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Shannon Penrod Grades the Best Picture Nominees

(Editor's Note: Some of the following reviews appeared previously

on Shannon Penrod's Facebook page prior to announcement of nominations.)

If you are confused about what this year’s Best Picture will be when Oscar has had its say, join the club! Over the last year I have written reviews for all ten of the nominated films and I have compiled them here. I have thrown a public hissy fit that two of my favorite films of the year are missing. I think it is criminal that tick, tick…BOOM! and C’mon C’mon are not on this list…proving that Oscar does not like funky punctuation in the title!

A note on my grading system…many of you have written in with confusion, outrage and accusations of leniency. Hopefully this will clarify my thought process:
  • A+ This is the kind of movie that sweeps me into its storytelling and for its duration takes me to other places, makes me feel things I didn’t know I felt, changes my mind and sometimes changes my life. It doesn’t mean there are no flaws, it means I leave the theatre different, hopefully better, than I arrived.

  • A Definitely worth seeing. I may not love the film, or even a part of the film, but there is some value in the movie that I think makes it worth your attention. An A means I consider it solid filmmaking of the highest caliber.

  • A- This is still good filmmaking but it means I think it has some serious problems with some aspect of the film where it definitely could have been better. Despite whatever the issue is there are other factors that still make it well worth the investment of time.

  • B+ Generally a B+ means this could have been a GREAT movie, the elements were there, but just something didn’t come together to make it one of those movies that will be memorable. Having said that, it won’t be a waste of your time. These are the kinds of movies we see all the time. It’s enjoyable, it is not epic.

  • B It’s watchable. You aren’t going to wish for your two hours back at the end, but you probably aren’t going to talk about it at the water cooler either.

  • B- This film is skating on the edge of being a waste of time. It might have some redeeming factor that is barely keeping it in the “B” category.

  • C+ Honestly, this rating means you pissed me off in some way – maybe you had the makings of great film but you wantonly wasted it, or you talked down to me, offended me – you definitely ticked me off, but the plus is an acknowledgement that others may be able to overlook your offensiveness.

  • C This film is definitely a questionable use of my time.

  • C- See the C+ rating, but take away the redeeming factor

  • D Anything in the D category means it doesn’t deserve anyone’s time or attention.

Here is how I scored the 10 films that are up for Best Picture for the 2022 Oscars.

Licorice Pizza A ( FB: February 19, 2022)

This is a delightful homage to the 1970’s is loosely based on Gary Goetzman’s real life teenage antics. The storytelling is on point, it’s funny, heartwarming, fast-paced, DELIGHTFUL. The acting is lovely, too; the supporting roles are epic. Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters is freaking hilarious! It was so good it was almost unbearable. Sean Penn and Tom Waits also provide scene stealing excellence.
My only issue with the film is at its core. The love interests have a big age gap that I just couldn’t sign off on. Also, there was a lot of running. I mean a lot of running, down sidewalks, in the middle of streets. I was a kid in the 70’s; if you were running on the sidewalk somebody’s grandmother would smack you with her purse; if you were running in the street, you got hit by a car. I’m just saying. A couple of script tweaks and I would have enjoyed this film even more. It’s worth watching though and Bradley Cooper is better than Butter Pecan Ice Cream…organic.

Drive My Car B-

(FB: February 16, 2022)

Well…let’s start with the fact that it is 3 hours long! 179 minutes to be exact. And if there were things happening in the movie to warrant 3 hours, I would sing a little Hakuna Matata, but that is not the case. If you were to take all of shots of the car and HALF of the shots out the windshield and out the back window (seriously, I am so car sick from this movie) plus all of the scenes where people are running lines for a production of Uncle Vanya...if you were to remove all of that you would have a movie that is about 40 minutes in length! Yowza! It is one long commercial for vintage Saab, to the point where during one painfully long, masturbatory shot of the car our ENTIRE theatre cracked up! Oye! Oye! Oye! And this thing got nominated for Best Picture and Best Director over C’mon C’mon and tick, tick… BOOM!??? Barf, just BARF.

Yes, there were some good moments in the film, if you can tolerate a very slow burn on character development. I encourage you to miss this in the movie theatre and watch it on HBO Max starting on March 2.

