Unlike the Academy which will like the moviegoers to believe that the most celebrated evening of Hollywood is the celebration of the best in cinema, it’s not often the case. Many priorities take over when the Academy chooses its Best Picture of the year.
In the past week since its win, CODA has divided opinions on its deservedness to win the coveted Oscar. The true movie lovers we are, let’s try and decode whether the Apple TV+ backed Sian Heder adaptation of the French La Famille Bélier was really worthy of winning the Oscar on the back of merit on an evening when everything but the movies stole the limelight.
But before heading to the winner, let’s talk about all the competitors, in no particular order, to weigh which ones really had the chance to win, if not CODA.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the 1957 stage musical of the same name presents a refreshing 21st-century musical that carefully treads the line between an entertaining experience for the eyes and the ears while tackling important subjects of the migrant crisis and the self-imploding American dream. The film presents dreamy pictures of a city lying in ruins, with broken buildings and shambled houses, finding rhythm from the very moment the reel starts rolling.
The movie is carried by the young cast’s vibrance, bringing to life characters driven by rage and a sense of rebellion. The music is woven into the screenplay of West Side Story by Tony Kushner with little distractions and a ceaseless rhythm. Among the many captivating performances that bring to life the world of West Side Story, with dialogues being delivered in Spanish and English, Ansel Elgort as Tony fails to fit in, unlike Mike Faist, Rachel Zegler, and Ariana Debose and many others who deliver engaging performances.
Ansel Elgort’s performance seems so inconsistent with the energy of the rest of the film, that it’s impossible to not take account of it, especially for a Best Picture nominee. In the end, Steven Spielberg serves a beautiful re-telling of struggle, passion, and rage with an old-world charm that’s enough to put it on the list of a well-crafted piece of cinema, but may not be just enough to be one of the leading contenders for the top spot. It’s refreshing and entertaining but fails to leave an impact that lasts long after experiencing it.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-drama, set in the ‘70s, captures the eccentricity of the time in question, through the story of a romance blooming between a 15-year-old child actor and a 25-year-old girl trying to find purpose. Between running businesses, quirky encounters with the most random strangers, and navigating through a love-hate relationship, Licorice Pizza oscillates among many destinations before culminating in the final kiss- a moment much anticipated and well cherished when it comes.
What makes Licorice Pizza a delight is its indulgence in the time it’s set in and the story of the two protagonists it wants to convey. The movie has moments of varying interest and its enjoyability is limited to how much the viewer will choose to oblige it. For the most part, the film meanders like a directionless mess, much like its protagonists.
Licorice Pizza is brave in its ways and truly adventurous in its glorious moments but its relevance shatters the moment, the viewer stops indulging in the world created by Anderson, and for the Best Picture winner, that may not be the best thing. Yet, the strong performances of the protagonists coupled with the purposeless endeavour that carries the story forward, while giving a similar impression of lack of purpose, culminates in an experience rather enjoyable. Licorice Pizza may not be the Best Picture for many reasons, but its uniqueness is worthy of some notability. Possibly, making it one of the few movies this year that will stand the test of time.
Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Will Smith starrer sports biopic, covering the story behind the most distinguished sisters of sporting history, has all the makings of a well-knit sports drama. Driven by the strong performances of now Academy Award winner Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, and Demi Singleton, King Richard tells a compelling story of grit, determination, discrimination, and perseverance.
It has all the tropes of a great success-in-making telling. However, the strengths of a great sports drama prove to be shortcomings for a movie that has to stand in a race with much-better crafted films for the Oscar glory. Credit to Green and Zach Baylin, King Richard is a thoroughly captivating and entertaining movie, but in terms of cinematic brilliance and novelty, the film will ultimately prove to fall on its knees in front of the superior movies it stands against.
The film, apart from providing Will Smith’s career-best performance, doesn’t provide anything to stand against strongly. A strong message, compelling performances, and some truly touching moments make King Richard an absolute must-watch but to answer whether the movie brings something never seen before to the Dolby Studios stage, the answer is an obvious no.
Don’t Look Up
Adam Mckay’s black comedy film Don’t Look Up promises much more than just a massively talented ensemble cast. Yes, there’s a lot of preaching, satirical comedy and literal shouting surfacing every now and then, but beyond that, there’s some beauty that lurks in the few moments blessed with silence in the film.
