For Your Consideration: Oscar Alternatives

With the Academy Awards rapidly approaching, the casual movie fan might be inclined to catch up with some of the best movies from 2017 in time to watch the show. And there are some fine films nominated, but there are some better ones that won’t be showcased on March 4th in front of the viewing world that I think you should watch instead.

Here are some options to check out that I think should have been noticed.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to his overlooked 2015 film, The Lobster, is a beautifully disturbing, Kubrick-ian drama/thriller/horror hybrid that should have earned Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor nominations at the very least. The emotionally devoid style of Lanthimos’ presentation is most assuredly the reason for exclusion, and it has likely become tiresome for some viewers after two films, but it syncs masterfully with the material the same way it did in The Lobster. The Greek director seems to be drawn to projects with themes of emptiness and a pessimistic view of the world: that people aren’t good and things won’t turn out well.

P.S. Don’t watch this movie on a first date.

P.P.S. Barry Keoghan rules.

Good Time

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You can read my review of this flick here

I know most people have written off Robert Pattinson as an actor years ago (even though he was good in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis), but if you get a chance to see him in the Safdie Brothers’ underground heist-gone-wrong film Good Time you’d have to re-evaluate your thoughts on R-Pats. He gives the single best performance by a male actor I’ve seen all year and he didn’t even register as a blip on the Academy radar.

On top of the great leading performance, the film is a grimy, subterranean nightmare that goes from bad to worse to sixty-shades-of-fucked and never lets up for the entire, brief, 101 minute run-time. I could have seen some consideration for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s turn as Pattinson’s gullible girlfriend as well, but this is his show and it’s an excellent turn for him as an actor. Pay attention to his next flick.

Wind River

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I find it a bit inexplicable that Taylor Sheridan, writer of the acclaimed Sicario and Hell or High Water, failed to score a single nomination for his frigid murder mystery set on a Native American reservation. A lot of the movies on this list are under-the-radar kind of movies that don’t have the popularity to pique the attention of Academy voters, but this one has the pedigree of an Oscar nominated lead actor (Jeremy Renner, who is excellent as usual) and writer/director (Sheridan was nominated for Best Screenplay just last year). There are so many great, well written moments in this movie that I would have expected Best Screenplay consideration as well as a Best Actor nomination for Renner.

Of note: this is probably the one film that choked me up in 2017. It’s an engrossing, excellent thriller that should have garnered more attention.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

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Ok, I lied. While this film is filled with some of the most brutal, bone-shattering fight scenes I’ve ever seen, it also tugged at my heart strings a bit. It’s basically a B-movie that my dad would have watched on Cinemax when I was a kid, but it nails the formula so well that it elevates the material to something unforgettable. I know at the end of the year the performance by Vince Vaughn is going to be one of the two or three I remember long after they give an award out to some other actor.

This is the film that reminds you how good Vince Vaughn can be when he’s not playing a comedic idiot in dumb (but funny) comedies. His silent, mesmerizing performance as a drug-runner who finds himself behind the eight ball in one of the most perilous situations you could imagine is engrossing and unexpected, but believable. He’s a force in this film and a quiet tsunami that unleashes in a fury of brutality you would never expect.

A Ghost Story

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Here’s the one that pisses me off the most. There are still a few nominees I have yet to see from this year, but I’d place this film in the Best Picture race in a heartbeat. I understand the movie is a bit too ethereal and cosmic for the casual viewer (Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin suffered the same fate in 2013), but the Academy is supposedly made up of artists who have no excuse not to appreciate artistic endeavors such as this.

This is another film with the pedigree to get noticed (Oscar winner Casey Affleck and Oscar nominee Rooney Mara are the two stars). Sadly, I’d just have to say this tale of loss, longing and grief went over the head of most people. It’s slow, it’s quiet and it’s not flashy, but it uses those qualities to it’s advantage. Most films don’t hold a moment to give you a chance to think about what you’re watching, and this either makes people uncomfortable or bored because they’re not used to it. Slow down and appreciate what this film has to say.

Personal Shopper

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To go along with my endorsement of Robert Pattinson above, I’m going to say Kristen Stewart belonged on the short list of actors considered for Best Actress. The tonally-challenged film rests on her performance as a grieving woman who works as a personal shopper for a famous model in Paris. The films shifts between thriller, drama and ghost story a little clumsily, but Stewart carries it and shows she has the talent to stand-out in a film that is occasionally great and often just a bit off.

A Quiet Passion

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I reviewed this film here

Terence Davies’ biopic of American poet Emily Dickinson has all the keystones of an Oscar contender: it’s a period piece with illustrious set-design and costumes, it tells the story of a prominent historical figure, and it features an amazing performance by Cynthia Nixon as the trailblazing poet.

All of these qualities usually assure a film of attracting the attention of Academy voters, but sadly those votes must have gone to another prominent biopic (the Winston Churchill flick, Darkest Hour). It’s sad to admit, but one has to assume box office has a lot to blame for most of the omissions I’ve listed so far (this one made a paltry $1.8 million in the US while Darkest Hour has made over $53 million). I’ve even heard critics questioning the intentions of the Academy by excluding blockbusters such as Logan from the Best Picture race as if the quality of a film has anything to do with popularity. The best films, writers, directors, and actors should be nominated regardless of box office, period.

Honorable Mention:

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Mother-Reactions

This film certainly didn’t suffer from lack of attention, so I’m adding it as an honorable mention. I know most people hated this flick and I can certainly understand the vitriol, but I found it to be one of the most interesting films I watched all year and Jennifer Lawrence easily gave one of the best performances of the year. In a film where literally everything goes wrong to the point of a global and existential meltdown, someone has to play the part of the audience who experiences the weight of the scene with us and Lawrence is a perfect agent for that. Shame on the Razzies who stooped to their usual lows and nominated her for Worst Actress. Thankfully, nobody gives a fuck what the Razzies are so it’s irrelevant, but the Academy got it wrong, too. They assuredly wanted to side-step the contempt this movie drew from critics and audiences, but it’s by no fault of Lawrence and she should have been recognized.

Bonus egregious omission: Michelle Pfeiffer is insanely bitchy and great in the flick, too.

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