by Julian Spivey
There’s been a lot of talk about declining Oscars ratings lately and there are many theories and reasons being bandied about as to why the Academy Awards telecast ratings are in decline. One of those theories I often hear is: “nobody has seen the movies nominated.” Well, I don’t know what people have and haven’t seen, but I do know it’s as easy, if not easier now, to see the bulk of the films nominated than it’s ever been.
There used to be one way to see Oscar-nominated movies before Hollywood’s big night – and that was at the cinema. By the time the 94th annual Academy Awards air on ABC on Sunday, March 27 many will have had the opportunity to have seen all 10 films nominated for the coveted Best Picture honor and everybody with an Internet connection (which is most Americans) will have a shot to see eight of the 10 nominees just via streaming options. According to Variety, the average American household subscribes to four streaming services (and I know some of y’all are sharing passwords to others), so you can probably see these films.
It's simply easier now to see Oscar-nominated movies than it’s ever been. So, please, stop using the excuse that nobody has seen the movies. If you haven’t seen most of them it’s your own fault.
Here’s how you can see the 2022 Best Picture nominees:
“CODA,” directed by Sian Heder, was my favorite film of 2021, but its likely one of the least seen Best Picture nominees because it’s on AppleTV+ (which has stuff worth watching *cough* “Ted Lasso” *cough* but has a much smaller library than basically every other streaming service.) “CODA” is the story of Ruby, the only speaking member of a deaf family, who wants to go to music school, but her family and their fishing business depend heavily on her ability to communicate. Emilia Jones played the lead role of Ruby and was honestly robbed of a Best Actress nomination. Troy Kotsur, who plays her father, became the second deaf actor ever nominated for a performance with his Best Supporting Actor nomination. If you don’t have access to AppleTV+ it’s $4.99/month, but you can also do a free seven-day trial if you just want to see this film.
“Don’t Look Up”
“Don’t Look Up” is likely the most seen of the Best Picture nominees because it debuted on Netflix, still the most popular streaming platform (though sometimes I wonder why), on Christmas Day and skyrocketed to the top of the platform’s top 10 most seen movies and shows. Directed Adam McKay’s global warning satire has been quite controversial, partially due to its subject matter being and partially due to some people not believing it to be good (I need to watch it before Oscars night to see for myself). The film has a stellar cast featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and more. Odds are you have Netflix, but if not, it has plans ranging from $10-$20 a month.
“The Power of the Dog”
“The Power of the Dog” is likely the front-runner to win Best Picture at this moment because it was the most nominated film overall with 12 nominations. Director Jane Campion’s drama set in 1925 Montana stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a domineering rancher who responds with cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son until the “unexpected comes to pass.” The entire main cast of Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee have been nominated for their performances and Campion could become just the third female director to win Best Director. “The Power of the Dog” is available on Netflix.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s previous film “The Shape of Water” (2017) was the Oscar winner for Best Picture and he’s followed that up with another Best Picture nominee in “Nightmare Alley.” “Nightmare Alley” is the mysterious tale of Stanton Carlisle who joins a carnival where he learns the art of mentalism and takes it on the road for his own act before taking things a bit too far. Bradley Cooper stars in the lead role and it’s maybe somewhat surprising he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, but the snub I’m more concerned with is Willem Dafoe not being nominated for Best Supporting Actor. “Nightmare Alley” is available to stream on Hulu, which you can get for either $6.99 or $12.99/month depending on the plan.
“West Side Story”
You actually have not one, but two different methods for being able to stream director Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1962 Best Picture winner (that’s right, we could have our very first Best Picture remake of another Best Picture). “West Side Story” will be available to stream on both Disney+ and HBOMax on Wednesday, March 2, though I understand if you’re a bit like me and are somewhat uninterested in remakes of already classics. If you like animated or superhero movies, I know you already have Disney+. If you want HBO Max, it’s $9.99/month, but there’s a good chance you already have it and may not even know it if you’re already paying for HBO or if you’re an AT&T user (I was surprised to find I got it for free with that).
“Drive My Car”
One of the pleasant surprises for many film watchers with the Academy’s focus on diversity within the voting body has been the addition of international films within the Best Picture category – director Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” even won Best Picture in 2020. Among this year’s nominees for Best Picture is director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” out of Japan, a probable shoo-in to win the Best International Film category. “Drive My Car” is about a widowed actor who seeks a chauffeur and begins to strike up a relationship with the 20-year old woman who winds up with the job. Hamaguchi also surprised some by winding up in the Best Director category too. “Drive My Car” will be available to stream on HBO Max starting Wednesday, March 2.
