2022 was an exceptional year for film, the best since 2019. This year’s nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture, announced on Jan. 24, reflect this.
The 10 films competing for the Oscars’ top prize include biopics, studio blockbusters, dark comedies and family dramas, from long-awaited sequels to brilliantly original stories. It’s one of the most approachable and consistent lineups in years.
In preparation for the 2023 Academy Awards ceremony on March 12, here are my reviews for each of the Best Picture nominees.
“All Quiet on the Western Front”
This year’s obligatory war film, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is a movie that’s as grim as it is impeccably crafted.
Based on the 1929 novel of the same name, “All Quiet” follows a German soldier suffering through the extreme conditions of World War I. It is an aggressively anti-war story, one that depicts every imaginable horror in vivid detail — it’s occasionally difficult to watch due to the sheer intensity.
The film’s harsh qualities are emphasized by its technical aspects — production design, make-up and cinematography especially — which are often incredible. This allows for particularly memorable sequences like the approach of enemy tanks or a dash across no man’s land. Some are less impressive, though, like the occasionally wonky special effects and the droning, obnoxious score.
Tied for the second-most nominations with nine, and almost certain to win Best International Feature Film, “All Quiet” could be a dark horse in the Best Picture race.
“Avatar: The Way of Water”
$2.117 billion. That is, at the time of writing, the worldwide box office gross of James Cameron’s long-gestating “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The film is a towering achievement, both in its success and its quality.
“The Way of Water” ditches the lush Pandoran forests of the first film for a stunning oceanic landscape, one teeming with life and personality. The film’s underwater sequences, filmed with state-of-the-art motion capture technology, are some of the most impressive visuals ever put to film.
I'll defend the first "Avatar," but one aspect “The Way of Water” drastically improves upon is its emotional resonance. The sequel focuses on the children of protagonists Jake and Neytiri, building a narrative about growth and connection that culminates in a satisfying conclusion.
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Nominated for four awards, “The Way of Water” is low on the list of potential Best Picture winners. Even so, it deserves its nomination, and proves studio blockbusters can look amazing and still have a beating heart underneath.
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
My favorite film of 2022, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” has emerged as one of the clear frontrunners for Best Picture. It’s tied with “All Quiet” with nine nominations and deserves every one of them and more.
“Banshees” follows one man (Colin Farrell - nominated for Best Actor) in 1920s Ireland as another man (Brendan Gleeson - nominated for Best Supporting Actor) tells him they should no longer be friends. What plays out is a darkly comedic and depressingly relatable tale involving loss, grief and severed fingers.
Though nearly all of “Banshees” is worthy of praise, its performances are on another level. Farrell, one of the standouts in the Best Actor category, is full of warmth and pathos, while also holding a sadness and frustration that emerges at critical moments. Gleeson, by contrast, is focused and blunt, despite being filled with obvious regrets.
Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon also stand out in supporting performances as the sympathetic island dullard and Farrell’s underappreciated sister respectively.
“Banshees” received nominations in all major categories and seems to hold a lot of winning potential. It’s a beautiful film, one that speaks to aspects of life and relationships that not many others have succeeded at.
It wouldn’t be the Oscars without a biopic. This year’s entry is the glitzy, overblown and exhausting “Elvis,” courtesy of Baz Luhrmann, master of maximalism.
If there’s one unambiguously great thing about “Elvis,” it’s Austin Butler’s performance in the titular role. He encapsulates the essence of Presley well, from electric highs to demeaning lows. Butler clearly got into the mind of his character and has yet to lose the accent.
Beyond Butler’s performance, the film has been divisive. At times the sheer “amount” of film works, delivering an intoxicating blend of music, politics and business. But the middle is absolutely bloated, with the film losing its rhythm after the first hour or so and only getting it back right before it’s over.
Despite its detractors, “Elvis” is nominated for eight Oscars, with a few possible wins including Best Actor for Butler. I’m less fond of the film, but there are certainly worse films that could have taken its place.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
When Entertainment Editor Sean Scott wrote his review of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s multiversal action-comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” I doubt he or anyone expected it to be this much of an awards contender. But less than a year later the film has become a cultural phenomenon, achieving critical and commercial success and emerging as the clear frontrunner in the Oscars race.
Leading with 11 nominations, including expected wins for Michelle Yeoh in Best Actress and Ke Huy Quan in Best Supporting Actor, “Everything Everywhere” is the kind of widely-appealing crowd-pleaser that the Academy often ignores, so its presence in the lineup is welcome.
Scott summarized the film’s strengths in his review.
