With the Oscar nominations officially announced for this year, many movie nerds are abuzz with predictions and debates about who was snubbed and who deserves to win. I thought I could take some time to write down a few of my own thoughts, and share some popular discourse surrounding the 2022 academy awards. Perhaps one of the most notable areas of discourse, though, is just the space that the Oscars occupy in popular culture. The Oscars have always been one of the highlights of the pop-culture world, where great filmmakers and actors were honored for their contributions, and there was a lot of interest from the general public. However, last year was an all time low ratings year for the Oscars, and people are worried that the downward trend in interest will continue. Obviously, with Covid locking down the majority of the world last year, it makes sense that it was a strained year for the award show, but it does not seem like there is an increase in interest. But for now, let’s just talk about the actual nominations that were released on the eighth.
Let’s start with the best picture nominees. The films that are up for this award are Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. There are a few interesting story lines here. First of all, we have multiple movies here that are streaming movies. This isn’t the first year that streaming original movies have been nominated for an Oscar, but it could be the first year where one wins. It is impossible to overstate the impact that Covid has had on movies; productions were delayed, movie theaters have been closed or far less profitable, and it just seems like the overall interest in movies is at an all time low. It would be cool to see the Academy recognize streaming movies as a legitimate form of movie making, though, because it seems like that is how a lot of people are choosing to watch them. Also, in the wake of Parasite in 2019, Drive My Car getting nominated is another sign that the Academy is interested in recognizing international perspectives, not just American ones. Another story here are the notable snubs include Being the Ricardos, which received many other nominations including best actor and best actress, and Tick, Tick . . . Boom!, which received a best actor nomination and which people were predicting would be one of the 10 nominees for best picture. But from the list of nominees, my prediction is that Power of the Dog will take home the best picture title this year.
The nominees for best director are Kenneth Branagh for Belfast, Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car, Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza, Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog, and last but not least, Steven Spielberg for West Side Story. There are two stories in particular that I am interested in. First of all, Steven Spielberg has now been nominated for best director at least once for the last six consecutive decades, which is mind blowing. West Side Story was beautifully shot and well done, and I think that he is deserving of the nomination, but it just goes to show how much of a powerhouse he is, and has been for almost triple my lifetime. To be consistently great for 60 years is a phenomenal feat, and even though I don’t think he will win, I think that noting this achievement is important. Secondly, and more interesting to me, Jane Campion is making history this year for being the first female director ever to be nominated twice for the best director Oscar. The Oscars famously went through controversy several years ago because of their preference for a white-male perspective, and since then have slowly done better at recognizing feats of filmmaking by women and people of color. Campion receiving her second oscar nomination is definitely a step in the right direction, and she definitely deserves this one. Power of the Dog is a twist on a classic western while still using a lot of the classic elements, and it is stunningly beautiful. If Campion wins it will make her the third woman to ever receive the best director award, and she is who I think will actually win.
For the leading actress category, we have Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter, Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers, Nicole Kidman for Being the Ricardos, and Kristen Stewart for Spencer. Unfortunately, I haven’t personally seen any of these films, so it is hard for me to put any of my own input on who I think will win. According to the current betting odds, Nicole Kidman is the favorite to win with Kristen Stewart a close second. The biggest controversy in this category seems to be not including Lady Gaga for her role in House of Gucci, which many fans thought would earn her a nomination hands down. However, the list of nominees is filled with stars who have all either won or have been nominated for an Oscar before, besides Stewart. It will be interesting to see if Kidman can remain the favorite up until the big night, or if Stewart will pull out ahead, so the best actress category can be one of the most exciting ones to watch out for.
Then, we have the nominees for best actor, which consists of Javier Bardem for Being the Ricardos, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield for Tick, Tick . . . Boom!, Will Smith for King Richard, and finally Denzel Washington for The Tragedy of Macbeth. It seems that this award is Will Smith’s to lose, as he is the heavy favorite according to the betting odds. Benedict Cumberbatch looks to be the second most likely with just a 25% chance of winning. Smith winning would be the highlight of the Oscars this year for me. I love Will Smith, and have been rooting for him since his days ruling over Bel-Aire as the Fresh Prince. I did love Cumberbatch’s performance in Power of the Dog, and can see a world where he wins, but Smith has been so good for so long, it seems like this is his year to finally be recognized for all of his work, which would be fitting for this performance in particular.
Lastly, there is a lot of discourse about the role of the Academy based off of this list of nominees. There is a deep question at play here; should the Academy look to honor the movies and celebrities that captivated audiences and had cultural impact, or should they look to honor movies that achieve something great even if many people have not seen them. If we examine the box office revenues of each of these movies, Dune grossed over 100 million dollars which is a pretty big hit, but the next highest earner is West Side Story with just over 36 million dollars made. Even more extreme, Drive My Car did not even earn a million dollars and had very select screenings, so mainstream audiences have not seen this movie, but does that mean it shouldn’t be nominated? If the academy just honored the biggest hits, we would have four Marvel films nominated every year, but is that what the Oscars are for? Personally, I think that the right answer is somewhere between the two extreme positions, but it definitely feels like the Oscars are having a bit of an identity crisis, and that is reflecting in the overall interest in the award over the past few years. I think that the fact that movies that audiences have no relationship to are being nominated explains the lack of viewers, because fans don’t feel like they have a real stake in which movie wins.With all of that being said, I am very excited for this year’s Oscars and have a huge list of must watch movies to look forward to before the big day.