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The Barbarian Best Picture Race Starts Here and Now – Collider

Get real, world. It’s time to do what’s right.
Alright everyone, let's cut the crap. 2022 has, mostly, been a solid year back at the movies. Several releases are hitting screens week after week for the first time in years. For movie fans, it's glorious. But which of these do you remember most? Which ones do you actually remember a few weeks down the road? Well, just this fall alone, we've had The Banshees of Inisherin – a hilarious, melancholic study of a lifelong friendship's dissolution with a stellar Colin Farrell performance. Earlier this year, we had the mind-boggling indie beast Everything Everywhere All At Once, a smash-hit across all fronts. Most recently, Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans was a flat out masterpiece of sentimental dramatic filmmaking that is almost sure to tug at your heart strings more than any other film this year. Ahhh yes, movies, wonderful movies, all of which will likely be recognized at the upcoming 95th Academy Awards. But it seems there's something we're forgetting, something like an over-sized inbred beast lady in the basement. That's right, one of 2022's very best movies, if not THE VERY best movie of the year, deserves to be nominated for the top prize just as much as anything else. That's right, we're talkin' Zach Cregger's killer horror-comedy banger, Barbarian – the best picture of 2022.
So here's the thing: for the most part, a large majority of movie fans would say they have a super-complicated relationship with the Oscars. It's an award show that primarily celebrates "sophisticated" dramas that either tug at your heart strings, films about the least likely underdogs, or films that gut punch you and leave you feeling cold about how ruthless this world can be. More than anything, if there's cultural significance behind your film, you've got a good shot at landing some nominations. These films throw up the guise of the prestige, but you can catch a whiff of the stinkers a mile away. Much like there are big franchise movies purely made to rake in boatloads of cash, there are films crafted with the primary goal of garnering nominations and accolades. It's the "biggest night in movies," just with no room for anything genre. Wouldn't you think if there's a show that awards the "best picture of the year," the pool of genres considered should be a little wider? If the Academy wanted to make the right move, they'd shake it up, bring a sledgehammer down on all of our expectations and throw Barbarian in the mix for the top prize – Best Picture?
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But why should Barbarian be nominated? I mean, it's not a classy movie in any sense. Let's not beat around the bush, it's a freaking gonzo horror movie that goes for the jugular and doesn't blink an eye. The Academy has celebrated some horror movies in the past like Get Out and The Silence of the Lambs, but never as gutsily glorious as this. That being said, what else has been as widely beloved by film fans this year? Not that crowd celebration is what counts the most, but come on! Yeah, everyone loves Top Gun: Maverick and the previously mentioned Everything Everywhere All at Once, but this is right up there with those. It's a movie that flips the script over and over, literally. The plot is constantly evolving into an unexpected form of itself, but only in ways that are exhilarating, never exhausting. It's a perfect example of why we go to the movies. What's better than walking into a theater with a big crowd, where you barely know what's coming, the whole room's so on edge that you could hear a pin drop, then everyone starts screaming or laughing when something nuts happens? That's what Barbarian can do. Out of every movie this year, it stands as the greatest monument to the fun of going to the movies.
So it's a blast, but is it just a fun, disposable movie that you walk out of and never think about again? Nope! Barbarian isn't just a stellar horror-comedy, it's chock-full of lofty themes that keep the viewing experience interesting. From the get go, the movie keeps you guessing about every male figure's quality of character and their intentions with Tess (Georgina Campbell). It plays with your expectations about these men, whom you expect to be creeps, then either goes on to dispel those thoughts or quadruple down on their gross-factor. There's one character in particular whose entire character arc is in the mold of countless MeToo stories that made headlines over the last few years. It's a film that punishes these awful figures in the most satisfying ways, so needless to say, it'd be nice to see the Academy commend the film for that alone.
Aside from its themes of toxic masculinity, it's a movie that takes place almost entirely in a neighborhood affected by Detroit's housing crisis. The abandoned homes surrounding the film's primary Airbnb location are engulfed in weeds and shrubbery, boarded up, and are in all manner of disrepair. The origins of the neighborhood's state trace back to the film's flashbacks to the 80s, where residents of Barbary Street are all moving out in an unspoken but clear act of white flight.
