In her 2021 ad for AMC theaters, Nicole Kidman said it best when she praises movie-going and “the indescribable feeling we get when the lights begin to dim, and we go somewhere we’ve never been before.” No one needs reminding these days that the real world can be scary- just one among a whole slew of other adjectives to describe the worst humanity has to offer. More and more, audiences- like our girl Nicole- turn to film for “escapism,” to be taken out of their world and put into another world. Looking back at 2022, specifically at the Oscar nominations that honor the year in film, it was an excellent year for fiction.
Of the ten Best Picture nominees, only one is based on a true story: Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic, “Elvis.” The other nine replicate our world to varying degrees- “Avatar: The Way of Water” is exceptional here in being set planets and decades away, while the other eight appear in some ways or others to replicate our own (or, in “The Fabelmans” case, Steven Spielberg’s) lived experience back to us through fiction. Sometimes they reflect our world in such vivid and careful detail that even audiences mistake it for reality. Most notably, the release of the ultra-realist “TAR” saw widespread Google searches, with audiences earnestly and confusedly trying to find Lydia Tar’s Wikipedia page that was shown in the film. It wasn’t the only one, though! Along with “TAR,” Google auto-filled the question “Is (Name of Movie)…” with “…based on a true story” for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.” 2022 had audience members scratching their heads and looking for the truth behind many of the year’s biggest films.
Looking at our ten screenplay nominees, audiences were treated to some escapes of many types. In Best Adapted Screenplay, we were transported into the shrouded horrors of a Mennonite community in Bolivia, the muck and terror at the front lines of World War One, flown at unfathomable speeds through the mountains and clouds, placed among every day in mid-century London, and ferried to a remote Greek island where the only thing more dreamy than the picturesque views was the blissful idea that, with just a quick spray from Ethan Hawke, COVID cares might be thrown to the wind. Over in Best Original Screenplay, we find ourselves back among the Greek islands as well as Sweden, in a verdant and bucolic community among the Irish isles, among the brutalist throes of the Berlin music scene, and entertained domestically through the movie studios and laundromats of California- not to mention a brief Grand Canyon panorama with a couple of rocks (Of course, all of this, no matter the movie, fits within an everything bagel, too). While it should absolutely be noted that the Academy continues to be fairly “local” (to use Bong Joon-ho’s terminology), focusing its attention mainly on Ameri- and Eurocentric projects and settings, these settings are hard to deny.
The twenty acting nominees also reflect the richness of this year’s fiction. In a state of the industry now saturated with biopics and adaptations, only two of the twenty nominees are playing fully real people (sorry, Michelle Williams, there is technically no such Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman). Of course, you could hardly find two more iconic American figures to be playing- Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in “Elvis” and Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.” Even when Hollywood departs as largely as it did this year, it seems only fitting that these two figures remain! By my research, you have to go all the way back to 2004 for a year where there have been only two performances based on real life. At the 76th Academy Awards, Charlize Theron took home her Oscar for “Monster,” in which she played serial killer Aileen Wuornoz, and Jude Law was nominated for Best Actor for playing W. P. Inman in “Cold Mountain.” And even at that, Law’s Inman might be generous: all we know of his character is a name, infantryman “William P. Inman,” on a handful of documents at the National Archives. Since 2004, real-life performances have ranged from three (in 2007, though “Dreamgirls” is complicated in the same way that “The Fabelmans” is marginal here) to thirteen (in 2019). With the last three years containing either eight or nine real-life performances, the two at this year’s ceremony seem quite exceptional. Of course, this stat has much to owe to both “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” scoring eight of the slots for their fictional films- but a stat is a stat!
This is certainly not to dismiss the work done around real events and people from the year. Most notably, Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis shamefully missed Best Actress nominations for Mamie Till in “Till” and General of the true Agojie in “The Woman King.” 2022 saw Whitney Houston come to life, all the brave women behind “She Said” Whipped Peter fully realized from photo to screen in “Emancipation,” and who could forget Daniel Radcliffe’s “Weird” Al Yankovic?! The list can go on.
Hundreds- thousands!- of talented folks had a hand in creating the fiction we surrounded ourselves within 2022, and we should be deeply thankful. We saw the incredible worlds that only cinema can help us occupy with incredible returns to both Wakanda and Pandora, as well as filmmakers’ own deep well of appreciation for that power in “Babylon” and “The Fabelmans.” From “Avatar: The Way of Water’s” most massive $250 million spectacle scale to the tiny world of “To Leslie,” the films of 2022 delivered audiences to different lives and places at every conceivable level. While I feverishly Google “how to perfectly spin and launch out of a truck filled with tigers, wolves, cheetahs, and bears while double-fisting flaming torches” with the rest of all of you (certainly that was real!?), I look forward with great anticipation to all the remarkable stories- fact or fiction- that 2023 will bring. No matter what, I’ll settle in as excitedly and earnestly as Nicole.
What were some of your favorite movies from 2022? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account, be sure to check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here and vote on the 2022 NBP Film Award nominations here.
You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm