results of any category until the envelopes are opened during the live broadcast, as its longtime accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the ballots and keeps the results entirely confidential—that couldn’t have been clearer in light of how this show ended up.
After Renée Zellweger presented the Best Actress award to Nomadland’s Frances McDormand (a win which made her only the second woman to win three career Best Actress Oscars, behind only Katharine Hepburn who won four) last year’s Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix strutted out and, in trademark fashion, stumbled through an intro about acting. Eventually, after reading the nominees, Phoenix opened the envelope and the rest is history. Instead of Boseman winning the Oscar, the award went to legendary actor Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father, who, at the age of 83, became the oldest actor to win an Oscar. However, Anthony Hopkins didn’t show up this year, either in Los Angeles or at any satellite location (including London). Via Phoenix, the Academy accepted the award on Hopkins’s behalf, and then the camera cut back to in-house DJ Questlove, who thanked everyone for watching and ended the show. It was mind-boggling—truly the epitome of the term anticlimactic.
This year, I personally (and I recognize that it’s all subjective) had Riz Ahmed, Anthony Hopkins, and Steven Yeun ahead of Chadwick Boseman on my Best Actor rankings. Ahmed gave such a powerful performance in my favorite movie of the year (Sound of Metal), Hopkins delivered arguably the best performance of his career in The Father, behind only his Oscar-winning role in Silence of the Lambs, and Yeun was beautifully poignant in the wonderful Minari—although Boseman was certainly stunning in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I personally felt other performers in far-better movies were more deserving of being declared the year’s best actor. With that said, I was certainly on board and excited for Boseman to win this year—in his final film performance, while in the final stages of his cancer, he gave an impassioned portrayal of Levee Green, and the Oscar here would have felt like a fitting tribute to an incredibly talented actor who impacted the world in so many incredible ways through films like Black Panther and whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The betting odds heavily favored Boseman at -1667 and other than the BAFTA (which went to Hopkins), Boseman swept the other major pre-Oscars awards. The world certainly expected to see Boseman winning this award.
If you ventured to Twitter after the show, it was full of Oscars slander for Boseman’s surprise loss. And understandably so, as literally everything pointed to Boseman’s posthumous win. The Academy built the entire close of the show around the possibility for a heartwarming emotional high point based on an expected Boseman victory, and instead, we ended the show on an award without its winner anywhere to be found to deliver an acceptance speech. Steven Soderbergh and the producers gambled big on that setup…and ultimately, they lost big.
They build the entire show around a Chadwick Boseman ending and then Anthony Hopkins won and didn't show up
Aside from the Oscars’ twist ending, there were a number of other noteworthy moments from this year’s ceremony. First, last night was a major step in the right direction for the Academy as it works to overcome the infamous #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years ago and be more inclusive. This year’s class of nominees was the most diverse in Oscars history, and a number of historic moments followed. Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao became only the second woman (and first woman of color) to win the coveted Best Director award. Both the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress winners (Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung, respectively) were people of color. Emerald Fennell won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the first woman to do so since Diablo Cody won for Juno in 2008). And for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black women to ever win for Makeup and Hairstyling. It was a great night for inclusion and diversity.
Additionally, per usual, there were some great speeches, ranging from inspirational to hilarious. In particular, I enjoyed watching Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor for my favorite acting performance of the year in Judas and the Black Messiah, deliver a wonderful tribute to Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. (He also referenced his parents having sex, which turned out to be particularly hysterical as the camera then cut to a live shot of his mother, who was watching from the British Film Institute in London.) I was also nearly brought to tears listening to Thomas Vinterberg, who won Best International Film for his brilliant Another Round, dedicate the Oscar to his late daughter, Ida, who was supposed to appear in the film but died in a tragic traffic accident just days into production. On the lighter side, it was a joy to watch Youn Yuh-jung give her acceptance speech after winning Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing performance in Minari. Youn was just as adorably funny in real life as she was in Minari, especially as she gushed over her presenter, Brad Pitt.
Lastly, I couldn’t do a proper review of the show last night without mentioning the funniest moment of the evening. During the middle of the show, there was a musical bit where actor/comedian Lil Rel Howery picked actors in the audience to listen to past movie songs (played by Questlove) and guess whether those songs won an Oscar for Best Original Song, were just nominated in the category, or none of the above. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy this bit almost in its entirety—it was a bit choppy and didn’t land the way the producers probably thought it would. However, this “game” provided us with the night’s most gif-worthy moment—acting legend Glenn Close dancing to “Da Butt,” the song featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. I sure didn’t see that one coming, but it was very, very funny!
With the Oscars airing tonight, one of the wildest years in cinematic history is ending, which means my year-end film blogging is also winding up for the season. Despite the unusual nature of this past year’s film releases in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the year was still chock-full of amazing movies. It has particularly been a blast for me to write about this unique year of cinema these past couple of weeks and share those thoughts with you all. In advance of tonight’s 93rd Academy Awards, I have posted this recap. Below you will find (1) my predictions for the Best Picture category, including a discussion of the current betting odds, (2) my Top 10 Films of 2020, (3) my personal ballot for all categories in which I have seen each film/performance (14 of the 23 total categories, with a total of 89 of the 118 nominees), and (4) a complete ranking of every film I saw from this year’s Oscars eligibility period.
With that said, check out my recap and then make sure to tune into the 93rd Academy Awards tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST) on ABC, live from Los Angeles Union Station and the Dolby Theatre, along with a number of satellite sites around the world, including in New York City, London, and Paris. Enjoy the show, film fans.
Best Picture – Who Could, Should, and Will Take Home Film’s Biggest Award
Who Could Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
I liked Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, but I didn’t love it. For me, it was one of the two weakest Best Picture nominees this year. The betting odds, however, view the film quite favorably—the movie is presently getting +600 odds, the best of any challenger to Nomadland. I am personally a bit surprised by these odds, but it appears if there is the chance for an upset in the Best Picture category this year, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is likely the one to make it happen.
Who Should Win: Sound of Metal
As I described in great detail yesterday in my Top 10 post, Sound of Metal was my favorite movie of the year. If I had a vote for the biggest award of the night, this film would get it.
Who Will Win: Nomadland
So far this season, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland has swept the major awards in the Best Picture-equivalent categories, winning the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Movie Award, and British Academy Film Award. Currently, the film is getting -670 frontrunner odds. I definitely think when the biggest award is announced late tonight, Nomadland will be victorious.
