6 Movies That Don't Deserve Oscar Nominations for Best Picture--and 6 That Do
Best Picture nominations should set a cultural standard that reflects our values about humanity as well as showcase our artistic originality. Theoretically.
Every year I write a newsletter the week after the Oscar nominations for Best Picture in which I lament the paltry pickings and pretentious selections while championing a few worthy movies on the list. This year, because there are so many terrible but critically acclaimed films being hoisted on the shoulders of misguided critics, I’m doing a preemptive strike before the Oscar nominations are even announced.
Someone has to stop the madness.
I’m well aware that industry awards for movies are less about artistic achievement and more about promoting movies, studios, and filmmakers whose dollar value can go up tremendously after a nomination, let alone a win. Like a high school election for class president, there is a tendency to vote for friends over content or support a studio or production company that employs you. I’m a member of the Writers Guild of America but I’m unemployed so I can afford to base my vote on my fanciful standard of quality which, like an imaginary friend, may exist only in my world. Yet, to me, the Best Picture nominations should set a cultural standard that reflects our values about humanity as well as showcase our artistic originality. It should showcase not just the heights of our technical abilities, but also the depths of our thinking.
Last year there were 10 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, but only three of them were deserving: Women Talking, The Banshees of Inisherin, and Everything Everywhere All at Once (which won). Any one of them would have been a worthy winner. The rest were perfectly enjoyable, but not on the same level. They were like extras hired to fill in a crowd scene.
For me, a Best Picture nomination should have certain virtues while avoiding certain sins. The sins include being boring, pretentious, precious, all technical proficiency with no beating heart, and populated with characters who are so despicable or insufferable that there are no stakes and therefore no suspense (see boring).
The virtues include characters who we may or may not like but who are always compelling, an inevitable plot without being predictable, dialogue that is in turns clever, witty, and heartfelt, and themes that offer insight rather than trite fortune-cookie observations.
Is that so hard?
Spoiler Alert: To explain and support my opinions, I’ll need to reveal crucial plot points. So, if you’re planning on seeing these movies, you may want to save my comments for later.
6 Movies That Are Undeserving of a Best Picture Nomination
Why do bad films receive such effusive and undeserved praise? Part of the reason is that the pool of qualified film critics has been diluted by anyone being able to start their own YouTube channel or launch on an internet platform. They may have seen a lot of movies and have a passion for the art form, but that doesn’t guarantee they have expertise in articulating insights. That has to be proven over a period of time.
It’s not just a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with a review as it is having that reviewer offer a reasoned presentation that is agenda-free (unlike the Ben Shapiros who review only through the narrow and distorted lens of their conservative politics). For example, I was reading a review on rogerebert.com a couple of weeks ago about a film I didn’t like. The reviewer offered a vigorous and insightful defense of the film that I admired. They didn’t change my mind, but I was impressed by their reasoning. I also admire the film commentary on The Morbid Zoo, a YouTube channel that features some of the best and most entertaining video essays I have ever seen. These are the kinds of reviewers that set a high standard.
Sometimes movie critics jump on the bandwagon of anointing a film as being a Masterpiece because they’re afraid others will think them less intellectual. That’s what’s happened with these movies. Critics need an Oscar-worthy movie to dance around, but these are Golden Calves, not the Ten Commandments.
No bandwagons here. Just each movie is judged for what it is (but strained through the colander of my highly subjective taste).