By Matt Neglia
Oscar voting officially started yesterday and will run until March 22nd. It’s been another long Oscar season and we at Next Best Picture fully understand that voters might be confused as to which films to vote for with so many worthy nominees. There are a number of films, performances, screenplays and technical aspects that we’ve appreciated from this year, so we put together a few final FYC pleas down below just in case if any Academy members happen to read this with their empty ballots in hand looking to make a final decision on what to vote for.
Best Actress: Kristen Stewart – “Spencer”
After premiering at the Venice Film Festival to enthusiastic responses, Pablo Larrain’s bold take on Princess Diana was savagely misunderstood by general audiences when it was released wide this past fall. What started out as a possible Best Picture contender, or at the very least, could have matched the previous Oscar nominations received by Larrain’s other female-led historical biopic “Jackie,” resulted in a lone nomination for Kristen Stewart. And despite the film not receiving its just due from the Academy, it’s a testament to Stewart’s career-best performance that she managed to hold on and score her first well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Even still, though, “Spencer” is facing an uphill climb. It’s true; this is a demanding film to crack for a multitude of reasons, especially in the wake of Netflix’s broadly supported and appreciated Emmy award-winning series “The Crown,” which also highlights Princess Diana’s life during this time. While that show and the performances are all spectacular, it’s because screenwriter Steven Knight, Pablo Larraín, and especially Kristen Stewart decided to go against the grain and present a tormented, constricted, and all together remarkably specific take on such a publicly well-known figure is precisely what makes “Spencer” and Stewart’s portrayal of the people’s princess magnificent. What most people wanted from “Spencer” was an accurate biopic they could easily digest and one that did not highlight the suffering Diana was probably experiencing internally. Such suffering is meant to make us uneasy in an effort to illustrate the film’s more significant point: through it all, she remained strong for her children and her own sanity. Showcasing her resilience in the face of such overwhelming pressures from the Royal family is the kind of performance only an actor of Kristen Stewart’s caliber could capture, especially given how much scrutiny she’s also had to face from both the public and the media since she was a child. Stewart’s performance radiates compassion, sadness, and sometimes the kind of impulsive behavior we all feel when we’ve simply had enough. What could be more relatable than that? It’s a very human portrayal in a story that may be fictitious, for no one really knows what Diane was ever truly going through. Still, Stewart brings us closer than any other performer has done before. The result may be ugly and uncomfortable, but to experience such trauma and emotion is exactly the kind of empathy that can only make us grow as human beings if we’re willing to give ourselves over to it. It was a hard-fought battle all season long, but Stewart persevered in the face of overwhelming odds and can now call herself an Oscar-nominee. My only hope now is that Academy members can look past their feelings towards the overall film and find it within themselves to recognize Stewart’s monumental work.
- Matt Neglia
Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis – “King Richard”
“King Richard” contains a powerhouse of talent, such as Will Smith taking on the lead role, but there is no denying the power and spirit of Aunjanue Ellis in her Oscar-nominated role. Playing the mother of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, Ellis’ Oracene holds her ground as she encourages her daughters to pursue their passions while also going head-to-head with her husband, Richard. She’s one of few characters that gives him pushback throughout the film, and when she does, you instinctively hold your breath as you anticipate the next words that she’ll utter. All of that is due to Ellis’ commitment and the care she brings to those moments. In one particularly tough scene between Oracene and Richard, where she confronts him and tells him all the sacrifices she’s had to make, Ellis is firm and emotional but never goes overboard with the performance. As a result, we feel and understand every point she makes, almost as if we’re the ones caught in that heated moment. Ellis has been delivering solid performances for years, but her work in “King Richard” is a marvel.
