Awards Season

CultureMap film critic's guide to the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees of 2022

CultureMap film critic's guide to the 2022 Best Picture Oscar nominees

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog is the heavy favorite at the 2022 Oscars, nominated for 12 awards, including Best Picture. Photo by Kirsty Griffin/courtesy of Netflix

The nominations for the 2022 Academy Awards have been announced, with 10 films vying for for Best Picture. Unlike the system that had been in place since 2009, where anywhere between 5 and 10 films could be nominated, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has established a rule that 10 films will now be nominated every year.

The Power of the Dog led the way with 12 total nominations, while Dune was close behind with 10 nominations.

Take a look back at what CultureMap's film critic, Alex Bentley, had to say about each of the nominees (listed below in alphabetical order) when they were originally released. 

Belfast
Writer/director Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical film about his childhood in Northern Ireland, which earned seven nominations, is a brilliantly told story about a time that only those who were there know well, with Branagh managing to make the city of his youth come alive again. In addition to the Best Picture nomination, Branagh is nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Ciarán Hinds is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Judi Dench picked up a surprise nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

CODA
Perhaps the least "Oscar-y" film of the 10 nominated films, CODA is a heartwarming movie that presents the traditional story of a young person finding herself couched in a non-traditional setting, making the most of that combination. Nominated for three Oscars, its most notable aspect is the three Deaf actors playing the family of lead actress Emilia Jones, including Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and now Oscar-nominee Troy Kotsur, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Writer/director Sian Heder also picked up a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Don't Look Up
Writer/director Adam McKay has made one of the more interesting pivots in Hollywood, turning his comedic eye on real world topics. The film, nominated for four Oscars, is ostensibly a satire about the lack of a belief in climate change by certain segments of society, but it also may just be the best movie about the COVID era without ever mentioning the disease. McKay and co-writer David Sirota are also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Drive My Car (not reviewed)
International films rarely get nominated outside of their designated category, so the three-hour Japanese film earning a Best Picture nod was somewhat of a surprise. Not only that, it received four nominations total, including one for Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Best Director and another for Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe for Best Adapted Screenplay, nearing the strong support of 2019's Parasite, which was nominated for six Oscars and won four.

Dune
The highest-grossing movie among the 10 nominees, taking in a little over $100 million domestically, Dune is a visual splendor but is strangely inert on the storytelling side. Delivering part one of what will be a two-part film, Denis Villenueve, nominated for Best Director, seems much more interested in portraying the scale — both literally and metaphorically — of everything in the film, forgetting to make the audience care about the people involved. The film received 10 nominations, mostly on the technical side, although Jon Spaihts, Villeneuve, and Eric Roth did nab an adapted screenplay nomination.

King Richard
This film, which earned seven nominations, tells the story of the early years of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, shepherded by their headstrong father, Richard. Starring Best Actor nominee Will Smith, the film has all the markings of a classic underdog story, showing how much the sisters and family had to overcome just to be given a chance by the cloistered tennis society. Aunjanue Ellis, who plays the matriarch of the family, is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and writer Zach Baylin is nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Licorice Pizza
The latest film from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza is a coming-of-age story as only Anderson can tell it. Nominated for three Oscars, the film comes off as more of a lark than most of Anderson’s films, but because he has a unique approach to filmmaking, it’s also more interesting than maybe it has a right to be. Anderson is nominated for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Nightmare Alley
Another film whose visuals outshine its story, Nightmare Alley — nominated for four Oscars — had the possibility of getting star Bradley Cooper another acting nomination. But he and most of the cast are held back by a noir story that writer/director Guillermo del Toro wants to pretend is way more intriguing than it actually is. The film's three other nominations were in technical categories, including the expected Best Cinematography.

The Power of the Dog
Probably the most confounding story of the 2022 Oscars season is the love being showered on Jane Campion's first film in 12 years, which garnered a leading 12 nominations. Featuring a fiery performance by star Benedict Cumberbatch, who's rightly nominated for Best Actor, the film as a whole is nonsensical, with a baffling narrative made only slightly watchable because of the pretty New Zealand scenery. Nonetheless, Campion is nominated for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Jesse Plemons are nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Kirsten Dunst is nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

West Side Story
A lot of people were skeptical of Steven Spielberg remaking a film that won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, but Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner updated the story and songs in all the right ways. Nominated for seven Oscars, the film puts real thought into the treatment of all of its characters and reworks a variety of songs to great effect. Spielberg is nominated for Best Director, and Ariana DeBose is favored to win for Best Supporting Actress, the same award co-star Rita Moreno won for the same role 60 years ago.