I did it! I got through all the best picture Oscar nominations. I know no one else is bragging about this, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something. After not being able to go to a movie theater in over a year, it honestly felt good that I set a goal for myself to find and watch all the best picture nominees. And, I have to say, the nominees this year are really varied and interesting (for the most part). So, I’ve decided to rank all the nominees from best to worst and give short reviews on them. Almost all these films, except for one, were all really good in their own different ways. Keep in mind this is my personal list and I’m not going to go over what will win or who should win. This is for both my benefit and the benefit of people who haven’t seen these movies to see if it’s worth their time. So here’s my list:
- Mank: I reviewed this movie when it came out a few months back and my opinion has not changed. I still find this to be an engaging film on so many levels. This behind the scenes look at the making of Citizen Kane and the man who wrote it was really great. It’s made to look and sound like a film from the 1940s, it’s a character study of a broken man, and it let’s us peak into the behind the scenes of old Hollywood. All of that is like catnip to me, so I was going to like it either way. But what really sold me on it was the writing, structure, and acting. The dialogue, while a little hard to follow on the first watch, is so engaging and witty that I couldn’t help but go back to watch it again to pick up on what I missed. The way the film uses flashbacks and flashforwards in order to tell it’s story is reminiscent of Citizen Kane itself. All the actors are great and keep up with fast paced script. I’ve already talked about this in my review, so if you want to know more then go find that. I adore this movie.
- Sound of Metal: This was one of the more unique experiences I had watching the nominations because I honestly didn’t know what this movie was until I watched it. At first I thought it was a documentary on this real metal drummer who lost his hearing. But then I learned it was a real movie and I felt stupid for not looking up what this was earlier. But, because of that, I went in blind and had a really good time with the film. It’s an interesting story of a drummer who looses his hearing and has to learn how to live without sound. The sound design is the best part about the movie as the muffled sounds put us into the characters head. It made me feel uneasy and stressed because I would feel the same way as this character. What would you do if you were a musician who lost their hearing? But this is a film about healing and trying to see the bigger picture in life. The writing feels naturalistic, the direction is solid, and Riz Ahmed’s performance is great. And this movie has my favorite ending out of all the nominees. I won’t spoil it, but I was really happy with the conclusion. This was a pleasant surprise of a movie.
- Judas and the Black Messiah: This is probably the bleakest film on the list since this is all based on a true story. But, I do love bleak looks into American history and how messed up we are, so this movie really stuck with me. The true story of a criminal recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther’s to gather intel on their leader Fred Hampton is an intense and thrilling story. And what sells the film for me is how it humanizes everyone. We see how Hampton was so influential and wanted a better country than the one he was living in. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance really humanizes him while also making him look powerful in his speeches. The man who infiltrates the party, William O’Neal, has a fantastic character arc. He goes from taking the job just to make money, to really caring about the Black Panther’s and Hampton. Which makes his eventual betrayal so much more heart breaking and the FBI’s motives more insidious. I’ve seen it three times now and each time I’ve liked it more and more.
- Promising Young Woman: I’ve also already reviewed this film so this will be short. But yeah, this film is fun as hell. It’s got a dark sense of humor, it has a really interesting lead character, the acting is great, especially from Carey Mulligan, and it’s a great revenge movie. I usually love a simple, yet effective revenge story that gets you into the mind of the main character. But even then this story takes some twists and turns and you find out this is not a simple revenge thriller. There’s a lot more going on here and our leading lady is finding it harder and harder to keep up with her revenge plot. And this probably has the best climax out of any film on this list. I won’t spoil anything because you need to go in blind to get the full experience. All I will say is that this has my second favorite ending of the nominees. This movie is just a fun, dark time.
- Minari: This was a nice, family movie. I could just end the review there as not too much happens in the film. The story revolves around a Korean family moving to the south to start a farm. We see their struggles trying to make it on their own and living so far away from any city. The father wants a piece of land to call his own so that he doesn’t have to work at a low paying job. The mother is hesitant as the farm is so far away from everywhere and she’s not sure if her husband is up for the task of starting a farm. The main kid is trying to have fun in his new environment, while also seeing how this new life might be tearing apart his parents. And then the grandmother comes in and this becomes an even better movie. She’s honestly the funniest and best actor in the whole cast, which is saying a lot because all the actors are really good. But I love a sassy old grandma who doesn’t fit the typical grandmother stereotype in every other film. And I also like how they’re not racially profiled at all in the film. In typical Hollywood movies this family would be seen as the “other” and treated differently from the locals. But the locals are really nice and accept them. That’s a nice twist that you don’t see too often. And that’s what this movie is: a really nice family drama.
- The Father: This movie probably has the best and most unique direction and story structure. The story is that of an older man who has dementia and his daughter who has to take care of him. The story is simple, but the way the film is structed is not. The movie is from the perspective of the old man and, given that he has a disease that takes away his memory and sense of time, we see all of that through his eyes. We see time skips, characters change appearances but not names, the location is the same but there are small changes to the scenery, scenes are placed out of order so we don’t know what’s going on, and their is just a sense of anxiety from not knowing what is real and what is not real. It’s such an interesting way to make the audience feel what the main character is feeling. Anthony Hopkins is fantastic at playing someone with this disease and how awful it is. Olivia Colman is also fantastic as we see from her perspective how hard it is to care for her sick father. The only thing that bothers me about the film is the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it feels a little too tacked on. Other than that, this is an interestingly directed and structured movie that really messes with your head.
- The Trial of the Chicago 7: Another true story film about a group of protesters who are charged with conspiracy during the riots of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I’ve seen this story told in countless documentaries, but this film version is intense, intriguing, funny at times, and serious about its plot and characters. Aaron Sorkin’s best written movies are usually courtroom dramas like A Few Good Men (1992) and The Social Network (2010), so the script is great. All the actors are great as well as they all sell these characters and their motivations for why they are at this trial. Sacha Baron Cohen is my personal favorite as he’s the comic relief who isn’t afraid to speak what’s on his mind. I’m a sucker for a well written story with fun dialogue and inventive characters. Even though I knew the story, I still found it to be very intense and insane. Again, like with The Father, I think the ending is the weakest point. No spoilers, but the ending feels like a cheesy 1990s sports movie ending (what with it’s slow claps and authority figures getting mad). But the ending doesn’t ruin what came before it.
- Nomadland: So when I said I liked almost every nominee except one, this was the one. I hated this movie more than anything. I hated the main character, the story, the message, and I just found it to be so boring. Nothing of substance was going on because our main character doesn’t change. The story of a woman who has lost her home and husband and who tries to find herself through traveling could have been great. But nothing really happens in the film. The main character works a little bit, lives in her van, eats, shits in a bucket, and all this repeats itself throughout the run time. She’s a miserable character who doesn’t want to change, so why should I care about her? It’s also really insulting as this woman doesn’t even have to live in her van. We know she’s fallen on hard times, but numerous people like her love interest, friends, and sister offer her a place to stay. But she doesn’t want to because… I genuinely don’t know! I don’t know why she’s so miserable towards others. It just makes your audience just as miserable, which is odd considering this movie seems to be promoting this lifestyle of hers as a good thing. We see this big camp of people living in vans and we are supposed to assume that this is a freeing and fun thing to do. Like how in Easy Rider (1969) you’re supposed to look at that lifestyle and think that’s cool. But at least in that movie they show the dangers of being on the road and the characters are punished for it. Here, not only is the lead not punished for her stupid choices, but not once do we see the dangers of a woman being alone in a van with a commune of others who could easily do something bad to her. The story sucks, the lead sucks, and the message sucks. I honestly don’t know why people love this piece of shit.