With 5-10 available Best Picture slots, there’s not enough room for every great movie. Every year, some of the best movies are left off the list. Let it be clear that a movie doesn’t need a Best Picture nomination to be one of the best movies of the year. 2014 gave us movies like Wild and and Nightcrawler which were both fantastic despite lacking Best Picture nominations.
This year has been a very competitive and unpredictable year for awards. While certain movies have remained a lock since the beginning (Spotlight), others that seemed like locks ended up getting shafted. Other movies that didn’t seem like they had a chance early on (Mad Max: Fury Road) ended up doing exceptionally well.
While it’s worth checking out all eight Best Picture nominations, it’s also worth checking out these fifteen films that didn’t make the cut. Whether they’re better or worse than the movies nominated doesn’t matter. What matters is that, regardless of how well they did in terms of nominations, they are among the best of the best.
1. Ex Machina
In a year filled with sci-fi hits like Jurassic World, The Martian, and a little known flick called Star Wars, one reigns supreme: Ex Machina. No Sci-Fi movie in 2015 has been able to deliver as much thought provoking material as Alex Garland’s directorial debut. While the aforementioned movies are certainly fun, they completely lack depth found in this brilliant indie movie about artificial intelligence. There hasn’t been a sci-fi debut this riveting since Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 back in 2009. When you consider the fact that every mainstream science fiction movie last year had been a remake, sequel, or adaptation, it’s refreshing to find something as original as Ex Machina.
The movie certainly picked up steam near the end of award season. Vikander was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her role in the film. To top that, the movie also earned a Best Picture nomination from the PGA awards, which are considered the most accurate predictors for the Oscars. Unfortunately, Ex Machina didn’t manage to break its way into the top 8 this year. It did, however, earn nominations in Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects. The screenplay nomination in particular is absolutely warranted.
After all, brainy science-fiction movies, especially those not based off of a pre-existing license, are a rarity nowadays. Last year gave us Under the Skin and Interstellar, but when you consider the plethora of mediocre entries in the genre that were also released, you soon realize just how rare these kinds of movies are. Ex Machina is daring, unique, and visceral. To add to that, it’s also incredibly well made, proving that Garland has a bright future ahead of him. The small indie status and the competition from similar movies likely kept Ex Machina out of the Best Picture field, but don’t let that fool you. It is, without a doubt, one of 2015’s best pictures.
The most baffling omission from the Best Picture field is one of 2015’s greatest films. After performing exceptionally well at a number of different awards, Carol seemed like an absolute lock for a Best Picture nomination. It made its way into just about every top 10 list, it garnered numerous Golden Globe nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), and it did exceptionally well at critic awards. Unfortunately, it didn’t manage to crack its way into the PGA’s list of Best Picture nominees, which proved to be Carol’s ultimate downfall.
Once again proving that the Academy isn’t the definitive voice when it comes to the best movies of the year, Carol’s exclusion doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. In fact, Carol deserves a Best Picture nomination just as much as, if not more than, a majority of the nominations. Sitting near the top of Metacritic’s list of best reviewed movies of all time, Carol is a movie that should be required viewing.
This romantic drama about a woman who falls in love with an aspiring photographer is powerful, emotional, and stunning to look at. Todd Hayne’s careful direction always keeps the motion picture moving. Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay is slow-moving but always touching. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett, the two leads, deliver the best performances of their careers. Finally, the breathtaking cinematography is rivaled only be the The Revenant as the best of the year.
Carol is a special movie that only comes around every few years. Film lovers owe it to themselves to watch it.
3. Inside Out
While most of Pixar’s recent efforts have been solid (sans Cars 2 which was just flat-out mediocre), they haven’t been able to capture the magic of the team’s earlier efforts. This left some people worried that the critically acclaimed animators would never be able to return to their former days of glory. Luckily, this streak of mild disappointments was broken after the release of Inside Out, Pixar’s best effort since 2010’s Toy Story 3.
The problem with Pixar’s recent efforts boils down to the utter lack of originality. Pixar is at their best when they’re making something new and inventive, but the last three movies were anything but inventive. Even Brave, the one original movie they made in recent years, still felt scarily familiar compared to most Disney films. Inside Out, on the other hand, is a marvellously smart movie that also manages to pack Pixar’s trademark emotional punch. Audiences ought to be thankful that a movie about emotions is an emotional treat from beginning to end thanks to Pete Docter’s ingenious script.
Inside Out also happens to feature one of the best casts in any Pixar movie. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black are all stand-outs, but the other members of the cast are also pretty impressive. It’s easy to forget just how much work goes into voice acting, When watching Inside Out, you’re quickly reminded that voice acting can result in the same kind of emotional response you’d get watching someone do a live action scene.
