The most accurate predictor of best picture is the Producers Guild Awards, usually held in January but delayed this week until March. Add to that overpopulation of the species (there are now more awards nights in Los Angeles than hospitals) and television audience decline, and it’s shaping up to be the toughest awards season in living memory. This is the Oscars class of 2022.
Being the Ricardos (Amazon)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda.
A first glance this might seem too divisive a contender – some people seem to love it, some people do not – but it has a powerful ace in its hand: Oscar voters love Hollywood hometown stories. Kidman plays Lucille Ball, and Bardem her husband (and co-star on I Love Lucy) Desi Arnaz.
Belfast (Focus Features)
Cast: Jude Hill, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds.
Set in 1969, at the height of tension between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, director Kenneth Branagh delivers a powerful, largely black-and-white story about family life. The film’s power lies its intimacy and the innocence of 9-year-old protagonist Buddy (Hill), who is struggling to understand what is going on.
Cyrano (MGM/United Artists)
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Mendelsohn.
A thrilling musical adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic 19th century poetic drama Cyrano de Bergerac, with Dinklage as Cyrano and Ben Mendelsohn, who polished his sinister routine in the Star Wars film Rogue One, as the story’s villain, the Comte de Guiche.
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep.
Depending on who you ask, Don’t Look Up is either the best film of the year or the worst. Lawrence and DiCaprio play a pair of scientists desperate to warn the world of impending doom but must contend with everyone from a self-interested president (Streep) and a shallow news anchor (Blanchett) along the way.
Drive My Car (Sideshow / Janus Films)
Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Satoko Abe, Masaki Okada.
A beautiful character story about grief and understanding, in which stage director Yusuke Kafuku (Nishijima) takes on a production of Uncle Vanya. Still dealing with the grief of his wife’s death, he is befriended by the young woman assigned to him as a driver, Misaki Watari (Miura), and must deal with the production’s young star Koji Takatsuki (Okada), who has a connection to his late wife.
Dune (Warner Brothers)
Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Momoa, Zendaya
A few brave souls have tried bringing Frank Herbert’s epic book series about feudal empires, colonisation and resource exploitation – all in outer space – to the screen. Denis Villeneuve might just be the one to do it best. The film won wide acclaim (despite a hefty running time) and has both immense scale and Hans Zimmer’s extraordinary score.
The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures)
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet
Set in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, the editor of newspaper The French Dispatch dies and his staff work on the publication’s final issue. It is somewhat anthological – each story is presented as a vignette within the larger story – but it’s delightful, deeply artful and very, very Wes Anderson.
House of Gucci (MGM/United Artists)
Cast: Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek
A lavish fashion soap opera from the man who gave us Alien? Perhaps House of Gucci won’t seem so un-Ridley Scott if you imagine it as Gladiator with shoulder pads. It has an all-star cast, but make no mistake: all eyes are on Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, who married fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Driver) and then hired an assassin to kill him. Campy melodrama at the Oscars? Never say never.
King Richard (Warner Brothers)
Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton
A robust biopic in a year of biopics, Smith plays Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Serena (Singleton) and Venus (Sidney) Williams. This is Richard’s story, not Venus or Serena’s, but it’s an engaging and very illuminating portrait of the unseen side of a very high-profile family.
Licorice Pizza (MGM/United Artists)
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper
Director Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of Alana Kane (Haim), a young woman in LA’s San Fernando Valley who glides through romance, everyday life and, in the film’s final third, local political life. Anderson has an artful way of finding texture in the seemingly ordinary. And how’s this for a fun fact: this is Haim and Hoffman’s screen debut. And both are brilliant.
The Lost Daughter (Netflix)
Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard
Told in two intertwined layers, one starring Colman as Leda, an English professor on holiday by herself in Greece, the other with Buckley as her younger self, The Lost Daughter is mesmerising. And the material is solid: both Elena Ferrante’s novel and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s script (she also directed) have great emotional intelligence.
Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn
Set in the dark and almost otherworldly realm of a backwater carnival, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a talented student of the carnival’s resident clairvoyant (Collette) but then takes his skill to the big city, hoping to make his fortune. Instead, he unleashes a more monstrous side of himself which, in the grandest Guillermo del Toro tradition, ultimately threatens to destroy him.
No Time to Die (MGM/United Artists)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw
Cary Joji Fukunaga (the first American director of a Bond film) gets the balance of the genre right and delivers perhaps the most nuanced Bond film, in terms of character and storytelling, of recent memory. You’d like to think it’s a solid Oscar contender, but it’s a tough year.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Jane Campion’s extraordinary study of masculinity, set in 1925 Montana, centres on ranch-owning brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George (Plemons) Burbank, inn owner Rose (Dunst) and her son Peter (Smit-McPhee). Cumberbatch’s cruel but complicated Phil is the centrepiece of the film, initially bullying Peter, but later mentoring him.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, Jack Farthing
Princess Diana biopics are usually either woefully cast or poorly written. Spencer is set in 1991, during the royal family’s Christmas holiday stop at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. It has a whiff of “three days that change the monarchy” about it but, like The Crown, struggles with the idea that “historical fiction” isn’t problematic, when it is.
Tick, Tick … Boom! (Netflix)
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin De Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Judith Light
Rent composer Jonathan Larson’s quasi-autobiographical take of a composer, Jon, who is struggling to make his mark in New York. Brought to the screen by director Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, it’s a strong Oscar contender. But does Oscar have room for two musicals in a year when West Side Story is sucking up all the voter oxygen?
West Side Story (20th Century Studios)
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno.
Steven Spielberg directs a do-over of the 1957 stage musical. Tricky, as the 1961 film adaptation, starring a much younger Moreno, is still much-beloved. The updated choreography rattled some traditionalists, but the film has been embraced by film critics and musical theatre luvvies. The thorn in its side: it’s a box office bomb.
The 94th annual Academy Awards will be held on March 27 in Los Angeles.