CHICAGO - Despite the usual snubs, flubs and surprises, the Academy Award nominations were actually pretty solid this year. In addition to honoring great performances like Penelope Cruz in "Parallel Mothers," Andrew Garfield in "Tick, Tick … Boom!" and Denzel Washington in "The Tragedy of Macbeth," the Academy also rounded up an appreciably diverse list of Best Picture nominees.
All this week we’ll be spotlighting the 10 films nominated for the big prize. And since we could all use more stuff to watch these days, we’ve also rounded up recommendations for movies (and TV shows) that echo or influence them in some way — all of which are streaming (for free!) on Tubi. Next up: Steven Spielberg’s dazzling remake of "West Side Story."
About "West Side Story"
The premise: "Directed by Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner, "West Side Story" tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City."
The details: Rated PG-13. 156 minutes. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Tony Kushner.
The nominations: "West Side Story" danced its way to seven nominations this year — tying with "Belfast" as the third-most nominated film of the year. In addition to its Best Picture nod, it was also nominated for Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose — a likely winner), Best Cinematography (Janusz Kamiński), Best Costume Design (Paul Tazewell), Best Production Design (Adam Stockhausen and Rena DeAngelo) and Best Sound (Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, Tod A. Maitland and Shawn Murphy).
Leading lady Rachel Zegler might already be the biggest winner of the night, however, Though she wasn’t nominated, she did manage to harness the power of the internet to make sure a scheduling conflict didn’t keep her away from the event. You’ll now be able to spot her as one of the evening’s presenters.
Our critic’s take: A dazzling musical with a dimmed love story
Remaking an iconic Hollywood classic is a steep proposition. Restaging a new version of a popular stage show is slightly less daunting. For his new take on "West Side Story," director Steven Spielberg sort of splits the difference — he pulls from the beloved 1961 movie musical as well as the original Broadway stage show, while adding a few new elements of his own. This is "West Side" as you’ve seen it before, and also as you haven’t.
The result is an earnestly old-fashioned movie musical that dazzles in so many ways. The choreography is truly breathtaking and it’s worth heading to a theater just to hear Leonard Bernstein’s soaring score played by a full orchestra in surround sound. Yet for all its compelling pieces — including some of the best supporting performances of the year and a welcome deepening of the show’s Puerto Rican characters — it’s an adaptation that never fully springs to life, at least not compared to the very best versions of "West Side Story."
Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
The biggest problem is that the love story at its center just doesn’t work, which is quite the hurdle for a musical that transports the "Romeo and Juliet" template to 1950s New York. The magic of "West Side Story" hinges on the love-at-first sight connection between Polish-American former gang leader Tony (Ansel Elgort) and recent Puerto Rican immigrant Maria (Rachel Zegler). And while Zegler makes for a refreshingly self-possessed ingenue in her star-is-born debut film role, Elgort doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain.
Still, there’s more about "West Side Story" that works than doesn’t — even if those elements often feel more like individual instruments than a full orchestra playing in harmony. It’s a credit to how much this adaptation is interested in deepening its Puerto Rican characters that Maria’s milquetoast would-be boyfriend Chino outshines her Tony, largely thanks to Josh Andrés Rivera’s wonderfully endearing, lived-in performance.
Rita Moreno as Valentina in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY.
But it’s the Anitas who truly steal the show; both Rita Moreno (the original Anita in the 1961 film) in a reimagined role as Tony’s empathetic boss, and especially Ariana DeBose as the tough but tender seamstress herself. A triple threat of the highest degree, DeBose emerges as the soul of the film — the performer who best embodies everything Spielberg and Kushner are trying to do with this grim, gritty, but still joyful adaptation. DeBose dances across the full spectrum of human emotion as gracefully as she literally dances down the streets of New York, bringing out the best in her scene partners along the way. It’s one of the performances of the year. And like the best elements of "West Side Story," it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
How to watch "West Side Story"
Streaming: "West Side Story" is currently streaming on both Disney+ and HBO Max.
Rent or own: You can rent or purchase "West Side Story" on VOD platforms like iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Google Play. It’s also available for purchase on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K.
On the big screen: Catch "West Side Story" in select theaters before it mamboes out of multiplexes for good.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
What to watch next
Naturally, the perfect complement to "West Side Story" is its original Shakespearean source material. And few adaptations are more striking than Baz Luhrmann’s modern day dress interpretation, "William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet."Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes set a generation on fire with their passionate portrayal of the eponoymous lovers. And that’s not even mentioning Harold Perrineau’s scene-stealing turn as Mercutio. But if you’ve seen that version too many times (is that even possible?), there’s also a period-set version starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth and 2022 Oscar nominee Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Power of the Dog") from 2013. And Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad also starred in a Broadway production that was filmed live on stage.
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Allison Shoemaker and Caroline Siede contributed to this report.