The Academy Awards are always a source of controversy due to the highly politicized event that it has evolved into. It often seems as if the show is more of a checklist than an actual awards show that wishes to recognize the best that the year has to offer.
In many cases, independent or semi-independent movies are overlooked in exchange for lesser films that are either more recognizable to a mainstream audience or relevant in terms of its politics. The Academy Awards is the most esteemed awards show for cinema, therefore they should be representative of all of cinema. This list will highlight ten films in the last three years that were overlooked or relatively ignored by the Academy.
1. First Reformed (2018)
First Reformed is a gloomy, overbearing film assaults its audience with a sense of genuine truthfulness. The style of this film is the quality that differentiates and thus illuminates it. The impending doom born from the deterioration of the environment, in essence, pollutes Reverend Ernst Toller’s (Ethan Hawke) mind. He becomes overcome with radical ideals and combined with his repressed past and general personality it forms an all together caustic mix.
Paul Schrader – acclaimed writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Last Temptation of Christ – took on the challenge of constructing a film steeped in undertones of religion, the environment, and the radicalization of ideology and somehow fit it all together into a tight 113-minute run time. It is rapidly paced for a film with such a domineering tone and does not hesitate to catch its audience off guard.
The color pallet also adheres to this principle, as it matches the film’s tone and themes to a tee. First Reformed Church puts up a simple visage – all white and wood, no excess- yet, as the film plays out the audience realizes that it is more of a museum or souvenir shop, as the characters sardonically refer to it. Consumerist nature has caused this building of worship into a building of profit – making something pure into something else entirely.
The film is also about people in denial, as the movie’s characters refuse to accept responsibility so very often. They do not heed the warning signs and Schrader parallels this with humanity’s disregard for the warning signs that the environment clearly displays. While one can complain that First Reformed revels in indulgence, one might argue there lies the point. The film partakes in an excess of gloomy imagery to serve its main character, whose grip on reality seems to fade further and further away as he continuously delves deeper into his newfound obsessions.
It is true that this film was nominated for best original screenplay one could reasonably maintain that it was deserving of so much more. Best actor, director, and cinematography are only a few examples of the areas in which this movie shines.
2. Hereditary (2018)
Rarely is it the case that a first time director can produce a product so refined, yet so saturated in subtlety such as Ari Aster accomplishes with his first feature film Hereditary. The genre of horror so frequently lends itself to cheap scares and shallow characters, especially when ghosts are the source of such fear. However, this film is able to deftly subvert these tropes and manifest fear through two main elements – a subtle aesthetic spookiness and masterful performances from its cast.
Hereditary tells the story of the Graham family, who endure grief and horror enough so that the two elements merge until they become inseparable. Annie (Toni Collette) must grapple with the loss of her mother and deal with tribulations of her family, as the events of the film spiral their lives out of control. Family dynamics, one’s relationship to their mother, and grief are a few examples of the themes that Aster seamlessly weaves into this movie. The stark contrast of color, ranging from the dark interiors of the family home to the brightly lit exterior add to the pent up suspense that this film develops.
Collette as well as Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff all shine, as the brutal horror of this film is routinely emblazoned on their faces. This is one example of how Hereditary defies the typical ghost story. There are no jump scares to startle audiences, rather they rely upon shock and awe and leave it to the performances to portray the horror, rather than employed a repetitive, trite music track to convey scares.
In terms of awards season, the Oscars completely ignored the masterful work put into A24’s daring ghost story. It did not acknowledge Aster’s writing or direction, which is typical for a first time feature filmmaker. However, the actress in a leading role award was a perfect landing spot to acknowledge this film’s excellence. Once again the Academy chose to honor lesser films and condemn this one for the mortal sin of being of the horror genre.
3. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
The next entry onto this list is a film that clearly missed out on best documentary feature at the past year’s Academy Awards. This was a passion project of Peter Jackson’s that evolved from a short film for the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I into a full-length feature.
In short, this film is an all-encompassing glance into the past at the people, whose lives were indelibly changed by this conflict. The conditions they faced were abysmal, unsanitary, and revolting. The threats they faced would paralyze some with fear and eventually took an innumerable number of their lives. They Shall Not Grow Old preserves the individuals in the time period that changed their lives forever.
The most striking thing about this documentary is the lack of a narrator, in the place of one there is significant voiceover from the men that the film is honoring. It bookends the film – even though it appears throughout – detailing their sense of duty and honor, to the backdrop of a steady whistle.
The proud voice of one of the men says, “There was a job to be done, and we just went out and did it.” This not only encapsulates the entire film’s sentiment, but also allows the viewer into the mindset of these men. They Shall Not Grow Old is an enlightening, revealing, and emotional tribute to the exceptionally brave generation of men that put their lives aside to sacrifice themselves, or as they saw it to do a job.
4. Mission Impossible Fallout (2018)
An action film being nominated for an Academy Award is rare, especially when it is the product of a long-tenured franchise. The precedent that Mad Max: Fury Road was not enough in this case. Christopher McQuarrie’s second entry into the world of Mission Impossible was exceedingly similar to George Miller’s fourth Mad Max in that both were displays of outstanding filmmaking.
Their camerawork was enthralling, the scope was immense, and both even possessed a distinct color pallet to allow viewers to discern the said entry from previous films of the franchise. Both serve examples of stand-alone films that shine as part of a series. Yet, one was ravishingly bestowed with nomination upon nomination and the other was scoffed at by the Academy.
The probable answer to this quandary is that the media surrounding the release of Fury Road hailed it as a commentary on gender issues. No such clamor arose for Fallout. The determining factor was simply the perceived politics of one movie and the lack of such a theme in the other. This is not to suggest that films that deal with serious social issues should not be valued.
Those films are an important portion of the overall discourse, however, it is not fair to ascribe these values to a film that does not possess them and prop it up due to that. All films are nuanced and comprised of many feelings and themes, the overriding aspects that are paramount in analysis for awards should be the quality of the filmmaking.
5. Good Time (2017)
The second feature film by the Safdie Brothers is a thorough exploration of the criminal justice system and the way in tramples upon the poor. Many of the film’s characters are downtrodden, unable to break loose from the constraints of their society. A multitude of these characters make contemptable choices that the audience can clearly see as wrong or immoral, yet there is enough nuance to create a realistic picture. They are marred in a cyclical pattern that refuses to yield, yet their choices simply cause them to dig a deeper hole for themselves.
Good Time provides no discernable pleasure to those within it, yet the audience will be swallowed up the fast pace and manic aesthetic of it. The Safdie brothers have a propensity for the close-up, yet in this film, it does not become excessive, rather it adds to the tone. The aforementioned nuance of the characters allows one to relate to them, while also realizing their stupidity and unreasonable decisions. They can understand the characters without having to agree with them, thus it appears as events in real life are unfolding as opposed to a film.
This film is far too independent to ever get any recognition at the Academy Awards, yet that should not be an acceptable standard. Robert Pattinson was captivating in his role as Connie Nikas, as he disappeared into his character. A nomination for him or any form of recognition for this film would have been an exceedingly encouraging sign for the progressiveness of the Academy, unfortunately, it did not.