The Academy Awards are a source of both irritation and recognition for film fans. In many ways, the process of celebrating the best films of each year may give cinephiles the chance to see some of their favorite artists receive further honors for their exemplary work. However, it’s also quite annoying to see that the Oscars tend to gravitate towards mainstream projects and frequently ignore genre, arthouse, and international work.
This year’s awards did a better job than most in recognizing films that exemplified the year in film, and no one would argue that films such as Nomadland or Minari are deserving of awards. However, there were many great films from 2020 that didn’t receive nominations for the top prize, some of which were completely ignored all together. Here are ten great 2020 movies that should have been nominated for Best Picture.
Only three animated films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and while Pixar frequently takes home the Best Animated Feature prize, only Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated for the top category. It’s not entirely surprising that Pixar has failed to contend for the top Oscars more recently, as the studio has produced many sequels and retreads that don’t hold a candle to the studio’s early work, but that certainly changed with Soul. The heartfelt philosophical fable is one of the best that the company has ever made.
Soul combines Pixar’s signature buddy adventure elements with a deeply profound exploration of purpose, meaning, and artistry. As is the case with the best films that take on this subject material, Soul leaves many questions ambiguous. The gorgeous score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross adds a unique jazz flavor to the film, as does Jamie Foxx’s exemplary vocal work as struggling band teacher Joe Gardner.
9. Palm Springs
Raunchy comedies are rarely seen as “serious” Oscar players, but Palm Springs is easily one of the best rom-coms of the 21st Century and cleverly integrates the Groundhog Day premise into a wild and fun escapade. Often shocking in its appetite for morbid violence, the film finds its heart in exploring outsiders who grow affection for each other, both in part and in spite of the supernatural situation that forces them to be together.
Films like Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code also utilized Groundhog Day as an inspiration, and Palm Springs similarly maximizes the potential of the premise as characters Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Miloti) explore the various ways to wreak havoc during Sarah’s sister’s wedding. It’s impressive that these two performers are able to weaponize their inherent charisma with performances that are both deeply lonely and humorously engaging to watch.
Despite consistent evidence that he is one of the most important and influential artists of the last several decades of cinema, David Cronenberg has never received an Academy Award nomination in any category. Perhaps it is not surprising that the debut film of his son Brandon was also ignored. Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is the type of grotesque, body horror sci-fi mindbender that feels the furthest removed from the Academy’s tastes, but surely this brilliant future classic will be remembered either way.
Possessor borrows elements of formal brilliance to ground its deeply disturbing sci-fi storyline, exploring the nature of identity as characters seek to adopt the mannerisms, personalities, and consciousness of the targets they’re assigned to. Rarely do the Oscars recognize acting work in genre films, but Andre Risenborough’s work as an assassin whose mind devolves over the course of a mission is easily among the best of the year.
7. The Vast of Night
If the raw athleticism of filmmaking is something the Oscars take into consideration when selecting their nominees, then the dynamic showmanship of Andrew Patterson’s debut feature The Vast of Night should be an instant player within all the top categories. Patterson’s rendition of a 1950s sci-fi tale lifted straight from The Twilight Zone shows signs of early Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis with his unique ways of building suspense, atmosphere, and excitement.
The low budget film is entirely sparing in when it reveals its more elaborate visual effects work, and the long takes and tracking shots most young filmmakers couldn’t properly utilize fit perfectly within Patterson’s breathless story. Breakout performances from Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz instill the adventure with a youthful spirit that grounds the viewer with characters worth following.
While often the Academy Awards like to recognize films that deal with aging and illness, the films they select tend to be more melodramatic, overtly sappy stories with signature “Oscar scenes” that can be used as clips in performance reels. Thus, a film like Harry Macqueen’s Supernova probably never had a chance, as it opts for a more low key, studied take on the paralyzing impact that the loss of memory puts on a lifelong couple.
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci deliver some of the finest performances of their career, and the film mines tragedy from the mundanity as the two try to cope with adjusting their daily routine to accommodate Tucci’s character throughout his illness. Macqueen is patient in laying out the scenarios that will explode later on as Tucci’s condition grows more severe and the couple is forced to face unthinkable questions.