I have loved movies since I was a kid. But I didn’t become a film buff until my 20’s. I can tell you exactly when it happened. I became friends with Tim Jackson, aka Rev. Hollywood in 1994. Back then he was just Tim (the Rev. Hollywood thing came later). One of the many things Tim and I were doing back then included a weekly live radio program called The Zone. Each week we had a different topic which we explored through discussion via the panel of 3 on-air hosts (featuring Tim), popular music and live callers. Sometimes the topics were serious like holiday depression or forgiveness. Sometimes we kept it light and just jawed about the upcoming Super Bowl or… wait for it… the Oscars.
There were a lot of exceptional movies that year. I had, like many others, been captivated by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. I was mesmerized and went back to watch it in the theater 6 times with whoever I could drag with me. It was nominated for 7 Oscars: best picture, director, actor (John Travolta), supporting actor (Samuel L. Jackson), supporting actress (Uma Thurman), editing and original screenplay. I was convinced that this was the absolute best picture of the year.
I had never watched the Oscars before. I had no experience with the red carpet extravaganza. But when Oscar night came I was glued to my television taking it all in and rooting for Pulp Fiction. As the night went on each category culminated with disappointment after disappointment. At the end of the night Pulp Fiction walked away with only one golden statuette for best original screenplay. I was kind of bothered at this idea that the highest award in the film industry was not adequately recognizing what was, with all due respect to Forrest Gump, far and away the best film of the year.
My fascination with the Oscars grew each year. It started with just faithfully watching the ceremony, seeing more and more of the nominated films. Then I was studying Oscar history, memorizing the best picture winners from the last 40 or 50 years, beginning to understand what made the Academy tick. Before too long I was seeing all of the nominees before the awards. But there wasn’t enough time between the nominations and the awards. I had to start earlier, following the buzz, seeing movies that might get nominated.
This has now evolved into an annual ritual which includes preparing an elaborate spreadsheet tracking the buzz of each film in each of the major categories and when they will be released in theaters in my area or on DVD. This past year I tracked Oscar buzz on 72 different films. I saw 30 of them, including each of the 14 movies that make up the nominees in the major 8 categories.
As you might expect, that means each year I see a lot of movies that don’t get any Oscar nominations. But this has become such a wonderful component to my annual Oscar watch. I have seen so many great movies that at some point generated buzz but for any number of reasons don’t generate or sustain enough momentum to carry them to a nomination. Some of these have become cherished favorites. In a couple of weeks I’ll make my official Oscar predictions, but here and now I want to shed a little light on this year’s overlooked gems, movies I may not have seen based solely on Oscar nominations.
Mud – best picture, director, supporting actor (Matthew McConaughey), original screenplay, cinematography. This new American classic, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is a modern day adventure of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Even having come out in May (pretty early in the year for the Academy’s short-term memory) I was surprised that the cinematography still didn’t garner a nod. It is some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Inside Llewyn Davis – best picture, director, actor (Oscar Isaac) original screenplay, original song. The often brilliant, frequently misunderstood Coen brothers were victims of their own unwavering commitment to making the films they want to make without any concern for awards or recognition, although they have received plenty of that as well. Inside Llewyn Davis skillfully walks the fine line between weird and wonderful. The cinematography received a well-deserved Oscar nomination but the original song “Fare Thee Well” was the overlooked, beautiful, centerpiece of Llewyn Davis’ journey.
The Way, Way Back – best original screenplay, supporting actor (Sam Rockwell). The Way, Way Back is tender, genuine, very funny and expertly crafted. A nomination for Rockwell’s hilarious and heart-warming performance would have been a long-shot but Nat Faxon and Jim Rash should have still been on the Academy’s radar after winning for their adapted screenplay of The Descendants just 2 years ago.
I know there are more. I hear from friends that The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12 are must-sees. They were both on my Oscar watch spreadsheet but their buzz cooled off pushing them behind other fast risers like Dallas Buyers Club (McConaughey wow!) and Her (um… huh?). Fruitvale Station is supposed to be groundbreaking and Enough Said just might be more than sentimental hype for James Gandolfini’s final role.
What else have I missed? What great films did Oscar leave out in the cold? Leave your comments below or tweet at me (@cmselby).