The Oscars is actually giving us a diverse selection of movies this year, not only in terms of content but also casting. While the politics behind the highly contentious awards show still has a long way to go in terms of accepting and accrediting actors of color and paint-by-numbers prestige films, I think this year shows a marked shift from the norm—one that I hope will continue.
However, as usual, there are several movies that the Academy looked over this year, whether it be because of their genre or content, or maybe just because they came at the wrong place at the wrong time. I submit to you some of this year’s missed films and will try to give some perspective on the recognition I think they deserve.
Best Production Design/Best Actress: The Witch dir. Robert Eggers/Anya Taylor-Joy
There’s been a recent upswing in independent and innovative horror films in the past couple of years. With the reimagining of childhood horror in The Babadook to the eerie, 80s retro chic It Follows, I’d like to also submit The Witch as one of the best within this new horror frontier. Rarely do we truly imagine horror in any time but the present, and The Witch reaches back into America’s past to find the isolation and uncanny silence that seems to be missing in the modern horror landscape.
From a production standpoint, the film really does transport viewers into the past; the costuming and sets take you to the 17th century and set up how terrifying life was on the edge of the “new world.” Actress Anya Taylor-Joy (whom you may have seen in M. Knight Shayamalan’s first okay movie in years, Split) gives a brilliant performance highlighting not only the extreme piety of the era but also how that repressive Puritanical atmosphere manifests itself in the environment.
Best Actor: 10 Cloverfield Lane dir. Dan Tratchenberg/John Goodman
Over the last thirty years, John Goodman has shown us that he can literally do anything. As a character actor, he has shown us a range that most actors couldn’t even dream of having, being able to portray psychotic or affable villains in films like Barton Fink and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but also the affable everyman as an all-American Dad in Roseanne or everyone’s cuddly monster friend Sully in Monsters, Inc.
This skill is apparent now more than ever; he deserves an award for his latest performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Goodman adds another amazing performance to his filmography with his character, Howard Stambler, showing that he can make every performance distinct. The film portrays a conflicted psyche that has yet to be seen in any of Goodman’s previous performances. He plays more than just a villain—he plays a man that you fear, a man that you feel sorry for, and a man who ultimately leaves you guessing at every turn. Supported by a good cast and a great script, it was ultimately because of the monster movie aspects and its early 2016 release that this movie was passed over.
Best Original Screenplay/Best Ensemble Cast: Don’t Think Twice dir. Mike Birbiglia
Finally, I want to look at the genre that the Oscars neglect the most—comedies. Of course, I understand that the Oscars don’t award anything for the best cast, but they should. A great performance isn’t just made by one person; it’s created in conjunction with other good if not great actors.Don’t Think Twice takes this to heart.
Director Mike Birbiglia understands the fundamental concept of what makes a great comedy; it has to have stakes even if what is at stake is absolutely ridiculous. The film turns the idea of the American success story on its head and asks us if it is okay to give up. Is being at the top of your field real success? Are the people at the top really the most talented?
Every performance by the main cast is stunning in its nuance. Don’t Think Twice brings a lot out of actors that many would think could only perform comedic roles, like Keegan Michael Key and Kate Miucci. It’s one of those comedies that will make you do more than just laugh.
So, when Oscar season winds down, after you’ve finally gotten around to seeing Moonlight and La La Land (don’t hate me, I’m just a sucker for musicals), take a look at these films that are a little more under the radar. Don’t forget that the Academy always has an agenda, so try to look for films that aren’t a part of its carefully curated and dictatorial image.