Top 10 Films of 2020 (COVID Year)
Sound of Metal
Judas and the Black Messiah
The Invisible Man
The Vast of Night
The White Tiger
Promising Young Woman
I Care A Lot
My Personal Ballot for the 93rd Academy Awards
Sound of Metal
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
David Fincher – Mank
Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Steven Yeun – Minari
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Gary Oldman – Mank
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami…
Best Supporting Actress
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy
Best Original Screenplay
Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
Judas and the Black Messiah – Will Berson and Chaka King (screenplay); Berson, King, Keith Lucas, and Kenny Lucas (story)
Sound of Metal – Abraham Marder and Darius Marder (screenplay); Derek Cianfrance and D. Marder (story)
Minari – Lee Isaac Chung
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Father – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller (based on Zeller’s play of the same name)
The White Tiger – Ramin Bahrani (based on the novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, and Dan Swimer (screenplay); Baron Cohen, Nina Pedrad, Swimer (story); based on the character by Baron Cohen
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao, based on the book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
One Night in Miami… – Kemp Powers (based on his play of the same name)
Best Documentary Feature
My Octopus Teacher
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
The Mole Agent
Best Original Score
Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste
Minari – Emile Mosseri
Mank – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
News of the World – James Newton Howard
Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard
Sound of Metal – Jaime Baksht, Nicolas Becker, Philip Bladh, Carlos Cortés, and Michelle Couttolenc
Greyhound – Beau Borders, Michael Minkler, Warren Shaw, and David Wyman
Soul – Coya Elliot, Ren Klyce, and David Parker
Mank – Ren Klyce, Drew Kunin, Jeremy Molod, Nathan Nance, and David Parker
News of the World – William Miller, John Pritchett, Mike Prestwood Smith, and Oliver Tarney
Best Production Design
Tenet – Nathan Crawley (Production Design) and Kathy Lucas (Set Decoration)
Mank – Donald Graham Burt (Production Design) and Jan Pascale (Set Decoration)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Mark Ricker (Production Design) and Karen O’Hara and Diana Sroughton (Set Decoration)
News of the World – David Crank (Production Design) and Elizabeth Keenan (Set Decoration)
The Father – Peter Francis (Production Design) and Cathy Featherstone (Set Decoration)
Nomadland – Joshua James Richards
Judas and the Black Messiah – Sean Bobbitt
News of the World – Dariusz Wolski
Mank – Erik Messerschmidt
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Phedon Papamichael
Best Film Editing
Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
Promising Young Woman – Frédéric Thoraval
Nomadland – Chloé Zhao
The Father – Yorgos Lamprinos
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Alan Baumgarten
Complete Ranking of All Films Seen from 2020 (COVID Year)
Sound of Metal
Judas and the Black Messiah
The Invisible Man
The Vast of Night
The White Tiger
Promising Young Woman
I Care A Lot
Blow the Man Down
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
In advance of tomorrow’s 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, it is time to reveal my ten favorite films from the COVID year in cinema!
My Top 10 Films of 2020 (COVID Year)
No. 10 – I Care A Lot
The Netflix film I Care A Lot (written and directed by J Blakeson) is a very, very dark comedy, which follows Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a charismatic (yet incredibly brash) con artist who preys on elders in assisted living communities to steal their money and valuables. The movie’s plot takes off when Marla rips off the mother of a dangerous crime boss (Peter Dinklage). Although I Care A Lot has been fairly well received from critics (its critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 80%), it has received surprisingly negative reviews from audiences (its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 35%). One of the main criticisms I’ve read is the fact in this film, basically no character has any redeeming qualities. Most audiences want someone to root for, and I will definitely not shy away from the fact this film lacks that traditionally heroic (or at least ethical) character. But for me, that aspect of the film does nothing to change my opinion—this is a biting and ruthless story, told with an almost jolly tone, and I loved every minute of it. Rosamund Pike is stellar in the lead role, embodying Marla’s sociopathy in haunting fashion. Dinklage is also superb as the film’s more traditional “villain.” Additionally, I was in love with the film’s score—its electronic sound gives off serious Drive vibes. To put it plainly: I really loved this movie. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.
No. 9 – Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman, written and directed by Emerald Fennell (for all you fans of The Crown, Fennell plays Camilla Parker Bowles in seasons 3 and 4), tells the story of Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a modern-day femme fatale who, motivated by the rape of her best friend Nina, spends her nights pretending to be drunk at bars in an effort to attract morally corrupt men in order to ultimately confront those guys and hold them to account for their behavior. Eventually, Cassie directs her revenge at everybody connected to Nina’s rape, which is where the story takes off. Promising Young Woman is such a great film. Although its setup is fairly straightforward, Fennell keeps us guessing throughout the development of the plot, sending the audience on a weaving path full of unexpected twists and turns. A vital story for the times, Fennell deservedly earned Oscar nominations this year for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture—it’s great to see the Academy recognizing the immense contributions by a female filmmaker to the silver screen. From an acting standpoint, the film features a number of great cameos (e.g., Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, and Alfred Molina), as well as fantastic supporting performances from Laverne Cox and funnyman Bo Burnham. However, the movie truly thrives in no small part because of the amazing performance by Carey Mulligan in the leading role. As I pointed out when I reviewed Mulligan’s performance a few days ago, Cassie is an ice-cold character in a darkly comedic thriller, which is staggeringly different compared to the roles Mulligan traditionally plays in bona fide period pieces and hard dramas. Mulligan’s brilliant departure from her comfort zone led to stunning results, and it just may land her an Academy Award tomorrow night. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.
No. 8 – The White Tiger
The White Tiger, written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, is a film set in India that examines the country’s brutal caste system from the perspective of its lead character Balram (played by Adarsh Gourav), a young man with dreams of escaping poverty and living a life of luxury in the upper echelon of Indian society. This movie was one of the surprise hits of the film season for me—I really only heard about it following the announcement of its Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay last month. I am so glad I watched The White Tiger. Not only is the movie an important examination of India’s system of social stratification, but it’s also a wildly entertaining story. At the center of the tale is Balram, portrayed amazingly by breakout star Adarsh Gourav. Balram brims with ambition, and he carefully bides his time and strives to get his at all costs, even if it takes a long time to come to fruition—Gourav is wonderful in his portrayal. In addition to Gourav, Priyanka Chopra Jonas was remarkable as Pinky, the wife of Balram’s master. Although this is Balram’s story, Pinky plays an important role in inspiring Balram to break out from the shadows, and Chopra Jonas nearly steals every scene she is in—she was truly exquisite. I didn’t know what to expect from The White Tiger when I turned it on, but what I do know now is I was thoroughly entertained. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix.