When all of that is added together with the beautiful animation, lively score, and psychological depth, you get the best animated film of the year. While Up and Toy Story 3 were able to make their way into the top ten, Inside Out fell a bit short. Some could attribute this to the fact that the Academy no longer requires ten nominations. However, it still earned a couple of other well deserved nominations. Inside Out is an absolute treat that’s practically necessary viewing.
French-Candian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is probably best known as the director of the 2013 surprise hit Prisoners. While Prisoners was a solid way to gain some recognition, it doesn’t hold a candle to this beast of a movie, which stands out as one of the strongest of the year. While it has gotten some award attention, it was mostly ignored by the Academy who opted to exclusively give it attention in the technical categories.
It rightfully deserves technical recognition. From a filmmaking perspective, Sicario stands out as one of the best of the year. The cinematography is breathtaking, the editing is top-notch, and the use of sound is impressive.
It’s a shame that Sicario didn’t get recognition beyond its technical triumphs. Aside from being well-made, it’s also just a great movie. Featuring a knock-out cast that includes Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and the wonderful Benicio Del Toro, Sicario is able to pull you in with mesmerizing performances. Taylor Sheridan’s script is also consistently engaging thanks to numerous twists and turns that keep the viewers on edge.
This is a movie that understands filmmaking but also understands how to keep an audience entertained. Too often studios release films that are well-made but forget to do what films are supposed to do: entertain. Sicario doesn’t struggle with that at all. On the contrary, it’s an all around hit.
Anomalisa is a darkly cynical animated film from the gifted mind of Charlie Kaufman. If you haven’t heard of Kaufman, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of his films. While Anomalisa is only the second film he’s directed, he’s well known for writing some of the strangest, most enchanting screenplays around. His work includes Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Anomalisa, like the films listed, is gleefully odd but always entertaining. It’s a rare animated treat that’s aimed solely at adults. While Pixar is well known for making films that appeal to just about everyone, it’s great that Kaufman sought to create an animated film with darker, more mature themes that simply wouldn’t work with a PG rating.
The film, about a self-help author who isn’t able to distinguish the difference between anyone who speaks to him, is unique, poignant, and occasionally quite touching. The voicework from the two leads (played by David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh) is consistently excellent as well. The real standout, however, is Kaufman’s script which stands out as one of his best. While never quite as experimental as some of his other films, it’s consistently engaging and heartfelt. This is clearly something that Kaufman put all of his energy into, and by the time the 90 minute runtime comes to a close, you’ll feel that it was all worth it.
6. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Coming of age teen dramas are a dime a dozen nowadays, but that doesn’t stop The Diary of a Teenage Girl from being one of a kind. Marielle Heller’s directorial debut, based off of the graphic novel of the same name, is an honest and intimate look at the sexual awakening of a teenage girl. While it’s thematically similar to plenty of other films in the genre, it nevertheless manages to feel unlike any film you’ve ever seen. This is in large part due to Marielle Heller’s stylistic direction combined with the brash presentation of a touchy subject.
As a result of this “brass presentation,” one should keep in mind that the film does not seek to avoid taboos. In fact, some viewers may find themselves uncomfortable watching The Diary of a Teenage Girl. However, that doesn’t mean that Heller avoids approaching the topic in a way that’s both sensitive and sincere. This is a movie that’s completely free of judgement but also completely free of any sort of sugarcoating.
The decision to tackle something so challenging in a way that’s completely unfiltered is admirable to say the least. When you combine that with an absolutely stellar cast made up of Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni, and newcomer Bel Bowler, you get one of the best coming of age movies to come around in years. The film manages to be provocative, hilarious, touching, and surreal all at the same time. There was nothing else like it in 2015.
7. Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton was better than most people were expecting. The hip-hop biopic isn’t necessarily a success story, with Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and Notorious failing to impressive. When you add in the fact that director F Gary Gray has a hit-or-miss filmography, you realize that fans of NWA were right to wait for reviews on this one. With an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s safe to say that Straight Outta Compton turned out alright. While Gray has made solid films like Friday and The Italian Job, his latest film is his best yet.
One of the best parts about Straight Outta Compton is that, for the most part, it doesn’t sugarcoat things. While it did leave some of Dr. Dre’s less-than-stellar life decisions out of the film, it also tried to recount the numerous other mistakes made by the members of the rap collective. The cast of new faces was fantastic as well. Jason Mitchell’s performance as late rapper Eazy E was one of the best performances of the year. When thinking about the numerous other things that the film got right, you begin to realize that Straight Outta Compton was one of the finest biopics of 2015.
While it gained awards momentum later on, that didn’t translate to the biggest nomination of the night. It managed to earn a screenplay nomination, but nothing beyond that. However, if this film proves anything, it’s that F Gary Gray is more talented than audiences gave him credit for. If he manages to make another film like this in a less competitive year, he could earn some Academy attention. Fingers crossed.