In Don’t Look Up, what the audiences receive are some award-winning and otherwise distinguished set of actors, playing roles caricaturized to provide a satirical version of events where Earth, as we know it, will be allowed to destroy, and humanity, as it exists, will fail to save it. This great log-line manifests in some absurdly funny situations dramatized to bring out the absolute importance of the message the film wants to drive.
The film, although, digs a hole and crashes right into it, thanks to the lack of subtlety it employs to establish the obvious. As much as Adam Mckay would have wanted the film to leave an impact, because of the gravity of the subject, it toys with, Don’t Look Up rarely creates the momentary impression that it wants to be really taken seriously. But then again, just like the last scene, there are several moments where it blurs the line between an ingeniously crafted satire and a loud repetitive warning in the form of a film.
Denis Villeneuve’s magnum opus adaptation of Frank Hebert’s sci-fi classic is a visual testimony of everything cinema is capable to achieve in 2022. It wasn’t a surprise for those who have watched the film that it grabbed six Oscars in the technical categories.
In theatres, Dune offered visuals that would seem multi-dimensional just by the virtue of the grandeur and scale at which they were created. But, as to why the film didn’t deserve to win the Best Picture, the answer is much simpler.
In terms of some crucial elements of cinema, such as acting, story, and screenplay, there is little that the first Dune film of the planned two parts provided for the jury to consider it as a serious contender for the spot. While Dune achieves technical brilliance, the film merely sets up the world for the second film to explore. In essence, the film lacked the comprehensiveness that would make the movie deserving of the Best Picture title. Still, it’s not beyond Villeneuve’s abilities to grab a Best Picture Oscar.
If the Oscar experience of The Lord of the Rings series is anything to go by, the Dune sequel can try its chances one more time at the most prestigious award night of the year. As of now, Dune just by the nature of its creation fails to fit the bill to be considered the best picture of the year.
The Power of the Dog
Until the moment the winner was announced, Jane Campion’s riveting drama, exploring themes of toxic masculinity, sexuality, and power, led the race for the spotlight moment. Through defining performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-Mcphee, the film successfully drives a compelling and strong narrative against the backdrop of a desert Montana.
Apart from the layered drama, the beautiful cinematography and Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning direction made a strong case for the film to win the coveted Oscar. The Power of the Dog is driven by strong characters, a captivating storyline, well-planned direction, and conflicting powerful drama. Jane Campion’s use of Hollywood’s one of the favourites genres to narrate a tale of power and relationships makes it difficult to argue against the film. But, it’s easy to assume that the film can divide opinions.
Campion’s controversial choice of making New Zealand the location to portray the American Western or the portrayal of homosexuality, are all subjects that force one to take sides. The Power of the Dog, if not the Best Picture, is nearest to the best picture that we have seen in 2021, closely competed by Licorice Pizza and Drive My Car.
Read the full review of The Power of the Dog here.
Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation of the 1946 novel of the same name has all the aesthetic sensibilities of the director, which are used to convey a story of a reckless man, who used treachery and murder, to call upon his own destruction.
Nightmare Alley starts on a strong foot with meaning, style, and substance setting up the world to be witnessed. The film presents a well-blended version of Del Toro’s fantasy films with the classic noir films. But that enigmatic magic is soon lost when the film moves past its first act. The setting of a circus is given up in favour of a much suave aesthetic. With considerable changes from the 1947 version, Del Toro’s retelling has all the marks of a well-ideated and executed noir film with the alluring and inquisitive charm of Del Toro’s auteurship.
Yet, whatever impression the film creates at first, it leaves on a loose footing with little explanation for what is pursued. While the first half seems like a well-sculpted glass statue, the second gives the impression of broken pieces glued together to bring coherence to this tale of destruction, madness, treachery, and downfall. Nightmare Alley finds unmatchable glory in its strongest moments but the inconsistency outweighs it, in the event of a comprehensive audit.
In design, Belfast is closest to CODA. It evokes a serious setting to tell a hearty family story pulling the strings of the viewer’s heart on the back of some endearing characters. At just about an hour and a half in length, Kenneth Brannagh’s well-deserved Oscar-winning screenplay makes it the easiest to sit through on the list.
But much like Don’t Look Up, in the constant requirement to tell a touching, humoured, light-hearted story set against the backdrop of impending devastation, Belfast undermines its own importance. Set against The Troubles in Ireland, the setting is pushed back to make for the story of a family and its internal dynamics.
