Academy overlooks worthy nominees

February 27, 2014

Art by Casey Dalrymple

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony, on Sunday, March 2, will showcase a talented group of actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, composers and more. These artists have done fantastic work on some of last year’s most memorable and applauded films. However, each year there is great work that falls through the cracks, whether it be due to logistical issues, lack of promotion, a difficult release date or lack of voter support. Whatever the reason, we are highlighting some of the best non-Oscar nominated work of the past year to remind readers of the excellent films and performances they may have missed in the craziness of Awards season.

Best Picture: “Inside Llewyn Davis”

As evidenced by the 10 nominations and zero wins for “True Grit” in 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen’s films are notoriously nominated, but are rarely victorious at the Academy Awards. For “Inside Llewyn Davis” to be their first film in five years without a Best Picture nomination is a major oversight. While Hollywood is overrun with high drama and special effects, “Llewyn” is subtle and smart, making audiences think without preaching at them. The film asks us to grapple with the existential crises of an unlikeable protagonist, a challenge that is easily undertaken thanks to the sharp wit and enlightened sadness depicted in this recreation of 1960s New York. — Clio McConnell

Best Actor: Oscar Isaac & Joaquin Phoenix

The Best Actor category is one that often exposes the politics of Academy voting, and this year is no exception. Performances such as Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis in “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly in “Her” have garnered praise from critics and other groups alike, but were completely rebuffed by the Academy this season. The publicized and extravagant roles of this year, like Christian Bale in “American Hustle” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” are stealing the spotlight and acclaim, but actors like Isaac and Phoenix should receive respect for their portrayals of unassuming heroes. — Nora Blake

Best Actress: Emma Thompson

It is one thing for an actor to be good in a good movie and another thing entirely for an actor to be great in a mediocre film. Emma Thompson accomplished this feat in “Saving Mr. Banks.” The main draw of the film was Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, but the “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers is the focus of the story. Thompson could have played Travers as the shallow, unlikable caricature she was written as, but instead she made Travers three-dimensional, preventing Hanks from stealing the show. Amy Adams was fine in “American Hustle,” but her Best Actress nomination belongs to Thompson. — Marissa Elliot Little

Best Supporting Actor: James Franco

Whether you think “Spring Breakers” is self-indulgent pop art or poignant commentary on youth culture, many can agree that James Franco’s performance as Alien, a rapper and arms dealer in the seedy underbelly of Miami, was a brave undertaking. The role could have gone horribly wrong, from his ugly countenance to his obnoxious voice. But Franco uses those traits to make Alien a fascinating character, a man with a crass lifestyle who still has a soft spot. By the end, audiences realize how much he cares for those titular spring breakers while never forgetting his lack of common sense. — Zach Grullon

Best Supporting Actress: Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie’s turn in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” is nothing short of a powerhouse performance. Playing Naomi, the trophy wife of the Wall Street millionaire Jordan Belfort, Robbie could have easily made her character a caricature. Instead her performance has an intriguing depth, as seen in the film’s prolonged argument scenes. Not to mention Robbie’s superb Brooklyn dialect, which makes it hard to believe that the actress hails from Australia. Perhaps it was the abundance of sex and nudity that turned the heads of the Academy in the other direction, but she certainly deserved a nomination for her work. — Daniel Lieberson

Best Director: Jeff Nichols

With “Mud,” Jeff Nichols stakes a claim as one of Hollywood’s most promising directors. Nichols’ work is outstanding, from its unlikely blend of delicate romance and outlaw suspense to the startling emotional openness of his 14-year-old lead Tye Sheridan. The film draws us between the rich earthy hues of the Mississippi River and the weathered scuffing of a small town. Yet most exciting was the way Nichols guided his movie star lead into a sweaty, ambiguous fugitive, firing a liberated Matthew McConaughey into the stratosphere and forgoing the traits we know him best for. “Mud” is an authentic, vibrant American film and Jeff Nichols is a great American artist. — J.R. Hammerer

Best Animated Film: “Monsters University”