Many may have gotten the chance to see director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi/adventure epic “Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s popular novel, when it initially premiered on HBO Max and in theaters in late October and spent a month on the streaming service. The film actually did good box office numbers, so maybe you even saw it on the big screen. Those who missed out on it the first time around will have a second chance before the Oscars when it returns to HBO Max on Thursday, March 10.
Like “Dune,” “King Richard” also debuted on HBO Max simultaneously with its debut in theaters in November, so you’ve had a shot at viewing the story of how Richard Williams raised and shaped tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams into the legends they became already. But, if you missed out on the film that has Will Smith considered the potential front-runner to win his first career Best Actor Oscar for his titular role you’ll have another shot at it on HBO Max beginning Thursday, March 24 just a few nights before the Oscars telecast.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” is one of two Best Picture nominees you’ll probably have to leave your house to find and it’s currently only in theaters and unlikely to come to a streaming service before the Oscars (though it might become available to rent via video on demand before then). “Licorice Pizza” was my first venture out to the cinema in more than two years when I saw it in early January and while it’s a bit wandering and pretty plotless, following two young folks around early ‘70s Los Angeles, I found the performances to be terrific, especially the female lead of Alana, played by Alana Haim who should’ve been nominated for Best Actress.
Director Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is the other of the two Best Picture nominees that you’ll likely only be able to see if you go to your local theater between now and the Oscars with no plans for streaming before then and only a slight possibility of being able to rent via video on demand by then. Branagh’s “Belfast” is semi-autobiographically of his childhood during the troubles of the late ‘60s in the Northern Ireland capital and the experience of it within a working class family. Branagh has been nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay while Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
So, there’s really no excuse when it comes to being able to see 80 percent of the Best Picture nominees before Hollywood’s big night. Get to watching!
by Julian Spivey
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe & Cate Blanchett
Runtime: 2 hours & 30 minutes
Director Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” begins with a scene of Bradley Cooper’s lead Stanton Carlisle throwing a dead body into a hole in the floor of a home before lighting it ablaze and walking off into his future. So, we know right from the start our main character has a dark side, but we’re still willing to take the ride with him because the story, written by del Toro and Kim Morgan and based off William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, is so intriguing and Cooper’s performance so mysterious.
Stanton comes upon a local carnival, where he’s immediately offered work by a carnival owner named Clem (Willem Dafoe), who runs the geek show. I found Dafoe’s performance to be the most intriguing of the entire film because, well, how can Dafoe as a carny master not be, which is disappointing because the carnival aspect of “Nightmare Alley” is less than half of the film. The best part of Dafoe’s performance is a bit of foreshadowing where he explains how he finds new geeks for the show.
Stan quickly falls into carnival life with a clairvoyant act Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and the brains behind the outfit, her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn) and falls for another carnival act Molly (Rooney Mara). Pete teaches Stan everything he knows about mentalism, but when he dies mysteriously (or maybe I just find it mysteriously in that I have doubts whether it was accidental), Stan and Molly leave the carnival behind for bigger things.
The movie jumps forward two years to find Stan the star of his own clairvoyant act with Molly as his assistant at a big city hotel. It’s during one of these performances in which he’s interrupted by psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) attempting to prove him to be a fraud. However, when he bests Ritter, he’s approached by Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill), one of the local wealthy elite, to help his wife Felicia (Mary Steenburgen) communicate with their dead son. Remembering Pete’s warnings about never turning their act into a “spook show,” Molly tries to dissuade Stanton from going through with the act, but he just can’t help himself having turned from carnival act into con artist.
Carnival life might have been dark with its images of geeks biting the heads off of live chickens, but at least the carny’s had their own moral code (well, I’m not sure Clem did), unlike the upper class elite willing to pay good money to be reunited with the deceased, but dangerous if Stanton can’t succeed. I don’t want to spoil anything, but dangerous it does indeed become and there’s so many spirals of deceit playing out at the end you might be surprised by who’s pulling the strings all along.
I figured out before the end exactly how this movie was going to end, but that was OK for me because it’s almost exactly how I wanted it to end. It’s a Rod Serling/’Twilight Zone’-esque ending. The only thing that would’ve made the ending sweeter for me would’ve been for Dafoe to have replaced the character played by Tim Blake Nelson in the finale. But maybe that would’ve been too dark or maybe would’ve given the ending away sooner than del Toro would’ve liked.
“Nightmare Alley” was recently nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It can now be streamed on Hulu.