Barbarian is a mainstream, widely released film that is trying to say more than a large majority of other films hitting theaters, while also not diving into the interesting-yet-obscure art house territory. It's an entertaining, exciting, smart piece of cinema that should be celebrated! The Oscars uphold movies all the time that are made with the intention of bringing a weighty subject to light. That's great, but this also sometimes ends up painting "movies with a message" kind of like homework. Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to either get horribly depressed or numb in the skull every time you wanted to watch a movie with more than 1% of brainpower behind it? Barbarian has a lot of substance, kids, and it's more entertaining than most movies this year! If we could do this for Parasite, shoot, why not throw a bone to its loudmouthed, toothless cousin, Barbarian?
Zach Cregger's film should also be commended for its craft. Try and find a movie having more fun with its visuals this year. That's right, give it up for cinematographer Zach Kuperstein – he crushed it! Each scene and set piece is intentionally crafted with a unique cinematic language that is hardly found in any other movie released within the last 12 months. What scene transitions in any recent movie are as fun as going from the close-quartered, pitch-black basement to the bright, wide-lens-in-a-shrunken-aspect-ratio, 1980s segment in the film's second act? "Hey Einstein, every filmmaker intentionally shoots their scenes, what makes Barbarian so special? Even a cheese commercial is intentionally shot!"
It's the fact that these shifts in the visual language are meant to throw the audience off entirely and keep viewers having fun, guessing as to what in the world could possibly be coming. It keeps the movie and its plot more interesting than if Cregger just chose to shoot everything in a conventional and uniform manner. Aside from its visuals, the movie sounds incredible. Steven Ticknor (the film's supervising sound editor) and his team give the film's world its quiet, rainy, paranoid atmosphere. Anna Drubich's score is also killer. Her synthesizers warble and rumble through every corner of the film's house in a more terrifying and effective use of a score than almost any other movie this year. Lastly, the film has a banger cast. The film wouldn't be as unpredictable and fun without Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, and Justin Long's phenomenal performances.
So okay, Barbarian rules, but what does the Academy stand to benefit from giving the film its due celebration? Well aside from making the Oscars a more reputable award show and actually spotlighting one of the best movies of 2022, a few nominations, namely a Best Picture nomination, would turn heads. The Oscars' viewership numbers have been decreasing for years now. Whenever movies like Coda and Nomadland are in contention for (and eventually winning) the top prize, why should general audiences care? Big movie heads are obviously interested in and enjoying those movies, but does Humphrey from the water cooler at work care? No!
This isn't to say the Academy should panhandle to people who don't care much about movies. If the Oscars gives mainstream audiences an inch, they'll take a mile, and eventually the world will end up with a dumpster fire like The Grammys, but if a movie is truly great, then shouldn't it be recognized? There is something to say for the way they seem to purposefully avoid anything that might even be an ounce of fun. Look at a movie like Tár, a movie that is beloved by movie buffs and is likely to be nominated for a boatload of Oscars. Is Tár actually that great? For sure, it's super well-made, has a fascinating story, and an unbelievable performance from Cate Blanchett spearheading the whole thing, but are we really going to act like it's a better movie than Barbarian? Like, really? Put your monocle down, sir. The answer is not so easy.
For the first time since 2019, we've actually had a pretty great slate of movies released this year, and with awards season revving up, it seems as though many more are to come. Dozens of masterfully crafted films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin McDonagh, and Damien Chazelle are looking like they'll be endlessly discussed and praised leading up to Oscar night on March 12th, 2023, but deep down in the basement is one other filmmaker awaiting his moment in the Academy sun – Zach Cregger. His explosive breakout with Barbarian is one of the year's best movies in the eyes of both film fans and general audiences. If Academy members wanted to cut a rug a little, shotgun a Coors Light instead of sipping on some mineral water, and celebrate the audience experience now that movies are back in full swing, what better movie to point to than Barbarian? It's got thrills, chills, and some hearty guffaws for everyone – a "capital M" Movie that you won't forget. Let's do the right thing folks, let's get Barbarian nominated for Best Picture. The movement starts now.
Sam Williamson is a feature writer for Collider as well as a musician and independent filmmaker.


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