On Screen: Oscars Best Picture Nominees

Digital illustration by Reid Alexander.

In this special edition of On Screen, Alex Gerson and Edie Carey watch and review all ten of the Best Picture nominees for the 2022 Academy Awards.

Belfast

Belfast is a semi-autobiographical memoir based on director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood, set in Northern Ireland’s capital during the beginning of a period of civil and social unrest in the late 1960s. The film, shot mainly in black and white, has ambitious cinematography that, when it works, is compelling. But when it doesn’t, it feels stilted—the awkward angles interrupts the otherwise immersive scenes. The movie is carried by strong performances, especially from child actor Jude Hill, and its portrayal of childhood is quite charming. But where Belfast falls short for me is in the plot itself. After the movie ended, I felt that it had gone nowhere, and the characters hadn’t undergone any growth. The film avoids serious conversations about politics, which made scenes that could have been moving lack depth. It took a look at one of the most brutal periods in Ireland’s history, and only seemed to say that you should be nice to people. The cynic in me thinks Belfast will take home Best Picture, but I find it to be extremely mediocre. —Edie Carey

Edie’s rating: 5/10 

CODA

Directed by Siân Heder, CODA follows Ruby, a teenage girl whose entire immediate family, except for her, is deaf. Throughout the film, she grapples with her own aspirations to branch out and pursue a career in singing and her family’s expectations for her to stay at home and help them with their struggling fishing business. It’s an intriguing premise, but it never gets that exciting. The plot is predictable, sticking to almost every high school movie cliché. Though some of the cliched plot points feel like natural progressions to the narrative, there are so many that feel out of place and often end up making the movie seem unoriginal. The performances and cinematography are both fine, but because they’re both somewhat unremarkable—they never feel like they are enhancing the viewing experience. This is a good movie, but it’s really nothing special. —Alex Gerson

Alex’s rating: 6/10

Don’t Look Up

Before watching Don’t Look Up, I had heard a lot of bad things about it, mainly that it was out of touch with contemporary politics and superficial. While, at times, the movie was both of those things, it wasn’t completely unwatchable. Don’t Look Up is a satire about reactions to climate change, and follows two scientists discover a comet that will soon destroy Earth. But when they share their discovery, they are met with inaction from the United States government and apathy from most people. Jonah Hill and Timothée Chalamet are both funny throughout the movie, and the concept and overall plot are decent. But the movie is bogged down by poor dialogue and especially bad editing, which includes strange cuts to unrelated stock footage—I’m still confused as to why videos of humpback whales are necessary. The star-studded cast is, for the most part, underused, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as the main character is weak. Too often, the movie relies on overused jokes that all boil down to “memes, social media, smartphones are bad, and most people are too dumb to care about the end of the world.” The latter rings the most true, but slightly more nuance could’ve made Don’t Look Up a significantly better satire. And spoiler alert: They look up. —Edie Carey

Edie’s rating: 4/10 

Drive My Car

Drive My Car, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, tells the story of a fictional widowed actor, Yūsuke Kafuku, as he takes up work again after a two year hiatus to direct a production of a play following the death of his wife. The beautifully shot film focuses on the relationship that forms between him and the young woman assigned as his driver. As the film progresses, the two have brief but powerful conversations that offer insights into the complex process of grief. Kafuku’s play features several different languages spoken in a single scene, and provides an interesting commentary on the nature of communication. Drive My Car’s biggest fault is its runtime; the film is three hours long, with the first 40 minutes dedicated to the main character’s backstory, which could’ve been done in 20 minutes. When a film is that long, it’s clear that the director is confident that people will watch it all the way through, and I don’t think Hamaguchi’s confidence is misplaced. But the film would benefit from a condensed runtime, which I don’t think would have sacrificed its core meaning and storyline. —Edie Carey

Edie’s rating: 6.5/10 

Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of the classic novel by the same name lives up to high expectations. Villeneuve’s version of Dune is able to capture the large scope of the story. The cinematography in the film is incredible and portrays Dune’s otherworldly landscapes impressively. Timothée Chalamet puts up a good performance as the film’s lead, Paul Atreides, but it’s nothing to write home about. The real magic of Dune comes from Villeneuve’s script, which presents the complex story in a digestible, accessible and entertaining way, giving non-readers the necessary context to enjoy the movie without oversimplifying the story. —Alex Gerson

