Eleven 2022 Oscar-Winning Films You Should Watch Immediately
Catch up on the Academy's best films of the last year — from Best Picture winner 'CODA' through to animated gem 'Encanto'.
March 28, 2022
Whatever chatter and controversy surrounds them — whoever hosts, whichever wild moves the Academy makes before the ceremony even arrives, and no matter how much it tries to reinvent the broadcast to appeal to more people — the Oscars are always about ace films and the people who craft them. A sizeable list of flicks vie for recognition, a smaller number win and a heap of talented folks earn their time in the spotlight. That's it, that's the heart and soul of these coveted accolades.
Whether everything you wanted to win actually managed the feat or not, and despite one instance of the kind of behaviour that only belongs in films, the 94th Academy Awards still delivered upon its basic aim. It celebrated the hard work that goes into making movie magic, and the features and shorts that result. And across the night's speeches, exactly how much that means to some winners truly resonated.
"There is indeed a place for us," West Side Story's Best Supporting Actress winner Ariana DeBose exclaimed. "You see a queer, openly queer woman of colour, an Afro Latina who found her strength in life through art. And that's what I believe we're here to celebrate," she continued.
Winning Best Supporting Actor for CODA, Troy Kotsur's signed speech was equally as moving. When he paid tribute to the power of communication while becoming the first male actor who is deaf to win an Oscar — and in a movie about a family with three members who are deaf that won Best Picture as well — it was a potent and important moment.
They're just some of the highlights of this year's Academy Awards — and the best way to champion DeBose and Kotsur's efforts, the films they won for, and all of the other flicks that also picked up gleaming trophies, is to see those very movies. That's the best way to celebrate Jane Campion making history as just the third female filmmaker to win Best Director as well, and Dune's swag of technical gongs.
With that in mind, here are 11 newly minted Oscar-winners that you should watch right now. (And if you're after a full list of recipients, we've put that together, too.)
When CODA screened at the Sundance Film Festival back in January 2021, it made history. Film distributors always clamour to snap up the event's big hits, and this four-time award-winner — which received the fest's US Grand Jury Prize, US Dramatic Audience Award, a Special Jury Ensemble Cast Award and Best Director — was picked up by Apple TV+ for US$25 million. Even though the sophomore feature from writer/director Sian Heder (Tallulah) remakes 2014 French hit La Famille Bélier, that's still a significant amount of money; however, thanks to its warmth, engaging performances and a welcome lack of cheesiness, it's easy to see why the streaming platform opened its wallet.
Fans of the earlier movie will recognise the storyline, which sees 17-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones, Locke & Key) struggle to balance her family commitments with her dreams of attending music school. She's a talented singer, but she's only just discovered just how skilled she is because she's also the child of deaf adults (hence the film's title). At home, she also plays a key part in keeping the family's fishing business afloat, including by spending mornings before class out on the trawler wither her dad Frank (Troy Kotsur, No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant, Switched at Birth). Heder helms this still sweet and moving feature with a distinct lack of over-exaggeration, which plagued its predecessor. The fact that Kotsur, Durant and Marlee Matlin (Entangled), the latter as the Rossi matriarch, are all actors who are deaf playing characters who are deaf really couldn't be more important. Their portrayals are naturalistic and lived-in, as is much about this rousing but gentle crowd-pleaser — including tomboy Ruby's blossoming romance with fellow wannabe musician Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street).
Won: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), Best Adapted Screenplay
Where to watch: CODA is available to stream via Apple TV+.
Read our full review.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
Don't call it a comeback: Jane Campion's films have been absent from cinemas for 12 years but, due to miniseries Top of the Lake, she hasn't been biding her time in that gap. And don't call it simply returning to familiar territory, even if the New Zealand director's new movie features an ivory-tinkling woman caught between cruel and sensitive men, as her Cannes Palme d'Or-winner The Piano did three decades ago. Campion isn't rallying after a dip, just as she isn't repeating herself. She's never helmed anything less than stellar, and she's immensely capable of unearthing rich new pastures in well-ploughed terrain. With The Power of the Dog, Campion is at the height of her skills trotting into her latest mesmerising musing on strength, desire and isolation — this time via a venomous western that's as perilously bewitching as its mountainous backdrop.
