There were some really good movies this year. Unfortunately, many of them will receive no recognition from the Academy.
As an Academy member, I can’t tell you the movies I nominated for Best Picture. But I can tell you what movies I think should’ve been somewhere on everyone’s ballot. Following – in alphabetical order – are those you really ought to see that you’re not likely to hear Bill Crystal talking about on Oscar night.
1) ANONYMOUS– A movie that wasn’t about a coming apocalypse from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow). Who knew he had it in him to make an uber-smart film about Elizabethan theatre and the playwright who gave us 37 of the greatest plays ever written – Edward Devere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Rhys Ifans is amazing. Vanessa Redgrave is, well, Vanessa Redgrave. It got thrown a Best Costume bone but I put it here among the totally ignored because Ifans, Redgrave and the movie really deserved to be among the year’s bests. Maybe it was the title?
2) CARNAGE – Roman Polanski didn’t have an Edward Albee play to work from but this story of two couples whose lives and relationships are dissected over a red-herring “incident” is a fascinating look at modern parenting, modern marriage & self-righteous deception. Well worth seeing if only for performances by the two female leads, Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.
3) CORIOLANUS – Shakespeare or Devere, this contemporized version of the Bard’s tale of a warrior without a cause is worth seeing just for the scene where Vanessa Redgrave (her again) shows herself as the ultimate smother mother. Ralph Fiennes knocks it out of the park as both star and director.
4) A DANGEROUS METHOD– David Cronenberg brings a fantastic cast – Fassbinder, Vigo and not-just-a-pretty-face Keira Knightly – to a riveting story about Freud vs Jung: let the grudge match begin. Yes, sexuality is a tough subject (violence, on the other hand.... don’t get me started). This deserved to be a multi-category nominee.
5) THE FIRST GRADER – Never heard of it? That’s ‘cause it deals with Africa. Story about an old man who was tortured in a war no one ever heard of who is determined to learn how to read. No special effects, no stars, no box office appeal whatsoever. Just a beautiful story about triumph of the will.
6) MARGARET – OK, it helps to know what an Upper West/East Side privileged teenage Jewish girl is like. But Anna Paquin and the rest of the cast present a story of moral ambiguity that only someone like Scott Rudin would have the guts and intelligence to produce. Don’t expect to understand it, just appreciate the complexity and depth and brilliant performances by Paquin, Jeannie Berlin and J. Smith-Cameron.
7) RAMPART– Not easy to watch, no likeable characters and not easy to follow. Just Woody Harrelson and director Oren Moverman (The Messenger) re-teaming in a character drama with a James Elroy script. If those elements don’t work for ya, how about Robin Wright as sexy as you’ve ever seen her? Hot doesn’t begin to describe.
8) SENNA– I don’t understand the exclusion of this one from Best Documentary consideration. It wasn’t just a popular documentary, it was a GREAT documentary. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this as a Best Picture candidate (probably not a nominee but a possible candidate). The story of a matinee idol race car driver has amazing footage and a powerful narrative.
9) IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY – I wouldn’t want to watch it twice but watching it once is an experience. Angelina has learned how to make a movie. Prediction: someday she’s gonna put it all together in a Schindler’s List/ Killing Fields kinda film that’s gonna win it all.
There were others that got one or two second-tier nominations but should’ve been candidates for more:
1) BEGINNERS – Yes, Chris Plummer was brilliant and deserves the Best Supporting Oscar. But the movie was brilliant. One of my favorites of the year. One of those movies I’ll never get tired of seeing.
2) DRIVE – I wasn’t among those to declare it one of the year’s best but it certainly deserved more than a Best Sound Editing nomination.
3) THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN – The reason this movie wasn’t considered as good as Rango or Puss in Boots (both of which I liked) is…? I had no history with this character but can’t wait for the next episode.
4) WARRIOR – A sensitive movie about an angry ex-Marine who winds up fighting his brother in a bloody Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) championship? Tom Hardy is especially good as the pissed-off Marine. I love Nick Nolte but there were better Supporting Actor candidates who went unnoticed.
5) RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – I went in a skeptic and came out a believer. An entertaining out-of-the-box plot, with decent dialogue and a big heart make it more than watchable. Wish there were more indies this watchable. It got a nomination for Best Visual Effects.
And the Saddest Non-Nomination of the year goes to:
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 – Which part of THE MOST SUCCESSFUL and respected FRANCHISE IN THE HISTORY OF MOVIES doesn’t the Academy understand? This series of movies will be watched, admired and remembered long after the world has forgotten Hugo & Warhorse (no disrespect – just picking on the two biggest). Sure deserved better than just a Best Makeup, Art Direction and Visual Effects nominations.
Share your thoughts if you have a moment between now and February 26.