“Monsters University” is one of only two Pixar films to not receive a nomination for Best Animated Feature, a category invented in 2001 (the other is the abysmal “Cars 2”). Despite earning critical acclaim and $743 million at the box office, “Monsters U” lost its nomination to the less commercially successful “The Croods,” leaving the world to wonder if Pixar has lost its magic. Yet anyone who has seen the film can attest that this is not the case — just look at the hundreds of unique monsters created to portray a realistic depiction of college life. The Academy may have ended its love affair with Pixar, but Pixar’s golden age is far from over. — Marissa Elliot Little

Best Documentary Feature: “Stories We Tell”

A film that made the Oscar shortlist but not the final cut, Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” is one of the most unique, personal and well-crafted documentaries in recent memory. The film deals with the memory of Polley’s own childhood, as told by her brothers and sisters, her father and family friends, all leading up to Polley discovering a shocking and life-changing revelation about her heritage that forces her and her family to face some buried truths. An examination of family, marriage and the varying versions of the stories we tell, Polley’s film is an emotionally resonant achievement in documentary filmmaking. — Ife Olujobi

Best Foreign Film: “Blue Is The Warmest Color”

Yes, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” may already be a modern classic, but the ever-confusing rules for the category mean it is not eligible for nomination until next year. Yet there is no excuse for the Academy’s snub of this year’s French selection, “The Past.” Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to the acclaimed “A Separation” find him burrowing deep into a small French town miles away from his native Iran, uncovering the same messy, heartrending humanity and family strife as is found “Separation.” His new tale, anchored by a raw turn from “The Artist’s” Bérénice Bejo is self-assured from its opening notes to its breathtaking single-shot coda. “The Past” belongs to a universal artist in top form. — JR Hammerer

Best Original Screenplay: “Mud”

Growing up, dealing with divorce, trustworthiness, first love, dark pasts and masculinity are a few of the themes “Mud” skillfully weaves together into a cohesive story about two kids encountering a fugitive on a Mississippi island. Much of this work stems from the incredible script by director Jeff Nichols. It has the multi-layered texture of a well-written novel with its multiple subplots, attention to character and descriptive portrait of the setting. “Mud” feels like a solid adaptation of a Mark Twain novel that was never written, and had Twain been alive today, he would have been proud of this film. — Zach Grullon

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Lone Survivor”

“Lone Survivor,” based on Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of the same name, tells how Lutrell and his team, on a quest to kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, find themselves in a deadly situation with their enemies. The script definitely stayed close to the original text, and for this loyalty it deserved an Oscar nomination. Despite minor changes, overall the film is successful in showcasing the honor and bravery Luttrell and his team members possessed, and the undying commitment they had to protecting each other like family, an aspect of the memoir that Luttrell tries very hard to bring home. — Alexandra Mujica

Best Song: “Young and Beautiful”

It is possible that “The Great Gatsby’s” promotion of Lana Del Rey’s tepid “Young and Beautiful” is the reason the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s maddening yet moving Fitzgerald adaptation was ignored. Among the many quality tracks lies the film’s true gem — Florence and the Machine’s chilling “Over the Love.” Filmgoers may have missed it, as it is buried in the background as Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway wakes up alone, staggering away from another Gatsby blowout. This is a shame, because Florence Welch’s searing wail and haunting melody capture the hidden torment and uncontrollable passions that move through Luhrmann’s unwieldy but unforgettable film. — JR Hammerer

Best Score: “Oz the Great and Powerful” 

Scores can transform an ordinary film into an extraordinary one, especially with a musical genius like Danny Elfman composing. The enchanting and whimsical score of “Oz the Great and Powerful” is the backbone of the film and deserves to be recognized for its outstanding collaboration with the story. The score isn’t subservient to the film, as it takes and reciprocates recurring thematic elements and gives a dimensionality to the story that creates an illusion of unity between the viewer and the characters. Elfman’s score is hypnotic, with melodies that intertwine and connect while still creating a sense of freedom and mystery. — Laura Wolford

A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 27 print edition. Email the writers at film@nyunews.com.

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