The 2022 Best Picture Contenders We’ve Seen So Far

The fall festivals may not have even started yet, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any films that have screened so far in 2022 that are plausible Best Picture contenders, with this year bringing us some of our strongest “pre-season” Best Picture contenders ever. Every year, there are one or two eventual Best Picture nominees that premiere prior to the fall festivals (last year it was the future Best Picture winner CODA, in 2019 it was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in 2018 it was Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, in 2017 it was Get Out and Dunkirk, and so on and so forth), but this year, I can count five contenders that I feel have a legitimate shot at cracking the Best Picture line-up at the 95th Academy Awards, and while some films’ chances are stronger than others, all should be taken seriously by anyone surveying the 2022 awards race. So, without further ado, here are the five possible Best Picture contenders I believe we’ve seen in 2022 so far, listed by how confident I am in them scoring a nom at the end of the day.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at Once

So much digital ink has already been spilled over Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Oscar chances (and I just wrote an extensive article elaborating on why I believe this “new” Academy will embrace it in spite of its absurdity the other day), but let me reiterate the facts for you anyway. A 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 8.6/10 average rating). An 81 on Metacritic. $70 million at the domestic box office and $100 million worldwide – the highest gross of any A24 film to date. Raves throughout the industry, from everyone to Barry Jenkins to Reese Witherspoon to last year’s Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner Sian Heder. And on and on and on.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a bonafide cultural phenomenon, appealing to critics and mainstream crowds with its sweepingly sentimental spectacle and mightily moving messages about rediscovering what really matters amidst the chaos and conflict of these troubled times, and Oscar attention will follow. How high the film flies is still up for debate, but at this point in time, I’d say its strongest bets are in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, while it can also contend in Best Sound and Best Visual Effects, and it even has an outside shot at landing nods in Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score. Essentially, the sky is the limit with this one, and don’t underestimate its “ultimate potential.”

Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

A few months ago, if you would’ve told me that the sequel to Top Gun was going to be a top-tier Best Picture contender, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. Sure, the trailers looked terrific, but the follow-up to a cheesy 80s film more remembered for its soundtrack than any sort of “stirring” story? Yeah, give me a break. And then I saw the thing and thought to myself… wait, this is pretty damn good. But it wasn’t just the stupefying stuntwork or Tom Cruise’s classic star power that drew me into this blockbuster, but actually the story this time around (I know!), which resonantly reckons with the lingering guilt Cruise’s Maverick feels towards the untimely death of his best friend Goose (played by Anthony Edwards in the original) and introduces Goose’s son “Rooster” (a tremendous Miles Teller) as a new foil for Maverick – and eventual mentee, as well.

Critics almost universally agreed that Top Gun: Maverick was a significant step up from its predecessor, with it earning a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 8.2/10 average rating) and a 78 on Metacritic, but it also impressed the mainstream in a major way, grossing over $650 million domestically (the ninth highest grossing film of all-time) and over $1.3 billion worldwide. Oh, and have I mentioned its A+ CinemaScore yet? Basically, Top Gun: Maverick – like the aforementioned Everything Everywhere All at Once – has become the type of movie we thought might be extinct entirely: the crossover hit that charms critics and crowds equally and is practically impossible to hate. Plus, when you account for the fact that it’s likely gonna be a top contender for the win in several below-the-line categories at the Oscars (Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Song), its path to a Best Picture nomination becomes a whole lot clearer.

Triangle of Sadness

Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson in Triangle of Sadness

I’m cheating a bit here since Triangle of Sadness hasn’t technically had its domestic release yet, but given that this Palme d’Or winner has already been widely seen by many pundits following its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, I think it can still count. And as well it should, given that this highly acclaimed and hysterical social satire will be one of the most topical titles in the awards race this year, thanks to writer-director Ruben Östlund’s coarse commentary on the superficiality and insensitivity of the absurdly affluent that is sure to strike a chord with many who want to stick it to the 1% as the 99% continue to suffer from their hoarding of wealth the world over.

How big can Triangle of Sadness become? Well, we have been cautioned that its eccentric European humor and unflinching depictions of the wealthy’s debauchery may not be for everyone – especially more conservative American voters – but its the strongest contender the Oscar savvy NEON has to push this year, and since the Academy is quickly becoming more international thanks to an increase in membership over the past few years, these new voters could offset those who are put-off by the picture. If nothing else, even if Triangle can’t quite crack the top category at the Oscars, look for it to contend heavily in Best Original Screenplay and maybe even Best Director for Östlund – and perhaps even Best Supporting Actress for standout Dolly de Leon.

Elvis

Austin Butler in Elvis

Laugh all you want, but if you’re not taking Elvis seriously as a threat for Best Picture by now, you better catch up. Yes, I’m not unaware that Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic biopic about the “King of Rock and Roll” is a divisive title in some circles (what Baz Luhrmann movie isn’t?), but the fact of the matter is that a) it’s still well received overall (a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 6.9/10 average rating, a 64 on Metacritic, and an A- CinemaScore), b) it’s one of the only adult-targeted non-franchise hits of the “pandemic era” at the box office ($130 million domestic and $235 million worldwide), and c) it’s Warner Bros. only real major contender in the race this year (a studio that has had at least one Best Picture nominee for five years straight), and d) it can feasibly earn six nominations or more when all is said and done.

Below-the-line alone, we’re looking at nods for Best Costume Design (with costumes by two-time Oscar winner and three-time nominee Catherine Martin), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design (also by Martin, a two-time Oscar winner and three-time nominee in this category too), and Best Sound, along with an outside shot in Best Film Editing. However, the strongest bet for Elvis is easily its stunning lead star Austin Butler in Best Actor, who seems at this point to be a shoo-in for a nomination, but given the industry’s response to his performance so far (read the raves from Oscar winners Brad Pitt and Gary Oldman here and here), he can’t be counted out for the win either. And if he does become our Best Actor frontrunner, let’s remember that every Best Actor winner’s film has been nominated for Best Picture since 2010.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cha Cha Real Smooth was the Audience Award winner at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and it’s been charming crowds and critics ever since, earning an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 7.7/10 average rating) and a 69 on Metacritic. When Apple TV+ acquired the film’s distribution rights in January, it was clear that they saw the film as what could be “the second coming of CODA,” last season’s Best Picture winner, but Cha Cha lacks the social significance of that coming-of-age crowdpleaser that helped it pull off a last-minute upset at this year’s Oscars. Still, you can’t count out a film as feel-good as this, especially if Apple’s awards slate truly does lose Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.

If that prospective awards juggernaut does indeed move to 2023, Cha Cha Real Smooth would be Apple’s biggest contender this year almost by default, and while its potential nom haul isn’t as high as some of the other films on this list, it will still be a strong contender in categories like Best Supporting Actress (for the jubilant Dakota Johnson, giving what many believe to be her best performance to date) and Best Original Screenplay, while it should also pick up easy noms in comedy-specific categories at ceremonies like the Golden Globes. It’s nowhere near a sure thing in Best Picture – it could be seen as a little too “small” in a year when so many big names are returning to the awards conversation – but it’s got the goods, and it can’t be counted out completely.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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