NEW YORK (OSV News) — This year’s Academy Award nominations were announced on Jan. 24. Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of the 10 films contending for Best Picture. The Oscars ceremony will take place in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 12.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix)
The horrors of trench-based combat are detailed unsparingly in this World War I drama, adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s classic 1928 novel by director and co-writer Edward Berger. Soon after a high school student (Felix Kammerer) and his circle of friends get swept up in patriotic fervor and rashly enlist in the German Army, their naïve enthusiasm is transformed into terror and misery by conditions on the battlefield. The newcomers receive guidance from a cynical veteran (Albrecht Schuch) and, by the time the action fast-forwards 18 months to the last days of the struggle, have become hardened themselves. Even as the nation’s political leaders (most prominently Daniel Brühl) gradually accept the need for an armistice, the general (Devid Striesow) under whom the surviving lads serve remains determined to keep his soldiers fighting to the bitter end. While viewers of faith will welcome the pacific theme of the film, at this remove, its protagonist comes across more as an archetype than an individual and Remarque’s anti-war message has been echoed so often that it feels hackneyed. In German. Subtitles or dubbed into English. Harshly explicit war violence with much gore, grisly images, offscreen but benignly presented nonmarital sexual activity, mature references, a couple of profanities, about a half-dozen milder oaths, fleeting rough language, several crude and crass terms. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” (20th Century)
Director and co-writer James Cameron’s follow-up to his 2009 sci-fi blockbuster returns viewers to the fictional moon Pandora and continues the story of the kick-off’s two principal characters, the avatar of an Earth-born ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) and his Pandoran wife (Zoe Saldaña). When human intruders return to his adopted world in a renewed attempt to exploit it, the warrior becomes the leader of the indigenous resistance. But his high-profile role makes him a target, once again, for the ruthless colonel (Stephen Lang) with whom he clashed in the original. So, together with his family, he retreats to a distant set of islands occupied by a tribe whose lifestyle is centered on the sea. The technically innovative visual flair that helped make the first film the highest grossing feature of all time is present in abundance across a three-hour-plus running time. But themes connecting the proceedings to environmental issues, corporate greed, the fate of Native Americans and the Vietnam War are conveyed in an excessively earnest tone and via some clunky dialogue. More significantly, the local religion, a form of pantheistic goddess worship, is at odds with Christian faith and is not fit fare for the impressionable. Nonscriptural beliefs and practices, stylized but intense and momentarily disturbing combat, partial nudity, at least one use each of profanity and rough language, a few milder oaths, about a dozen crude terms, several crass expressions, an obscene gesture. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight)
Bleak combination of black comedy and drama, set in 1923 on the imaginary Irish island of the title. When one local resident (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly ends his longstanding friendship with another (Colin Farrell), the rebuffed pal not only broods about the cause of the mysterious breach, he refuses to stop trying to restart the relationship, despite his ex-companion’s threats of a drastic reaction. As the increasingly dire consequences of the rift between the pair play out against the distant background of the real-life Irish Civil War that was then raging, writer-director Martin McDonagh carries Celtic bloody-mindedness to an extreme some may not find credible. But he manages to maintain suspense via viewer dread. Though Catholicism — personified by the priest (David Pearse) who makes periodic visits from the mainland — pervades the atmosphere, it does nothing to soften the human relations of the community or to offer hope to any of the characters, the more prominent of whom include the abandoned amigo’s goodhearted sister (Kerry Condon) and an intellectually challenged youth (Barry Keoghan) to whom he turns for companionship. An ambivalent portrayal of faith, numerous gruesomely gory images, full male nudity in a nonsexual context, mature references, including to incestuous sexual abuse, about a half-dozen instances each of profanity and milder swearing, pervasive rough language, some crude terms. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Elvis” (Warner Bros)
This highly entertaining, turbocharged biography of a music legend is a lavish, over-the-top production with all the creative hallmarks of its flamboyant director, Baz Luhrmann. In rural Mississippi, young Elvis Presley (Chaydon Jay) is transfixed by the musical vibe and suggestive dancing of his African American neighbors. Years pass, and Presley (Austin Butler) embarks on a musical career, drawing on these styles. A carnival barker, “Colonel” Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), offers to be Elvis’ manager with the blessing of his parents (Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh). And his wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) tries to protect him from the excesses of success. Suggestive dancing, drug use, implied adultery, several profane and crude terms. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
Surreal fantasy in which a harried Chinese American laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) discovers that there are innumerable parallel universes, each of which contains a different version of herself. Traveling among these worlds under the guidance of an iteration of her sweet-natured husband (Ke Huy Quan), she battles a cosmic villain who takes the shape of her grown daughter (Stephanie Hsu). As the protagonist uses her wild experiences to work through her feelings about her spouse and her offspring as well as her sense of unfulfilled potential, co-writers and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert blend comedy and drama while promoting mostly sound values. Yet their narrative outlook is more in line with the Absurdist stripe of Existentialist philosophy than Christian faith and the inclusion of a duo of lesbian relationships makes the film inappropriate for young people. Much violence, some of it gory, mature themes, including homosexuality, strong sexual imagery, a same-sex kiss, about a dozen mild oaths, several uses each of rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“The Fabelmans” (Universal)
