Oscar nomination voting officially ended yesterday. On Tuesday, we will find out which films have been nominated in every category, including which ten will compete for Best Picture. With those announcements looming, I couldn’t help but wonder what ten nominees would be the best case scenario for film fans, the Oscars ratings, and the film industry alike? This is an important question for this year’s Oscars in particular. The show’s ratings have been declining on a yearly basis; the film industry is still dealing with the effects of the pandemic and has seen disappointing box office returns all year long; and in an era defined by streaming services and superheroes—mainstream moviegoers, cinephiles/critics, and Oscar voters can’t seem to agree on virtually anything. It feels like the Academy truly needs to put on a successful show this year more than ever. Luckily, I am here to help them do that.
So, what exactly is this list that I am about to share? These are not the ten films that I feel should be nominated based on artistic merit alone. I’ve already written a top ten list for 2021, so obviously there’s no reason to simply restate what I think the ten best movies of the year were. Nor is this a list of the ten films I feel would solely be best for the Oscars ratings. Obviously, the best way to get people to tune into the show is to nominate films that the most people have seen and care about. So if I wanted to make that list, I would simply just choose the ten highest grossing films of the year. Instead, this is a list of ten films that I feel would best help the show’s ratings, while also keeping it legitimate and making it appealing to more “serious” film fans. This is a difficult task because, as I mentioned earlier, mainstream audiences don’t usually connect with cinephiles & critics nowadays—and historically, Oscar voters struggle to connect with either of those groups.
Before I dive into the films on my fictional ballot, I want to briefly discuss how I decided on these ten movies. Even though I had the Oscars ratings in my mind when choosing this list, the quality of the films was still the most important factor. There is no movie on this list that I personally dislike. All ten of them fall somewhere on the spectrum of good-to-great for me. However, I decided to stay away from films that do not have a legitimate shot at being nominated for Best Picture, even if I personally love them (apologies to films like Bergman Island, Red Rocket, and C’mon C’mon). It’s also important to note that these are not the ten films that I think are going to be nominated. This is not a prediction of any kind. This is simply what I feel Academy voters should do if they want to put on a show that both celebrates some of the best the film world had to offer in 2021, and gets people to tune in.
(These films are listed alphabetically.)
Belfast (Dir. Kenneth Branagh)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Despite being one of the favorites to actually win Best Picture, I was hesitant to include Belfast on this list. It is a movie that I like but do not love. It didn’t exactly make a huge splash at the box office. And I certainly don’t think it should win Best Picture. However, despite its modest box office returns, Belfast can help the Oscars ratings because it is appealing to the show’s core audience. This is a heartwarming film that takes place in the 1960s and emphasizes the importance of family. In other words, older people probably love it. And what else do older people love? Network television a.k.a the place where the Oscars air.
Will It Be Nominated: This is definitely one of the biggest locks to earn a Best Picture nomination this year. It may end up winning. And while it is a perfectly fine, enjoyable, and nice film—a best picture win for Belfast would ultimately illuminate a lot of the problems the Oscars have right now. But that’s another blog for another time.
Coda (Dir. Sian Heder)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Much like Belfast, this is a film that is really well-liked by the people that have seen it. In fact, the main reason it made my list is because it is an incredibly likable movie. And in an era when a lot of mainstream moviegoers feel alienated by the Academy, the Oscars could use some likability. While I don’t think this film was an absolute smash hit on Apple TV+, it seems like it garnered enough of an audience for at least some people to be compelled to tune into the ceremony to see how it does.
Will It Be Nominated: Coda is one of the most difficult films to predict on this list. It has done well enough amongst the critics groups and guilds that I am leaning towards yes though. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if a great deal of Academy members haven’t even seen it.
Drive My Car (Dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Just because I think the Academy needs to try to increase their viewership this year, doesn’t mean I think they should ignore the progress made with the Parasite Best Picture win a couple of years ago. Drive My Car was without a doubt one of the best films of 2021. It may not have achieved the domestic box office success that something like Parasite did in 2019, but this is a case where quality trumps all. Moreover, the Academy still needs to do a better job of honoring international films, and recognizing Drive My Car would be a great place to start.
Will It Be Nominated: Unfortunately, I don’t think Drive My Car will be recognized by the academy with a Best Picture nomination. Gold Derby currently gives it the 12th best odds in the category, it failed to receive a PGA nomination, and it is hard for an international film without great domestic box office success to succeed at the Oscars. I hope I’m wrong but I think we’re going to see an Oscars ceremony without one of the clear best films of the year in the Best Picture race.
Dune (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Why It Should Be Nominated: I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but I do genuinely think Dune is the most important film in regards to the Oscars chances of success or failure this year. No other film was able to unite fans and critics, while also doing well at the box office, as much as Dune did last year. It just HAS to be nominated for Best Picture. The reasons are quite simple. 1) It was widely considered one of the best films of the year. 2) We know for sure that a lot of people actually saw it. It is the only movie from 2021 that I can say both of those things about.
Will It Be Nominated: I do think the Academy will do the right thing and nominate Dune. Honestly, there is an argument to be made that it should be the frontrunner right now. Again though, another blog for another time.
