So many films made every year and so little time to see every one of them. That is, unless your entire profession depends upon watching as many films as possible during a year, and doubly so if you are a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After all, it is members of this organization that decides what films are to be considered for Best Picture at the annual Academy Awards.
Every year, it seems more and more films are made, and with this the potential field considered for Best Picture nominations is widened. Although the Academy had expanded the number of films that can be nominated for Best Picture from 5 to 10 in 2009, this categorical expansion seems to ignore that there are dozens of great films released every year that should, by all rights, be considered for a nomination.
The politicking that goes on during awards season for this nomination also means that smaller films—those that don’t have the millions to promote to Academy members during this time—are often left ignored despite their merit. With this in mind, here are 10 great films from 2016 that should have been nominated for Best Picture but weren’t.
1. Nocturnal Animals
A wealthy art gallery owner is sent the manuscript of her long-estranged ex-husband’s new book in the mail, with him asking her to read it. As she reads the novel—a disturbing story about a sudden, violent ambush in the desert on a family at night that leaves a man’s life shattered—the audience watches the plot unfold as she envisions it in her mind.
Intercut with this, the viewer also gets glimpses into both her current life and her past relationship with her ex-husband, including how their marriage came to a cruel, sudden end on her part. As she nears the conclusion of the novel, the woman contacts her ex-husband to meet him for dinner but finds that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Nocturnal Animals opened to rave reviews from critics but never found an audience during its theatrical release—which is unfortunate, as it was one of the best films of the year. With a haunting performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as both the ex-husband and the protagonist of his book and the film centered around Amy Adams’ conflicted wealthy wife who left a good man behind, this atmospheric neo-noir psychological thriller alternates between being tonally intense and cool.
The real accolades go to screenwriter and director Tom Ford, who adapted the novel Tony and Susan, a sort of meta-fiction that translated well to the screen. Unfortunately, it only received only one Academy Award nomination for Michael Shannon for Best Supporting Actor when it should have been nominated for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director.
2. The Witch
Horror films are rarely nominated for Oscars. Even when they are, it’s often for technical categories like Best Visual Effects or Best Editing. But the horror genre has slowly gained momentum over the decades, evolving from cheap slasher and exploitation films into more nuanced explorations of the fears and disturbing truths that lurk in the conscious collective. Besides this, some horror films are true works of art that seem to avoid easy categorization.
Such is 2016’s The Witch (stylized as The VVitch), a rare horror film set in the relatively distant past. In 17th century New England, a family is banished from a village of settlers over a difference of interpretation of the New Testament. Moving into the foreboding woods far from the settlement, the family struggles to survive.
One day, the eldest daughter Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with the newborn of the family when it suddenly disappears during a split-second as her eyes are covered. The mother is thrown into a deep depression at this unexplained loss while the twin children of the family claim the family’s goat, Black Philip, speaks to them.
The family’s situation goes from bad to worse when the son, Caleb, encounters a woman in the woods who kisses him, which makes him fall deathly ill. The mother claims it is the work of witchcraft that is causing the family’s misfortune and accuses Thomasin of consorting with the devil. This leads to an explosive, violent end for much of the family as the influence of witchcraft is shown to be the cause to the audience.
Atmospheric and authentic, The Witch replicates the look and feel of the 17th century, including the wardrobe worn by the cast and the dialect spoken true to the era. It was one of the most original films—horror or otherwise—to be released in 2016, but being categorized as horror did it no favors when awards season rolled around.
3. American Honey
Stuck in Oklahoma, orphaned, and taking care of two young children while their absentee stepmother strips and her stepfather molests her, teenager Star sees no way out of her bleak circumstances. But after a chance meeting with a charming young man, she hits the road with a group of young salespeople who sell magazines door-to-door. This kicks off an unconventional road movie and coming-of-age drama that was well-received by critics but didn’t find an audience upon its release.
Casting mostly unknowns to lend the film verisimilitude, including first-time actress Sasha Lane as Star, and capturing the landscape of America–its citizens, class differences, social and economic extremes, and of course its natural, haunting beauty–in the early 21st century, American Honey is a small masterpiece. Directed by Andrea Arnold, this film is a lyrical ode to youth, hope, and the hard-earned lessons learned while exploring the possibilities of both of those ideals.
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater is a director that captures the spirit of youth and general casual experience of life in a manner few directors are able. From his ode to adolescence in Dazed and Confused to the romantic, sentimental tone of Before Sunrise to his sweeping mini-epic Boyhood, Linklater knows how to relate the elation, agony, and even ambivalence people experience through life’s moments both great and small.
Everybody Wants Some!! is a sort-of sequel to Dazed and Confused, this time following a group of friends—housemates united by being part of a college baseball team—who share the ups, downs, and wandering nonsense of the college experience.
Set in 1980, Everybody Wants Some!! shares the same spirit as Dazed and Confused, being both a nostalgic and comedic look at the era, complete with its fads, emerging culture, and attitudes that defined the early 1980s in America. It’s also a lot of fun to watch, as Linklater sets the “hang out” tone of the film that captures the loose, affected, and self-consciousness of young adults experiencing their first taste of true freedom in life.
5. Sing Street
John Carney may not be a household name, but this director has produced some of the finest films of the past decade, many of which center around music as a fundamental element that changes its character’s lives.
Finding an indie hit with 2007’s Once, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, Carney’s 2013 film Begin Again tread similar ground to great effect. His ability to create memorable characters and a completely realized world populated by believable types, while depicting the concept of music a transformative one in his characters, has produced films that articulate what every musician feels about the art form but is difficult to express to those who don’t play an instrument.
2016’s Sing Street continues his winning formula: part kitchen sink drama and part musical, Sing Street details the life of Conor “Cosmo” Lawlor, an adolescent in Dublin 1985 who—due to his family being in financial straits–is plucked from his private school and placed in public school, where he goes through a rough transitional period that changes him. Most significantly, inspired by a girl he meets and some new friends, Conor starts a band. The film then follows as his struggling band experiences highs and lows, he finds love and heartbreak, and the integrity of his family is put to the test.
For fans of the now-classic The Commitments and Carney’s previous films, Sing Street is a wonderfully realized bit of nostalgia and wish fulfillment. The teenaged protagonists and their story is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding, and Sing Street is an underappreciated gem from 2016 that didn’t get the attention it deserved—particularly when it comes to the Academy Awards.