Yes, there is an important struggle shown, making the subject relevant, and the cinematography and screenplay play their part to provide a beautifully captured cinema. Yet, the movie lacks novelty like King Richard in its approach. Some tweaks could have left a monumental impact on the way Belfast would have been perceived by moviegoers. While Belfast is an entertaining, enjoyable watch, it clearly doesn’t qualify to be considered a well-rounded film worthy of the statuette, even when it makes you vouch for it the most.
Drive My Car
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is a layered tale of loss, separation, and sustenance. The longest in length among the lot, this road drama film also weighs the heaviest on the mind and heart. For a movie that takes 41 minutes for the prelude, Drive My Car indulges in the lives of the main characters without any reluctance.
A widowed playwright, a driver with a traumatic childhood, a struggling actor on a destructive path, and a television writer who finds inspiration through her sexual encounters, all make for a compelling drama that chooses to convey more with the uneventfulness of the harsher reality of life. Inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, Ryusuke’s Drive My Car finds plenty of room for motifs in its overwhelming run-time.
The well-cared-for red SAAB owned by Yūsuke Kafuku, the experimental multi-lingual play, and the story of a young girl who sneaks into her crush’s house, all provide grainy images of the longingness, loneliness, and ultimately, the futility of both. Drive My Car is a well-curated film that doesn’t hold back much on the way it’s told.
Yet, evident from Ryusuke’s carefulness in avoiding conflict on screen, which might break the slow-paced rhythm of the film, there’s a lot the film has to convey about the show called life which must go on eventually no matter how many losses one goes through. The film does not have a mainstream appeal like Parasite and it becomes challenging to commit to a film that so unabashedly indulges in its world and characters. Yet, Drive My Car is packaged with meaning and sublime imagery to such proportions that it’s undeserving to be called anything less of a masterpiece.
If the Best Picture Oscar was to go to a movie that truly celebrates the art i.e., cinema, Drive My Car would have been at the podium undoubtedly. But, the Academy’s dream of promoting cinema with a global reach and the need for cinema as a medium to balance itself as an ever-relevant art form in a diverse world, may prove to have been hurdles in the way of this film. Nonetheless, the Oscar nod in the Best International Feature category is an acknowledgement of Drive My Car’s nuanced style and aesthetics.
CODA, apart from being the first movie by a streaming service to win the Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it’s also, only the third movie directed by a woman to win the title. The story of a young girl, born into a family of deaf adults, wanting to sing but conflicted between living her own dreams and fulfilling familial responsibilities, sounds like a definite tear-jerker. But moving from this premise, CODA achieves significantly little in terms of the artistic qualities of the film.
The formulaic adaptation of the 2014 Belgian-French film makes the right and safest moves to bring a not-so-novel yet touching story about the life of the non-hearing. Much like Belfast, Licorice Pizza, and King Richard, the film is a grounded portrayal, of the daily struggle faced by the mute and deaf.
Sian Heder’s adapted screenplay combines cheeky humour and heart-soaking drama to bring out a relishable plate of family entertainment. Just the kind of stuff that makes CODA universal in its scope. There is little against this movie apart from its lack of novelty.
Yes, the world has seen movies that leave them in puddles for days. But the real achievement of CODA lies in what it achieves outside the screen. With three of the four individuals from the main cast belonging to the deaf community, the film not only tells a relevant story but achieves something more out of it.
At the very least, it’s a shout out for more kindness and empathy. In its most powerful moment, the music fades into absolute silence giving a peek into the life of those who do not enjoy the same pleasures as most do. A theme connecting a diverse audience and backed by great creative choices make CODA a potential winner in any list.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
In a world where cinema needs to be only judged by merit, CODA wouldn’t emerge as a winner of the Best Picture. But cinema has evolved to become a utilitarian art form with the power to leave a lasting impact. In that world, CODA is among a list of films that will divide cinema lovers for varying subjective reasons.
In there, CODA becomes the point where diverse opinions can find some agreement. In its essence, Sian Heder’s film is the most relevant of the lot with a global appeal. What it sacrifices in artistic appeal, it achieves in real-life relevance.
No, CODA is not the best picture of the 2022 nominee list. But, it’s too dismissive to say the film is undeserving. It has its heart in the right places. Cinema, after all, means different things to different people and there have rarely been occasions when it meant the same for all those who witnessed it. CODA manages to do that in some limited nature.