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The Oscars: Through the Eyes of a College Student

I have a confession to make: I’ve never liked the Oscars. I like the concept of an award show that celebrates the best films every year, but I don’t like the Oscars. I don’t like the idea that one committee of a bunch of rich Hollywood executives can decide which films are the best films of the year and which aren’t. Especially when the academy is swayed by studios spending millions of dollars on gifts to try to get the academy members to vote for their movie. With that being said, I have never watched all the films nominated for best picture before the awards show. Maybe the academy is right in what they choose every year. So I'm going to take the next month and a half trying to watch every film nominated for Best Picture.

The first film I watched that was nominated for best picture was Dune. Dune is a great opener to a new franchise. Google’s synopsis for Dune is “Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet's exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.” Overall I liked the movie a lot. It had a great cast that had a lot of great moments for each character to shine. The story was good but would be very confusing for a first time viewer with no knowledge of the source material. My friend had to explain the movie to his girlfriend during most of the film so she could understand. The cinematography is great and the score was stellar. However the score was a little loud at times and was distracting from the film. That might have just been a problem with the theatre I watched it in, but it did take me out of the movie. Most of the movie was super engaging with most characters coming off as likable and the special effects were spectacular. My main gripe with the film was it was a set up film. This didn’t really feel like its own film, more like act one of a play. Overall I would give it a 7/10, but that might change depending on its sequel.

The second film I watched was King Richard. Google’s synopsis of King Richard is “Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Calif., Richard shapes the girls' unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.” Fun Fact I covered this film for eagle eye news and was able to sit in on an interview segment with the cast. I was able to see the film early for this reason. If you want an in-depth review on King Richard, check out the article I did for Eagle Eye. Getting back to the point, I really liked this film. I was looking forward to King Richard since it was announced, and the film didn’t disappoint. Will Smith puts on one of his best performances as Richard Williams. He really does a good job at making you root for his character but also making him detestable. The cinematography is good and the plot is stellar. The cast does a phenomenal job in playing the Williams family and friends, with the young actresses who play Venus and Serena having the added bonus of learning to play tennis like two of the greatest athletes of all time. It’s a great feel good movie that I went back and rewatched two times since seeing it the first time. I didn’t have any big problems with King Richard and overall I would give it a 9/10.

The third film I watched was West Side Story. I went to see West Side Story opening weekend alone because I had time to kill. Google’s synopsis for West Side Story is,” Love at first sight strikes when young Tony spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks -- two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.” It’s an interesting film as its based on the play of the same name and is a remake of the 1961 film. That version won Best Picture, along with nine other Oscars. It is seen as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. The new version also has the added bonus of having Steven Spielberg direct it. I have yet to watch the original, but 2021’s West Side Story had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Spielberg’s version is a masterpiece. The film is vibrant and stylized to the 1950s. The wardrobe is colorful for big numbers but subdued for other scenes to put more focus on the characters. It is shot beautifully and truly feels like a cinematic experience worthy of the big screen. You could take any frame from this movie and hang it up on your wall. The acting is incredible as Rachel Zelger, Ariana DeBose, and Mike Faist being the standouts. Most of the actors past work is primarily theatre, but they transition well on to the silver screen. The only sore spot is Ansel Elgort. He does an alright job as Tony, but is underwhelming compared to his costars. Elgort also faces controversy as this is the first film to come out after sexual assault allegations against him in 2020. But overall this film is great and full of heart. Sadly, it didn’t do great at the box office. West Side Story came out a week before the juggernaut that was Spider-Man: No Way Home, and that stunted its box office haul. I give West Side Story a 7.8/10. I would rank it higher, but the film gets points off for being a remake.

The fourth film I watched was Licorice Pizza. I saw Licorice Pizza in early February in a theater. This film is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and stars first time actors Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Google’s synopsis for the film is “Alana Kane and Gary Valentine grow up, run around, and fall in love in California's San Fernando Valley in the 1970s.” Hoffman and Haim have great chemistry and its what makes the film. I think that Haim was snubbed for a nomination for Best Actress. Licorice Pizza is a fast-pace1970s love story of a teenage conman and mid twenties slacker. It centers Hoffman’s character, Gary, trying to win over a girl who is almost a decade older. Licorice Pizza has many funny and memorable scenes and also features some big name actors like Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn making cameo appearances. The movie blends its characters with real actors and figures during the 1970s to great effect. The cinematography is fantastic with close ups, moving scenes, and characters going in and out of focus. The film moves very fast and is prime for multiple viewings. If you watch this film and don’t focus, you will become lost as Licorice Pizza jumps from on scene to the next in an instant. The break neck speed of this film leads to fast humor and hilarious jump cuts. But the film is not all comedy as it features some heart wrenching scenes and somewhat scary scenes. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole film. Overall, Licorice Pizza is a amazing film that is very enjoyable at any mood. For that, I'll give it an 8/10.