No. 7 – Minari
Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas in the 1980s to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. Although the dialogue is prominently spoken in Korean, Minari is absolutely an authentic American tale of hopes, dreams, failures, successes, and, above all, perseverance and familial spirit. This film by filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung is beautiful, in every sense of the word—the scenic landscapes are striking and the overall heart of his story is inspiring. Other than Chung’s methodical filmmaking style and deliberate storytelling, the highlight of Minari (that truly makes it a must-see film) is the incredible acting. As the Yi family patriarch, South-Korean born Steven Yeun is first-rate in his thoughtful portrayal of Jacob’s commitment to providing for his family, flaws and all. Additionally, Han Ye-ri poignantly depicts Monica’s emotional struggles to balance her husband’s ambitions against her own happiness and the well-being of her family. Moreover, the young Alan Kim is adorable and charming as David, the youngest of the two Yi children. For me, though, the standout performance came courtesy of veteran South Korean actress, Youn Yuh-jung. Youn plays Soon-ja, Monica’s mother, who comes to stay with the family while Jacob and Monica work, and Youn excels fiercely as a foul-mouthed, blunt, and hilarious character, providing most of the film’s most sweet and funny moments. This is such an emotionally affecting movie, and it is quite deserving of its six Oscar nominations—here’s to hoping it takes home some gold tomorrow night (especially Youn for Best Supporting Actress)! Streaming available for rent on most major platforms (not yet available for digital purchase).
No. 6 – The Vast of Night
The Vast of Night is a science-fiction film by first-time director Andrew Patterson, which is set in New Mexico during the 1950s and follows two teens—Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), a DJ for the local radio station—who search for the potentially extraterrestrial source of a mysterious radio frequency. The Vast of Night has easily become one of my favorite sci-fi films, and yet, it was completely devoid of any expensive Spielberg-esque special effects or set pieces. This film is vastly different than your traditional alien flick in that it focuses almost exclusively on the characters and the mystery of its storyline, rather than on any larger-than-life depiction of extraterrestrial beings. Of course, Patterson had no choice, as this film was made with a budget of just $700,000. It feels almost impossible that a filmmaker could create a worthwhile modern science-fiction thriller on such a shoestring budget, but here, Patterson has done just that. He defied the odds and delivered an edge-of-your seat cinematic experience unlike many others in the genre. In addition to his captivating storyline, I was quite taken by Patterson’s filmmaking style. He utilized a long, fast-paced tracking shot in the opening scene, which gives the audience the lay of the land in this mid-century New Mexico town, and a brilliant long take of Fay frenetically working the switchboard. It’s incredible filmmaking, which makes it even more hard to believe this was Patterson’s debut. If you like sci-fi movies, this one is absolutely worth your time. Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime Video.
No. 5 – Palm Springs
Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakow, is a romantic comedy that follows Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), two guests at a wedding in Palm Springs who are stuck together in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. If you read that plot summary and watch the trailer, you’ll likely get vibes of Groundhog Day—but Palm Springs is so much more than that. This is a brilliant film, which strikes the perfect balance of comedy, romance, and drama, all without falling victim to the traditional clichés in similar genre flicks. We learn early on that Nyles has been stuck in this time loop for a very, very long time, while Sarah first enters the loop during the early part of the film. Nyles is resigned to simply not giving a fuck anymore, accepting the time loop is now his life and refusing to care what anyone thinks of him at the wedding. On the other hand, Sarah is a newbie to this time-warped situation and constantly seeks a way out, as if Nyles hasn’t already tried that. (There is a section in the middle of the film where Sarah creatively tries out a number of new ways to die, in hopes that it will break the loop, and it is one of the best and most hilarious sequences in the movie.) Barabkow and Siara have together made a movie that explores some very deep themes in such a charming, comedic, and heartfelt manner. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are wonderful together as the two leads, playing off each other entertainingly and demonstrating a beautiful chemistry, which lends to the film’s emotional hook. Palm Springs is the only out-and-out comedy on my Top 10 list, but it is more than deserving of its high ranking—a surprise hit! Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.
No. 4 – Tenet
Christopher Nolan’s newest movie Tenet follows The Protagonist (John David Washington), a secret agent who must undertake an incredibly risky and life-threatening assignment (which involves people and objects with inverted entropies moving backward through time) to prevent global annihilation. This past year, Tenet supplied me with one of my most memorable cinematic experiences. At the end of last summer, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I masked up, sat down in my local socially distanced AMC theater, and watched (in a near-empty screening room) the blockbuster I had been anticipating for a year in glorious IMAX—and for me personally, despite the criticisms it has received, Tenet lived up to the hype. Through his films, Christopher Nolan continually demonstrates why movie theaters are absolutely, unequivocally needed—at least for the traditional big-budget action movies. In Tenet, Nolan expertly delivers a product that is equal parts spy thriller, cerebral sci-fi flick, and gigantic action extravaganza—visually, it is truly a sight to behold. Some of the film’s highlights include an action-packed opening scene at a Ukrainian opera house that punches you in the mouth (setting the tone for what the audience is in for throughout the rest of the film), a wild bungee jump onto a high-rise in Mumbai, a set-piece involving a real Boeing 747, a mesmerizing car-chase spectacle, some fantastic fight scenes, and an immense battle sequence. Again, visually, no one is consistently better than Nolan. It is also worth mentioning that Ludwig Göransson, who won an Academy Award for Black Panther, composes the score, which is phenomenally pulsating and sets the perfect vibe for the movie. Critics and audiences have complained about a number of things in this film, most notably its sound—and these criticisms aren’t invalid, as there are some parts involving vital exposition that are hard to hear in light of Nolan’s (likely very intentional) sound mix. Ultimately, the film’s occasional flaws do nothing to bring its overall value down in my mind. This is by far one of my favorite Nolan movies (probably his best since Inception), and Tenet will always have a special hold over me personally for the experience it gave me during the COVID-19 pandemic. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.
No. 3 – The Invisible Man
Writer/director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man (the most recent film adaptation of the acclaimed 1897 H.G. Wells novel of the same name) follows Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), who leaves her life of luxury to escape from her abusive, gaslighting boyfriend, Adrian Griffin, a wealthy tech entrepreneur. Cecilia believes her nightmare might finally be over when it appears Adrian commits suicide, until a number of strange events occur, leading Cecilia to believe Adrian has created a technology which makes him invisible. I am a bit surprised myself to find this jump-scare filled horror film so high on my list this year, but it is simply a testament to just how good The Invisible Man is. My initial interest in this movie was the filmmaker behind its creation, Leigh Whannell. Just two years ago, my No. 7 favorite film of 2018 was Upgrade, a visually stimulating sci-fi horror action thriller written and directed by Whannell. From that moment on, it was abundantly clear the degree of skill this filmmaker possesses. Here, Whannell puts his experience and background in the genre to good work (Whannell previously penned the scripts for the first three installments of the Saw franchise and all four Insidious films, the last of which he also directed), creating one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Whannell builds up the suspense in The Invisible Man with perfect pace, and the pay-offs are worth it. In conjunction with Whannell, lead actress Elisabeth Moss delivers a performance that is nothing short of sensational. As I discussed a few days ago (when I argued for why Moss should have received an Oscar nomination for this role), Whannell’s rendition of Wells’s classic tale focuses heavily on abuse and the effects it can have on victims—Moss is the perfect vessel through which to tell that story, using her immense acting skill to portray her character’s fear and emotional exhaustion throughout the film. Cecilia is constantly living a nightmare, haunted by a man who simply cannot accept her leaving him, and Moss’s intense, yet meticulously subtle, portrayal of this dynamic is enrapturing. Between Moss’s incredible acting and Whannell’s spine-tingling filmmaking, The Invisible Man has secured a place in horror history. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.
