Everything Everywhere All at Once
Even when you’re enjoying the process, Oscars catch-up can feel like homework, but Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s multiverse-spanning opus is more like recess, a shotgun blast of creativity that narrows to a laser-sharp focus on the bonds of family. Before that, there’s martial arts, hot-dog fingers, and an all-out battle against the IRS. With 11 overall nominations, the most of any movie this year, Everything Everywhere automatically becomes the favorite for Best Picture, even if it’s still hard to imagine the Academy going for a movie quite this … wild. (As past winners go, it makes Birdman look like Spotlight.) Nonetheless, Ke Huy Quan’s return to the limelight decades after his stint as a child actor in movies like The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would provide one of the ceremony’s most emotional moments if he wins Best Supporting Actor as predicted, and the same goes for long-overdue recognition for Best Actress nominee Michelle Yeoh. Streaming on Showtime or available for digital purchase.
There’s no safer Oscar-night bet than Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, although good luck getting anyone to give you odds. Blanchett has steamrolled her way through awards season, to the point where she started using her acceptance speeches to shout out other women’s performances instead. The critical favorite has drawn more polarized reactions from audiences, but the story of a world-famous classical conductor who faces #MeToo allegations is gorgeous and nervy, with an ending we’re still arguing about. Streaming on Peacock or available for digital rental.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Heartbreaking and hilarious in turn, Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black comedy finds lifelong friends Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson on opposite sides of a mysterious rupture as the Irish Civil War nears their tiny island. Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan—all acting nominees—make McDonagh’s dialogue sing, but it’s Farrell who turns in the performance of his career as a sweet-hearted simpleton whose dogged loyalty has tragic results. Streaming on HBO Max or available for digital rental.
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Academy’s old guard seems to have rallied around Netflix’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic World War I novel. (Just how old guard? Lewis Milestone’s previous version won Best Picture and Best Director in 1930.) The breadth of the Academy’s admiration—the movie is tied with Banshees for a second-place nine nominations—makes a triumph in Best International Film seem like a lock, and the movie can’t be counted out in other categories, either. The movie’s departures from both the novel and history aren’t always improvements, but no Oscar-night prep is complete without it. Streaming on Netflix.
All the Best Documentary Nominees
Pound for pound, there’s no stronger category than Best Documentary Feature, and although All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, previous winner Laura Poitras’ portrait of photographer and activist Nan Goldin, is the favorite, you can make a case for just about any of the nominees. Fire of Love is a sweeping, gorgeous love story about obsessive volcanologists. All That Breathes is a lyrical story of Indian bird-lovers fighting environmental change on the micro level. Navalny is a daring thriller about a Russian opposition leader. And A House Made of Splinters, set in a Ukrainian orphanage, is heartbreaking in its depiction of a country already stretched to the breaking point before the most recent Russian invasion. More to the point, they’re all excellent movies, including some that barely got any attention on their initial release, and if the Oscars are good for anything, it should be for getting more people to take notice. Both All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and All That Breathes are playing in theaters. Fire of Love is streaming on Disney+. Navalny is streaming on HBO Max. A House Made of Splinters will be available on-demand Feb. 21.
Most of the Best Animated Nominees
It’s hard to pick a favorite among the animated nominees, especially from a year where Pixar’s best movie went straight to streaming and Disney had a massive box-office flop. The good news is that between a horror auteur’s anti-fascist spin on a children’s classic, a superhero-inflected coming-of-age story, and the tale of a melancholy shell with a thing for Philip Larkin poems, you basically can’t go wrong. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is playing in movie theaters and available for digital rental. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is streaming on Netflix. Turning Red is streaming on Disney+.
With almost any other director, seven nominations would be cause for celebration, but it’s only been a year since Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story went 1-for-7, and there’s a good chance his auto-biopic might do the same. Joining with Tony Kushner for his first screenplay credit in more than 20 years, Spielberg returns to his own childhood with a semi-sparing eye, neither achieving the wrenching self-examination of James Gray’s Armageddon Time nor falling back on the “hooray for movies!” exultation the movie’s laziest detractors have claimed. It’s a portrait of the artist as a young manipulator, the story of how he learned the tricks The Fabelmans deploys with varying degrees of self-awareness; whether or not it’s actually a contender, people sure think it is. Available for digital purchase.
Covering the Bases
Top Gun: Maverick
One small surprise is Maverick edging out Avatar: The Way of Water, with five nominations to the latter’s four. Given that The Way of Water is basically a three-hour demo reel, and that it’s now grossed more than $2 billion to Maverick’s piddling $1.5, it seems likely that it might still fall short of an actual win, but that’s no reason to deprive yourself of Tom Cruise’s latest, 2022’s first great blockbuster and still one of its best. (It’s even [whispers] better than the original.) Maybe save it for a treat after you’ve done your due Oscars diligence and just want to watch some shirtless guys play volleyball. Streaming on Paramount+ or available for digital rental.
Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron may be the king of the 2022 box office, but he won’t be the king of the Oscars, at least not this year. (Check back when Avatar 5 is up for awards, hopefully sometime before the series’ 22nd-century setting.) Nevertheless, expect a good deal of on-air crowing over The Way of Water’s proof that audiences can be lured into theaters en masse, even post-pandemic, and take a break from rolling through Oscar nominees on your laptop to see this one on a big screen. It may not clean up outside technical categories, but no other Oscar nominee has space whales. See it in movie theaters, preferably with 3D glasses on.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Given the Academy’s evident love for Everything Everywhere and The Banshees of Inisherin, which between them have three of Best Supporting Actress’ five nominations, Angela Bassett may seem like slightly less of a favorite in the category now. But it still seems like a year in which a deserving veteran will outrank the newcomers, and given that it’s been almost 30 years since Bassett’s last nomination, “overdue” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Stream it on Disney+.
Watch It Just Because
Perhaps even more impressive than Avatar 2’s $2 billion haul? 60-year-old Baz Luhrmann making Gen Z care about Elvis Presley. The Aussie auteur’s portrait of the King is as ADHD-addled as Everything Everywhere and boasts the most deliberately abrasive characterization of Tom Hanks’ career, but Austin Butler’s performance was so magnetic that the accent appears to have stuck to him for good. Streaming on HBO Max or available for digital rental.
Triangle of Sadness
While a nomination outside the prescribed category is usually good news for a Best International Film nominee, Ruben Östlund’s Best Director nod is swamped by All Quiet on the Western Front’s broader appeal. Nonetheless, his loopy, over-the-top satire of wealth and privilege is one of the most purely enjoyable in the mix this year, and it’s a damn sight smarter than The Menu. Playing in movie theaters and available for digital rental.
Speaking of blockbusters, this Indian spectacle has been playing to rapturous crowds in the U.S. for months, and the frenzy has only grown as the Oscars have gotten closer. Knowing its toxic political subtext puts something of a damper on the experience, but if you can set that aside for the length of “Naatu Naatu,” you’ll be able to participate in what is sure to be one of the broadcast’s most memorable moments. Streaming on Netflix in Hindi, or ZEE5 in the original Telugu.
Once a predicted awards-season warhorse, Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel ended up with a scant two nominations, the rare case where a Best Picture nod feels like an afterthought. But it’s also a movie whose entry in the awards derby might have done it a disservice, a quiet and cerebral exploration of communal trauma that can be more clearly seen away from all the red carpet. See it in movie theaters.
Paul Mescal’s Best Actor nomination is the win for this haunting depiction of childhood longing and adult loss, but if the goal is to watch great movies and not just pick the winners, this is one of the greatest, and its final shot is an absolute all-timer. Playing in movie theaters and available for digital rental.
My Year of Dicks