Here’s what you need to know about the 10 best picture Oscar nominees

Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Power of the Dog.”
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in “The Power of the Dog.”

The nominees for the 94th Academy Awards were announced on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday night they had been analyzed, ranked, snubbed and combed through for historical context. But do you know the best picture nominees?

They may not be blockbusters, actually none of them really are, so we’ve compiled a quick list with a snippet of what they’re about — mostly in the words of Times critic Justin Chang — what they’ve been nominated for and other tidbits surrounding their release.


Described in Justin Chang’s review as “Kenneth Branagh’s wobbly crowd-pleaser about his tumultuous early years in Northern Ireland,” “Belfast” earned seven Oscar nominations including best picture, directing, original song, original screenplay, sound and nods in the supporting actor categories for Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench. All of this despite its title. In our Oscar roundtable, Branagh described the film’s personal nature:


A complete guide to where you can watch and/or stream all the movies nominated for this year’s Oscars, from ‘Drive My Car’ to ‘Power of the Dog.’

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Columnist Glenn Whipp summarizes “CODA” (an acronym for a child of deaf adults) as being about “a restless teenager trying to break free from her parents’ expectations, helped along by an inspirational teacher, putting her on the path to a tense, make-or-break musical audition that’s followed by an emotional catharsis that will wound even the most hardened soul.” Writer-director Sian Heder said it was a challenge to write a script for a film not about written language. It must feel extra rewarding that the film received a nomination for adapted screenplay, alongside nods for best picture and a supporting nomination for actor Troy Kotsur, who is only the second deaf acting nominee in Oscar history. (The first, Marlee Matlin, plays his wife in “CODA.”)

Sian Heder directs Emilia Jones and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in 'CODA'
Sian Heder directs Emilia Jones and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in “CODA,” now streaming on Apple TV+.
(Mark Hill/Apple TV+)

‘Don’t Look Up’

The apocalyptic Netflix tale starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence is a “satire about mass-media cynicism, political cronyism, big tech corruption, general American stupidity and anything else [Adam] McKay and his co-writer, David Sirota, can squeeze into their crowded fish barrel,” according to Justin Chang. With four nominations for best picture, film editing, original score and original screenplay, McKay had more than Oscar in mind with his film. His main characters are not taken seriously in their attempts to save the planet, an attitude he believes persists today.

“We’ve seen hundreds of movies where the world is about to end, whether it’s Marvel movies or James Bond or the ’70s disaster movies, and it always works out ... I think it’s not crazy to say that maybe that’s part of the reason we’re not taking the collapse of the livable atmosphere seriously.”

— Adam McKay

From ‘Don’t Look Up’ to ‘Drive My Car,’ here’s how Times film critic Justin Chang would vote if he had one of the academy’s preferential ballots. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t.)

Feb. 8, 2022

‘Drive My Car’

The Japanese film has been a favorite of critics (including a win from the L.A. group), and even made former President Obama’s list of the year’s best movies, since its Cannes Film Festival debut last year. Evidence of its unique international appeal came by way of the four Oscar nominations it received (best picture, directing, international feature film and adapted screenplay). Justin Chang calls the film — which tracks the winding roads of two individuals, a rider and a chauffeur — “a haunting masterpiece of art and life.” Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi recognized himself in his protagonist, a man finding escape from unresolved tragedy through his work.

Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film “Drive My Car” premiered at Cannes and is now an Oscar nominee.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)


Following Frank Herbert’s book and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fabled unfinished film, “Dune” is fronted by two of today’s hottest young actors in Timotheé Chalamet and Zendaya, though the latter’s involvement in the film was decried as being all too brief. “Dune” earned 10 nominations, including cinematography, costume design, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, best picture, production design, sound, visual effects and adapted screenplay. Though this is only Part 1 of a planned two-part adaptation, for Chang “it’s hard to deny the excitement of feeling swept up in this movie’s great squalls of sand, spice and interplanetary intrigue, realized with a level of craft so overpowering in its dust-choked aridity that you may want to pull your mask up a little tighter in the theater.”

Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Timothee Chalamet in 'Dune'
Rebecca Ferguson, from left, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Timothee Chalamet in “Dune.”
(Chia Bella James / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

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‘King Richard’

Many are wondering whether this is finally Will Smith’s year to win that elusive Oscar. Portraying the father of Venus and Serena Williams, his Richard Williams, alongside Aunjanue Ellis’ Oracene, made a powerful pair in the biographical “King Richard.” Chang says that “what we see on-screen is both rewardingly jagged and uncommonly thoughtful, an engrossing family drama that doubles as a sharp rethink of how a family operates within the overlapping, often overbearing spheres of race, class, sports and celebrity.” The film received six nominations, including best picture, lead actor (Smith) and supporting actress (Ellis), film editing, original song (the Beyoncé co-written “Be Alive”) and original screenplay by a persistent Zach Baylin.

Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene Williams, Will Smith as Richard Williams in 'King Richard.'
Will Smith as Richard Williams and Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene Williams in “King Richard.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

‘Licorice Pizza’

Despite its three nominations for best picture, directing and original screenplay, the snub of breakout lead actress Alana Haim is what’s talked about right now for “Licorice Pizza.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s love story about the Valley featured the musician-turned-actress’ improv talent in what Justin Chang called “a quasi-romantic comedy and a shaggy-dog epic, a rise-and-fall portrait of a waterbed empire, a string of Hollywood tall tales, a peek inside the chambers of political power and — not to be redundant — a roundelay of men behaving badly.”

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman star in Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Licorice Pizza'
Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza.”
(Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

‘Nightmare Alley’

If the dark tale of a mysterious 1939 carnival by Guillermo Del Toro and Kim Morgan doesn’t lure you to “Nightmare Alley,” then maybe the macabre production design or a rousing endorsement from Martin Scorsese might do it. The draw for Justin Chang was Bradley Cooper, whose “moody, chilly beauty — to say nothing of the movie’s — keeps us glued as he strides away from the smoky ruin and makes his way by bus to a traveling carnival.” The film’s four Oscar nominations, for best picture, cinematography, costume design and production design, point to a visual feast.

Bradley Cooper in 'Nightmare Alley.'
(Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures)

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Feb. 8, 2022

‘The Power of the Dog’

Director Jane Campion made her history-making return after 12 years with “The Power of the Dog,” earning a 2022-leading 12 Oscar nominations. A couple in real life, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst earned supporting acting noms while scene-stealing Kodi Smit-McPhee also pocketed a supporting nomination. The film, described by Chang as “a psychological thriller in the guise of a western, and possibly a love story in the guise of a psychological thriller,” boasts nominations for cinematography, directing, film editing, original score, best picture, production design, sound and adapted screenplay. All of that, and we haven’t even mentioned lead actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch.

‘West Side Story’

There were, and are still, many questions about Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” Does it work best as a film? What musical or dance changes would be made? How will its tainted history be dealt with? Whether they were answered or not is up to audiences, but Justin Chang called the film one of Spielberg’s “most exhilarating movies in years.” Academy members agreed, giving the film seven Oscar nominations, including a supporting actress nod for possible history maker Ariana DeBose and recognition for cinematography, costume design, directing, best picture, production design and sound.

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‘West Side Story’ dance scene

A clip from the America Dance scene from “West Side Story.”