That setting is Montana, circa 1925. Campion's homeland stands in for America nearly a century ago, making a magnificent sight — with cinematographer Ari Wegner (Zola, True History of the Kelly Gang) perceptively spying danger in its craggy peaks and dusty plains even before the film introduces Rose and Peter Gordon (On Becoming a God in Central Florida's Kirsten Dunst and 2067's Kodi Smit-McPhee). When the widowed innkeeper and her teenage son serve rancher brothers Phil and George Burbank (Spider-Man: No Way Home's Benedict Cumberbatch a career-best, awards-worthy, downright phenomenal turn, plus Antlers' Jesse Plemons) during a cattle-run stop, the encounter seesaws from callousness to kindness, a dynamic that continues after Rose marries George and decamps to the Burbank mansion against that stunning backdrop. Brutal to the lanky, lisping Peter from the outset, Phil responds to the nuptials with malice. He isn't fond of change, and won't accommodate anything that fails his bristling definition of masculinity and power, either.
Won: Best Director (Jane Campion)
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actor (Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee), Best Supporting Actress (Kirsten Dunst), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound
Where to watch: The Power of the Dog is available to stream via Netflix.
Read our full review.
A spice-war space opera about feuding houses on far-flung planets, Dune has long been a pop-culture building block. Before Frank Herbert's 1965 novel was adapted into a wrongly reviled David Lynch-directed film — a gloriously 80s epic led by Kyle MacLachlan and laced with surreal touches — it unmistakably inspired Star Wars, and also cast a shadow over Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Game of Thrones has since taken cues from it. The Riddick franchise owes it a debt, too. The list goes on and, thanks to the new version bringing its sandy deserts to cinemas, will only keep growing. As he did with Blade Runner 2049, writer/director Denis Villeneuve has once again grasped something already enormously influential, peered at it with astute eyes and built it anew — and created an instant sci-fi classic.
This time, Villeneuve isn't asking viewers to ponder whether androids dream of electric sheep, but if humanity can ever overcome one of our worst urges and all that it brings. With an exceptional cast that spans Timothée Chalamet (The French Dispatch), Oscar Isaac (The Card Counter), Rebecca Ferguson (Reminiscence), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Endgame), Javier Bardem (Everybody Knows), Zendaya (Spider-Man: No Way Home) and more, Dune tells of birthrights, prophesied messiahs, secret sisterhood sects that underpin the galaxy and phallic-looking giant sandworms, and of the primal lust for power that's as old as time — and, in Herbert's story, echoes well into the future's future. Its unpacking of dominance and command piles on colonial oppression, authoritarianism, greed, ecological calamity and religious fervour, like it is building a sandcastle out of power's nastiest ramifications. And, amid that weightiness — plus those spectacularly shot visuals and Hans Zimmer's throbbing score — it's also a tale of a moody teen with mind-control abilities struggling with what's expected versus what's right.
Won: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects,
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design
Read our full review.
WEST SIDE STORY
Tonight, tonight, there's only Steven Spielberg's lavish and dynamic version of West Side Story tonight — not to detract from or forget the 1961 movie of the same name. Six decades ago, an all-singing, all-dancing, New York City-set, gang war-focused spin on Romeo and Juliet leapt from stage to screen, becoming one of cinema's all-time classic musicals; however, remaking that hit is a task that Spielberg dazzlingly proves up to. It's his first sashay into the genre, despite making his initial amateur feature just three years after the original West Side Story debuted. It's also his first film since 2018's obnoxiously awful Ready Player One, which doubled as a how-to guide to crafting one of the worst, flimsiest and most bloated pieces of soulless pop-culture worship possible. But with this swooning, socially aware story of star-crossed lovers, Spielberg pirouettes back from his atrocious last flick by embracing something he clearly adores, and being unafraid to give it rhythmic swirls and thematic twirls.