Alex’s rating: 8/10 

King Richard

Though it has not received much buzz throughout this Oscar season, King Richard is truly great. The film follows lead actor Will Smith, who plays Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams. The movie centers around Richard as he coaches his daughters throughout their childhood. From the beginning of the film, Richard has a plan to turn Venus and Serena into tennis legends. He often pushes them as hard as he can and makes controversial decisions about their careers, like not having them participate in tournaments until they can play professionally. Smith puts up a great performance as Richard, convincingly portraying the often obsessive nature of his coaching style. It’s one of Smith’s best performances of his career, and one that should hopefully win him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. I wish the film focused a bit more on Serena and Venus’ experiences under Richard’s harsh coaching, but despite that small flaw, this is a great movie. —Alex Gerson

Alex’s rating: 8/10

Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson hits it out of the park yet again with Licorice Pizza. The film, set in the area where Anderson grew up in California, focuses on the lives of child actor Gary Valentine, already aging out of his prime, and 25-year-old Alana Kane, a woman who is unsure of what to do with her life. Licorice Pizza lacks a central plotline, but that turns out not to be a problem. The slice-of-life storylines are all interesting, and each include fully fleshed out characters who develop genuinely over the course of their time on screen. Musician Alana Haim, playing her namesake, delivers a strong performance in her first-ever acting role. She’s at her best in the scenes featuring her real family, in which her performance is so good you might think she was getting some real frustrations out. The portrayal of the two main characters, who have romantic tension despite a ten-year age gap, is a source of controversy, but I didn’t think the film necessarily endorses the potential relationship by depicting it. Overall, I loved Licorice Pizza, and I hope it takes home Best Picture. —Edie Carey

Edie’s rating: 9.5/10 

Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is an adaptation of both the 1946 book and 1947 movie by the same name. The film tells the story of a carnival worker, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle, whose ambition gets him involved in a scheme to con a member of the local elite. The first half of the film introduces viewers to a group of classic freak show characters in the carnival and explores how they are manipulated by the carnival boss. I appreciate how the film humanizes these characters when they could have easily been stereotyped. The movie also features incredible costume and production design that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the time period. But the story crumbles after Stan leaves the carnival and we flash forward to two years in the future after he has become a successful clairvoyant. At this point, the film is far less engaging because, when the focus is on the main character, it becomes clear that he is unlikeable and dull. The climax of the movie also has stakes far too low to be interesting. So while it could have been an exciting neo-noir, Nightmare Alley is ultimately a forgettable film. —Edie Carey

Edie’s rating: 5.5/10 

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog, a Western following a rancher and his brother’s family, has received plenty of buzz during this year’s Oscar season, even before it was nominated for Best Picture. However, I don’t really get the hype for this one. It seems like director Jane Campion was trying to offer commentary on toxic masculinity, but she took too long to get to the point. The Power of the Dog is slow, and not in a good way. The film takes a while to tell you exactly what Campion is trying to convey, and once it gets there, it falls a bit flat. Throughout the movie, it feels like the slow pace is intentional and that it’s leading up to an exciting third act, but once it gets there, it feels rushed. Benedict Cumberbatch offers a fine performance throughout the movie, and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead’s score is incredible, but when one of the best things about the movie is its score, it may not be that great of a movie. —Alex Gerson

Alex’s rating: 5/10 

West Side Story

Before I saw West Side Story, I didn’t think Steven Spielberg needed to do a remake of the classic movie. But Spielberg proved me wrong, delivering one of his best films in years. His version of West Side Story has it all: From mesmerizing wide-view cinematography to captivating musical performances, the film is consistently entertaining. The film’s best performance comes from Rachel Zegler as Maria, the film’s female lead. Her emotional performance was especially captivating given that this was her first appearance in a feature-length film. West Side Story does run a bit long, though, at over two hours. If Spielberg had shortened the film a bit, it would have been nearly perfect. However, I get why Spielberg didn’t cut it down, since almost every individual part of the movie is so great. —Alex Gerson

Alex’s rating: 9/10

Edie’s ideal pick for Best Picture: Licorice Pizza

Alex’s ideal pick for Best Picture: West Side Story

Edie’s prediction for Best Picture: Belfast

Alex’s prediction for Best Picture: The Power of the Dog

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