King Richard A+

(FB: February 15, 2022)

It’s true, I loved this movie. I kept putting off watching it because I was oh-so-sure I wasn’t going to like it - I mean - who makes a biopic about Venus and Serena Williams and makes it about their Dad? Okay, obviously Will Smith does, but I was prepared to be fatootsed by the whole thing. Instead, I was charmed. I was sucked in by compelling storytelling. Hallelujah! I got caught up! And even though I don’t like tennis, don’t enjoy watching it and I KNEW the outcome, I sat forward on my chair, holding my chest and praying for the people on the screen. That’s some powerful storytelling. I like it when a movie can take me somewhere I have never been, I appreciate it when a movie can change my mind, and I love a movie that can change my heart. This movie did all three. It’s very special. I can’t forget to mention Will Smith’s performance. I am so glad he is finally getting the accolades he deserves, and he certainly deserved the Best Actor Nomination. I actually think this might be the year he wins, but his co-star Aunjanue Ellis is every bit as good! She gives a performance that must not be missed. For that and many other reasons this is a movie that must be seen! Enjoy!

Nightmare Alley A-

(FB: February 13, 2022)

Did you wonder when the Oscar nominations came out how Nightmare Alley could get nominated for best picture but no actor awards despite having an all-star cast? Yeah. We don’t have to wonder anymore. This is a beautiful film, it is sooo cinematically rich. I don’t have any problem with it getting a nod for best picture. It is a film that will be studied…for cinematography and production design. Let me also be clear there are great actors doing good performances…but they are mired in the mud of a pace that can only be described as molasses moving uphill in January. Holy Smokes, Batman! Is there no one in Hollywood who had big enough stones to tell del Toro that he needed to move it along a little? What a shame.

A-list actors like Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette and Richard Jenkins are imprisoned in tiny roles that aren’t even cameo fodder. Oh Guillermo! Big production value, belabored story telling…it was basically CATS (albeit the Broadway show, not the film).

West Side Story A-

(FB: February 6, 2022)

I liked this film, but I desperately wanted to love it. That didn’t happen. It’s beautiful. The lighting is stunning, just stunning. The costumes are beautiful, the choreography is brilliant. We all already love the music, so that’s not a tough sell. The acting is really good. Rita Moreno just steals the whole thing. So where is the love, you ask? Yeah, I want to know that too.

Look, for me there are a couple of problems.

1. A really brilliant version of the film already exists, so if you are going to do it again, what are you bringing to the table that is new? I won’t say there was nothing fresh in this edition, but I will say I didn’t see enough new to warrant a remake. And maybe that is for the next two reasons…

2. There are some leaps the story asks us to make, in order to feel the full impact of the plot. We have to buy that these two star-crossed lovers fall instantly in love, the kind of love you would sacrifice everything for. The script doesn’t give you much to work with, a short scene at the dance and then the fire escape…by the end of the fire escape we have to believe in their be-all-end-all love or it all falls apart. I wasn’t there. I didn’t get there. It was all there technically, but if I’m focusing on how you are lighting it - you did something wrong. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Spielberg needed to spend more time watching the yearning going on over on Bridgerton. Ya’ know what I’m saying? It didn’t happen for me. and….

3. I didn’t think it was possible to further diminish the women in the story, but somehow that happened. The women are the most compelling thing in the film and they get the least screen time? What’s up with that Steve? Can I call you Steve? No? Okay? But I felt like women got the same treatment as blacks in your film. The only time we saw anyone black in the film was when a group of extras, all black, walked in front of the Jets’ dance path. The Jets stop and look at the extras like, “What are you doing here? This is our number.” There is a millisecond of a pause and then the Jets go back to their number. It would have been really nice if you had given some of the Jets’ film turf to some of the other people who were living in New York City during the prescribed period. Just saying.

All in all, I appreciated the film but was a little bored at times and was left with a general “Meh” at the end. It is beautiful enough to get nominated for Best Picture and I really hoped it would be good enough to win over the Power of Cumberbuns, but I don’t see that happening. Sigh.

Dune A (FB: January 11, 2022)

Disclaimer: I never read the book or saw the first movie. I totally came in to this a Dune first timer and…..I LOVED it! I thoroughly and completely enjoyed it, and I want more! I will watch part 2, when it comes out. It was epic storytelling!

