Ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of the year. The pinnacle of art and culture. The Super Bowl for pretentious people. 

Whether you’re an avid film enjoyer or someone who only stepped foot in a movie theater this year to watch the most recent Minions movie, the Academy Awards are entrenched in popular culture in a ubiquitous, almost inescapable way. Leading up to the event, we recall collectively the movies we’ve consumed in the last year – the films that have moved us, for better or for worse. 

For many, there’s a certain charged curiosity to this time of reflection, as we rationalize whether the films we have personally most enjoyed will be recognized on the critical level, deemed “best” in some arbitrary way by the ambiguous collection of individuals that is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Myself, I relish in the concept of Oscar’s predictions, finding amusement in every part of the process, particularly when my picks emerge victorious (as, it should go without saying, they always do). It is with great gratification that I’ve culminated my Best Picture nominee evaluations for this year’s Academy Awards season, from nominations well-deserved to the films that were quite objectively snubbed.

The front runner: The Banshees of Inisherin 

A thought-provoking piece on interpersonal connection, The Banshees of Inisherin presents its audience with a case study on loneliness and how the human condition has guided us, albeit in fragmented directions, to react to it. With that said, the movie is not the most accessible of the nominees – with graphic visuals of self-mutilation and jarring reminders of how profoundly depressing this world may be, not all audience members will have a necessarily “easy” time chewing on the film, let alone enjoying it. 

However, it is important to note, the Academy does not vote based on public appeal, but rather genuine, masterful quality. And, without a shadow of a doubt, quality is what The Banshees of Inisherin brings to the table. Unbelievable cinematography, terrific performances and a simple, yet mind-bending screenplay come together to create a near-perfect film, and one provides its viewers with a sort of tranquil yet devastating intensity that, especially in cinema, is hard to come by.

The people’s winner: Everything Everywhere All at Once  

Not everyone loved Everything Everywhere All at Once. But those that did found masterpiece in the madness, and best believe, they would die on that hill. To bring a bit of context to the forefront, Everything Everywhere All at Once seems to be the more accessible, more widely watched film within the critically acclaimed arena – hence my deeming the movie with the “People’s Winner” title. Undoubtedly, Everything Everywhere puts forth an abundance of endearing, meaningful and even awe-inspiring qualities. It’s a multifaceted film, with layers ranging from existential philosophical commentary to Pixar-esque wholehearted comfort. 

With that said, at risk of sounding like a contrarian, I think it would be remiss to ignore the glaringly obvious fact that Everything Everywhere All at Once is just a little too messy, a little too loud, and a little too convoluted. In this widely beloved film, A24 sacrifices storytelling integrity for vibrance and abundance, and in turn, from a purely technical standpoint, produced a screenplay that feels scattered, perhaps even immature. 

Notwithstanding, the film is earnest in its depiction of depression while successfully steering clear of being cliché. Instead, there is a visceral feeling of understanding and sorrowful comfort, one that was desperately needed by countless moviegoers. And despite not quite being a truly feasible Best Picture candidate, that is why Everything Everywhere All at Once will be the people’s winner.

The one that was nominated just because of the lead: Elvis

When it comes to biopics, there is nothing more important than a convincing performance. If the performance proves to be adequate, it carries the entire film on its back with ease in a way unlike any other genre of cinema. Austin Butler passed this threshold. In Elvis, Butler absolutely embodies Elvis Presley to an almost freakish extent, with every movement and mannerism mirroring Elvis’ with charming precision. 

Unfortunately for the film as a whole, a sincerely grotesque editing job compounded with a laughable supporting actor job on Tom Hanks’ part dulls the movie’s sparkle. However, as we’ve seen with other far from perfect works such as Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, the Academy is nothing if not consistent with its trend of affinity towards biopics about beloved musical artists, especially when the lead succeeds in accomplishing a convincing resemblance to the person which the movie is based on in their performance. 

In some ways, Elvis is a technical atrocity, but Austin Butler’s performance singlehandedly lights up the story. It’s not Best Picture worthy – by any means – but who else would fulfill the Oscar’s obligatory mediocre biopic nod?

The blockbuster effect: Avatar: The Way of Water

When I saw this movie’s title on the Best Picture nomination lineup, I think I actually audibly sighed. Listen, I get it. The Avatar movies boast breakthrough special effects innovations, and I cannot take that away from the franchise. But please, for the love of cinema, can we not kid ourselves? This nomination feels as ludicrous as the movie is long. Just because elements of a film are independently impressive and innovative does not mean that the cohesive work is up to par. I chalk this nomination up purely to the blockbuster effect, and while I am disappointed to see this name among the other Best Picture noms, it saddens me to say that I am not surprised. 

The renowned director nod: The Fabelmans

I would like to shake the Oscar’s nomination committee by the shoulders and ask them why? How? Have you no merit? No shame? Did we even watch the same film? 

It is clear, at least to me, that The Fabelmans was nominated for Best Picture largely due to the fact that a certain Mister Steven Spielberg was the one to direct the film. In some ways, the Academy Awards are Hollywood’s annual popularity contest, and this is a perfect exemplification of that reality. Despite essentially being a film outlining the events that contributed to Spielberg’s directorial success, so many elements of this movie were so offensively flat. With such an incredible cast, from Seth Rogen to Paul Dano, it is nearly impressive that the acting in this film felt so painstakingly hollow. The absolute irony of movies that attempt to capture the immensity of cinema but end up missing the mark is beyond me. It’s okay Spielberg, everyone has to miss at least once. Right?