Friday, February 17, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2021

The Contenders:

CODA (winner)
Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

What’s Missing

Naturally, there’s a lot missing from the Best Picture race from 2021 and a lot of changes I would like to make. Some of the slate is fine—I had a lot of movies I rated in the 4-star range both on the list and not, but there’s a lot I would like to swap out. Let’s get rid of the stuff that doesn’t traditionally get nominations--The Black Phone and Titane, with their horror pedigree, are longshots. This is also true of films of a more science fiction or fantasy bent, including Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Green Knight, and After Yang. Superhero and action movies don’t get a lot of play, so we drop off No Time to Die, Nobody and The Suicide Squad. Drive My Car is the foreign language entrant, which leaves out The Worst Person in the World and Flee, which has the additional hurdle of being animated. Dig probably wasn’t big enough, which could also be said of Mass and the Swan Song that features Udo Kier, and also likely true of C’mon C’mon. The snubbing of Spencer is a shock to me, as is the lack of nomination for The Tragedy of Macbeth. Personally, I think we should be talking about Last Night in Soho here as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

10. Of the ten nominations, Licorice Pizza is the one movie that I really didn’t like. I disliked the characters intensely, and I object to the main relationship here. Gender-swap the two main characters of this movie and what you’ve got is a predatory male going after a much younger woman. Seriously, if this movie were about a 28-year-old guy romantically attached to a high school sophomore, this would be a movie about a sex criminal. Why do the genders being swapped make this okay? And don’t even get me started on the rampant privilege.

9. I honestly cannot understand how CODA received a nomination, let alone won Best Picture given the competition. There’s nothing here that is bad or unpleasant, but there’s also nothing here that’s new, challenging, or interesting. I guarantee that you’ve seen this movie before. You will know exactly what is going to happen 20 minutes before it does, because the plot of this is nothing but tropes. This is just Billy Elliot with deaf people. The fact that it won is mind-boggling. The fact that it also won for its screenplay is downright insulting.

8. I always want to like West Side Story and I just…never do. To be fair, as I’ve said before a number of times, I don’t like the source material. I’ve never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet, so I’m unlikely to be a big fan of a movie based on the same story with changes. Spielberg is a damned good director, of course, and he tells the story about as well as it can be told. Because of that, I think it’s a movie worth seeing and I like it about as well as I can. But, even in a perfect world, I’m just never going to love it.

7. I have called King Richard a BOSUD (biography of someone undeserving) before and I stand by it. While I think this movie is well-made and has a lot going for it, I also think it’s completely mis-focused. Richard Williams isn’t that interesting. The most interesting thing about him, in fact, is that he fathered two incredible athletes. Make him a secondary character in a movie about his daughters Venus and Serena, and we can talk. They’re always going to be a better story than the guy who fathered them.

6. My problem with Don’t Look Up is that not all of it works as well as it should. As a piece of satire of the way some political entities seem to address the reality of the world around them, a lot of this is really very good. But it also goes to the extreme in places, and the weird coda of the spaceship landing elsewhere seems so completely out of place that the movie ends on a bizarre note. I don’t think there’s much chance I would want to watch this again. It’s worth it for the one time, but there’s not much here worth rewatching.

5. This is where things get tough, because in an open field, I would probably keep all of my top five. I’m putting Belfast in fifth for the sole reason that, of the movies that remain, it’s the one that tries to do the least. It’s a lovely film, an attempt to look at a terrible time in history through lenses as rose-colored as possible, and I think it’s pretty successful in a lot of respects. But it’s also a much smaller movie in scope of those that are left, and while I really liked it, it perhaps feels a little too Hope and Glory to be completely original.

4. As something of a del Toro fanboy, it’s a little painful to put Nightmare Alley in fourth place, but that’s really where it goes. I like the reimagining of the story, and I appreciate that del Toro went into this not with the intent of remaking the noir from 75 years ago, but genuinely telling the story in a new way. It’s too long, though, and that is a drawback. The original telling of this was lean and streamlined, and del Toro tacked on 40 minutes that he really didn’t need. It’s a hell of a movie and I like the nomination, but not above this place.

3. A win for Drive My Car was probably too much for anyone to really expect. With a non-English movie winning just a few years ago and coming from the same part of the world, this felt a bit like a stunt nomination aside from the fact that it really is a beautiful story beautifully told. Ultimately, it’s probably too slow to have gotten a great deal of traction from a lot of people and would never have won, but I like the nomination. That said, like a lot of movies that are worth watching, it’s not one I can see watching a second time.

2. There’s a huge part of me that wants to give this to Dune. I have mentioned many times in the past that I feel a strong connection to the story of Dune and a professional connection as well, as someone who has worked tangentially on Dune media in the past. My issue with it is, that like the LotR franchise, I don’t know if it can really be judged until we see the entire epic. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the story, and while I still think it would best work as 10 1-hour episodes, so far so good. But let’s see where it goes.

1. Just about everything that is in The Power of the Dog works, and works well. Given the ten nominations that we have here, I think this is the one that is likely to have the longest and largest impact in general. While it does move at a languid pace, it also tells a very good story and tells it well. It’s also gorgeous to look at. In fact, of the nominations, I think it’s the most complete package. I liked other movies more from 2021, but of the 10 that are listed, it’s the one that has the fewest problems and weaknesses. My real vote is different, but of the nominations, I feel compelled to be here.

My Choice

I believe that Mass and The Mitchells vs. The Machines are the only movies I rated at 5-stars for 2021 (Marcel the Shell, too, but it was 2022 eligible so not relevant here). That would typically mean that they would be my choices, but Best Picture isn’t merely the film that I liked the best. There’s more that goes into that for me, and so while it’s tempting to go in that direction, I’m going to wind up going elsewhere. I had a lot of 4-star movies from this year, but only a couple that pulled their metaphorical head above that mark. One of those was Encanto, a lovely film. Spencer and C’mon C’mon got there as well, as did Swan Song. But it’s Last Night in Soho that feels the most like a complete package to me, and at least for today, that’s where I put my vote.

Final Analysis

Best Picture, 2021, Belfast, Drive My Car, Dune, West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, CODA, King Richard, The Power of the Dog, Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley, Oscar Fucked Up


  1. Based on my list of the best films of 2021. CODA (while an excellent film) was just a safe choice though not really deserving over much better films that came out that year including some shorts I listed that I thought should've gotten more attention.

    1. That's really what frosts me here. CODA is fine--it's just nothing new or different. You've seen this before a bunch of times under different names. Best Picture should give us something new and exciting, not an old wine in new bottles.

  2. I really wanted The Power of the Dog to win last year. It was easily my favorite film of the nominees (that and Dune)

    1. Based on the nominees, I'd have been completely fine with either of those. Even with Last Night in Soho in the mix, those would have still been good choices and I wouldn't have complained.