2. Nightmare Alley
Guillermo del Toro has followed up his 2018 Best Picture winner The Shape of Water with another fantastical tale of outcasts, this time squarely focusing on the much-maligned “carnies” and their seemingly endless cons.
Bradley Cooper excels as the runaway turned “mind reader”, and is arguably the most noteworthy shun from the Best Actor race in 2022, whilst the supporting cast of A-List acting talent such as Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, and a particularly frightening Richard Jenkins, are as trustworthy and watchable as ever; each given enough room on the screen to grow and evolve as the movie progresses, del Toro’s script ensuring that none of the main characters are left without satisfying character arcs.
The standout aspect of Nightmare Alley is its rich visual construction. Del Toro has become synonymous with colourful, creatively designed monster movies, and there are touches of brilliance behind every small detail here. This is parts Universal Monster Movie, parts rich Western, and is another del Toro film encouraging us to remember why each of us go back to the cinema time and time again.
Critics have pointed to a second act lull that can be felt especially upon a rewatch, but Nightmare Alley does in general have a lot to offer in terms of its screenplay, it not only developing characters effectively but mastering suspense in moments and never being totally absent of reasons to care. This, coupled with very strong performances across the board and that all-important del Toro it-factor that springs out of the screen and reminds you of all the reasons you ever loved films in the first place, make Nightmare Alley an under-nominated 2022 Oscars film but a very deserving and hugely important 2022 Best Picture nominee.
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1. West Side Story
Watching Steven Spielberg work on a beloved tale of acceptance across racial divides in a post-Trump world of ever-increasing division is like watching cinema’s present and history all at once, his mastery of tone complimented by some of the best and most timeless camera work of any film from 2021 by Janusz Kamiński and the relevance of the songs written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
Musicals are often nostalgic in their very nature, each of them pointing towards a supposedly happier time in Golden Era Hollywood when anything (in the movies and in life) felt possible. They are, for just about everyone alive, the source of some of our earliest movie memories, and through huge choreographed dance numbers and massive sets they have always offered an almighty representation of all that cinema can be, of all the reasons television never killed the movies. This version of West Side Story is one such a film, an unmissable entry into the rich canon of exceptional movie musicals; a film that speaks of our times through useful evolutions to the source material that more aptly point the finger of blame at the rich oppressing these warring factions than the factions themselves, that celebrate the underdog against corrupt police forces that maintain the status quo, that tell us to love honestly and loudly without boundaries or prejudice.
Those familiar with film history will be enamoured by all that Spielberg borrows here, both from the 1961 movie musical of the same name and some of his most-respected heroes (not least David Lean, Michael Curtiz and Frank Capra). This isn’t exactly a Gene Kelly film, or a Vincente Minnelli musical, but Spielberg’s West Side Story does very importantly remind us of all that brings us together as film viewers, as people, and does so with such a filmmaking masterclass in every aspect that it is undeniably a year-topping film.
Newcomer Rachel Zegler will astound even the most hardened of film goers with a debut feature performance to rival the greats, while Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez and Mike Faist are each exceptional in their supporting roles. So, whether you’re at the movies for an exceptional piece of cinema or more a musical on the big screen, there’s plenty to offer with West Side Story, a film that can be classed amongst the most relevant to current society as any nominee, as important to film history as any of these ten films, as exceptional an example of filmmaking as any movie up for Best Picture in 2022.
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Which of the 2022 Oscars Best Picture nominees impressed you the most? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on more insightful movie lists.