Discover more from The Bulwark
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Should Win Best Picture
Plus, a biblical epic assigned.
Anytime I see someone get agitated about the state of Oscars season—what was nominated, what was snubbed, what “deserved” it or didn’t—I think back to something I remember reading once: It’s just not worth getting worked up about an industry trade show.*
Because, at the end of the day, that’s all the Oscars are: a celebration of the products created by a massive industry. Yes, it has more glitz and glamor than the Clios; sure, it’s funnier and more entertaining and less sad than the Dundies. But the Academy Awards aren’t really an arbiter of quality, some pure measure of genuine greatness. Any look at the nominees and winners with the benefit of hindsight can tell you that.
All of which is to say that if Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has even the slightest sense of self-preservation—of the Oscars in particular, and Hollywood in general—they’ll figure out how to get Top Gun: Maverick as many Oscar nominations as possible. And, frankly, they should consider slipping someone at PriceWaterhouseCoopers a nice crisp Jackson to put their thumb on the scale and anoint Tom Cruise’s behemoth blockbuster as the best picture.
Again, the Oscars are a trade show. But they’re a trade show that has its nose a bit up in the air. Which is why Top Gun: Maverick is such a perfect opportunity: not only is it a massively popular blockbuster and not only does it star one of the last living movie stars, it is also critically acclaimed (99 percent fresh amongst top critics) and beloved by audiences (99 percent fresh with verified audiences on Rotten Tomatoes and an A-plus CinemaScore from opening weekend moviegoers).
Having grossed more than $700 million domestically and nearly $1.5 billion worldwide in addition to earning critical acclaim, Top Gun: Maverick is the purest demonstration of Hollywood’s populist artistry in some time. It is worth noting that the film made this money despite being closed to the box offices of China, which was unhappy with the film’s America-friendly plot, a solid reminder that America’s greatest cultural export needn’t censor itself at the behest of tyrannical regimes. This is, perhaps, of interest to the industry’s trade show.
It has the proper pedigree. Christopher McQuarrie, the co-writer, is an Oscar winner. Tom Cruise hasn’t taken home a trophy yet, but he’s earned a handful of nominations and, frankly, deserved at least one, maybe more, acting trophies.
And it’s starting to get some awards season love. The National Board of Review picked it as the best film of the year. The New York Film Critics Circle gave Claudio Miranda its best cinematography award. Momentum is on Maverick’s side, but it’ll probably take more than two miracles to get a statuette in the hands of Top Gun: Maverick’s producers.
Some will argue that Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t “deserve” the Oscar, that it wasn’t the “best” movie of the year. I’d, frankly, agree with that. It’s not even at the top of my own list, and it’s likely to be up against the movie I do think is the best of the year (Tár) in the best picture category. But to quote another Oscar favorite: Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. This is a moment for self-preservation, pure and simple, not just for a Hollywood struggling to retain relevance in an increasingly niche-ified entertainment universe but also for The Academy Awards themselves, which have seen ratings decline year after year and can’t expect the rousing triumph of Coda to remind people that, hey, the Oscars are a thing.
So, I beg you, Academy: nominate Top Gun: Maverick in all the Oscar categories for which it is eligible. Heap gold upon it on Oscar night. And bask in praise from masses who remain at least a little confused by the suggestion that the greatest film of all time is a three-plus-hour foreign flick about a woman peeling potatoes in her apartment.
*I want to attribute this to Glenn Kenny, author of Made Men, but I’m not 100% sure he said it. Either way, you should buy and read his book about the making of Goodfellas, a movie that would’ve won best picture if the Oscars were a simple arbiter of quality rather than something else.
A lot of people want to know what we at Across the Movie Aisle think of the Disney+ show Andor. There are dozens of you. So we obliged this week with a special bonus episode about the first season of the Tony Gilroy-run series. Is it the best Star Wars product since Empire? I have a feeling it just might be! Just like, you know, every other Star Wars production since Empire. Kidding! Kinda.
It’s fine, is what I’m saying.
And if you want access to the show, sign up here:
This week I wrote about cinematic Santas bad, mad, and sad.
I also begged literally anyone involved with Avatar: The Way of Water to say something in support of Chinese protesters asking for freedoms, cinematic and otherwise, from China.
I reviewed Quentin Tarantino’s new book, Cinema Speculation, which is a great deal of fun.
And I talked to Sean O’Connell about his new book on Spider-Man’s conquest of the multiplex.
On Across the Movie Aisle this week we had some fun discussing the decennial Sight and Sound list purporting to name the greatest films of all time. Needless to say, I am … skeptical that Jeanne Dielman is, in fact, the greatest motion picture ever made. And I am even more skeptical of the process that led to the voter pool making the picks. Paul Schrader’s only crime is saying the quiet part out loud.
Over at Slate, Dan Kois has a pretty interesting read on what actually was the best movie of the year, Tár. (Sorry, Tom.) I’m not entirely sure I buy his thesis—those gifs seem … less than conclusive to me—but I do appreciate being given a reason to both buy the film on 4K and monkey with my TV’s contrast settings to get to the truth.
This long reported feature on a fabulist who faked her medical history so as to get work on Grey’s Anatomy is fascinating. One possible takeaway from this is that people should prize “authenticity” and “background” less and storytelling ability more. Crazy thought, I know.
Assigned Viewing: Noah (Prime Video, Paramount+)
Darren Aronofsky’s latest, The Whale, is in limited release now. Good chance Brendan Fraser wins best actor for his work in it, but I’ll be honest: the movie doesn’t do a ton for me. I don’t hate it, it’s just … lacking in style. I prefer Aronofsky at his wildest, as in Requiem for a Dream or Black Sawn.
Or Noah. I don’t think we really appreciate how insane it is that the guy who made a movie in which addiction is the protagonist was given nine figures to make an arthouse-inflected version of the Biblical story about the great flood. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoy it and it’s a reminder that there are few actors who can convincingly do loving and threatening masculinity simultaneously like Russell Crowe can.