Shakespeare's own tale of tempestuous romance still looms large over West Side Story, as it always has — in fair NYC and its rubble-strewn titular neighbourhood where it lays its 1950s-era scene. The Jets and the Sharks aren't quite two households both alike in dignity, though. Led by the swaggering and dogged Riff (Mike Faist, a Tony-nominee for the Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen), the Jets are young, scrappy, angry and full of resentment for anyone they fear is encroaching on their terrain. Meanwhile, with boxer Bernardo (David Alvarez, a Tony-winner for Billy Elliot) at the helm, the Sharks have tried to establish new lives outside of their native Puerto Rico through study, jobs and their own businesses. Both gangs refuse to coexist peacefully in the only part of New York where either feels at home — but it's a night at a dance, and the love-at-first-sight connection that blooms between Riff's best friend Tony (Ansel Elgort, The Goldfinch) and Bernardo's younger sister María (feature debutant Rachel Zegler), that sparks a showdown.
Won: Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose)
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound
Read our full review.
DRIVE MY CAR
Inspired by Haruki Murakami's short story of the same name, Drive My Car's setup couldn't be simpler. Still recovering from a personal tragedy, actor and director Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima, Silent Tokyo) agrees to helm a stage version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima — but the company behind it insists on giving him a chauffeur for the duration of his stay. He declines, yet they contend it is mandatory for insurance and liability reasons, so Misaki (Toko Miura, Spaghetti Code Love) becomes a regular part of his working stint in the city. Friendship springs, slowly and gradually, but Murakami's name is one of the first signs that this won't follow a standard road. The other: Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, who makes layered, thoughtful and probing reflections upon connection, as seen in his previous efforts Happy Hour and Asako I & II.
Drive My Car doesn't hurry to its narrative destination, clocking in at a minute shy of three hours, but it's a patient, engrossing and rewarding trip. It's a gorgeously shot and affectingly performed one, too, whether taking to the road, spending time with its central pair, or chronicling Yusuke's involving auditions and rehearsals. Another thing that Hamaguchi does disarmingly well: ponder possibilities and acceptance, two notions that echo through both Yusuke and Misaki's tales, and resonate with that always-winning combination of specificity and universality. Drive My Car is intimate and detailed about every element of its on-screen voyage and its character studies, and also a road map to soulful, relatable truths.
Won: Best International Feature
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ryusuke Hamaguchi), Best Adapted Screenplay
Where to watch: Drive My Car is now screening in NZ cinemas.
Read our full review.
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
Not for the first time, the eyes have it, but then they always have with Tammy Faye Bakker. Not one but two films called The Eyes of Tammy Faye have told the 70s and 80s televangelist's tale — first a 2000 documentary and now this new Jessica Chastain-starring dramatisation — and both take their monikers from one of the real-life American figure's best-known attributes. In the opening to the latest movie, the spidery eyelashes that adorn Tammy Faye's peepers are dubbed her trademark by the woman herself. They're given ample focus in this biopic, as OTT and instantly eye-grabbing as they they are, but their prominence isn't just about aesthetics and recognition. This version of The Eyes of Tammy Faye hones in on perspective, resolutely sticking to its namesake's, even when it'd be a better film if it pondered what she truly saw, or didn't.
In the path leading to her celebrity heyday and the time she was a TV mainstay, Tammy Faye's life saw plenty. It began with an unhappy childhood stained by her stern mother Rachel's (Cherry Jones, Succession) refusal to be linked to her at church, lest it remind their god-fearing Minnesotan townsfolk about the latter's sinful divorce. But young Tammy Faye (Chandler Head, The Right Stuff) still finds solace in religion, the attention that speaking in tongues mid-service brings and also the puppets she starts using as a girl. Come 1960, at bible college, her fervour and quirkiness attract fellow student Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom!), with the pair soon married even though it gets them kicked out of school. Unperturbed, she keeps seeing their calling to the lord as their way forward, first with a travelling ministry — puppets included — and then with television shows and their own Praise the Lord network.
Won: Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Read our full review.
Five years after Lin-Manuel Miranda and Disney first teamed up on an animated musical with the catchiest of tunes, aka Moana, they're back at it again with Encanto. To viewers eager for another colourful, thoughtful and engaging film — and another that embraces a particular culture with the heartiest of hugs, and is all the better for it — what can the past decade's most influential composer and biggest entertainment behemoth say except you're welcome? Both the Hamilton mastermind and the Mouse House do what they do best here. The songs are infectious, as well as diverse in style; the storyline follows a spirited heroine challenging the status quo; and the imagery sparkles. Miranda and Disney are both in comfortable territory, in fact — formulaic, sometimes — but Encanto never feels like they're monotonously beating the same old drum.
