Updated: March 28, 2022 8:37:08 am
The 94th Academy Awards will take place on Monday morning, India time, and we know that this isn’t enough time to catch up on all the brilliant films that have nominated this year. So, we’ve compiled a list of eight movies that represent the best of what the Oscars have to offer. These range from a lovely coming-of-age animated feature from perennial Oscars favourite Pixar to a tense meditation on motherhood from Netflix. Also from Netflix, we’ve got a star-studded satire that received polarised reviews, and from Apple, a lowkey drama that is quickly becoming the dark horse of the awards race. Here’s the list, in no particular order.
The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is one of those rare movies that reward rapt attention without demanding it. At first glance, it appears to be your garden-variety Western, gorgeous to look at and well-acted, but otherwise unexceptional. It is only with patience and a watchful eye that one begins to appreciate its nuanced storytelling and peel back layers of the drama
In 1925’s Montana, brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) own a prosperous ranch. Although linked by blood, they could not be more different. While Phil bosses everyone around and puts his trust in manual labour, George possesses more urbane sensibilities and is softer, kinder. Despite the differences in their characters, however, there is mutual affection between them, albeit of a rougher quality on Phil’s part. Things get tense when George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a woman Phil takes an immediate dislike too, which is strengthened when he discovers her effeminate, lisping son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). However, something changes within Phil and he takes Peter under his wing, finding a kindred soul in a boy he had deemed womanly. It is easy to miss this subtle transformation, and again the film pays off the viewer’s patience. It is easy to be hyperbolic at this stage of the awards season, but The Power of the Dog really is an Oscar-worthy film, and deserves the top trophy. If you see just one movie among the best picture nominees, make sure it’s this one.
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You can watch The Power of the Dog on Netflix.
With Dune, Denis Villeneuve scoffed at those who had declared Frank Herbert’s source novel to be “unadaptable.” The dense lore of the book has got the better of many an able filmmaker in the past, including David Lynch. Villeneuve sidesteps this by foregoing most of the world-building in favour of full-bodied characters, rich visuals, coherent storytelling, and for the first time, an adaptation worthy of Herbert’s books. Dune proves that withholding even crucial stuff is often more effective than giving out infodumps.
Villeneuve makes it his own story, bringing significant changes to the novel that might annoy the purists, except they make total sense. Working from a screenplay penned by himself, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth, Villeneuve also nails the vaguely detached nature of the story, and the stoicism of the characters. But it’s the visuals that Villeneuve and his cinematographer Greig Fraser have crafted, the grand vistas, the austere aesthetic of the building, that make Dune exceptional. If we concede cinema is a visual medium, there is no other best picture nominee that comes remotely close to Dune.
The film is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
Written and directed by Sian Heder and based on a 2014 French film, CODA is perhaps the biggest hurdle in The Power of the Dog’s path to glory. A moving coming-of-age drama about the only hearing member of a hearing-impaired family, the film balances important themes such as identity, first love, and even blue collar injustice.
After sweeping the Sundance Film Festival, the film was picked up by Apple for a festival record of $25 million. It was released to positive reviews earlier in the year, perhaps too early, some would say, to make any sort of impression with Oscars voters, who famously have short attention spans and tend to focus on films released later in the year. But it has slowly been building steam during the awards season, winning important precursor prizes at the SAGs, the PGAs and the WGAs, suggesting that there is a very real chance that it wins in each of its three nominated categories.
The film is available to stream on Apple TV+.
Drive My Car
A quiet three-hour drama about grief, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car continues the Academy’s encouraging trend–after Roma and Parasite–to recognise brilliant films not in the English language. Drive My Car is by no means a breezy watch–besides the demanding run time, it deals with heavy subject matter and is deliberately paced. The two central performances, by Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura, are so internalised that they almost compel the viewer to inch closer to the screen, as if doing so will help them better understand what the characters are going through.
Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where Hamaguchi and his co-writer Takamasa Oe became the first Japanese individuals to win a writing award. Hamaguchi is only the third Japanese filmmaker to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, after Hiroshi Teshigahara and Akira Kurosawa, and Drive My Car is the first Japanese film to be nominated for Best Picture.
It will be available to stream on MUBI starting April 1.
Being the Ricardos
Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos is exactly the kind of film that Sorkin would make. It is extremely verbose, has multiple thread unwinding at the same time, and features a collection of great actors at the top of their games. It’s engaging even if you have never seen I Love Lucy in your life. The film is based on the life of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, the creators and main stars of the popular American comedy show, and is set during one tumultuous week during the show’s production, when the press found out about Lucille’s alleged association with the Communist Party, and also had some scandalous information about Desi on their hands. Being the Ricardos is narrated through the perspective of three writers on the show, and how they saw the events unfold as Lucille’s marriage was starting to crash while she and Desi were still trying to maintain a strong front. Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman and JK Simmons have been nominated for their performance in the film. Sorkin’s script, however, was snubbed.
The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Pixar’s Luca is set in a world where ‘sea monsters’ turn into humans when they are on land, but humans still perceive them as scary creatures from the deep. The film follows Luca and Alberto, two sea monsters who decide to live in their human form so they can buy a Vespa and see the world. When Alberto’s secret is discovered by humans, Luca is caught in a predicament to either support his friend, or abandon him thereby ending their friendship. Luca also forms a strong bond with Giulia, a local town girl, who learns of his truth and begs him to leave town so he won’t get caught by the monster hunters. Much like Alberto, Giulia shows Luca a world he has not seen before and encourages him to be curious. Like many other Pixar films, Luca’s underlying message is about accepting your true self, no matter how strange that might seem to others. The film also talks about stepping out of your comfort zone and taking chances, even in the face of unrealistic odds. Luca has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 94th Academy Awards.
The film is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.
The Lost Daughter
Actor Maggie Gyllenhaal makes an impressive directorial debut with the Netflix feature, based on Italian novelist Elena Ferrante’s book of the same name. At once blistering, uncomfortable and honest, The Lost Daughter is essential viewing. It’s a movie centred around several mother-daughter relationships, and how fraught these can sometimes be, but this doesn’t mean that the film isn’t universal. In fact, The Lost Daughter should be experienced by every grown-up. It shatters the idea of the perfect mother, and portrays motherhood is the difficult challenge that it often is. It also shows us the more humane, the more selfish and occasionally mean side of moms. And why shouldn’t they be allowed to have these feelings, or to provoke them in someone else? The movie also suggests that maybe not everyone is meant for parenthood. What makes the film even more delicious are the performances by Oscar-nominated actors Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley.
The film is streaming on Netflix.
Don’t Look Up
Okay, so director Adam McKay’s satire was a very polarising movie. Some loved it, and some saw little merit in it. While it certainly doesn’t push the boundaries as far as it could have, it is still worth a watch just to see what the noise is about. And once you are there, chances are that you would find something to admire. For starters, it’s extremely topical, and talks about divisive politics and climate change. Second, it features a stacked cast of A-listers delivering understated yet hilarious performances, particularly Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.
Don’t Look Up is available to stream on Netflix.
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