8. Force Majeure (2014) – Johannes Kuhnke for Best Actor, Lisa Loven Kongsli for Best Actress
Released the same year as Gone Girl (an awards contender that actually got snubbed as well by the Academy) and features just as prickly an examination of modern day romance and the sexual politics that seem to firmly divide the sexes. The two lead performers strengthen this ferocious tale of this disintegration of a relationship in this film that never takes any easy paths.
Amiable imitative performances by nominees of that year Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle had a lot behind them as playing heroic figures of our history, but Johannes Kuhnke’s performance as Tomas is key to introducing to cinema a new kind of male – one who retains basic fatherly responsibilities and behaviours, but who does not possess many instinctual masculine qualities.
Beside him is Lisa Loven Kongsli as his wife Ebba, who gives a stern performance as this character systematically works on reducing Tomas’ fatherly status, only exacerbating their already hostile marriage.
At a time when we need it, notions of masculinity and femininity are explored in the marital hiccup this couple have, and this discussion is made all the more seething and close to the bone with the perfectly pitched acting.
Director Ruben Östlund claimed many scenes of the film were inspired by viral videos on YouTube (a good place to find inspiration), including a scene where Tomas breaks down into a sobbing, blubbering mess (inspired by a video titled ‘Best Cry Ever’), a rather brave piece of acting as Kuhnke’s is not only opening himself up emotionally, but is inviting audiences to laugh at him as he does so.
What also makes these performances stand out as opposed to many of their Awards-friendly American counterparts is the amount of humour in their acting – their own characters may not be able to identify this humour, but the audiences certainly will, and it’s much more invigorating and entertaining to watch than seeing Julianne Moore cry again.
9. Winter Sleep (2014) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Best Adapted Screenplay, Gökhan Tiryaki for Best Cinematography
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan had his international acclaim come to the fore when his 3+ hour film Winter Sleep picked up the top award at the Cannes Film Festival. Quite a number of his films (such as Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) should also be pondered over their exclusion from the Oscars, but Winter Sleep feels like his most crafted effort yet, a film that is thoroughly rich in not only its dialogue (and there’s plenty of it), but its picturesque cinematography.
Gökhan Tiryaki has acted as cinematographer for Ceylan’s films since 2006’s Climates, and his work on this 2014 film (that missed out on a Best Foreign Film nomination as well) is arguably his best, as he films the rarely filmed snowy and rocky mountains of Cappadocia and boasts its beautiful scenery whose peculiarity has hardly been filmed much before.
The interior scenes are gorgeous in their own right, eschewing the usual gross-looking and monotonous orange and teal appearance American cinematographers usually resort to, by making the comfy yet hostile interiors of these incredibly lengthy scenes feel harshly confined.
To complement this fine shooting style is the screenplay, based on Anton Chekov’s short story The Wife, which probably has a lower word count that this lengthy screenplay. The Academy should make an effort to seek out such dense, yet hugely involving screenplays that work off lengthy scenes of subdued, yet intensely dramatic conflicts.
10. Wild Tales (2015) – Damián Szifron for Best Original Screenplay
Let’s take a minute from tormenting the poor Oscars to spend some time crapping on the Golden Globes instead. Their Best Comedy Feature category is a joke in itself, with the exciting, but not hugely comedic The Martian shoe-horning its way to win the award.
Wild Tales would’ve made a much more suitable placement in this category, it would’ve shown the Golden Globes are more privy towards films from outside their nation, and it would’ve given more exposure to a film that didn’t have a marketing budget of upwards $100 million … but, hey, I guess The Martian was a funnier film.
Wild Tales is one of those rare anthology films that doesn’t get tiring as it goes on, but each of the tales (or short films) only go to strengthen and embellish the acidic and slightly misanthropic humour of the whole.
Each of the six tales are cleverly woven and keep the audience intensely guessing how it’s all going to conclude, and it usually doesn’t go in the direction you expected – it’s as if the film has to work six times as hard as most other films, and each of the six tales on their own are funnier and more exciting than most other films.
Damián Szifron wrote each of the stories and directed the film, honing them all into this cumulative feature that portrays vengeance in all its spiteful, gleeful, yet thoroughly damaging glory.
11. Hard to Be a God (2015) Vladimir Ilin and Yuriy Klimenko for Best Cinematography
It never seemed likely that this long-in-production 3 hour Russian weirdo film would get nominated for any Academy Award, especially given the amount of shit smearing going on in the film. Nobody is too surprised that a film that’s like an even more disgusting On the Silver Globe didn’t get a slither of recognition from the American awards ceremonies, but it still feels like a disappointment.
This film certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially the stodgy collective that make up the Academy voters, but Hard to Be a God was a mammoth production that nearly didn’t get finished, but now it has been completed and released in all its glory (after the director’s death in early 2013), we see how stunning the black and white cinematography is.