Instruments are struck, shaken and otherwise played in the film's soundtrack, of course, which resounds with energetic earworms; the salsa beats of 'We Don't Talk About Bruno' are especially irresistible, and the Miranda-penned hip hop wordplay that peppers the movie's tunes is impossible to mentally let go. Spanning pop, ballads and more, all those songs help tell the tale of the Madrigals, a close-knit Colombian family who've turned generational trauma into magic. This is still an all-ages-friendly Disney flick, so there are limits to how dark it's willing to get; however, that Encanto fills its frames with a joyous celebration of Latin America and simultaneously recognises its setting's history of conflict is hugely significant. It also marks Walt Disney Animation Studios' 60th feature — dating back to 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — but its cultural specificity (depictions of Indigenous, Afro Latino and Colombian characters of other ethnicities included) is its bigger achievement.
Won: Best Animated Feature
Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Song
Read our full review.
SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)
Much of Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) involves stunning archival footage, as recorded more than five decades ago, capturing live performances by an astonishing lineup of musicians. At the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a free series of gigs that rolled out across six weekend and saw around 300,000 people head along, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Sly and the Family Stone, the Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson and Gladys Knight & the Pips all took to the stage — and the newly unearthed reels that immortalised their efforts are the stuff that music documentary dreams are made of. For his filmmaking debut, Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson could've simply stitched together different songs from various sets across the festival, and let those music superstars lead the show. He could've taken the immersive, observational approach and jettisoned context, too. But The Roots frontman and drummer doesn't make that choice, and he ensures that two words echo strongly throughout the film as a result: "Black Woodstock".
Also in New York — upstate in the town of Bethel, 100 miles north of Harlem — Woodstock itself took place in the summer of 1969 as well. The Harlem Cultural Festival kicked off before and kept playing after its better-known counterpart ended, but comparing the two events makes quite the statement. Why has one endured in public consciousness and proven pervasive in popular culture, but not the other? Why did footage of one quickly get turned into a film, with the Woodstock documentary first reaching cinemas in 1970, but recordings of the other largely sat in a basement for half a century? Why did television veteran Hal Tulchin, who shot the entire Harlem Cultural Festival from start to finish on four cameras loaded up with two-inch videotape, get told that there was little interest in releasing much from a "Black Woodstock"? (One New York TV station aired two hour-long specials at the time, but that's all that eventuated until now.) These questions and the US' historical treatment of people in colour go hand in hand, and whenever the words "Black Woodstock" are uttered, that truth flutters through Summer of Soul.
Won: Best Documentary Feature
Read our full review.
NO TIME TO DIE
James Bond might famously prefer his martinis shaken, not stirred, but No Time to Die doesn't quite take that advice. While the enterprising spy hasn't changed his drink order, the latest film he's in — the 25th official feature in the franchise across six decades, and the fifth and last that'll star Daniel Craig — gives its regular ingredients both a mix and a jiggle. The action is dazzlingly choreographed, a menacing criminal has an evil scheme and the world is in peril, naturally. Still, there's more weight in Craig's performance, more emotion all round, and a greater willingness to contemplate the stakes and repercussions that come with Bond's globe-trotting, bed-hopping, villain-dispensing existence. There's also an eagerness to shake up parts of the character and Bond template that rarely get a nudge. Together, even following a 19-month pandemic delay, it all makes for a satisfying blockbuster cocktail.
For Craig, the actor who first gave Bond a 21st-century flavour back in 2006's Casino Royale (something Pierce Brosnan couldn't manage in 2002's Die Another Day), No Time to Die also provides a fulfilling swansong. That wasn't assured; as much as he's made the tuxedo, gadgets and espionage intrigue his own, the Knives Out and Logan Lucky actor's tenure has charted a seesawing trajectory. His first stint in the role was stellar and franchise-redefining, but 2008's Quantum of Solace made it look like a one-off. Then Skyfall triumphed spectacularly in 2012, before Spectre proved all too standard in 2015. Ups and downs have long been part of this franchise, depending on who's in the suit, who's behind the lens, the era and how far the tone skews towards comedy — but at its best, Craig's run has felt like it's building new levels rather than traipsing through the same old framework.
