Prestige films, like the ones that get nominated for Oscars every year, have a reputation for being depressing and/or hard to watch. More often than not, they come by that reputation honestly. After all, one thing a great film endeavors to do is say something honest about humanity — and the more brutally honest you get, the less fun things can be.
Thus, for the second year in a row, let’s judge this year’s nominees for Best Picture using one very simple metric: Which will bum you out the most? These rankings have little to do with the respective quality of these films, or their likelihood of winning the big prize — it’s just a race to see which film will leave you most in need of cute animal videos as the credits roll.
Note: I’ve done my best to avoid going into specific plot details below, but due to the nature of this ranking, there are going to be implicit spoilers about the endings of these films. Also, everyone’s taste is subjective; the tragic death of an iconic rock star might feel sadder to you than the dissolution of a long friendship between two Irish dudes on an island, and that’s fine! That being said, though… I sincerely doubt most people will argue against the number-one ranking here.
10. Top Gun: Maverick
There’s a bit of melancholy to the ending of this long-awaited sequel, but that’s only if you believe that this is really the end of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) being the most top of guns. Otherwise, this is pure feel-good blockbuster fare — big heroic action, followed by Maverick literally getting the girl and flying off into the sunset with her.
09. The Fabelmans
This is actually a much darker film than you might think, as Steven Spielberg uses this roman á clef look at his childhood to unpack family secrets he’s spent decades avoiding — much of the film is essentially about the end of his parents’ marriage, and he doesn’t flinch away from some ugly truths. However, the final few scenes bring with them such joy and lightness, as young Sammy Fabelman’s destiny locks into place. That final shot especially serves as an unforgettable exclamation point, one that still brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes when I think about it.
08. Everything Everywhere All at Once
A fascinating thing about breaking down this year’s nominees: Pretty much all of them have an undercurrent of lingering sadness to them. (Weird! Certainly in no way a reflection of society today as we all continue to limp forward through time!) Yet there’s such joy to be found in the Daniels’ romp through the multiverse that while there are dark moments of existential crisis, at the end you’re left feeling healed to some degree. Also, Ke Huy Quan beats up some dudes with a fanny pack. Hard to feel sad about that.
07. Triangle of Sadness
Director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning film earns its spot in the middle of the pack entirely because of the ambiguous nature of its ending; with so much left unsaid in the end, it’s honestly hard to be sure how Östlund wants you to feel about his social satire. However, if you had a good time watching the torment endured by the ultra-rich on board a luxury yacht, then that pleasant feeling should continue all the way through the credits.
Watching the titular Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett)’s fall from grace in Todd Field’s austere yet engaging drama isn’t all that much a bummer, per se. For that to be the case, the viewer would have to be rooting for her to succeed, rather than gazing at her uncomfortably through the eyes of a voyeur as she blazes her own problematic path through life. So it’s not watching the (fictional?) composer’s carefully constructed success collapse around her which contributes to feelings of bummerness — it’s instead a bummer to see how the world around her reacts to that fall from grace.
05. Avatar: The Way of Water
The second chapter in James Cameron’s tale of blue people with tails has plenty of fun and/or exciting moments, but while Pandora is as beautiful a place as ever, some cruel things happen over that three-hour runtime, and the film ends on a heavy and mournful note — appropriate for the plot choices made by Cameron in the third act, yet not exactly the makings of a romp. To quote the film’s breakout star: “It’s too painful.”
Baz Luhrmann does his best to find sparks of joy in his take on the King, especially during his early rebellious years, but the tragic facts of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler)’s later life still haunt the ending — the film is a beautiful tribute to Elvis’s legacy, but even though Luhrmann doesn’t put the specifics on screen, it’s still hard to forget that the man passed away in the bathroom at the age of 42. Elvis also gets nudged up a spot for Tom Hanks going full cartoon villain with his performance; it’s not really related to the plot of the film, but it is a bummer to see Hanks flop this hard.
03. The Banshees of Inisherin
It’s not the backdrop of the Irish Civil War that lands Martin McDonagh’s black comedy this placement on the list, but the heartbreak that comes with watching poor simple Pádraic (Colin Farrell) try to comprehend why, exactly, his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) no longer wants to be pals. The stakes might be smaller than, to pull a hypothetical out of nowhere, those faced by soldiers fighting to survive World War I, but the impact is equally seismic on the viewer — especially when you factor in all the body mutilation and animal death.
02. Women Talking
The subject matter here is brutal: A group of Mennonite women come together to decide what to do about the systemic rape, assault, and oppression they all face at the hands of the men in their community. What keeps it out of the top slot is writer/director Sarah Polley’s delicate touch, which finds glimpses of humor in the darkness, and most importantly that ending, which brings with it hope for the future.
01. All Quiet on the Western Front
A strong contender to win the Best Picture trophy this year, director Edward Berger’s thoroughly committed adaptation of the 1929 novel does not shy away from the brutality of war. More importantly, it also expands its focus beyond the turmoil faced by its central young officer (Felix Kammerer) to include the politicians and generals who have so much power and not enough pity for the men who serve under them. The film is packed with skillful touches which don’t just draw out the universal and timeless themes of this story, but let them crawl under your skin.
So, that’s your winner for Biggest Bummer — the actual Oscar for Best Picture will be awarded on Sunday, March 12th on ABC. For more, here’s the full list of this year’s Oscar nominees, and more importantly where to stream all of the nominated films.