The Academy Award nominations for Best Picture are suspect. Each film has its fatal flaw(s), whether because of Covid restrictions, technical challenges, tough subject matter, or production hubris. There are some surprises but, most disappointingly, there is an accumulation of disappointing snubs. Overall, 2022 was a challenging film year, so, very frankly, no feature film, Oscar-nominated or not, earns an A+.
But all is not lost! There were six well-made, suspenseful, adventuresome, passionate, true-story documentaries in 2022 that challenge and surpass the Oscar-nominated features. All in the A+ category, here they are in ranked order:
• “Good Night, Oppy” humanizes the adventures of the rover, Opportunity, as it searches for evidence of water on Mars.
• “Bad Axe” is the name of a town in Wisconsin. The film is about a Mexican-Asian family sticking up for its values despite the mean “Trumper” environment rampant in town.
• “Wildcat” features a war-torn, suffering veteran who finds redemption deep in the Peruvian jungle parenting a darling newborn ocelot in the wild.
• “Fire of Love.” Who kills who? A renowned volcanologist couple filmed their adventures studying live volcanoes, but you know from the beginning that in this adventure they both die. How and why?
• “Navalny” is the story of the most formidable Russian challenging Vladimir Putin and how they conspire against each other.
• “Retrograde” is the story of a three-man film crew first embedded with the Green Berets in Afghanistan. After the war “ends” and the Berets transfer out, the crew transfers into the Afghan army. Fall in love with that general!
Put up against Oscar’s picks for Best Film, these docs are easily the more successful art form for 2022.
But for argument’s sake, here are the flawed nominees:
• “All Quiet on the Western Front” is well done, but with its all-male cast and steady drum beat of war-is-bad and soldiers-are-pitiful, it does not inspire.
• “Avatar: Way of Water” is beautifully animated but lacks a sophisticated plot. Please don’t insult me with two boring hours of underwater struggle!
• “The Banshees of Inisherin” has been listed as a comedy but it is not. It is a grim story of manipulation and mental illness. I had to leave the room. I won’t be subjected to this kind of creepy story of male control.
• “Elvis,” in a normal year, would get some attention, but it isn’t as grand as Malek’s Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” There was no real crescendo built up for the tragedy that befell Elvis, and I had no tears or compassion.
• “Everything Everywhere All at Once” only has Jamie Lee Curtis for entertainment. The story itself is surreal and disconnected. I don’t find chaos entertaining.
• “The Fabelmans” would have been on safer ground if Spielberg had focused on his growth as a filmmaker rather than the adultery of his mother.
• “Tar” had potential but it went from real to surreal. The inconsistency is disturbing and wrecked the premise. Plus, I’m not interested in a film about the boss taking advantage, a la Harvey Weinstein, of proteges.
• “Top Gun: Maverick” was exhilarating but they chose the wrong gal, Jennifer Connelly, as Maverick’s love interest. Maybe he wanted someone with class and a good female model, but it didn’t work.
• “Triangle of Sadness” being included was a great mistake. How many minutes can you have vomit on the screen and still keep an audience?
• “Women Talking” has a powerful, insightful dialogue that also reflects the “Me, Too” movement. Since it is women almost exclusively talking about a tough subject, serial rape in a religious community, the appeal will be for a limited audience.
Disappointedly omitted from the Oscar nominations:
• “Black Panther: Wakanda” was virtually inaccessible unless you want to risk your life going to a theater. This means most reviewers, like me in the Online Film Critics Society, have not been able to see or vote for it.
• “She Said” follows the true story of the investigative reporting that led to the arrest of Harvey Weinstein. That it was reporters and not police doing this work is frustrating, but I loved this film and it is worthy. However, the “Me, Too” subject matter, similar to “Women Talking,” limits its audience.
• “Till” might be closest to the best film of 2022, but the subject matter is so tough, despite the good judgment on what not to show, that not enough people, probably even including many possible Oscar voters, are seeing it.
• “Woman King” would have been greater if so much of the filming hadn’t been done in the dark and history hadn’t been mangled to fit someone’s 2023 perception of how things should have gone.
So, no “Schindler’s List,” “Star Wars,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Indiana Jones” (I know, he’s coming back in July) or “Moulin Rouge.” It was just a weak year for feature films, animations and general audience appeal … except for the spectacular true-stories revealed by the spectacular documentaries!
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