As I’ve written before, my strange love affair with the Oscars began in 1994 with heartbreak and has evolved into an appreciation for the process and the films it brings to the forefront. Films that might otherwise get lost, buried beneath super heroes, dinosaurs and Jedis (all of which are awesome by the way) get some well-deserved attention.
Last year movies like Nightcrawler, Whiplash, Foxcatcher and Still Alice received 12 Oscar nominations (winning 4) and brought in $75 million combined. That’s only slightly more than what Guardians of the Galaxy pulled in after 2 days. Because I track Oscar buzz so obsessively throughout the year I was able to see these during the brief window of time they were at my local art house theater.
However, for me the real treats are the little gems I find in the same way that never get to experience Oscar glory. There are great movies that don’t get nominated but had some level of buzz throughout the year.
Recently films like Mud, Short Term 12, The Way, Way Back, Hope Springs, Ruby Sparks and St. Vincent all had well-deserved Oscar buzz early in the year but industry politics, the Academy’s notorious short-term memory and strong competition left them on the outside looking in on that wickedly early mid-January morning.
They are all excellent films that didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination. But if there hadn’t been some buzz along the way I might not have ever seen them. And that would have been tragic.
This was most evident for me in 2007 with an independent Irish music-drama called Once. Somewhere along the line there was a little bit of buzz building for the film’s screenplay, and rightfully so. It was released in the summer and was never on more than 150 screens nationwide. When I could I rented the DVD (had to turn on subtitles to help with the thick Irish accents) and discovered a positively beautiful film.
In the end Once didn’t get the screenplay nomination. But it did receive a nomination and eventually the Oscar for Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly”). However, a film only receiving a nomination for song or score wouldn’t have led me to watch the movie. I probably would have just found the song online and listened to it. But I would have missed out on something really special.
With the SAG nomination just announced I am starting to see the separation begin between the movies that have strong Oscar buzz going into the home stretch and those who are most likely going to get left behind.
I still have hope that some of these films could and should get nominated but experience and history tells me they probably won’t. So, in a few weeks I’ll have some predictions on the nominees but for now I want to highlight some movies that most likely won’t get the benefit of the Academy’s spotlight.
Love and Mercy
Buzz: Actor (John Cusak), Supporting Actor (Paul Dano), Supporting Actress (Elizabeth Banks), Original Screenplay (Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerne)
I’m not sure who is playing who in this biopic about Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Is Dano doing Cusak? Or is Cusak doing Dano? Either way they’re both fantastic and the past and future tortured genius behind the Beach Boys and the movie is engaging and well-crafted. Paul Giamatti also shines, as he usually does, as the despicable Dr. Eugene Landy.
Buzz: Actor (Ian McKellen)
When this movie was first released back in July the feeling was, “Just give Sir Ian the Oscar now.” Here we are just a few months later and he isn’t even in the conversation. Sad. But what isn’t sad is his spectacular performance as Sherlock Holmes playing the super sleuth in his 60’s and 90’s.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Buzz: Picture, Actress (Carrie Mulligan)
It might be due in part to the push for Mulligan as a nominee for Suffragette (which has lost quite a bit of its own Oscar steam of late) that this film and her performance have drifted out of contention. But this period piece is a grand epic love story in its own right and Mulligan carries the film as the remarkable strong female lead.
While We’re Young
Buzz: Original Screenplay (Noah Baumbach)
I wish I could say I still have hope this sharp and clever screenplay gets nominated but it won’t which is too bad because Baumbach did such a great job crafting this comedy about a couple of 40-somethings whose lives get invigorated by a couple of 20-somethings. Baumbach avoids all the cliché pitfalls that a much less gifted filmmaker would lean on.
Buzz: Original Screenplay (Rick Famuyiwa)
Here’s another smart and funny script with heaps of originality. Set in and around Inglewood, California the story of high school geeks, drug dealers, music producers and an interview to get into Harvard, Famuyiwa (who like Baumbach also directed) takes you on a gritty, wild ride. At a couple of points I was expecting the story to lose me but like Michael Corleone it kept pulling me back in. Also, the lead actor Shameik Moore has the seeds of greatness in him.
Secret In Their Eyes
Buzz: Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Actress (Julia Roberts), Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray)
This one is still in theaters so the buzz is still active but as we get closer it seems it won’t have enough to carry it past the big dogs in the race. The reviews are mixed mostly due to comparisons to the original (the 2009 Oscar winning Best Foreign Language Film). But I never saw the original so for my money the performances are solid and the screenplay is tight and imaginative albeit familiar.
So when the nominations are announced in a few weeks and movies the likes of Brooklyn, Spotlight and The Revenant will be catapulted to the front lines of the Oscar race, there will still be some excellent films left behind that shouldn’t be forgotten.