Won: Best Original Song
Nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound
Read our full review.
Warm, cosy, rosy, charming, feel-good: typically when a film spins its story during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, none of these words apply. But with Belfast, Kenneth Branagh has made a movie set in its eponymous city when the Protestant-versus-Catholic violence was a constant sight, and also helmed a feature that's about a childhood spent with that conflict as a backdrop. It's an approach that only works because Branagh draws from his own experiences — the film isn't a play-by-play memoir, but it's also clearly personal. Here, it's 1969, when the actor-turned-filmmaker would've been nine years old. The movie's protagonist, Buddy (first-timer Jude Hill), is that exact age, in fact. And with the beginnings of a three-decade-long sectarian fracas bubbling and boiling around him, he navigates the usual age-appropriate antics, such as school, crushes, doting grandparents with ailing health and a potential big move.
The Troubles are a constant sight in the largely monochrome-hued film, too, and the reason Buddy's that parents are contemplating relocating to England, something they wouldn't have dreamed of otherwise. Pa (Jamie Dornan, The Tourist) already spends most of his time working there as a joiner, leaving Ma (Caitríona Balfe, Outlander) at home with Buddy and his elder brother Will (Lewis McAskie, Here Before) — with assistance from the boys' Granny (Judi Dench, Six Minutes to Midnight) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds, The Man in the Hat) — and he's been offered a new job that comes with a house. The violence swirling through Belfast has already made it to the family's street, to their hounded Catholic neighbours and, when Pa refuses to join the fray, put them on their fellow Protestants' hit list. Shifting to London (or perhaps further, to Sydney or Vancouver) would provide a new start and a safer future, but leaving all they've ever known isn't a simple decision.
Won: Best Original Screenplay
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Kenneth Branagh), Best Supporting Actor (Ciarán Hinds), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench), Best Sound
Where to watch: Belfast is currently screening in NZ cinemas.
Read our full review.
A killer dress, a statement jacket, a devastating head-to-toe ensemble: if they truly match their descriptions, they stand the test of time. Set in 70s London as punk takes over the aesthetic, live-action 101 Dalmatians prequel Cruella is full of such outfits — plus a white-and-black fur coat that's suspected of being made from slaughtered dogs. If the film itself was a fashion item, though, it'd be a knockoff. It'd be a piece that appears fabulous from afar, but can't hide its seams. That's hardly surprising given this origin tale stitches together pieces from The Devil Wears Prada, The Favourite, Superman, Star Wars and Dickens, and doesn't give two yaps if anyone notices. The Emmas — Stone, playing the dalmatian-hating future villain; Thompson, doing her best Miranda Priestly impression as a ruthless designer — have a ball. Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan is chief among the movie's MVPs. But for a film placed amid the punk-rock revolution, it's happy to merely look the part, not live and breathe it. And, in aiming to explain away its anti-heroine's wicked ways, it's really not sure what it wants to say about her.
Before she becomes the puppy-skinning fashionista that remains among Glenn Close's best-known roles, and before she's both a wannabe designer and the revenge-seeking talk of the town played by Stone (Zombieland: Double Tap), Cruella is actually 12-year-old girl Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, Game of Thrones). She sports two-toned hair and a cruel that streak her mother (Emily Beecham, Little Joe) tries to tame with kindness — and she's also a target for bullies, but has the gumption to handle them. Then tragedy strikes, an orphan is born, loss haunts her every move and, after falling in with a couple of likeable London thieves, those black-and-white locks get a scarlet dye job. By the time that Estella is in her twenties, she's well-versed in pulling quick heists but loves sewing the costumes required more than anything else. And, thanks to the Baroness (Thompson, Last Christmas), she eventually gets her chance — for fashion domination, as well as vengeance.
Won: Best Costume Design
Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Read our full review.
Looking for more Oscar-nominees to watch? You can also check out our full rundown of where almost all of this year's contenders are screening or streaming New Zealand.
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