Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Favorite Movies Not Nominated For A Best Picture Oscar

Something fun for a Wednesday night....

It's the time of year for prestige films, and for the start of the endless film awards season. Last week, The Gotham Independent Film Awards revealed their nominees, which included "Tree of Life", "Beginners", "Take Shelter", "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "The Descendants".

Today, after reading fellow blogger Jose's praise of "Incendies" and his criticism of Oscar for rewarding sappy, anti-intellectual films, I replied that, granted that this may be true, we still come back to Oscar year after year, and place our hopes on some recognition for our favorites. 

It's sad to expect vindication from a group that very often anoints mediocrity, while our favorites, those great films that give us chills of pleasure and inspiration, and that deserve to be immortalized, wind up in the forgotten trash heap of disappointment.

I have scores of "favorite films".  Many of them have been Oscar contenders (even winners!), but quite a few have never been nominated for Best Picture.  That the Academy grand prize ignored these favorites would be a crime, if the Academy Awards were based on some unassailable criteria of quality.

But it is a contest among industry insiders. Sometimes they come to their senses, and get it perfectly right. More often, they blow it, and make head-scratching selections that confirm Oscar's status as a novelty, certainly not anything to take to heart, nor to use as a model of moviemaking quality. 

This year, with the Best Picture nomination process subject to new levels of mathematical complexity, I fear that a lot of great work will be left out, maybe more this year than in the last two decades.  So I am expecting to be "disappointed" in the omission of some great work that will be added to my "favorites" list this year.

To console myself, I came up with a list of movies that I consider to be great, classic pieces of filmmaking, movies that are among my very favorites, that were left out of the Best Picture contest in their respective years.

In no particular order:

"PSYCHO", 1960. Hitchcock's freaking masterpiece.  It no doubt offended the sensibilities of an Academy that preferred "The Alamo" or "The Sundowners" (how often do we watch these today?) Even without the element of surprise in repeat viewings, it is a taut, playfully subversive and deliciously tingly night at the movies.  It's in my top ten favorite films of all time, and the best movie of all time that never got a Best Picture nomination.

"THELMA AND LOUISE", 1991. This story of two working-class women, who needed a break and wound up paying the ultimate price, was haunting and unforgettable.  Filled with stunning images set to great music in a landscape dominated by male symbols, it is one of the most gorgeous-looking color films I've ever seen.  Susan Sarandon was never more heartbreaking and tough, on the road with childlike Geena Davis.  Caused a firestorm of discussion in 1991.

THE DOCUMENTARY WING: No Documentary film has ever been nominated for Best Film, which is a shame, especially now that up to 10 films are eligible in the category.  So many great documentaries are being made these days, and getting distribution!  My favorite non-nominees include "Woodstock" (1970), "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), and "Inside Job" (2010).  Animated Films and Foreign language films have their own category, and also have been recognized in the Best Picture category.  Documentaries should have a chance, too.

"A SINGLE MAN", 2009. Stylish, and with a solid grasp of cinematic grammar, Tom Ford created a gem of a film, something beautiful and moving.  Expertly performed by all, and technically brilliant.  This would have been a quintessential nominee in Oscar's heyday.  Maybe it was deemed too thoughtful and esoteric in the year of  "The Blind Side" and "Avatar".

"2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY", 1968.  The granddaddy of science fiction movies, it was so far ahead of its time in '68 that its chances for a Best Picture nod were doomed.  So rich in detail that its effects hold up even among today's CGI knockoffs.  It still provokes thought while it dazzles the senses.  A must-see on a big screen.  Stanley Kubrick came close but never repeated this artistry.

"SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" 1952. A joyous MGM Technicolor musical, pure fun, and a breezy precursor to this year's "The Artist".  I think it missed out because Gene Kelly's "An American in Paris" was the controversial surprise winner the year before. The Academy might have felt this was too much too soon, or too silly, or one dream ballet too many.  I prefer this to "American in Paris".  It makes me smile from start to finish.

THE 1969 HALL OF FAME  Oscar Year 1969 was a tug-of-war of styles and eras.  The actual nominees for best film ran hot ("Midnight Cowboy"!) and cold ("Hello, Dolly"?). There were so many other great films released that year, that an entire new slate could have been justified: "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice", "They Shoot Horses Don't They", "Easy Rider", "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and "Alice's Restaurant". Throw in "The Wild Bunch" as an honorable mention.  Of these, "They Shoot Horses..." was the most powerful.  It still holds the record for the most-nominated film (9) that did not also compete for Best Picture.

"AMELIE", 2001. Foreign Language Films have been short-changed in this category.  One of the most charming and great-looking films to be overlooked as a Best Picture contender is this French confection.  It is a triumph of imagination and design, a freewheeling depiction of the mind of an eccentric and romantic young woman, who unwittingly makes the world brighter for a number of disparate characters, and finds love in the bargain.  (Runner up in the Foreign-Language Hall of Fame: Federico Fellini. His "Satyricon" was also a mind-boggler, a feast of unusual visuals, sounds and music.  Fellini never got a nod in the Best Picture category, in spite of his Foreign Language Film victories.)

"DOUBT", 2008. A Catholic mystery story, a psychological puzzle.  Based on a smashing play, and crafted for the screen with all of its nuances intact.  Add Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis at the top of their talents, and you have a classic drama. Classic. Moody design, wonderfully photographed, and directed with grace and generosity toward its performers. Worthy of being watched again and again. 

I can go on... Add to the list: "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988), "Blue Velvet" (1986), "Hud" (1963), "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Some Like It Hot" (1959), "Women in Love" (1970),  "Gods and Monsters" (1998), and "Never Let Me Go" (2010). All of them favorites, left at the Best Picture altar.

I wonder what others would include on their lists.....

1 comment:

  1. Psycho - Absolutely incredible. Crazy that it couldn't secure a place against the much-derided The Alamo...though as you say, Oscars gets political, so maybe it's not *that* crazy. The biggest crime is its snub in Best Original Score!

    Documentary - Mmm...Woodstock. My roomies and I have played the Blue-Ray a number of times, sometimes to watch, sometimes as background, always to enjoy. My own pick for "shoulda gone Best Pic!" is March of the Penguins, a beautiful film that helped to make 2005 such an incredible year.

    Amelie - The first film I disagreed with my parents on. They thought it was ludicrous, annoying, twee and smutty. I watched it and fell in love, with the music, the cinematography, the story, and of course: Amelie!

    Thelma & Louise and 2001 - Ok, ok, I'll get to these eventually, I promise!