Brilliant, bold… and box office bombs.
The Oscar nominations favored Everything Everywhere All at Once, bestowing a leading eleven nominations to the Daniels' maximalist and absurdist comedy. It's great that such a film earned the most nominations this year, especially because it's not exactly an Oscar-friendly film; if anything, it's the antithesis of what AMPAS would usually reward in the Best Picture category.
Indeed, studios do their best to come up with Oscar bait, films designed to appeal to AMPAS' notoriously conservative tastes every year. And while some examples, like The Fabelmans, succeeded, other aggressively baity films like Amsterdam and Babylon crashed and burned spectacularly.
Amsterdam features an ensemble cast of A-listers led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington. The film follows three friends who get framed for murder after witnessing it, leading them to uncover an outrageous secret while trying to clear their names.
To put it simply, Amsterdam is bad. The screenplay is unfocused and too enamored with itself to notice its many flaws. The cast is game, and the lead trio does its best to elevate an otherwise erratic story; however, not even they're enough to rescue this mess of a movie. Amsterdam is also a constant reminder of how problematic David O. Russell is, leading many to avoid it entirely. It was a box office flop, with estimates predicting it would lose up to $100 million.
Following his Oscar-winning adaptation of his play The Father, Florian Zeller proceeded to adapt The Son. A prequel to The Father, The Son centers on Peter, a man married to his second wife, who becomes responsible for his troubled 17-year-old son, Nicholas.
Unlike The Father's sincere and effective tone, The Son opts for a shamelessly manipulative approach. Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern are capable enough to navigate the screenplay's weak points; unfortunately, Zen McGrath is out of his depth and wholly miscast as Nicholas, portraying him by checking every box in an outdated "depressed teenager" pamphlet from the 90s. Zeller's ideas about family dysfunction and adolescence are superficial at best and misguided at worst, resulting in an off-putting experience that desperately tries to leave the audience with something despite having nothing to say.
Olivia Colman can pretty much make anything better. Indeed, she is the beating heart of Sam Mendes' Empire of Light, a period piece about the unexpected romance between two cinema employees in a small coastal town in the 1980s. And while all the elements are there, the film falls short of working as either a love letter to cinema or an arresting romance.
Still, Empire of Light is far from bad. Colman delivers yet another rich and emotionally-layered performance as a woman with bipolar. However, Mendes' screenplay has many ideas and doesn't give any the proper time or effort, resulting in a half-baked film that seems like an unfinished story. Empire of Light's message about cinema's power to change lives is also too on-the-nose, especially in a year when films like The Fabelmans and Babylon did it better.
Antoine Fuqua directs Will Smith in the Apple TV+ drama Emancipation. Loosely based on real events, the film follows Peter, a man who escapes slavery on a plantation after nearly being killed. Journeying across Louisiana, Peter must evade hunters sent to capture him and endure the swamps' harsh conditions.
Emancipation seemed like a perfect post-Oscar vehicle for Smith. Indeed, the actor is the film's strongest asset, delivering a committed performance that successfully maintains the story's gravitas when the film won't. At times, Emancipation seems more concerned with delivering thrills common in the action genre than with telling a compelling story. Despite Smith's honest efforts, the film's handling of its real-life subject leaves a lot to be desired. In hindsight, Fuqua might've not been the best choice to direct.
Surreal and overblown, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths finds Alejandro G. Iñárritu at his most unabashedly self-congratulatory. The film, starring veteran Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho, follows a revered journalist and documentarian experiencing a mid-life crisis in the form of dream-like revelations.
Bardo is unrestrained and visually striking. However, it's narratively unfocused and contrarian, resulting in a frustrating experience that few will appreciate. Bardo asks too much from its audience, presenting itself as a complex character study too elevated to bother itself with simplicities. Despite numerous flashes of brilliance, the film is too concerned with itself to let anyone engage with it. Yet, there's beauty in Bardo's chaos, with themes that will resonate deeply with Latino audiences. If only Iñarritu were less self-indulgent, Bardo might be more accessible.
Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain star in The Good Nurse, a well-told, old-fashioned thriller. Based on a chilling real-life story, the story centers on Amy Loughren, a night nurse who suspects her co-worker, Charles Cullen, is a serial killer.
The Good Nurse is an effective and disturbing thriller elevated by a pair of great leading performances. Chastain makes for a relatable lead easy to root for, while Redmayne delivers career-best work as the sinister Cullen. The story is pretty by-the-numbers, and without Chastain and Cullen, The Good Nurse would be a run-of-the-mill serial killer thriller. Redmayne received numerous nominations, but he never seemed like a genuine possibility at the Oscars. Still, The Good Nurse is a worthy vehicle for both stars; if only they had a better screenplay to work with.
Props must go to Oscar-winner Damien Chazelle for daring to make such a loud, bold, uncompromising movie. Babylon features a large ensemble led by Diego Calva and Margot Robbie and tells the tale of several characters during the transition days between silent films and talkies.
Gargantuan in scope, Babylon is an excessively long movie about excess. It makes everything larger and bigger, presenting a corrupt and morally-bankrupt version of Hollywood in the 1920s. Babylon explores themes similar to other films set in 1920s Hollywood – broken dreams, obsession, addiction and the fleeting pleasures of the so-called City of Dreams. Indeed, the film breaks no new ground, instead rehashing old plots from previous and, honestly, better films. Still, its commitment to debauchery and honest admiration for the period it portrays makes it a one-of-a-kind exploration of classic Hollywood. Babylon neither celebrates nor condemns the excess it portrays, but restraint might've been advised, especially because its three-hour length makes it exhausting to sit through.
Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan star in She Said, based on the eponymous non-fiction novel. The film chronicles New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey as they investigate and eventually report on Harvey Weinstein's abuse and sexual misconduct against numerous women.
She Said excels as a gripping journalistic movie, recalling the heights of All the President's Men. The film soars on Mulligan and Kazan's confident performances, but it's the supporting performances that truly stand out. FromSamantha Morton delivering one of 2022's best monologues to Jennifer Ehle in one of her most emotional performances, She Said is a who's who of accomplished character actors at the top of their game. It falls short of holding Hollywood accountable for enabling Weinstein's predatory behavior, but the film still succeeds as a love letter to the importance of journalistic integrity, especially in today's troubled landscape.
NEXT: Actors Who Have Appeared In The Most Best Picture Winners
David is a 29-year-old Mexican writer and reader. Having studied Marketing in school, he spent three years working a nine-to-five desk job before deciding to pursue a writing career. He now works as a Senior Writer at Collider and contributes to other entertainment sites, specializing in movies and television while occasionally looking into video games and comic books. Currently, he’s also writing his second novel while actively working on getting his first one published.