5 Oscar-contending movies you should actually care about
An essential quintet.
Licorice Pizza (2021)
Let’s be real, the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) doesn’t always know what it’s doing. Despite the occasional and notable exception — Moonlight’s badly-organised but very justified Best Picture triumph over La La Land in 2017, Parasite’s gleeful sweep of the 2020 Oscars A.K.A. the last good thing to happen pre-pandemic — some of the organisation’s previous choices have been some real duds. Remember Green Book? Yeah, I mean, we don’t either.
With the 94th Academy Awards barrelling toward us, endless-handkerchief-length lists of nominee predictions being made, and the first full reviews for House of Gucci finally filtering in, the sheer volume of cinema on offer can feel overwhelming. But we’ve got your back! What follows is a shortlist of some of the best films of the year — movies that could and should win the much-coveted Best Picture Oscar, if there is indeed any justice in the world.
1. Licorice Pizza
Speaking strictly in terms of chronology, the last Paul Thomas Anderson film we saw involved Daniel Day-Lewis’ slow and erotic descent into ill-health. Phantom Thread, the mushroom-filled masterpiece, focused on designer Reynolds Woodcock and his newest muse, a demure waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). The subject of the Southern Californian auteur’s latest project is again an odd couple: Gary Valentine, a 15-year-old child actor and die-hard romantic, and Alana Kane, a spunky 25-year-old working a dull job as an assistant for a twee school photography company called Tiny Toes.
Though Licorice Pizza is undeniably an age-gap romance, it never crosses the line into creepy, thank God. High on each other’s energy, the pair (played by relative newcomers Cooper Hoffman — son of Philip Seymour Hoffman — and Alana Haim — sister of other Haims) romp around the San Fernando Valley, start a waterbed company together, running into every domineering, coked-up Hollywood stereotype in the book, all the while auditioning relentlessly for their big break.
2. The French Dispatch
This anthology-inspired gem is emblematic of Wes Anderson at his full power. Based around the goings-on of a Kansas newspaper and set in the fictional Ennui-sur-Blasé, the film unfolds through a series of vignettes, perfectly framed and expertly coloured as per usual. Along with the journalists telling their stories (Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson), there are art dealers (Adrien Brody), student revolutionaries (Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri), prisoners (Benicio Del Toro) and police officers, all chasing each other around the otherwise quite sleepy French town.
As i-D’s Douglas Greenwood wrote in his first-look review from Cannes: “The French Dispatch is an important film in Wes Anderson’s world. In some ways it feels like his most mighty: ambitious, vast, with plenty of opportunities to put a foot wrong. And yet somehow he manages to stay determined, rock solid and focused on his story. This frenetic and fabulous, high-spirited film, a love letter to journalism’s potential to be real art in the right hands, is really, really special.” He’s right and he should say it!
3. The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion’s latest is a queer western drama set in the rocky plains of 1920s Montana. Following rancher brothers George and Phil (Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch respectively) as their relationship is tested by the appearance of the charming innkeeper, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and her teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the Netflix film is a tense exploration of rage, repression, desire and masculinity that took home the Best Direction prize at the Venice Film Festival. “When you’re recruited into Jane’s world, it turns into a bit of a boot camp,” Kodi told us earlier this year. “She has a very healthy way of becoming the antagonist in order to challenge you and push you out of that stagnant nature to a place we can grow.”
It has to be said: Denis Villeneuve’s isn’t for everyone. The director’s hotly-anticipated space epic — about several political dynasties battling it out for resources in an apocalyptic wasteland — tends to lean more arthouse than sci-fi, slow-burning and dimly-lit. But that’s why we love it.
Then there’s Timothée Chalamet as heir apparent Paul Atreides. As Carrie Wittmer argues in a piece dedicated to the chameleonic actor: “Chalamet’s presence is the main factor in keeping the casual moviegoer invested in an intriguing but mostly quite weird story about a war between planets with sandworms, a floating Stellan Skarsgård, and a person named Duncan Idaho.” However, the film’s greatest flaw is its distinct lack of Zendaya, whose total screen time amounts to a measly 7 minutes of the film’s gargantuan runtime (2 hours and 35 minutes).
Is this a game to you, Denis Villeneuve? Regardless, the filmmaker has created a striking and compelling adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, which has arguably never been done before. It should get an Oscar!
With a vintage Chanel wardrobe, a soundtrack designed to reflect “true anarchy and chaos”, and an Emma Corrin-approved dialect coach, all the pieces are in place for Kristen Stewart to lead Spencer to Oscars glory. Pablo Larraín’s second film about a blazer-wearing girlboss (the first of course being Jackie) is one of his best — a macro shot of the late Princess Diana’s life over the course of a singular hellish weekend on the Sandringham Estate. It all kicks off, of course, on Christmas Eve.
In our review of the “unrestrained, psychological melodrama”, Jack King wrote about K-Stew’s “all-out high-camp theatricalism.” He continues: “Undergirding the story of Diana Spencer is a history of patriarchal violence: women betrayed by hastily forgiven husbands, but whose own missteps are demonised to the hilt; by voracious, parasitic paparazzo, who will exploit anyone for a quick buck; nose-gazing in-laws with more concern for familial tradition than the wellbeing of their daughter-in-laws.”
Does this movie do justice to the complex and often horrifying life of the People’s Princess, one of the world’s most famous and consequently most terrorised women to live? Debatable. Is it an engaging, visually stunning, 111-minute dunk on the British monarchy? Oh, absolutely.