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Looking ahead at the Oscar candidates – Colorado Springs Gazette

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Looking ahead at the Oscar candidates – Colorado Springs Gazette

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ABOVE: Benedict Cumberbatch appears in “The Power of the Dog.” RIGHT: Timothée Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson appear in a scene from “Dune.”
From left, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie appear in “Belfast.”
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Will Smith in a scene from “King Richard.”
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from “Dune.”

ABOVE: Benedict Cumberbatch appears in “The Power of the Dog.” RIGHT: Timothée Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson appear in a scene from “Dune.”
From left, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie appear in “Belfast.”
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Will Smith in a scene from “King Richard.”
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Timothee Chalamet, left, and Rebecca Ferguson in a scene from “Dune.”
The pandemic changed movies forever. Not only what films we see and how we see them, but when the seasonal national discourse blissfully shifts from head-splitting partisan politics to something far more partisan — and far more fun: The debate over the best films of the year.
After about two decades with a consistently late February or early March broadcast date, the 94th Academy Awards won’t be handed out until March 27. But that gives you an extra month to catch up on a massive and wide-open field of Best Picture candidates.
The lockdown completely collapsed the business model for how a new film is traditionally released. Before, a new picture would play in cinemas for at least 90 days before any kind of home-entertainment option. Then came COVID, the mass closure of cineplexes and the further rise of at-home streaming services. Studios stockpiled their new releases for a time before finally giving in and dropping them for home viewing.
The first domino fell when Warner Bros. announced that its entire 2021 slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on the subscription-based streaming service HBO Max. Others have followed suit. Conversely, streamers like Netflix and Apple TV are now making their own Oscar-contending movies such as “Don’t Look Up” and “The Power of the Dog,” and making them available both to subscribers and in theaters. Some studios are now offering new films online for purchase on the same day they are released in cinemas.
Most experts agree there’s no going back. Not when “Dune” grossed $100 million at the box office despite being simultaneously released on HBO Max.
As a result, filmmaking — that most expensive and therefore most elitist of all artmaking forms — has been (slightly) democratized. With so many streaming options now, more breakthrough films are available to watch than ever before — and it’s showing up in the wide-open field for the next Best Picture winner.
With so many new films out there, few movie fans can claim to have seen even a majority of the top contenders. This year, Oscars watchers are more likely to be rooting for their personal favorites because so few of them will have seen enough to have a definitive opinion.
Last week, I compiled a curated list of legit Best Picture nominees based on critics’ end-of the year Top-10 lists, and that yielded about 40 possibilities. Just for fun, I posted that list and asked readers to weigh in on their choices for best film. The most popular response went something like this: “I have only seen three (or two, or one) of the films on this list, so I probably shouldn’t vote.”
Even among professional critics, there is no consensus on the best film of the year, but here are the 10 films most likely to get a rose from Academy voters, in my subjective order of likelihood:
1. “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s noir-ish Western investigation of toxic masculinity starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a cruel Montana rancher.
2. “Belfast,” Kenneth Branagh’s look back at a working-class Protestant family caught up in the violence of the late 1960s.
3. “West Side Story,” Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg’s masterful musical update.
4. “King Richard,” Reinaldo Marcus Green’s tennis biopic about the father of Venus and Serena Williams.
5. “Licorice Pizza,” Paul Anderson Thomas’ problematic look back at finding first love at 15 with a 25-year-old woman.
6. “Dune,” Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel.
7. “Don’t Look Up,” Adam McKay’s snarky political satire just set Netflix’s record for most streaming hours in a week (152 million).
8. “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s tale of an ambitious carny who hooks up with a psychiatrist who’s even more dangerous than he is.
9. “Drive My Car,” a Japanese film about the disappearing wife of a happily married stage actor. (This would make four straight years a non-English-language film is nominated.)
10. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” with 10 possible nominees, the Academy likes to appease the masses by offering up a token slot to the year’s most popular film ($1.5 billion in grosses and counting).
The two long-shots most likely to crack that Top 10 would be “CODA” and “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” If my Facebook film fans had a say, that group would include “C’mon, C’mon,” the story of a radio journalist (Joaquin Phoenix) who embarks on a cross-country trip with his nephew.
That list, notably, does not include my own favorite film of the year … because it’s a documentary: “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” chronicles the legendary, Woodstock-adjacent Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. At the very least, Questlove’s unearthing of this extraordinary footage should go down as the best concert film ever made.
And for a die-hard Talking Heads fan, that’s saying something. I can’t think of another concert film that captures the music and the politics of the times better than this one.
But that list does include my choice for creepiest movie of the year. “Licorice Pizza” is just the latest in a long line of films that normalizes wise-before-their-years teenage boys romancing older women. Yes, it’s set in “another time” — 1973. But it was released in 2021. If you reversed the genders, I wonder how well-received this coming-of-age film would have been.
For his part, Denver Film CEO James Mejia weighed in with his Top 5, which, not surprisingly, leans away from the mainstream: “C’mon, C’mon,” “Jockey,” “Storm Lake,” “Krimes” and “Drive My Car.”
So what does that leave? A whole lot more films that easily could be considered in any conversation about the 10 best of the year, including but not limited to (in alphabetical order):
• “Being the Ricardos”
• “The Card Counter”
• “Cyrano”
• “Encanto”
• “The French Dispatch”
• “The Green Knight”
• “A Hero”
• “House of Gucci”
• “Inside”
• “The Lost Daughter”
• “Mass”
• “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
• “No Time to Die”
• “Parallel Mothers”
• “Petite Maman”
• “Pig”
• “Red Rocket”
• “Riders of Justice”
• “The Souvenir: Part II”
• “Spencer”
• “Stillwater” • “The Tender Bar”
• “Titane”
• “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
• “The Worst Person in the World”
• “Zola”
It’s a whole new film world. But you still have until March 27 to enter it.
Denver Gazette contributing arts columnist John Moore is an award-winning journalist who was named one of the 10 most influential theater critics by American Theatre Magazine.
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