“In a movie where randomness is an intentional plot rule, nothing is unaffected,” Scott wrote. “Actions, costumes, sets and props are all defined by unexpectedness, and it leads to one of the most unique and engaging films I’ve ever seen.”
Having won several key awards from other organizations, “Everything Everywhere” will enter Oscars night as the favorite for Best Picture, with “Banshees” as its closest competitor. Whether it wins or loses, its nomination alone is a sign that maybe the Academy isn’t so stuck in its ways.
A semi-autobiographical film by Steven Spielberg sounds like textbook Oscarbait, but thankfully “The Fabelmans” turned out to be much more thoughtful than that descriptor might imply.
Spielberg’s second Best Picture nomination in two years (following last year’s “West Side Story”), “The Fabelmans” is an excellent late-career rumination on his life, influences and perspective on filmmaking. Assistant Campus & Community Editor Luke Macy agreed in his review of the film.
“Frankly, I have been disappointed in Spielberg’s latest streak of films,” Macy wrote. “He did OK with his attempt to make a musical with ‘West Side Story,’ but I still felt it was lacking. It’s nice to see him make another hit with ‘The Fabelmans.’”
Alongside Best Picture, “The Fabelmans” picked up six other nominations, though none are certain wins, even Best Director. For as good as the film is, it just happened to land alongside a roster of similar quality, turning one of modern Hollywood’s most recognizable figures into somewhat of an underdog.
I’ve already written about Todd Field’s excellent comeback “TÁR,” but I haven’t stopped thinking about the film since.
Based around a fictional composer in the midst of a public fall-from-grace, “TÁR” is a fascinating conundrum. I appreciated its esoteric narrative and subtle filmmaking, and the Academy seemed to agree, nominating the film for six Oscars, including Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing.
Above all else, “TÁR” is anchored by Cate Blanchett’s masterful performance, with Yeoh as her closest competition for Best Actress. Blanchett combines sly humor with cold intensity to bring the magnetic Lydia Tár to life, a figure as entertaining as she is despicable.
Unfortunately, Blanchett may be the only part of “TÁR” that has a chance of winning any of its nominations. That said, the film is absolutely one of the most interesting Best Picture nominees.
“Top Gun: Maverick”
The third action film this year nominated for Best Picture, “Top Gun: Maverick,” is a legacy sequel that flies high and hits with impressive weight.
Following the return of Tom Cruise’s titular Maverick to legendary flight school Top Gun, the film is a testament to sturdy script-writing. While by no means the most complex film here, it hits every mark it sets for itself, delivering a memorable and engrossing experience.
“Maverick” is most successful during its flight scenes, which bring a sense of weight and thrill as the planes weave around each other and their environments. The final third of the film in particular is exquisite, paying off everything the film had set up in a glorious display of tense action.
There are definitely merits to “Maverick’s” six nominations. Since most of them fall within technical categories, it doesn’t seem to be a strong contender to win Best Picture, but the film is still impressive, if only as being significantly better than people may have predicted.
“Triangle of Sadness”
An over-the-top satire targeting the rich and famous, “Triangle of Sadness” won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and is nominated for three Oscars, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund brings dry wit to the story of a vacation cruise gone horribly wrong. The film is strongest on the boat where its characters are at their most vapid; Östlund unloads every possible joke at their expense, including one of the most obscene and hilarious sequences I’ve seen in a while.
While the film is funny, the actual social commentary is surface-level and occasionally hypocritical. In addition, it hits its peak around the hour-and-a-half mark, then goes on for almost another hour.
“Triangle of Sadness” is an entertaining comedy that attempts to be more, and while it never loses its humor, it does peter out by the end. It probably won’t win Best Picture, but it’s worth checking out as a less serious alternative to the other nominees.
It’s surprising that “Women Talking,” a meditative drama about a group of women experiencing assaults in their religious community, is only nominated for two Oscars. It may not be among the absolute peak of the nominees, but it’s certainly timely and makes sense in this lineup.
Featuring an ensemble cast of acclaimed actresses, “Women Talking” is incredibly dialogue-heavy, relying on conversations to create the film’s drama. It’s an approach that creates a lot of emotionally potent moments, with an especially memorable final act and a few standout performances.
In doing so, however, the film often reduces its characters to their talking points, making it difficult to relate or connect with them beyond the baseline sympathy the film’s premise creates. The film is also hampered by its intentionally washed-out and colorless visual presentation.
Even with my complaints, “Women Talking” is a film I’ve seen plenty of positive reactions to, so I’m willing to chalk up my more muted opinion to it just not being for me. It’s an unlikely winner, but hopefully more people will watch it because of its nomination.