No. 2 – Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah tells the true story of Fred Hampton (the titular Black Messiah, played by Daniel Kaluuya), the real-life chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was gunned down by law enforcement in 1969, and William “Bill” O’Neil (the titular Judas, played by Lakeith Stanfield), the criminal-turned-informant who infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party at the FBI’s behest. On the day Judas and the Black Messiah was released on HBO Max (for its 31-day streaming release in accordance with the HBO Max/Warner Bros. deal), I watched the film twice. And even after that, I routinely went back to it to relive some of its best scenes, as I just simply couldn’t get enough—it’s truly incredible filmmaking. This movie is so very important and should be required viewing as a remarkable depiction of the underlying racial, societal, and political forces which both brought Fred Hampton to prominence and resulted in his assassination by the Chicago police. This story, like so many others in the history of the African-American experience in this country, deserves to be told, and my hope is that folks without a good idea of who Fred Hampton was (or what the Black Panther Party at its core truly believed in) see this movie and gain a greater respect for these freedom fighters and the immense challenges they faced. Aside from the imperative story of the civil rights movement at the heart of the film, Judas and the Black Messiah should be used as a tool in every single acting class. As Fred Hampton, Daniel Kaluuya is electrifying. The film features a number of scenes depicting rallies and speeches, as Hampton was a commanding orator during the civil rights movement, and this is where Kaluuya succeeds the most (although he is also impressive in his character’s quieter, more intimate moments). The church speech alone makes this film one of my favorites of the year, as Kaluuya demonstrates a true embodiment of Hampton’s real-life role as a revolutionary—it is definitely one of my favorite scenes in movie history now. In addition to Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield is extraordinary as the controversial Bill O’Neil. This film is at its root a story about O’Neil (for which Stanfield should have been nominated for Best Actor, not Best Supporting Actor), and Stanfield was stunning in his nuanced portrayal of an incredibly complex figure—he delivers the performance of his career with unmistakable precision. Streaming available for rent on most major platforms (not yet available for digital purchase).
No. 1 – Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal, directed by Darius Marder and written by Darius and his brother Abraham Marder (who also composed the film’s score), tells the story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band, who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. The tagline for this film is, “Music was his world. Then silence revealed a new one.” This is a perfect description of the film because although Ruben’s hearing loss is set up early in the movie, the heart of Sound of Metal firmly resides in his experience learning to live with his new circumstances. Sound of Metal is an amazing movie and unique cinematic experience, saying so much in the film’s many moments of silence. The story and acting performances go hand in hand, as the performers masterfully breathe life into their characters and capture the audience’s emotions. At the center is one of my favorite acting performances in recent memory from Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Ruben’s arc is complex—he’s understandably overwhelmed by the sudden unrelenting silence in his life and spends the film fighting against addictive-like urges to seek out quick fixes to his circumstances—and Ahmed portrays the character masterfully in heartbreaking fashion. Ahmed delivers an absolute master class in acting. In addition to Ahmed, Paul Raci gives one of the year’s best supporting performances as Joe. As I pointed out a few days ago when I reviewed Raci’s performance, the actor is not deaf, but he has a deeply personal connection to the story, as he is a C.O.D.A. (i.e., child of deaf adults). This fact about Raci, in conjunction with his fluency in American Sign Language, provides an authentic context to the story, which results in Raci’s magnetic performance as the stoic, yet kindhearted, Joe. Had Daniel Kaluuya’s performance not existed this year, it’d be hard for me to accept anyone else taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor other than Raci. Overall, Sound of Metal is a beautiful and emotionally affecting movie, and it is the single best film I saw this past year. Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime Video.
Tomorrow, I will finally reveal the list of my ten favorite films from the past year. However, before we get to the Top 10, it is worth discussing the five films that just barely missed out on cracking that list—these films are stellar and deserve attention. Let’s go!
No. 15 – Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
In Birds of Prey, the eighth installment in the DC Extended Universe, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)—fresh from her breakup with Joker and now roaming Gotham without his protection—joins forces with a squad of badass women to take on the city’s criminal underworld, namely crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). In a world where the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists, the folks at DC Films have immensely underwhelmed (with very few exceptions) in an effort to compete in the modern comic-book film space. With that said, DC continues to strike absolute gold with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Robbie was the best (and maybe only decent) part of 2016’s Suicide Squad, and her return to this character is triumphant. (I can’t wait to see her embody the role for a third time this summer in The Suicide Squad.) Harley is a violent, foul-mouthed, badass superheroine, and Robbie brings the character to life with extravagant style and colorful passion. Ewan McGregor is also fantastic in this film as the egotistical antagonist, as are Harley’s titular Birds of Prey (played wonderfully by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Rosie Perez). Birds of Prey is definitely a fun, stylistic cinematic ride. Streaming for free for subscribers to HBO Max.
No. 14 – Soul
Soul, Pixar’s most recent release, tells the story of Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher in New York City with bigger dreams of becoming a professional jazz pianist. After Joe finally gets his chance to impress jazz legend Dorthea Williams (voiced by Angela Bassett) with his skills, Joe falls down a manhole, entering a queue of “souls” headed for the “Great Beyond” (i.e., the afterlife). Not ready to die yet, Joe navigates his soul to the “Great Before” (i.e., the beforelife), and with the help of 22 (a beforelife soul still looking for her “spark” of life, voiced by Tina Fey), Joe works to reunite his soul with his body on Earth. As you can see from the basic description of the film, Soul explores a number of heavy themes, but that is what attracts me to this movie so much. What sets Pixar apart from all other animation studios is both its willingness to explore complex adult themes and its thriving success in doing so. (Although here, I am still a bit uncertain how a more youthful audience can connect to this movie, as it is the adultiest of Pixar’s more adult films.) Like Coco before it, Soul centers around death and the afterlife, but taking it a step further, Soul also explores the idea of a beforelife (or pre-existence), which is truly magical to watch. Not only did I genuinely love and feel emotionally affected by the story itself, there are a number of other highlights. First, the voice acting was stellar—Jamie Foxx is great as Joe, Tina Fey is wonderful as 22, and Graham Norton was hilarious as one of my favorite characters, Moonwind. Second, the jazz music by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste is some of the best Pixar has ever done. Representation in movies (especially children’s films) matters, and I have really appreciated Pixar’s efforts to offer more diverse stories—the first Pixar film to feature an African-American lead is delightful. Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+.
