Oscars Highlights: ‘Nightmare Alley’ (2021)

Bradley Cooper searches the surreal halls of a circus tent for a ‘gimp’ in “Nightmare Alley”.

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Bradley Cooper searches the surreal halls of a circus tent for a ‘gimp’ in “Nightmare Alley”.

Max Vetter, Entertainment Reporter

The Oscars are here! This incredibly popular but increasingly less respected industry award show has been making the good citizens of the US think “is this movie really worth watching” for the past 94 years now, and let me tell you: most of them aren’t. With that said, I’m going to try to run through some of the more interesting Best Picture nominees this year in order to give you a better idea of which movies you should watch, and which ones you really shouldn’t.

“Nightmare Alley” is the latest in a long line of films from visionary Guillermo del Toro that seek to be fairy tales but are geared primarily towards adults, and it’s one of the most devilishly entertaining films in the running for Best Picture this year. The film follows a carnival man-turned-mentalist as he tries to make all the money he can while trying to escape his violent past.

It is, like the rest of del Toro’s filmography, sumptuously beautiful. In each scene, beautifully lit sets are precisely navigated by a flowing camera, calling to mind classic films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” (1970) and creating a sort of simultaneously sickly and whimsical atmosphere. This plays into the adult fairy tale aesthetic I mentioned earlier, one where the world doesn’t quite operate on the strict logical standards that the real one does, but rather a dreamlike state where things fall into place in just the right way so that karmic justice is delivered at just the right moments. 

While the film is certainly not one that will surprise you with complex twists and turns (the conclusion of the film is so obviously established in the first 30 minutes that it would be eye-rolling if it weren’t so entertaining), it’s the execution that makes “Nightmare Alley” worth it. The film moves along at such a deliberate pace with such brilliant performances and artful presentation choices that that doesn’t really matter all that much. While it never reaches the heights of “The Shape of Water” and definitely feels a tad too long, you’d be remiss to find a more eminently likable Best Picture nominee than “Nightmare Alley”. See it on Hulu or HBO Max.