Mike at the Movies: Best-Picture Rundown, Part 2


So where are we? Oh, yes … the Academy Awards!

My last column, in the Feb. 24 issue, provided snapshots of the first five of 10 movies competing for the top prize at the Oscars, set for March 12. This time around, we’ll look at a group that contains only one real contender, in my opinion, and four others that are happy for the recognition.

• The Fabelmans (PG-13) is the contender. Producer, co-writer and director Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical, coming-of-age family drama has seven nominations behind it, including a couple of acting nods for Michelle Williams as Best Actress and Judd Hirsch as Best Supporting Actor. Spielberg himself is up for three awards.

His latest film is exactly the kind that Hollywood loves to honor: It’s funny without being silly and serious without being depressing, and it’s about the movies and a man whose love of them is all consuming. I’m not sure how much of Sammy Fabelman’s story actually corresponds to Spielberg’s own fabled life, artistic license being what it is, but the film plays like a valedictory ripe for rewards, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the broadcast climaxes with Steve raising another gold statue over his head.

The Fabelmans is still playing in theaters, but it’s also available on demand and on DVD. Expect it to stream on Peacock sometime later this month.

Tár (R) tells the story of Lydia Tár, a symphony conductor who, when we meet her, is at the pinnacle of her career: She wields the baton for the legendary Berlin Orchestra; she’s a darling of The New Yorker set; she’s about to publish her autobiography; and she’s releasing a multi-volume set of Mahler symphonies that will coincide with a live performance that will be broadcast internationally. Then life happens – or, more specifically, Lydia happens to herself, and the tapestry of a life she stitched together with arrogance and deceit begins to unravel.

Writer-director Todd Field, back behind the camera for the first time since 2006’s Little Children, is competing with Spielberg in each of his categories, but Tár seems like a long shot for Best Picture. Not so Cate Blanchett, whose mesmerizing performance is the odds-on favorite to win her a third gold statue (after wins for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine), putting her in elite company alongside Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand and one step behind Katharine Hepburn – a fact that Lydia Tár would certainly savor.

Tár is available on DVD and streaming on Peacock.

• Top Gun: Maverick (PG-13) – a sequel 36 years in the making – reputedly was not made to show how little Tom Cruise has aged during all that time, especially in comparison to co-star and Top Gun rival Val Kilmer, who’s been plagued by health problems the past decade.

Cruise is back as hotshot Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who’s still showboating, but this time as a Top Gun instructor. Kilmer’s back, too, as the admiral who pulls some strings to give Maverick a shot at professional redemption, preparing a squad of cocky flyboys and girls for a dangerous mission in the Middle East.

Director Joseph Kosinski does a commendable job of not getting in the way of the story, which essentially retells the first one with a new cast of characters, including Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm and Glen Powell. Maverick has been praised for getting people back into the movie-going habit after COVID-19 – and raking in a couple billion dollars to boot – which might explain its Best Picture nomination, along with three others: for adapted screenplay, editing and visual effects.

Maverick is still in theaters, but it’s also available on DVD and streaming on Paramount+. 

• Triangle of Sadness (R) continues a recent entertainment trend that’s on display in the HBO series The White Lotus and last November’s The Menu: satirizing the social foibles of the rich and shameless.

Writer-director Ruben Östlund, competing with Spielberg and Field for directing and original-screenplay honors, crafts a saga following the empty lives of a young power couple, Yaya and Carl, who are both models and social-media “influencers.” They embark on a luxury cruise from hell in the company of, among others, Russian oligarchs and English munition barons. The skipper of the $250 million yacht is a drunk, broadly played by Woody Harrelson, and whatever can go wrong on the voyage does, including a “captain’s dinner” in stormy seas punctuated by rampant projectile vomiting and a pirate attack.

For my money, The Menu serves a more satisfying dish of biting class consciousness, but that film was completely ignored by the Academy, seemingly in favor of this one. My guess is that the triangle of nominations that Triangle of Sadness received will be as close as it gets to the stage come Oscar night.

The film is still in select theaters and available on demand through Amazon and Apple TV.

Women Talking (PG-13) is a surprise contender in this field, apparently filling the slot usually given to an arty independent that comes out of nowhere via the film-festival circuit. Inspired by the horrific events that occurred in an isolated Mennonite colony in Bolivia, Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toew’s novel boasts a powerhouse slate of actresses (led by Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara and, in a minor role, Frances McDormand, who also produced). They play women victimized by the menfolk in the community, who have drugged, beaten and raped them with impunity for years. When things reach a breaking point, they gather one night to talk about what to do. Polley received the film’s only other nomination, for Best Adapted Screenplay, which makes Women Talking a real long shot in this category. It’s scheduled for DVD release in early March and also available on-demand via Amazon.

Women Talking is scheduled for DVD release in early March but is currently unavailable to stream.

In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for The Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He currently serves as Door County’s poet laureate.