No. 13 – Blow the Man Down
Written and directed by relative unknowns Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, Blow the Man Down (which is set in a fishing village off the coast of Maine and gets its title from the sea shanty of the same name) is a dark comedy that follows Mary Beth and Priscilla Connolly, two sisters who have just lost their mother. After an unfortunate set of circumstances results in Mary Beth killing a man, the sisters are forced to cover up the crime, which then opens up Pandora’s box to reveal more nefarious secrets about the town and its matriarchal figures. This movie was released right at the very beginning of lockdown, and it quickly became one of my favorites of the year. Morgan Saylor and Sophia Lowe were fantastic as the Connolly sisters, and the film also features wonderful supporting performances from acting vets like Margo Martindale (who is utterly fantastic as Enid, a local brothel owner), Annette O’Toole, June Squib, and Marceline Hugot. Blow the Man Down is equal parts thriller and black comedy, and these young filmmakers brilliantly blend the two genres to craft an entertaining story that catches your attention and doesn’t let go. Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime Video.
No. 12 – Nomadland
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (the presumptive favorite to win four Oscars this year, including both Best Picture and Best Director) tells the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who, following the death of her husband and the closing down of the manufacturing plant she used to work at in her hometown, makes the decision to sell most of her personal possessions, purchase a van, and essentially live a “nomad” life without any fixed residence, driving from city to city in search of odd jobs here and there to make enough money to survive. Nomadland is an incredibly beautiful story and a remarkably scenic film, with the veteran McDormand deftly portraying her character within the confines of Zhao’s picturesque backdrop. The film almost feels like a documentary in that Zhao utilized a number of non-actors (and real-life nomads) to fill out the cast and cinematographer Joshua James Richards’s camera moved with impulsive fluidly—it absolutely works here. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu.
No. 11 – The Climb
For me, the biggest surprise hit was The Climb, a film directed by Michael Angelo Covino and produced, written, and starring Covino and his real-life best friend Kyle Marvin. The film, divided into seven chapters (I’m Sorry, Let Go, Thanks, It’s Broken, Stop It, Grow Up, and Fine), follows the many ups and downs of lead characters Mike and Kyle’s relationship after a woman divides the two lifelong friends. This movie is hilarious, but not in any manner resembling slapstick or traditional comedy—it’s immensely dry, which fits these filmmakers’ personalities perfectly and adds to the movie’s overall charm. The funniest scene in the entire movie is a funeral speech in Chapter Two that does not disappoint. I also really enjoyed the cinematic style of The Climb, which features a number of continuous shots, including an 8-minute long take featuring the two leads riding bikes together to open the film. This is simply a delightful film. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms.
In today’s post, I will review the Best Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s go!
Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
Filmmaker Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band with his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke), who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Ruben’s hearing loss is set up in the first act of Sound of Metal, and thus, the bulk of the film is substantively focused on Ruben’s experience learning to live with his new circumstances. As I will get to in greater detail when I reveal my Top 10 Films of the Year this Saturday, Sound of Metalis an incredible cinematic experience, and Riz Ahmed is stunning as the movie’s protagonist. Ruben quickly becomes overwhelmed by the sudden and incessant silence associated with his deafness, which ultimately causes him to engage in addictive behaviors that Joe feels threaten Ruben’s sobriety—Ahmed skillfully plunges deep into this portrayal of Ruben’s complex journey to realizing deafness is not a handicap. It is a moving performance that at times will bring you to tears, and although the film as a whole is superb, Ahmed’s depiction of Ruben is the most vital ingredient—a truly impressive display of acting bravura.
Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
In his final film role before his death just 8 months ago, Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play of the same name. In the movie, which tells the story of a turbulent studio recording session with Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) and her band in 1920s Chicago, Levee is an ambitious, yet cocky and erratic, trumpet player who ultimately experiences an emotional collapse—Boseman is utterly exceptional, depicting this hot-tempered character with mesmerizing style and fiery flair. This is just the ninth time a performer has received an Academy Award nomination posthumously in an acting category, and only Peter Finch and Heath Ledger have previously won in those circumstances—based on the results at the other major film awards this season, Boseman is sure to become the third such winner.
Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
In Florian Zeller’s film The Father, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father (whose name is actually Anthony in the movie), an elderly man battling against the degeneration of his own mind at the hands of dementia. It goes without question that Anthony Hopkins is one the greatest actors of all time. This year’s Oscar nomination is the sixth of his career (and second consecutive nomination following his inclusion in the Best Supporting Actor category last year for The Two Popes), and in The Father, Hopkins delivers what is arguably his greatest acting performance, behind only his Academy Award-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins’s character in the film is snappy and petulant throughout, clearly struggling to come to grips with his condition. He quickly oscillates between moods, engages in unkind outbursts, and hurls a number of cutting comments at his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), and yet, he’s also such a sympathetic character. It’s understandable why Anthony is who he is, and Hopkins embodies this character masterfully, giving us a peek into the man’s heartbreaking circumstances. I got choked up a number of times during this movie, but never more so than when Hopkins brought the performance home with a crushing final scene. Anthony Hopkins epitomizes dramatic acting, and even in his early 80s, he’s still showing the industry how it’s done.
Gary Oldman (Mank)
David Fincher’s black-and-white biopic Mank (written by Fincher’s late father Jack, who passed away in 2003) tells the story of famed Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and his role in developing the screenplay for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, often credited as the greatest film in cinematic history. Mank is definitely a love letter to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and I had incredibly high hopes for it since Fincher directed it. Unfortunately, for me, the film underwhelmed altogether. Gary Oldman, a master of his craft, was obviously great in his role of the titular Mank, but I never felt while watching it like this was worthy of a surefire Oscar nod—certainly, I expected it to get a nomination, as the film is the prototypical Oscar bait, but I never felt blown away by his performance. Oldman’s spot among the nominees should have gone to more deserving actors this year.