The acting was great, the direction was fantastic, the cinematography and special effects were stupendous. I watched this at home on a tv and for me that was perfect, I have a feeling I would have been overwhelmed with a bigger screen. I have to admit being a little surprised, but I just loved it. One last thing, I liked so many of the characters! I am so sick of anti-heroes; this movie was a breath of fresh air. Bravo!

Belfast A- (FB: December 31, 2022)

Roma and Jo Jo Rabbit have a Protestant baby in Belfast 1969…sort of. This is Kenneth Branagh’s tribute to the childhood home of his memory.

The cast is superb. Especially Judi Dench, Caitriona Balfe and the young and sweet Jude Hill. It’s a beautiful film with a compelling story, unfortunately it is over directed to within an inch of its life. Still, it’s worth the watch. It will certainly get a best picture nom, but I am hoping for something better.

The Power of the Dog C

(FB: December 30, 2022)

Zzzzzz. Let’s start there! Look, there’s beautiful cinematography, lots to look at- including plenty of Cumberbatch buns! There’s even a mud bath with Ben featuring frontal nudity to attempt to keep you awake! Then there is the slooooow insidious build of the screeching violins to remind you that a thin plot lives somewhere in this snooze fest. Oye.

I have another BIG gripe with this movie, but to talk about it would reveal the only plot point in movie, so I won’t be a spoiler - but I will happily gripe about it privately, after you have seen the film. And let’s face it, you will watch it because of Ben Buns. Brew some coffee.

Don’t Look Up. C-

(FB: December 26, 2022)

I know so many people who have loved this film, I don’t really know what to say…mass hypnosis? Sheer desperation for big stars in a new movie? I don’t get it. I really hated this movie. Hate is a strong word, I reserve it for things that had the potential to be good but ultimately disappoint. It definitely fits here. Big stars! Epic Plot! What could possibly go wrong? Sigh. For me it comes down to a classic case of “too soon”. You want to make a cute movie about politicians who lie as they drive us to the extinction of life as we know it? You better pick a lane and either make it hilarious or make it serious- cuz it’s just too soon for me. Don’t Look Up plays it right down the middle, sometimes funny, sometimes serious. For me, it left me cold, bored and moderately irked. Other people seemed to like it…maybe they don’t have HULU.

CODA A+ (FB: August 15, 2022)

OMG! You owe it to yourself to see this movie and if you don’t love it and/or feel richer for having seen it…we can stay friends, but we can never talk movies again.

I LOVE to watch a movie where I get swept into a story; where my heart comes out of my body and beats in someone else’s chest for a while; where I lose time and space and am transported. CODA did this for me completely. It also made me see things in a way I never had before. Lions and tigers and bears, Oh MY! More of this please!

The storytelling is great. Yes, it’s a little predictable, but only in the best way - like we KNOW what happens in The Wizard of Oz, but we still love going on the journey. And CODA tells its story in a setting that has not been used before and in a way that it shockingly has never been told before. I know a lot of the press has centered on this - the characters in the film that are deaf are portrayed authentically by hearing impaired actors. If you ever doubted why that might be important, check your heartbeat during the movie, it’ll tell you. But I’d rather talk about the performances, not the political ramifications of authentic portrayal.

Look, we all know Marlee Matlin is going to be incredible in the film; she’s cut from the same bolt of cloth as Frances McDormand. She doesn’t know how to do a bad job. You could drop Marlee Matlin in a McDonald’s with a roll of toilet paper, say “Act!”, and she would give you an award-winning performance! So, it is no shock that Matlin is stellar in this passion project, but what elevates this film is her surrounding cast. Emilia Jones is the CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) in the title. I don’t even know what awards things on Apple TV are eligible for…Emmys, Oscars? Just give them all to Emilia Jones…just line them up and give them all to her. Boom. Done. I don’t even want to discuss it. Just watch the movie and you will agree. She is EPIC! But let us not stop there. Troy Kotsur, as the DAD, killed me - slayed me dead- I am no longer living. I am a better person for having seen his performance. There, I said it! I also have to shout out to Eugenia Derbez and Daniel Durant as the teacher and the brother respectively- GREAT PERFORMANCES. OMG! Why are you still reading this? Go watch the movie!!
Seriously, this is a great little film that takes you on a journey, it wiggles past your defenses, it makes your eyes leak, grabs you by the neck and ultimately rearranges some of your DNA. That’s good storytelling. That’s good filmmaking. Don’t miss this one and for sure tell others so it doesn’t get overlooked!
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