King Richard (Dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Even though King Richard underperformed at the box office this year, it has a pretty high approval rating from the people that did see it. Plus, given its subject matter and the fact that it stars Will Smith, I think there is a good awareness of this movie even from people who haven’t seen it. As a family friendly biopic about well-known figures with a movie star in the lead role, it is exactly the type of film the Oscars like to recognize. That familiarity is a good thing for audiences too. People turn away from the Oscars when they look at the nominations and see a bunch of films they didn’t even know existed, especially when those films look too “weird,” “artsy,” or “pretentious.” This is not one of those films.
Will It Be Nominated: As I previously stated, this is exactly the type of film that the Academy likes to recognize. I would be fairly surprised if it doesn’t end up getting nominated for Best Picture.
Licorice Pizza (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Why It Should Be Nominated: There isn’t really much to say here. Considering that this was my number one film of 2021, it is pretty clear why I think it should be nominated for Best Picture. Even though it didn’t do overwhelmingly well at the box office, and it doesn’t star any movie stars in leading roles, PTA is enough of a brand himself for me to believe that this film actually does have a chance at helping boost the telecast’s ratings.
Will It Be Nominated: Honestly, I am shocked that Licorice Pizza has become as much of a lock as it seemingly has. A few months ago I wasn’t sure if this would get nominated, but now it is one of the four or five films that is being included in everyone’s predictions. I definitely think it will get nominated but unfortunately, I think it has absolutely zero chance of winning.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dir. Jon Watts)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Without a doubt this is the most controversial choice on my list, and it’s also kind of the entire driving force behind me wanting to write this blog. So, here we go. Is Spider-Man: No Way Home one of the ten best films of 2021? No. Should it have a realistic chance of winning Best Picture? No. Is it one of the most well-acted or well-directed films of the year? No. But does any of the matter in terms of whether or not it should get a nomination? Also no. What should matter? The fact that this film dominated the box office in 2021. It was by far the highest grossing film of the year, more than tripling the earnings of the second place movie at the domestic box office. It was the 2021 film that people cared about far more than any other. And more importantly for this conversation, it was a good movie. In fact, I would go as far as to say it was actually a great movie with at least one Oscar worthy performance (shoutout Andrew Garfield). I think it is important to note that I’m not saying the Academy should nominate the highest grossing film of the year for Best Picture every year. The sheer dominance of Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s performance though, mixed with the underwhelming performances of a lot of other films last year, makes this a special circumstance. An argument can be made that, for any given year, someone should be able to look at the Oscar nominees and winners and get an idea of what the film world looked like that year. If that is the case, then there is no way that Spider-Man: No Way Home can not be included in this ceremony. You can’t tell the story of film in 2021 without mentioning this movie. Trust me Academy, films like Being the Ricardos and Don’t Look Up don’t need to be nominated.
Also, I genuinely think the Oscars would have the best ratings they’ve had in years if they just do three things—nominate this film for Best Picture, nominate Dune for Best Picture, and hire a host that people care about.
Will It Be Nominated: No, the Academy is not capable of doing something this smart.
The Lost Daughter (Dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Why It Should Be Nominated: Honestly, I have no idea how many people have seen this film. It is nearly impossible to actually know how well films that premier on streaming services do. But, just as a general rule of thumb, I tend to think Netflix films get more eyeballs than any other streaming service so at least The Lost Daughter has that going for it. Ultimately, I included this film because I just think it’s undeniably better than some of the films that it is fighting for a spot with. Those films include Lin Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick… Boom!, as well as the aforementioned Being the Ricardos and Don’t Look Up. Plus, it definitely doesn’t hurt ratings to include Olivia Colman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Dakota Johnson in your show.
Will It Be Nominated: I’m leaning towards no here. It definitely has a chance, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past by thinking the Academy will actually nominate the better film. So, I don’t want to get my hopes up.
The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)
Why It Should Be Nominated: It wasn’t in my top ten films of the year—and I may not like it as much as some critics do—but I can still acknowledge it is an expertly made film with one of the best performances of the year. I also think there is value in the Best Picture nominees being a diverse crop. And there definitely needs to be a place in that crop for the sort of classically great, traditional, well-made literary adaptation from an auteur director that The Power of the Dog is. Much like The Lost Daughter though, I could not even begin to pretend that I know how many people have seen this movie.
Will It Be Nominated: Definitely. Along with Belfast, this is one of the favorites to win. Honestly, I think the most fascinating thing about that win would be finding out if people have actually seen this movie or not.
West Side Story (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
Why It Should Be Nominated: There needs to be at least one “capital C” Cinema selection amongst the nominations. West Side Story fills that role perfectly. Also, it just simply deserves to be recognized. It’s one of the best films of last year, and while it may have disappointed at the box office, it is still a name and a brand that people are familiar with. Not only that, but it is a brand that it is meaningful to the history of the Oscars, due to the success of the 1961 film.
Will It Be Nominated: I would put this film in the same category as Licorice Pizza and King Richard. All those films are basically locks to get nominated, but have little-to-no chance of actually winning.