Think the hazy, yet bold shades of Andrei Rublev, but with the chaotic swooping and sweeping camera movement of the aforementioned Andrzej Zulawski film. Vladimir Ilin and Yuriy Klimenko both worked on the film, who knows how many years they each worked for, but their consistent styles give frenzied life to this oddball, indescribable, and uncategorizable film, the likes of which will never be even glanced at by the Academy.
12. Taxi (2015) – Jafar Panahi for Best Director
Jafar Panahi is one of the true badasses of cinema’s history. Despite his socio-political films have caused him enough uproar with the Iranian authorities that they’ve placed a ban on him making films, he has continued to produce three films which, for legal reasons, were “not” directed by him.
The latest of these three, Taxi, takes Panahi and the camera out of the confines of a house and into a car as he drives us around Tehran (a la Kiarostami’s Ten). This simple set-up turns into a celebration of film and the wonderment of capturing moments though our video cameras (or phones), a kind of magic that Iranian authorities want to egregiously suppress.
Panahi’s own paranoia about constant surveillance (the authorities themselves using video for their own uses) becomes more and more apparent as the film progresses, which is further proof of how the Iranian filmmakers, more than any other nation, play upon metacinema to instruct their own politically mindful messages. For someone as resilient against this artistic oppression as Panahi, it’s a bit of a shame he didn’t receive a Best Director nod – though maybe that’s because he didn’t direct it *wink wink*.
13. The Assassin (2015) – Ping Bin Lee for Best Cinematography
The Assassin is a warm reminder of how natural a film can look. In the digital age of colour grading, most films usually feature no more than four different colours, and even they have a limited range, but The Assassin has an incredible look to it that was part of the film’s transformative power of presenting the 9th century.
Filmed in the luscious locations of the Hubei province, Inner Mongolia, and north-eastern China, The Assassin is a technical marvel, one that was undervalued by the Academy, though if it had been nominated it would’ve given the impressive geographical scope of the hot contender/winner The Revenant a run for its money.
The stunning sets, locations, and costumes are all filmed with immaculate tranquillity that transports the audience into a calmer and more leisurely paced time period, with cinematographer Ping Bin Lee’s work being perhaps the most important aspect in creating the mood of this slow-paced action art-film.
14. About Elly (2015) – Asghar Farhadi for Best Original Screenplay
Now wouldn’t this have been something … if Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly had won an Oscar several years after his follow-up film A Separation had won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It would’ve been a head-unravelling twist that would’ve delighted punters, but such a circumstance was missed.
A Separation (which was fairly awarded more than one nomination from the Academy) put Farhadi on the map, and now his previous efforts find themselves with a cinematic release. His films are proving he is becoming a master at mapping out human conflicts and the emotional repercussions that come from their interactions, with About Elly’s very curious conceit being the driving force behind this examination on guilt (both applying it and receiving it).
This carefully composed screenplay acts as a smorgasbord of ideas as the different characters throw out their different accusations, turning what could’ve been standard soap opera material into an absorbing story rich with conflict and unexpected drama.
Iran is just one of many, many countries who have been unfairly underrepresented by the Academy. Although a viable solution would be for them to take more consideration into the films from other countries, perhaps an even better solution is to not worry so much about the Oscars or any awards shows – I suppose it’s not really up to an America-centric awards show to have a more globalised awareness of films from around the world and the efforts people put into them.
15. Mommy (2015) – Antoine-Olivier Pilon for Best Actor, Anne Dorval for Best Actress
Right from the beginning of his very young career, Xavier Dolan has managed to put to screen some searingly fraught performances to show the tense conflicted relationships between friends, family, and the outsiders of society.
He explores (as the tile may give away) a mother and son relationship in Mommy, with Antoine-Olivier Pilon delving headfirst into an erratic and emotionally off-the-wall performance as the rather troubled and delinquent Steve, and Anne Dorval as his mother, Die, who matches his extremely high quality of acting by giving an astounding performance as a constantly trying mother who is desperate to keep herself afloat under the weight of her son.
Sounds a little depressing, and Mommy doesn’t shy away from the family dysfunctions, but the love between Die and Steve as mother and son is tremendously captured by the instinctive and emotionally bare work by Pilon and Dorval.
Despite coming from a predominantly English-speaking nation, Mommy still was unrecognised at the American awards ceremonies, though it may be a while before the Academy acknowledges the perfect acting that appears in films made by those under 30 years old.
Author Bio: David Morgan-Brown is an Australian lover of movies, films, flicks, and kino pictures. He does written reviews for Colosoul, video reviews for Flim Reviews, and does comedic skits with his mates for Carpool — go laugh with (or at) him.