After Licorice Pizza, I bought another ticket and watched Belfast in the same night. Going into Belfast. Google’s synopsis for Belfast is, “A semi-autobiographical film which chronicles the life of a working class family and their young son's childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital.” I went in completely blind and had no expectations for the film. With that being said, Belfast is a phenomenal film. The film is shot entirely in black and white, albeit the opening and closing shots of modern Belfast are in color. The story takes place in 1969 and automatically grips you as a friendly Irish community gets stuck in a riot between Catholics and protestants. The story is actually based on director Kenneth Braugh’s experience in Belfast as a child. The film is told from the perspective of 9-year-old Buddy, the youngest of his family. as he sees how this conflict changes his life and his community’s. Because of this, the film doesn’t go into the nitty gritty of The Troubles, a conflict that lasted about 30 years in Northern Ireland. But what it lacks on the subject of the conflict,

Belfast makes up for it in heart and how it affects the characters. Almost every character in Belfast is fleshed out and has their own stance on the conflict that changes as time goes by. The unsettling nature of the conflict reaches a boiling point at the climax that leads to an emotional ending. This is one of two movies that have ever made me cry. The film has strong supporting performances by Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds, who play Buddy’s grandparents. Both of these actors got nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Jude Hill does a great job as Buddy in one of his first roles. A special shoutout is given to Caitriona Balfe, who plays Buddy’s Mom. I feel as she was snubbed for a nomination for Best Actress. Overall, Belfast is stellar and I'd give it a 9/10.

The next film I watched was Don’t Look Up. I was excited for Don’t Look Up when the first trailer came out and because of its all-star cast. Big names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, and Timothée Chalamet were staring in a dark apocalyptic comedy directed by Adam McKay. McKay is known for directing comedy classics like Step-Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman along with other Oscar nominated films like Vice and The Big Short. My anticipation for this film diminished when it got mixed reviews. I didn’t plan on seeing it after that but it was shockingly nominated for Best Picture, which means I would have to watch it. I watched Don’t Look Up a couple of days after seeing Belfast and Licorice Pizza. I used Netflix because the film had no theatrical run and went straight to streaming. This film is a mixed bag for me. On one hand I like the concept of a modern day satire on our world with major world leaders not caring about a world ending threat. On the other hand, I felt like the comedy in this film was awful and I only thought two jokes were funny. I thought the cast did fine with DiCaprio giving another strong performance, but the script wasn’t great so I didn’t enjoy watching this. It was on the nose, but in a very Hollywood way. I believe that there’s a chance something like this would happen, but not how the movie made it to be. There are no good characters in Don’t Look Up. Every person is an obnoxious human being who get their comeuppance at the end. The only thing that I truly thought was great about this film was it’s score. I give Don’t Look Up a 5.5/10

The Seventh film I watched was CODA. This film came out originally at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2021, where it won all three of Sundance’s top prizes. After that, Apple bought the rights to distribute the film and released it in August 2021. I watched CODA at home with my parents. The story of CODA follows Ruby, who is the only hearing person in a family full of deaf people. Both her brother and her parents are deaf. Because of this, she is relied on to help the family business of fishing each morning before going to school. But Ruby falls in love with choir in her high school and her teacher believes that she is so talented, she could make it into Berklee College of Music. This causes conflict between the family in which the main plot ensues. CODA is a hilarious film that can also pull at your heart strings. It has proper representation as all of its deaf characters are played by deaf actors. Troy Kotsur is great as Ruby’s Dad, Frank, and deserves his nomination for best supporting actor. It differentiates itself from most of its Oscar counterparts as it’s a feel-good movie. It’s a very simple story, but the actors act it out to perfection. It isn’t the most striking film as it has the smallest budget of all Best Picture films, but its just a great movie that doesn’t need a big budget or big time actors as it tells a good and meaningful story of disability and acceptance. For this, I give Coda an 8/10.

