When it comes to the yearly awards season, namely the Academy Awards, things get a little claustrophobic. The number of films that end up getting nominated is a small number given the potential, with last year’s Oscars showing the echo chamber the voters are in, as out of a possible 48, only 19 different films were nominated for the awards for acting, writing, cinematography, directing, and the top gong – and only 7 nominations from the past five years have been for non-English language films for these awards.
It’s time for some of these kinds of films to be awarded for their immense talents, starting with these recent films from the last five years (going by American release dates).
1. The Skin I Live In (2011) – Pedro Almodóvar for Best Adapted Screenplay
The Academy has teased Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar with a couple of nominations for his films, even giving him the Best Original Screenplay gong for 2002’s Talk to Her, so why not again for another one of his best films of this century, The Skin I Live In?
The Academy isn’t too warm towards horror films, especially body horror films like this one reveals itself to be. This kind of eerie storyline can really get under some peoples’ skin, but it’s a perfectly teased tale of this bizarre revenge whose plot twist transitions slowly for the audience to gather (and then be disturbed by).
Almodóvar shapes his own eccentricities around the troubling little novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet and he lets none of its disturbing nature get diluted in the screen adaptation. Almodóvar has gone from strength to strength with his screenwriting abilities as he has progressed in his career, and his screenplay for The Skin I Live In is one of his greatest accomplishments.
2. Le Quattro Volte (2011) – Michelangelo Frammartino for Best Director
Such an intelligently refreshing new take on how a narrative can run its course in a film is explored in Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, which looks into the life of a farmer, then one of his newly born goats, then on a tree, then on the charcoal made from this burnt tree, taking a cinematic rendition of reincarnation.
This is when cinema gets to a near religious level, yet the Academy decided to favour a more traditional silent film for the year – the throw-back semi-pastiche The Artist. It’s unfortunate that, going against what many critics predicted, The Artist did not pave the way for a resurgence of silent films co-existing with the usual talkies.
Maybe copying the style of the silent era entirely isn’t the way to go, instead traditional films that contain no dialogue at all could create a new wave of silent films. If Le Quattro Volte had received more attention on release, especially to its ingenious directing that rewrites the filmmaking book a few times, there’s a possibility more proper “silent” films like it would now be more prevalent.
3. The Turin Horse (2012) – Fred Kelemen for Best Cinematography
The last film from one of the masters of slow contemplative cinema, Bela Tarr, was like his other masterpieces ignored by the Academy and most American awards ceremonies.
One vital aspect of Tarr’s slow meditative films (from 1988’s Damnation to this one) is the stark black and white cinematography that gives its settings and dour characters a larger-than-life cinematic look.
Fred Kelemen (who had previously shot one other Tarr film, 2007’s The Man from London) manages to keep this cinematographic style by shooting the dreariness and mundanity of life in just 30 takes over 145 minutes, each one carefully and deliberately composed, resulting in a gorgeously flowing, yet rigidly stark visual style that deeply evokes the tar-black tone of the film. Hopefully Tarr will bring himself out of retirement and team up with Kelemen again so they can be ignored by the Academy again.
4. Holy Motors (2012) – Denis Lavant for Best Actor
Loved by cinephiles who get a kick out of the weirder side of Europe, French filmmaker Leos Carax’s only film of this decade so far is the strangest film ever to star both Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue.
It also stars Denis Lavant, who gives a strikingly chameleon performance as he must switch between different personas throughout the number of vignettes this film literally drives through. He’s a dying man, then he’s a sexy athletic mo-cap model, then he’s father to a teenage girl, then he’s a raging lunatic through the streets of Paris. Cavant easily melds into any of the characters he’s required, using the limousine he is taken around in as a buffer zone for him to apply make-up and get into character.
This sounds like one of those performances that is actually made up of several smaller ones, which it is, but Holy Motors has been pondered over in the few years it’s been out now as a curious film about identity – apparently Carax likens the character changes to how we operate our various identities through the internet. Whatever the deeper meaning, it is thanks to Cavant’s eclectic and widely varied performance(s) that leads this extraordinary and experimental film.
5. Post Tenebras Lux (2013) – Alexis Zabe for Best Cinematography
One of Mexico’s finest contemporary filmmakers, Carlos Reygadas, has made a few very divisive films that rely very strongly on atmosphere, with the now-ness of any given scene in his films more important than the overall story.
After his stunning Silent Light (another gorgeously filmed masterpiece snubbed by most American awards ceremonies), Reygadas followed it up with Post Tenebras Lux, which divided critics even more than its predecessor, but it undoubtedly features many beautifully filmed scenes of the natural landscapes and areas of Morelos in Mexico.
The opening scene sets the precedent, showing a little girl innocently frolicking in a farm with the animals before a handsome sunset as the night approaches and brings along a powerful thunderstorm. What makes this curious pre-credits sequence even more dreamy is the lens distortion on the edges of the frame, giving what we see an even more expressionistic appearance.
This visual aesthetic is what makes Reygadas so much more expressive rather than literal, and his hazy dream-like Post Tenebras Lux is a stunning-looking film that was snubbed by the Academy who rarely award cinematographers for shooting in countries other than America.
Its cinematographer Alexis Zabe (who also shot Silent Light) wasn’t snubbed at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards where he earned a nomination for a Yeah Yeah Yeahs music video, but it may be a while before he is commonly regarded as the next Emmanuel Lubezki (and picks up as many Oscars).
6. The Dance of Reality (2014) – Alejandro Jodorowsky for Best Director, Brontis Jodorowsky for Best Actor
The great surrealistic filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, released The Dance of Reality only just recently (his first film in over 22 years) and it felt like such an honest and autobiographical piece of work from him, it was like he’d never left filmmaking. Despite this triumphant return, his new arty effort was dismissed by most awards ceremonies, solidifying Jodorowsky as one of the greats of the cinema that was never even nominated for an Oscar.
And Alejandro isn’t the only talented one in the family. His son, Brontis, plays Alejandro’s father in the film (pretty psychomagical) and puts in a vivid and very memorable performance especially when the focus goes from the son to the father in the second half as Brontis goes through a very strangely physical and deeply emotional odyssey.
It’s a purposefully over-the-top performance that matches the wildly surreal nature of the film, but there’s a clear emotional resonance that mostly comes from Brontis, making The Dance of Reality a terrific family effort – Brontis will appear in his dad’s next film, Endless Poetry, and it’s likely going to be another surrealistic masterpiece that will be ignored by the Academy that are afraid of films even slightly off-kilter.
7. Charlie’s Country (2014) – David Gulpilil for Best Actor
Australia’s submission for Best Foreign Film for the 87th Academy Awards, though not only did it miss out on a nomination, but David Gulpilil missed out on nabbing one for Best Actor – too bad, otherwise the Academy may not have been recently targeted for racism the following year.
Gulpilil managed to earn a Best Actor award (Un Certain Regard) at the Cannes Film Festival, which showed that maybe France had a better scope of finding awards-worthy acting from even the most remote and smallest of communities.
Gulpilil packs in his most honest and introspective performance in this lead role that called upon a lot of his own life’s experiences, effortlessly presenting a hefty amount of humanity through a role that often portrays a lot of immense sadness, but also a lot of warmth and humour. Folks claim there should be more representation for black actors at the Oscars, and they should’ve started with Gulpilil.