It’s never possible to satisfy everyone with awards or film listings, because tastes are always different, but you at least hope that some of your favorite films are in contention to get at least a little bit of recognition. Unfortunately, more often than not they come up short. This year was the same. To be fair, most of these nominations are really good. Many good films have been released in the last year and a half and it’s great to see films like “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman” and “Sound of Metal” get recognized and films like “White Tiger” getting its surprise script nomination.
There were also some other films in contention that had buzz, but were somehow totally overlooked by AMPAS. We’re going to take a look at 10 of those. Of course, only those that realistically had shots for nominations, which is why several great films are left out of this list.
10. The Painter and the Thief
She is a young artist looking for inspiration. He is a thief who stole a famous work of art and was convicted for it. One chance acquaintance will forever change their lives.
The documentary line-up is not bad this year; “Time” got a lot of critical love and “Collective” even made into the International Film category, but it’s pretty amazing how much buzzed documentaries couldn’t get in here. “Welcome to Chechnya” not getting in was surprising, as well as the much loved “Dick Johnson is Dead,” but maybe it’s better to talk about “The Painter and the Thief” because it got less attention than the rest, even if it got a lot of critics recognition and nominations for Best Documentary.
This fascinating film follows Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova as she forms a friendship with Karl Bertil-Nordland, a man who stole her artwork; it is a unique premise itself and it works amazingly well. “The questions I would like to explore here are: what do humans do in order to be seen and appreciated?” says director Benjamin Ree in an interview. “And what it takes of us to help and see others.” The film, however, explores so many themes from redemption to failure and it never stops being interesting or surprising, given how many twists there are. AMPAS recognition would help this wonderful documentary to be seen by more, but hopefully it’ll still manage to find its audience.
9. Black Bear
One of the most interesting and unusual indie films of the year, “Black Bear” got some critics push for its lead actress Aubrey Plaza’s sensational performance, but it didn’t go further. Even the Independent Spirit Awards didn’t nominate her performance. The Golden Globes could also bite for Lead Comedy Actress, but they ignored it as well, which is less or more understandable. As great as she is, it’s not an easy watch. For the first half of the film, it plays out a bit like a typical indie film, and then something happens and you realize that it was not the film you were thinking it is. But what is it about?
The movie is ambitious. Sometimes even a little too ambitious for its own sake, but it always remains intriguing. Describing the plot without giving it away is nearly impossible; it’s one of those films where it is better to go into it as blind as possible. It’s not about the spoilers, it’s more about the style of the film, but it’s probably not a problem to say that it’s an experimental satire; it’s unpredictable, very meta, very exhilarating. The film is not necessarily appealing to everyone and it didn’t get a strong distribution, but one thing is for sure, Plaza is going to places she never went before, and with this and “Happiest Season” last year, it’s obvious that her range is impressive. This may be too small of a film for the Oscars, but she will get there one day if she keeps on taking exciting and creative projects like this one.
8. First Cow
When it comes to awards races, A24 has not been very strong in recent years. The “Moonlight” win was great for them, but the following year, “Lady Bird” failed to win anything and “The Florida Project” sweeper Willem Dafoe lost the Oscar. Then a year later “First Reformed” and “Hereditary” couldn’t succeed much. It’s true that this year they have “Minari,” but one would wish “First Cow” would also get a similar kind of campaign and love. It’s not surprising that a director like Kelly Reichardt couldn’t catch a break with AMPAS, but this year it seemed more possible than ever.
Reichardt is known for making poetic movies and this one is no different; theaters are the best place to watch them as it’s not really entertainment, but it is enriching. Maybe that’s where the film was a bit hurt; it was released too early and was forgotten throughout the year. It deserved better timing and with the Oscars, it’s all about timing.
The film is about an odd couple of dreamers: Cookie Figowitz, who has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon, finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant named King-Lu, who is also seeking his fortune. They get by on clever schemes and the milk of the lone piece of livestock in the area. Reichardt touches on some of her favorite themes here and has a lot to say about many things in this seemingly simple tale. Some of her other favorite topics are featured, like environmental frustrations (“Night Moves”) and isolation (“Certain Women”). The movie has received the Best Film award from New York Film Critics and also placed runner-up for Best Film, Best Director and Best Writer from National Society of Film Critics.
As mentioned in the intro, the list features only films that were in contention. Maybe this one is where we reach too far, alongside “Black Bear.” It’s a genre film, small and independent; the type of film that AMPAS almost never recognizes. It’s directed by Brandon Cronenberg, whose father’s films often got overlooked by them. Even when David made films like “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises,” he still couldn’t get a directing nomination. So why would he? Well, in such a barren year, maybe it’d be a very cool decision to get it a VFX nomination. Or that editing? Even score. Of course, the script is also something else. Luckily it got some awards and recognition from here and there.
“Possessor” is one of the finest and most surprising films of the year, with a script full of interesting themes. Just like his dad, Brandon seemingly has an interesting body-mind relationship and it’s explored well in his script, but the movie is shot amazingly as well. There are some of the most inventive sequences of the year to be found here. David is also great with actors and his son is seemingly similar; some of the acting is truly great here, including the amazing, underrated Andrea Riseborough.
6. The Mauritanian
Half of this film is pretty basic, so you would wonder, why is it here? Well, because the second half is not basic at all. No doubt this story deserved better treatment, but it’s still more of a cinematic exercise than the much recognized “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” as much as films on American justice system go. While that film is not necessarily inspiring in its cinematic treatment, “The Mauritanian” has at least some truly haunting moments in the second half, particularly in the torture scenes where the film shifts to a different tone. The ending and fade into black sequences are all extremely well made as well. Those are the things that puts it above your average Oscar bait.
The movie didn’t cause much of a splash throughout the year, but suddenly Jodie Foster won the Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress – a deserved win, one could say. It’s not exactly one of her most complex roles, but a great reminder of why she had been one of the most charismatic movie stars for all those decades. One would think her win would lead more voters to watch the film and help Tahar Rahim to get nominated, who already got Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Rahim’s performance is full of humanity and he keeps you engaged and intrigued through the film; he’s got an amazing character to play and you can’t take your eyes off of him. Unfortunately, the film came up short. It didn’t get anything at all, which is a shame, because again, the story could have been handled better. But it’s still a story well told, an important one as well. Its recognition would certainly lead more people into watching it and have discussions afterwards. Foster and especially Rahim would certainly make worthy nominees.