Steven Yeun (Minari)
Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica Yi (played by Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. South-Korean born Steven Yeun, who is best known to audiences as Glenn from the AMC television series The Walking Dead, is stellar as the Yi family’s patriarch in this film, and I was incredibly excited to see him become the first Asian-American of Korean descent nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars. Despite Jacob’s painstaking commitment to achieving his piece of the “American dream,” the bullheaded character is also marred by stubborn imprudence. Yeun’s portrait of this complex character is first-rate and exquisitely captures the enduring spirit of an immigrant’s inspirational journey to achieve success for his family in America.
Snubs and Other Performances
Despite the year’s many wonderful acting performances from male leads, it was always going to be difficult snagging an Oscar nomination, as the field was certainly crowded. Other than the nominees, here are a few other performances that caught my eye during the past year in film. First, one of the surprise hits of the film season was The White Tiger, a film set in India that examines the country’s caste system from the perspective of its lead character Balram (played by Adarsh Gourav), who cleverly escapes poverty. Gourav was remarkable in his breakout starring role, and I hope to see much more of him in the future, as he’s proven to the world just how capable of a performer he is. Second, in addition to his blockbuster role as Vision in Marvel’s Disney+ television series Wandavision, Paul Bettany was equally extraordinary in Uncle Frank, a film set in the 1970s, which tells the story of the titular Frank, played by Bettany, a gay man living in New York City who, following the death of his father, must grapple with his past and his South Carolina-based family. Bettany turned in a beautiful performance as Uncle Frank, and although he hasn’t been nominated for too many major acting awards in his career, it’s hard to think he didn’t deserve more attention for this fantastic role. Additionally, Ben Affleck was superb in The Way Back as a former high school basketball star and alcoholic seeking redemption as the coach of his former team. In light of Affleck’s real-life issues with alcoholism, it’s clear this perspective for the role allowed him to uniquely portray the heartbreaking struggles of the addiction—Affleck delivered a great performance.
This year, I believe the biggest snub in any category was Delroy Lindo missing out on a nomination for his stellar performance in Da 5 Bloods. Spike Lee’s latest film tells the story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War who reunite to travel back to the Southeast-Asian country to both locate the remains of “Stormin’” Norman (their former squad leader, played by Chadwick Boseman, who died during the war) and to find a massive treasure the group hid during their time in Vietnam. Like most Spike Lee films, Da 5 Bloods explores a number of important themes, including the horrors of war, race relations, and redemption. At the center of the story is Lindo’s emotionally complex character Paul, a cynical Trump supporter whose hostile demeanor is shaped by tragedy and oppression. Lindo, who previously collaborated with Spike Lee on three films in the 1990s, is spectacular in his depiction of Paul. The character is tragic in every sense of the word, and Lindo delivers his performance with heart, passion, and above all, masterful skill. My tweet on the day the Oscar nominations were announced says it all.
With respect to the #OscarNoms, one of the biggest snubs for me is Delroy Lindo missing out on a Best Actor nomination for Da 5 Bloods. It truly was one of the most moving performances of the year. I would easily swap him with Gary Oldman in that category.
Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Father is clearly one of the best of his storied film career, and for that, if anyone is going to overcome Chadwick Boseman’s incredible frontrunner status to pull off an upset on Sunday night, it’ll like be Hopkins. Presently, Hopkins is getting +700 odds, the best of any challenger in the category.
Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed
My personal pick for Best Actor is probably the toughest call in any category, and despite my love for Anthony Hopkins in The Father, if I had a vote, it would go to Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed committed to his role in stunning fashion, spending a great deal of time learning American Sign Language and how to play the drums. His many hours of preparation were well worth it, as Ahmed turned in a perfect performance in a film that highlights a community not often depicted with regularity in film. Although Ahmed won’t win this year, he’d have my vote.
Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman
I simply cannot see anyone beating the late Chadwick Boseman at this year’s Oscars. The only major award Boseman hasn’t received for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the British Academy Film Award, which went to Anthony Hopkins, although it’s likely due to the fact The Father is a British film and Hopkins is one of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished performers. Currently getting frontrunner odds of -1600, Boseman is set to become just the third performer to posthumously win an Academy Award in an acting category.
In today’s post, I will review the Best Actress category, home of the most wide-open race at this year’s Academy Awards. Who will win is anybody’s guess, so let’s dive in for an analysis of the category.
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
Based on August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom follows the real-life Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis), a highly influential African-American blues singer in the 1920s. The film focuses on a tumultuous studio recording session with Ma Rainey and her band in Chicago. Viola Davis is one of the best and most talented actors currently working, and with her turn this year as Ma Rainey, she further demonstrates her impressive range, taking on a distinct physical transformation to play the brash blues legend. Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent Ma Rainey’s generally difficult demeanor with respect to her producers is shaped by her experience as an African-American woman in a world controlled by white men, and Davis depicts the character’s tough-nut-to-crack temperament with strident passion and exquisite flair.
Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday)
Set in the 1940s, Lee Daniels’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday follows the life and struggles of Billie Holiday, one of the most instrumental jazz singers in the history of music. In particular, the film focuses on the U.S. government’s racially motivated preoccupation with targeting and harassing Holiday. The government persecuted Holiday under the guise of drug-related offenses, but Daniels explores another motivation—stopping Holiday from performing “Strange Fruit,” her anti-lynching song, which became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Three-time Grammy Award-nominated singer Andra Day’s performance in this film’s leading role is absolutely stunning, made all the more startling by the fact it is only the third film credit of her career. (She previously played the role of “Minton’s Singer” in Marshall and voiced the character “Sweet Tea” in Cars 3.) Although the film as a whole had a number of flaws, Day’s take on Billie Holiday was surely not one of them—she was singularly the film’s dazzling high point. Day transformed into Holiday, delivering striking moments of passion and restrained moments of intimacy, and it deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination this year.
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
The setup for Pieces of a Woman is simple—a young couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), lose their baby during a home birth gone wrong, and they are left to grapple with the emotional toll of this tragic event, while also dealing with the stress of a legal case being pursued against the midwife who delivered the child. For me, it was impossible to watch Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman and not come away thinking, “Wow, that is what acting is all about.” The film’s storyline is, at its very core, crushing and heartbreaking, and Kirby delivers every single one of her character’s raw and painful emotions with devastating exactitude. It is a shame Kirby hasn’t been shown more love this awards season in what has turned out to be a wide-open Best Actress race. (She’s been nominated at a number of noteworthy award shows, but her only significant win was the Volpi Cup for Best Actress, the award given out at the Venice Film Festival.) The portrayal of Martha required Kirby to embody the essence of a shattered woman, consumed by inconceivable grief, while also to methodically demonstrate the character’s ultimate revival and enduring spirit to press on—Kirby checked these boxes off with apparent ease. It was an outstanding expression of pure acting prowess.
Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
In Nomadland, following the death of her husband and the closing down of the manufacturing plant in her hometown (at which she worked), Fern (played by Frances McDormand) makes the decision to sell most of her personal possessions, purchase a van, and essentially live a “nomad” life without any fixed residence, driving from city to city in search of odd jobs here and there to make enough money to survive. Make no mistake, the legendary Frances McDormand is, in accordance with every other role she’s ever played, wonderful in Nomadland. However, for me, if I was going to sneak in another performer who was snubbed this year (see discussion of such snubs below), McDormand would probably be the one to make way. Nomadland is definitely one of the best films this year (when I reveal my rankings in a few days, you will definitely hear more about it), but considering its beautiful story, cinematography, collective supporting performances, and near-documentary style of filmmaking, it’s a film where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts, including McDormand.
Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)
Although Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is full of unique and intriguing twists and turns, the setup is fairly straightforward: Cassie (played by Carey Mulligan), motivated by the rape of her best friend Nina, spends her nights pretending to be drunk at bars in an effort to attract morally corrupt men (who pass themselves off to her as “nice guys”) in order to ultimately confront those guys about their skeezy behavior and hold them accountable—Cassie is most definitely a modern-day femme fatale. Eventually, Cassie directs her mission to everybody connected to Nina’s rape, which is where the story takes off. Carey Mulligan is nothing short of amazing in this darkly comedic thriller, a bona fide departure from her trademark appearances in period pieces and hard dramas. Cassie is ice cold and vastly different than any character I’ve ever seen Mulligan depict, and if her entrancingly exceptional performance in Promising Young Woman is any indication, I hope we see Mulligan again in the near future taking on another complex modern figure—Mulligan is a first-rate pro!
Snubs and Other Performances
In addition to the nominees, this year supplied movie watchers with a number of other incredible acting performances from female leads who easily could have gotten Oscar nominations themselves—this category is just so unbelievably stacked. First, Jessie Buckley was hauntingly superb in Charlie Kaufman’s enigmatic psychological thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, nimbly navigating a cinematic maze of strange, surrealist ideas. Second, in a movie chock-full of first-rate acting performances, Han Ye-ri wonderfully delivered a quiet, yet poignant, depiction of a wife struggling to balance her own happiness against the dreams of her ambitious husband in Minari. Third, Rosamund Pike is enthralling in the Netflix dark comedy I Care A Lot as Marla Grayson, a charismatic (yet brash) con artist who preys on elders in assisted living communities to steal their money and valuables. I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities in this character to Amy Dunne (the character Pike played in 2014’s Gone Girl, which earned Pike her lone Oscar nomination), so it’s no wonder Pike knocked the performance out of the park. Additionally, one of my favorite acting performances this year came courtesy of breakout actress Bukky Bakray, who starred in Rocks, a British film about a teenage girl who must take care of not only herself, but also her little brother, after her mother abandons the family. Bakray, just a teenager herself, gave a beautiful, gut-wrenching portrayal of the film’s lead, which earned her a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress and a win for the BAFTA Rising Star Award.
Although these performances above were certainly stellar, there was one this year that stood out to me as a performance that absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination (and yet got snubbed): Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist, Cecilia Kass, in Leigh Whannell’s rendition of The Invisible Man. Whannell’s version of this classic tale focuses heavily on abuse and the effects it can have on victims, and Moss was nothing short of astounding in her portrayal of this character. Her performance is incredibly intense at moments, while also meticulously subtle at others. With every apprehensive glance, with every hurried breath, Moss skillfully portrays her character’s fear and emotional exhaustion with fastidiousness. Ultimately, Cecilia gets her revenge, in the most badass way possible, and Moss executes the whole operation to perfection. For years, dating back to Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss has been a critically acclaimed staple of television—this year, Moss deserved an Academy Award nod for her silver-screen talents.
Who Could Win: Viola Davis or Frances McDormand
This year, the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards is by far the most competitive of any other acting category. So far, a different woman has won the Golden Globe Award (Andra Day), Critics’ Choice Movie Award (Carey Mulligan), Screen Actors Guild Award (Viola Davis), and British Academy Film Award (Frances McDormand) for Best Actress. Carey Mulligan is getting slightly better odds than the rest of the field, and of the three other Best Actress award winners this season, Viola Davis and Frances McDormand stand the best chance to pull off an “upset.” (In light of how tight this race is, nothing will actually be an upset this year.) McDormand is currently getting +400 odds, while Davis is getting a stunning +200 odds, which is insanely close to what Mulligan is receiving. I wouldn’t be surprised if either Davis or McDormand took home the Oscar on Sunday.
Who Should Win: Vanessa Kirby
I truly enjoyed each performance nominated in this category, but for me, the most emotionally affecting of the year—Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman—deserves the Oscar. It is a beautifully soul-crushing portrayal of a first-time mother struck by tragedy, and Kirby would have my vote, full stop, if I had one to give.
Who Will Win: Carey Mulligan
As I alluded to above, this category is going to come down to the wire. Carey Mulligan, this year’s winner at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, is currently getting the best betting odds to take home the gold at +125. Although not really a frontrunner due to the razor-thin margin between the nominees, my educated guess is Mulligan takes home the Oscar. Promising Young Woman is a vital, timely piece of cinema, and Mulligan is its standpoint star. Prior to this year’s nominations, Davis and McDormand accounted for a combined 8 Oscar nominations and 3 wins—this is only Mulligan’s second nomination ever, and I think the Academy will welcome her into the winner’s circle.
In today’s post, I will review the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!
Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)
In Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, which tells the true story of a group of anti-war activists standing trial for allegedly inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the outspoken Flower Power leader who co-founded the “Yippies” (i.e., the Youth International Party). Baron Cohen is exhilarating as Abbie Hoffman, and his overall fit as a performer for this role is embodied in this quote by Baron Cohen on playing Hoffman: “There’s the public persona of Abbie where he’s trying to inspire people and then there’s the private Abbie. So there’s a balance between the clown and the intellect.” Baron Cohen strikes gold in portraying this dichotomic nature of Hoffman, using his trademark funnyman skills to perfection, while also emoting the superb dramatic elements of the character. In a year where Baron Cohen dominated entertainment headlines for his Borat sequel, his true prowess as an actor was most exemplified by his turn as Abbie Hoffman.
Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)
In Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya portrays Fred Hampton, the real-life chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, who was gunned down by law enforcement in 1969. This film should be required viewing as a remarkable depiction of the underlying racial, societal, and political forces which both brought Fred Hampton to prominence and resulted in his assassination by the Chicago police. And aside from the film as a whole, Judas and the Black Messiah is a must-see for Kaluuya’s awe-inspiring performance. As Fred Hampton, Kaluuya is electrifying. Hampton was clearly a gripping public speaker, and Kaluuya shines the most in the scenes depicting rallies and speeches. The film’s signature scene takes places in a church following Hampton’s release from prison, wherein Hampton delivers an iconic movie speech to his many supporters. It’s single-handedly one of my favorite scenes in movie history, and Kaluuya is front and center. During that speech, Kaluuya masterfully embodies the true essence of Fred Hampton’s vital role as a revolutionary. It’s some of the greatest acting I have ever seen, which only adds to Kaluuya’s other impressive moments in the film’s quieter, more intimate scenes. This year, there simply was not a better supporting performance by an actor than Daniel Kaluuya as the one-of-a-kind Black Panther leader.
Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…)
Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami…, written by Kemp Powers and based on his 2013 stage play of the same name, gives a fictionalized version of a meeting between civil rights icons Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (played Eli Goree), Jim Brown (played by Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) at a motel in Miami, Florida, following Ali’s title-winning fight against Sonny Liston in 1964. I was personally impressed by each of the four central actors’ performances in this movie, but as the Academy and numerous other award shows have noted via their nominations, Leslie Odom Jr. clearly stands out as the best. Odom Jr. first became a household name a few years ago due to his transfixing performance as Aaron Burr in the critically acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, but in One Night in Miami…, he demonstrates why he’s a true force to be reckoned with on the silver screen. In this film, Odom Jr.’s transformation into Sam Cooke is exquisite, and his acting skills are most on display in the scenes debating and arguing with Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X about the strategic ins and outs of the civil rights movement. (Not to mention Odom Jr. utilizes his award-winning vocal skills in a beautiful performance of Cooke’s famed “A Change Is Gonna Come” toward the end of the film.) Leslie Odom Jr. put on a show as Sam Cooke, and for that, he received a deserved first Oscar nomination. (Odom Jr. is actually nominated twice this year, as he also received an Oscar nod for Best Original Song for co-writing “Speak Now” from the same film.)
Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)
Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band, who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. If it weren’t for Daniel Kaluuya’s justified domination in the Best Supporting Actor category this awards season, I would heavily campaign for Raci to take home all the wins. His acting in Sound of Metal is incredible as he deftly portrays Joe as an unflappable, yet compassionate figure. A performer with over 30 years of acting experience, Raci’s breakout role was a match made in heaven—although Raci isn’t deaf, he is a C.O.D.A. (i.e., child of deaf adults) and is fluent in American Sign Language. This deeply personal context for Raci’s portrayal of Joe only adds to the magnetism of his performance and the authenticity of the film overall. One of the most emotional scenes in the entire movie (a heartbreaking conversation late in the film between Joe and Ruben at a kitchen table) provided Raci his Oscar moment. I couldn’t be more excited to see the Academy bestow this much-deserved nomination on Paul Raci.
Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)
In Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield plays William “Bill” O’Neil (i.e., the titular Judas), the criminal-turned-informant who infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for the FBI. I am beyond frustrated by Stanfield’s nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. It’s not because Stanfield didn’t give us an Oscar-worthy performance—he delivered in this movie some of the year’s best acting, period. Rather, my annoyance resides in the fact every movie has to have a lead, and in this film, it is Stanfield. This is his character’s story. Expectantly, the Judas and the Black Messiah folks campaigned for Stanfield in the Best Actor category (while Kaluuya received support in the Best Supporting Actor category). But apparently Stanfield received more votes from Academy voters in this category, so here we are. Regardless, Stanfield is magnificent as the controversial Bill O’Neil. The character is clearly the film’s antagonist, and yet, it’s clear O’Neil is a complex figure, progressively more tortured by his informant role as time goes by and the stakes get higher. Stanfield walks his character’s moral tightrope between good and bad, right and wrong, with absolute precision. As an audience, it’s easy to be frustrated with O’Neil one moment, while feeling great empathy for him in the next—and it is Stanfield’s expertly nuanced portrayal that makes people care about the character.
Snubs and Other Performances
Other than the Oscar-nominated actors discussed above, this past year featured a number of other noteworthy acting performances from performers in supporting roles. First, the always-impressive Barry Keoghan is fascinating in The Shadow of Violence (titled Calm with Horses outside of the United States) as Dymphna, a member of an Irish family of drug dealers who puts up the front of a tough guy, while truly being a more scared, vulnerable character—the actor plays boss/sidekick to the film’s true hardman lead, played by Cosmo Jarvis, and Keoghan again shows why he is one of the best young actors in the world. Second, in the unfortunately average The Little Things, Jared Leto is definitely one of the best parts in his portrayal of Albert Sparma, an enigmatic man suspected of multiple murders. Even if the film underwhelmed, Leto was great, truly sinking into his character. Additionally, in Minari, aside from the other outstanding performances, a couple of which garnered Oscar nominations, Alan Kim was delightful as David Yi, highlighted by his bantering scenes with his grandmother, played by Youn Yuh-jung. Kim is currently 8 years old, and we are sure to see more of him very soon.
However, the one performance I expected to receive an Oscar nomination which didn’t was veteran of comedy Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s Apple TV+ film On the Rocks. Murray and Coppola previous collaborated in 2003’s Lost in Translation, for which Murray received his first Academy Award nomination, and in On the Rocks, Murray is clearly back to his best. Murray plays Felix Keane, the father of Rashida Jones’s character Laura Keane. When Laura experiences some strain in her marriage, suspecting her husband of cheating, she taps Felix for help. Laura clearly gets more than she bargained for, as Felix immediately inserts himself way too far into Laura’s life. The key to Murray’s brilliance in On the Rocks is how Felix interferes with Laura’s personal life in an incredibly charismatic way. This relationship between father and daughter is clearly dynamic, and you cannot help but love Felix, despite all his flaws. And for me, that was all Bill Murray. He’s perfect in this role, almost as if he was made to play the part. And for that, I really wish he could have been rewarded with a second Oscar nomination.
Sacha Baron Cohen is currently getting odds of +900 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees. However, I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor. the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.
Who Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya
This year, for me, who should win isn’t even a question. There were some really great performances worthy of Oscar nominations…and then there was Daniel Kaluuya—a class of his own!
Who Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
Not only is Daniel Kaluuya currently getting -2000 odds from the bookmakers, but he’s already secured every single win at the major pre-Oscars ceremonies, including the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and British Academy Film Awards. This is Kaluuya’s second Oscar nomination following his breakout role in 2017’s Get Out, and for his remarkable turn as Chairman Fred Hampton, he will absolutely be heading home with his first Academy Award next Sunday.