One problematic subplot aside, this autobiographical drama from director and co-writer Steven Spielberg is an emotionally rich delight. Set in the 1950s and ’60s, the movie recounts the childhood and adolescence of a lad (Gabriel LaBelle) whose determination to become a filmmaker is supported by his artistically inclined pianist mother (Michelle Williams) but dismissed as impractical by his dad (Paul Dano), a gifted engineer involved in the development of modern computers. Christian viewers may find a stumbling block in the person of the fellow high school student (Chloe East), for whom the Jewish protagonist eventually falls, since she not only vainly aims to convert him but has a discomfitingly eccentric relationship with Jesus. Additionally, the script’s message about following your heart takes on, at moments, a quality of reckless romanticism. But the remainder of the long running time finds vivid characters and sharp writing blended with pitch perfect acting in a thoroughly winning recipe. Some irreverent humor, mature themes, drug use, numerous profanities, about a half-dozen milder oaths, at least one rough term, occasional crude and crass talk. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
A strikingly intense performance by Cate Blanchette drives this literate but grim character study from writer-director Todd Field. Blanchette plays the fictional conductor of the real-life Berlin Philharmonic whose manifold talents disguise the dark side of her personality. Among those eventually affected by her wrongdoing are her same-sex legal spouse (Nina Hoss), her secretly disgruntled assistant (Noémie Merlant) and her latest protege (Sophie Kauer). As the tale of a woman who becomes her own nemesis, Field’s drama is more interesting than entertaining and mature elements, including the central relationship, which his script treats matter of factly but with no attempt at advancing an agenda, make it challenging fare even for grown-ups. Lesbian cohabitation, an offscreen rape, full nudity in a nonsexual context, a same-sex kiss, a couple of profanities at least one milder oath, occasional rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount)
In this rousing sequel to the 1986 blockbuster, directed by Joseph Kosinski, the first film’s protagonist, a Navy fighter pilot (Tom Cruise), is ordered by his superiors (Val Kilmer and Jon Hamm) to tread unfamiliar territory by becoming an instructor to a new generation of trainee aviators. As he tries to build a team and complete a dangerous mission, he butts heads with one of his charges, the son (Miles Teller) of a deceased comrade whose death continues to haunt the flyboy-turned-teacher. He’s also distracted by the reappearance of an old flame (Jennifer Connelly). The upshot is inspiring entertainment on a grand scale, with dazzling aerial acrobatics, a stirring musical score, first-rate acting and the occasional heart-tugging interlude. Possibly acceptable for mature adolescents. Intense action sequences, implied nonmarital sexual activity, fleeting profane and crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Triangle of Sadness” (Neon)
The love of money is the root of all evils in writer-director Ruben Östlund’s sometimes insightful but often mean-spirited satire of materialism. Cohabiting fashion models (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean) and a Russian fertilizer magnate (Zlatko Buric) are among the passengers on a superyacht luxury cruise (Woody Harrelson plays its boozy captain) that first encounters heavy seas and later disaster. As the previously pampered voyagers try to cope with their new circumstances, they’re tentatively shepherded by a senior staff member (Vicki Berlin) but ultimately become dependent on the survival skills of one of the ship’s cleaning crew (Dolly de Leon), a person they would normally ignore or disdain. Östlund’s attitude seems to be that if you can’t eat the rich you can at least make them suffer. An epidemic of seasickness and a flood of human waste onboard combine with the jaundiced tone of the narrative to make for a thoroughly unpleasant journey. Brief semi-graphic sexual activity, partial nudity, extreme scatological content, mature references, a couple of instances each of profanity and milder swearing, numerous rough and crude terms. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
“Women Talking” (United Artists)
At once disquieting and deeply affecting, writer-director Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ fact-based novel examines the evils of unrestrained patriarchy via the story of an isolated Mennonite-style religious community. Following a series of sexual assaults in which the victims were first drugged, the women of the settlement (most prominently Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Judith Ivey) gather to discuss whether they should confront the men who rule them — and who first tried to convince them that the attacks were imaginary or Satanic and now demand that they promptly forgive the predators — or simply flee to freedom. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier evokes the work of painter Andrew Wyeth as Polley’s script delves profoundly into themes of faith, mercy and the proper response to deep-seated evil. While the dialogue is sometimes overly rhetorical and masculinity is reduced to extremes of rampant aggression or the bashfulness embodied by the local schoolteacher (Ben Whishaw), who keeps the minutes of the meeting, an implicit anti-marriage message is counterbalanced by an affirmation of the innocence of children conceived in criminal circumstances. A haunting and thought-provoking drama. Some gory images, mature topics, including rape, incest and physical abuse, references to suicide, a transgender character, a single instance each of rough and crude language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is Media Reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.