The eighth film I watched was The Power of The Dog. I watched this film on Netflix with some of my friends during spring break. I was looking forward to this film after watching the trailer. It looked like a western thriller/horror film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. It also had great reviews, with the film currently at a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Google’s synopsis for the film says, “A domineering rancher responds with mocking cruelty when his brother brings home a new wife and her son, until the unexpected comes to pass.” But sadly, I did not enjoy The Power of The Dog. I personally found the film to be very boring and long. I don’t get any of the praise the film gets. The only thing that I like about the film is the cinematography as this films is shot beautifully. I don’t think that Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job in this movie as his accent was terrible for a western film. Other than that, his character was fine but nothing spectacular. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the plot of this film is not good. It goes from normal and then characters do a whole 180 out of nowhere. I don’t think any of the supporting actors were that great either. I’m fine with Kodi-Smit McPhee getting nominated for best supporting actor, even though I wouldn’t have picked him. But Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst do not deserve Oscar nominations for this movie. They were fine, but they were nothing spectacular enough to be nominated. After finishing the film, all of my friends were not very happy about this film. Overall, I would give The Power of The Dog a 4/10.

The ninth film I watched was Drive My Car. This is a Japanese drama/road film directed by Ryusuki Hamaguchi. I watched this film on HBO Max by myself. Google’s synopsis for Drive My Car is “An aging, widowed actor seeks a chauffeur. The actor turns to his go-to mechanic, who ends up recommending a 20-year-old girl. Despite their initial misgivings, a very special relationship develops between the two.” This film is beautiful and unlike any other film i’ve ever seen. Its three hours long and the first 40 minutes is like a prequel before the main plot starts. The opening credits don’t role until 45 minutes into the film. Drive My Car is definitely a slow burn, but it has such a good payoff. The movie is full of underlying emotion but the characters do their best to hide it for the majority of the film. It’s a story of love, loss, betrayal, and the feelings that are left behind after loss. The cinematography in this film is immaculate. The car that is driven in this movie, a red Saab 900, is visually striking against all other cars and the Hiroshima roads where the movie takes place. The acting is great, with Hidetoshi Nishijima being fantastic as the lead, Yūsuke Kafuku. I found myself enjoying this film a lot even though it was my first foreign film i’ve watched without it being dubbed. I would urge you to watch this movie if you can. My only complaint is that the film is long. It doesn’t feel as long as some other Oscar films because its well paced, but at three hours it is long. Overall I would give Drive My Car an 8.5/10.

The last film nominated for Best Picture was Nightmare Alley. This film is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Google’s synopsis for Nightmare Alley is, “In 1940s New York, down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle endears himself to a clairvoyant and her mentalist husband at a traveling carnival. Using newly acquired knowledge, Carlisle crafts a golden ticket to success by swindling the elite and wealthy. Hoping for a big score, he soon hatches a scheme to con a dangerous tycoon with help from a mysterious psychologist who might be his most formidable opponent yet.” The film features a phenomenal performance by Bradley Cooper, who I felt was snubbed for Best Actor. The film bombed at the box office and soon went to streaming on HBO Max. This was the only film I watched in parts. I really liked the first half of this movie. Everything with the carnival in this movie is great and intriguing, but this film falls apart in the second half. It has a problem with pacing and the film is boring to watch after the characters leave the carnival. The cinematography is striking in this film like most Guillermo Del Toro films, but the story isn’t fantastic. Overall I would give Nightmare Alley a 6.5/10.

Thus ends my escapades of watching all the films nominated for Best Picture. This definitely took a mental toll on me over the last month and I won’t do this again. Adding all of my scores for these films together, the average is a 7.3/10. I still hold my opinion on the Oscars as I don’t think Don’t Look Up or The Power Of The Dog should’ve been nominated. I would have rather seen Being The Ricardos, a film nominated for three Oscars, get in best picture. I also would have loved to see a great blockbuster film like No Time To Die or Spider-Man: No Way Home get nominated instead. Tick, Tick…Boom! also would have been a worthy replacement to either of these films. I also watched most films in Best Actress and Best Actor for this article, and most of these were more disappointing and unworthy of nominations than Best Picture. I would be happy if King Richard or Drive My Car won. I also would be content with West Side Story, Coda, or Licorice Pizza winning. But if I had to pick a winner, I would go with Belfast because it’s one of the few films to make me cry. The film is also a relevant look back at the past with the conflict going on in today’s world. It’s a personal story that is executed perfectly and deserves to win Best Picture.

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