- Ema Sasic
Best Original Screenplay: “Licorice Pizza”
It’s absurd that we’re 25 years – and 11 Oscar nominations – into Paul Thomas Anderson’s career, and yet, one of the most defining auteurs of our generation has yet to receive an Academy Award. However, a win in Best Original Screenplay for “Licorice Pizza” would be no mere “career achievement” award for Anderson. Though movies like “There Will Be Blood” are perhaps bigger “filmmaking feats” overall and scripts like “Magnolia’s” feature more subversively sprawling storytelling, “Licorice Pizza” is Anderson at his most *free* and, as a result, he delivers his most deeply felt work to date. As he ties together a series of seemingly unrelated events – similar to “Inherent Vice” – while keeping a constant thematic throughline thanks to the tremendously charming connection between our two compelling lead characters, Alana and Gary, it’s utterly unimaginable that anyone wouldn’t be entirely absorbed by this intimately epic ode to love and life itself, with Anderson achieving his most successful blend of playfulness and poignancy yet. And even if “Licorice Pizza” isn’t his “sharpest” script or story structurally, it *is* undoubtedly his most overwhelmingly openhearted odyssey, with the film’s enormous emotion enveloping you from the first frame to the last. But rest assured that this screenplay isn’t sugary sweet through and through, as Anderson – in a move that only he could pull off – doesn’t care much about adhering to a typical three-act structure or any other screenwriting “standards” here and thus suffuses it with side-splitting anecdotes and adventures for Alana and Gary, all of which ultimately serve a greater purpose in the progression of their relationship but simultaneously offer eccentric entertainment in the moment, from Bradley Cooper’s comical cameo as Jon Peters to Harriet Sansom Harris’ tremendous turn as an amusing and acerbic talent agent, with every actor given the dynamite dialogue only Anderson can conjure up. And, in the end, he somehow manages to tie up this scattered saga with a cathartic coda that welcomes warmth and cloaks us in the comforting idea that we too can find a bond as beautiful as Gary and Alana’s – where we procure a partner who sees us as the person we *want* to be instead of the person the world *says* we are – even when it seems as if we’ve been beaten down beyond belief. But above all else, “Licorice Pizza” is simply the kind of movie that reminds you why you fell in love with the film medium in the first place, dually humorous and heartfelt, crowded with colorful and instantly iconic characters, and filled with euphoric elation at the mere idea of being alive – and all of that starts with Anderson’s stupendous script.
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Drive My Car”
This year, the Best Adapted Screenplay category features a wide range of emotionally affecting works. These films touch on subjects of familial bonds, personal loss, and joyous satisfaction, whether they be in grounded realities or other-worldly landscapes. However, “Drive My Car” crafts an intimate examination in a way that makes it an exquisite example of storytelling. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, adapting from the short story by Haruki Murakami, explores the process of grief and regret how it harshly clings to our psyche despite the best efforts to tolerate the pain. However, it is only by the act of letting those walls down and identifying these powerful feelings that one can truly reach a deeper understanding. The world is full of heartache, often caused by the ones we love and have lost, and only by recognizing all those complicated emotions can the healing begin. The film takes its time to ruminate on these themes and allows the breathing room for these characters to exist in the moment. It’s easy to recognize a correlation with our current times, a stage in which we collectively have suffered greatly must come to terms with such a tremendous loss. Yet, this film offers guidance within the text. As the protagonist says, “We must keep on living.” It’s a compelling statement that marks a screenplay filled with meditative commentary. The best writing is not only an illustration of memorable dialogue. A truly great script is one that also creates dynamic characters that interact within a rich tapestry of profound insight. This is the reason why the film has resonated with so many audiences around the world, and it all begins with the foundation of the screenplay. The field is crowded with wonderful achievements, but the care, wisdom, and artistic merit found here would make it a deserving choice.
- Josh Parham
Best International Feature Film: “The Worst Person In The World”
Try to describe Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” to someone, and it sounds basic: A young aspiring photographer begins dating an older man and slowly figures out who she is and what she wants her life to be. But what makes it special is how Trier films it. Like the best films of the French New Wave, this film feels thrillingly alive in ways that so few films do. It has an energy that perfectly matches that of its protagonist Julie (masterfully played by Renate Reinsve in a star-making performance) – a restless rhythm that feels like it could spin off and do anything at any given moment. And it does! This is one of the most exciting films of the year, and also one of the most profound – when Trier cedes the last act to the magnificent Anders Danielsen Lie, he gets at ideas that I’ve never seen expressed on film before, offering the kind of hard-won modest life lessons that your forty-year-old self would wish you could impart to your twenty-year-old self. The modern world is complex, and this film captures that complexity in all its maddening, beautiful, messy glory. It’s unlike anything else you’ve seen and offers a variety of textures and tones that none of the other nominees for Best International Feature can match.
Best Documentary Feature: “Flee”
“Flee” made history earlier this season by scoring a nomination in Documentary, Animated, and International Feature, the first film ever to hit all three in one go. However, betting odds and Oscar pundits are predicting that it will score 0 wins at the end of the race, which feels wrong to me. A film that I saw initially at Sundance Film Festival and the London Film Festival, this is a documentary that impacted me even more on the second go. Amin’s story is more relevant than ever before with the crisis in both Afghanistan and Ukraine over the past year, and it is so important that his story is heard by as many people as possible. This is an incredible international story that touches the heart of anyone regardless of nationality or belief. It is also a beautifully animated film that uses the art style to protect the subject’s identity. However, this is first and foremost a documentary that needs to be told, and that is why I hope it particularly pulls out a win in the Documentary category.
- Amy Smith
Best Cinematography: “The Tragedy Of Macbeth”
Bruno Delbonnel’s stunning black-and-white cinematography in Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” plays such a vital role in this rendering of Shakespeare’s classic story that it almost feels like a character in itself. Clearly influenced by the German Expressionistic style of F.W. Murnau’s 1927 “Sunrise” and Carl Dreyer’s 1928 “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” Delbonnel has framed his images in a 1:19.1 ratio, a nearly-perfect square that echoes the aspect ratio utilized by those European masters. Working with production designer Stefan Dechant’s spare, angled sets, Delbonnel delivers a look distinguished by crisp black-and-white imagery, in which the blacks are intense, the whites are dazzling, and the shadows are so very expressive. In the film, which was shot entirely on soundstages, the mood created by Delbonnel’s visuals captures a self-contained world in which nothing is quite what it seems and that there is no escape from what fate has in store. While Shakespeare’s words suggest that Lord and Lady Macbeth (Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand) are slowly descending into madness, Delbonnel’s visuals signal that they may already be there. With “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Delbonnel has delivered Oscar-worthy work that will likely be taught in film schools for decades to come.
- Tom O’Brien
Best Film Editing: “Tick, Tick…Boom!”
Best Film Editing is one of the categories that seem the most up in the air at this point in the Oscar race. While many of the awards this year have a clear frontrunner, this one doesn’t — which is part of the reason why I hope that people will veer away from the bigger films like “Dune” and “The Power of the Dog” and consider some of the most unique editing found in any film this past year. Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum had a difficult task: to blend the performance part of this musical with the narrative sections in a way that flowed, without breaking the energy of the musical numbers. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” reinvents the musical that it adapts, mainly through its editing together of these two parts and the unforgettable “Therapy” musical number, in particular, in one large editing showcase. Aside from that, the “Play Game” scene that recreates the look and feeling of a 1990s music video is inspired work. Kerstein and Weisblum’s work required out-of-the-box thinking to match the sporadic energy and enthusiasm theater kids bring to their art worldwide without overwhelming their audience. I believe such precise work deserves to be recognized.
Best Original Song: Dos Oruguitas – “Encanto”
Yes, perhaps the “Encanto” team should’ve submitted “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” as it’s become a runaway hit that far and away exceeded any expectations. However, I still believe “Dos Oruguitas” should win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. A strong case can be made for “No Time to Die,” and I certainly wouldn’t be sad to see Billie Eilish and Finneas win Oscars, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tragic and hopeful ballad is the unsung hero of “Encanto.” The Spanish-language song is the emotional crux of the film, where Mirabel finally hears the pain inside of her Abuela. This moment in the movie brings generational trauma to life expresses all the unexpressed feelings of love and loss that have eventually hardened Abuela’s heart. Even for listeners who don’t speak Spanish, the emotions hit so powerfully at that moment and are accentuated even more when hearing the translation. Furthermore, even after dozens and dozens of incredible songs, “Dos Oruguitas” features the most beautiful melody Miranda’s ever written. After the stunning year he’s had, now would be the perfect time to give Lin-Manuel Miranda his Oscar (which would also make him an EGOT), and he has the perfect song for the win.
- Daniel Howat
Best Animated Short Film: “Bestia”
I always love the short film categories at the Oscars because it’s one of the few awards races that can really only be predicted by watching all of the nominated films and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each contender. There’s always a wide array of tones, content, and styles to be found, and the limited runtime often forces creativity in ways that are different from feature films. This year’s crop of Best Animated Short Film nominees is different from most years for many reasons, namely that nearly all of the shorts are entirely inappropriate for children. And while some of the shorts use sex and violence seemingly just to shock, one employs startling imagery to tell a story of real-life terror effectively. “Bestia” is a stop-motion film by director Hugo Covarrubias and in just 16 uneasy minutes, it packs a brutal punch. The stone-faced central character is inspired by Íngrid Olderöck, also known by her unassuming nickname “Woman of the Dogs.” She was a member of the Chilean secret police, which carried out the orders of the regime of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet throughout the 1970s. Through abstract visuals and a noticeable lack of exposition or explanation, “Bestia” constructs a collage of evil acts with a tone of banality that only heightens the unnerving nature of the story. Immediately after it was over, I was left shaken and seeking answers. The short led me to delve into an exploration of Olderöck’s nasty deeds, and learning about her makes the film even better. Oscar voters would be wise to vote for a short that artfully brings attention to a chapter of history that should be more widely known. The Academy has a record of not giving horror films the respect they deserve, and “Bestia” presents an opportunity to reward one that uses horror filmmaking techniques to terrify and enlighten the audience.
- Cody Dericks
Thank you for considering these contenders in your Oscar voting. For those who are not voting, what would you like Academy voters to consider for the Oscar win? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account. Check out our latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture