With one glaring omission—more on that later—the Oscar nominations for 2022 may be more rich and varied than any other year in recent memory. Suddenly, it’s not so unusual to find international films nominated in the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay categories, as opposed to being conveniently and unimaginatively filed under Best International Feature. (We have the success and popularity of 2019’s Parasite to thank, at least partially, for that trend.) The even better news is that you can now watch most of these films at home: a three-hour Japanese movie that, in olden days, you’d have to trek to your local arthouse to see (if you had one), can now be streamed in your living room. While nothing beats the big-screen experience, accessibility is a boon for pre-Oscar night catching up, particularly following a year when many still felt some anxiety about going back to movie theaters.
You’ve already heard plenty about some of the Oscar nominees, like Jane Campion’s tense and beautifully crafted western The Power of the Dog. Following is a list of Oscar picks—a mix of performers and movies—that may have somehow escaped your radar, or that simply deserve a little extra consideration. And while this may be cheating, the movie at the bottom of the list received exactly zero Oscar nominations. Let’s call it a shadow entry in the Oscar race—a picture that’s a winner, even with no chance of winning.
Drive My Car
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay
A Tokyo theater actor and director (Hidetoshi Nishijima), recently widowed, reflects on his love for his late wife, even as he confronts the truth about her unfaithfulness—and forges an unexpected bond with the young woman (Tôko Miura) assigned to be his driver for the duration of a theater festival in Hiroshima. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s lyrical three-hour drama, adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami, explores grief, forgiveness and Chekov—more or less in that order. This is a movie of great warmth and subtlety, a reminder not just to be patient with others, but also with ourselves.
Where to stream: HBO Max
The Worst Person in the World
Nominated for: Best International Feature and Best Original Screenplay
Norwegian actor Renate Reinsve shines in Joachim Trier’s bittersweet comedy about a young woman making the wrong choices for the right reasons—or perhaps the other way around. Trier has made a movie filled with tenderness, for its characters and for this whole sorry world, a balm for anyone who has ever been confused—and who hasn’t?
Where to stream: Not yet available
Penelope Cruz for Best Actress in Parallel Mothers
In the seventh film collaboration between Spanish maestro Pedro Almodóvar and Penelope Cruz, Cruz plays Janis, a professional photographer in her late 30s who finds herself pregnant as the result of her involvement with a married forensic anthropologist. In the maternity ward, she befriends another mother-to-be (Milena Smit), whose child was conceived under very different circumstances. There’s a plot twist here that you might easily guess—but brace yourself for Cruz’s marvelous, fine-grained performance, possibly the best she has ever given. Janis’s fragility and her fortitude are two sides of one coin, and Cruz shifts from one to the other in the merest breath.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video, among other platforms
Troy Kotsur for Best Supporting Actor in CODA
In Siân Heder’s CODA, a young woman who can hear grows up in a family of others who can’t. Troy Kotsur, who has been deaf since birth, plays her father, Frank, a Gloucester, Mass., fisherman who can’t understand why his daughter wants to leave town, and the family, to pursue a singing career. Kotsur’s performance, both fierce and delicate, enfolds the myriad complexities of fatherhood—including the importance of holding on tight, but with a light touch.
Where to stream: Apple TV
Ariana DeBose for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story
Any successful version of West Side Story needs a great Anita. Steven Spielberg, in his rapturous reimagining of this fiercely loved material, found his in Ariana DeBose. A glorious dancer and a singer of ardent warmth, she also carries the picture’s most intense dramatic scenes—a regal presence announcing herself with a flounce of chiffon.
Where to stream: Disney+ and HBO Max
Javier Bardem for Best Actor in Being the Ricardos
There’s a surprise at the center of writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s otherwise flawed Being the Ricardos, Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Desi Arnaz, husband and business partner of Lucille Ball (played by fellow Oscar-nominee Nicole Kidman). Bardem looks nothing like Arnaz: his features are meatier, more robust. While Arnaz was fleet, with a dancer’s frame, Bardem is solid and earthy. What’s more, Bardem is Spanish, not Cuban. But Bardem is terrific as Arnaz, finding complexities in the man that we might not have known were there. When he deflects Lucy’s accusations of philandering, we can’t be sure if he’s lying or not—but his chilled-martini-glass charm somehow makes every word believable. Bardem captures Arnaz’s magnetism and his ambition, and the two men melt into one before our eyes.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime
Aunjanue Ellis and Will Smith for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor in King Richard
As the parents of Venus and Serena Williams, Oracene “Brandy” Price and Richard Williams, Aunjanue Ellis and Will Smith are a formidable team. As the man who raised his two little girls to be among the greatest tennis players in history, Smith plays Richard’s proud-papa peacock act to the hilt—but without vanity, he also shows us this man’s stubborn, self-centered side, and, even more important, his vulnerability. And Ellis has been giving terrific performances—as Ray Charles’ inamorata Mary Ann Fisher in Ray, as a saucy spy in Undercover Brother—for years. Finally, her superb turn here has put her on the Oscar map. Ellis brings the movie to Earth when it teeters toward hagiography, giving us a woman who both dreams big and holds a family together, proving the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime, among other platforms
Nominated for: Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Feature
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s extraordinary animated work Flee tells the real-life story of a man known in the film as Amin, who fled Afghanistan as a child refugee. Having rebuilt his life in Denmark, he’s getting ready to marry the man he loves—only to learn the impossibility of outrunning his past. Innovative and piercing, this is a story of reckoning, and of finding our way to love.
Where to stream: Hulu, among other platforms
When We Were Bullies
Nominated for: Best Short Documentary
While working on an earlier project, filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt found himself jolted into remembering a painful episode from his past, an instance of bullying at the Brooklyn public school he attended in the 1960s—only he was one of the bullies. Rosenblatt tracks down fellow classmates, many of whom remembered their participation in the incident clearly, recalling it with great regret. This is a small, searching film about the cruelty of children, and how it shapes us as adults.
Where to stream: ShortsTV
Nominated for: Nothing
OK, this is definitely cheating. But it’s baffling that the Academy failed to recognize Rebecca Hall’s debut feature, based on Nella Larsen’s compact and potent novel from 1929, with even a single nomination, particularly in the performance category. Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are both extraordinary in this drama about two childhood friends, both of them Black although one has staked her identity—and her life—on passing for white. Perhaps the semantics of Oscar categories caused these two performances to cancel each other out in the Academy’s eyes: Are these co-lead performances? Should Thompson be considered the lead, since the story unfolds from her point of view, even if Negga’s stunner of a performance pervades every frame of the movie? Who knows what happened? But in the Oscar race of our dreams, we’re the ones who get to choose the winners, and I’d happily hand a statuette to either of two extraordinary performers.
Where to stream: Netflix
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