Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition
Every year, there are a set of films and artists that miss out on award nominations that deserved to at least compete for them. They might have not had enough resources to put together as strong (or as loud) of a campaign as others. They might have been flooded out by the more popular films. They might have never been given the time of day in the first place. It could be due to a variety of reasons.
Some of those would qualify as “snubs” — in that, based on majority opinion, they are of better quality than one or more of those nominated. But that’s such a difficult circumstance to determine, meaning that a lot of those are just unfortunate misses.
The following list will detail films and artists that were hardly a part of the larger conversation. So, while Jessica Chastain’s miss in Best Lead Actress for Molly’s Game is painful, she was considered a potential nominee up until the nominations were announced and, thus, will not be a part of this list.
Here are ten films/artists that deserved to be a part of awards season, but, for the most part, weren’t:
*To be transparent, I’ve borrowed the use of this phrase in regard to the Oscars from The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg.*
Kedi (Best Documentary)
Kedi gets points for being absolutely adorable, and that shouldn’t be a trivial statement, as it takes great filmmaking to sell that aspect.
But who knew that a documentary about cats could be a profound statement about the beauty of life? The film accomplishes that through its wholesome approach to the cats it follows. Kedi isn’t just about the cats. It’s about the history that brought them to Turkey, the culture that they’ve become a massive part of, the human beings that they live with and depend on and the human beings that they help.
One of the most touching parts of the documentary is how it frames the cats as aids of mental health. The human subjects often come from tough places, backgrounds or situations, and the cats are what led them out of the struggle.
The line that, perhaps, sums up the movie perfectly is: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”
Darius Khondji — The Lost City of Z (Best Cinematography)
To be quite honest, The Lost City of Z should’ve been a contender in nearly every craft category. Its sound design is deeply layered, and its costume and production design contribute so much to the world-building. We believe in the world of explorers and discovery that writer-director James Gray crafts, which is also a testament to its (adapted) screenplay.
However, the most glaring omission from far too much of awards season — he did show up for a few critics groups — was Darius Khondji for his stunning cinematography. Khondji’s job was, on both an emotional level and a technical level, absurdly complex.
The film was shot on 35mm in actual jungles, lending Khondji opportunities that he took to their full potential. The wide shots of landscapes are breathtaking, and the slowly creeping camera, almost playing the role of another explorer among the crew, is fully immersive.
But the lighting, specifically, is always breathtaking, both deeply earthy below the jungle trees yet somehow simultaneously ethereal and mythical. And that’s precisely what the visuals of the film had to accomplish to sell its story — evoke the reality of the setting while hinting at the possibilities that Percy Fawcett so desperately searches for.
Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)
It’s not common for a score for a documentary to be among awards chatter, but if any were to deserve it, it would be Philip Glass’ compositions for the Jane Goodall doc, Jane.
The most beautiful part of the experience of watching Jane is how it sneaks up on us and grabs our minds and hearts before we even notice. By its end, we walk out with a beautifully wholesome and loving portrait of a strong and brilliant woman, and true grasp of just how epic her life has been.
And one of, if not the most essential part of that is Glass’ score. That lovingness and that epicness is based in the music, as if Goodall’s will is the driving force behind each note. The slow build of Glass’ layering, on pieces such as “In the Shadow of Man” and “Perfect Life,” truly evokes a sense of journey, but also a simultaneous sense of nostalgic reminiscence. The score so often ebbs and flows with highs and lows that perfectly dig into the highs and lows of Goodall’s life, and there’s such an immense explorative quality in the progression of the music that does as much work painting Goodall as the rest of the film does.
Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)
Hugh Jackman, the titular Logan, seemed to be almost unparalleled in his ferocity for 17 years. And then, a young 11 year old actress came along. What Dafne Keen accomplishes in Logan is not to be understated. She truly inhabits the character of Laura in every manner. We believe in her fierceness, her ruthless aggression. We believe in her desperation to get to her friends. We believe in the relationship that she and Logan builds.
With nearly no dialogue for a huge portion of the film, Keen grabs our attention and hangs onto it with metal claws. And at the end, when the entire ending rests on her shoulders, she brings us to tears with a powerfully delivered monologue taken from Shane. It’s fully devoted acting that is just as crucial to the emotional story as almost anything else.
Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)
Mudbound got four Oscar nominations, and was still deeply underappreciated. That’s just how good it really is.
One of its greatest assets is its ensemble, and we are elated that Mary J. Blige is being recognized. There is, however, a performance just a rich and just as nuanced as Blige’s — that of Jason Mitchell
Mitchell plays Ronsel, a Black man in the South struggling with not only PTSD after World War II, but the oppressive society he returns to and the family role he’s expected to fulfill. He’s often in conversation with Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie, and Jamie’s more explicit PTSD fills a lot of space. But Mitchell’s quieter evocation of Ronsel’s interiority is even more gripping.
Black people of the time, evidently, weren’t granted the same rights and didn’t have the privilege of expression that a Jamie would have, and Mitchell brings this conflict out in Ronsel with force, burying the anger so truthfully that it becomes visible to the viewer. Ronsel may simply be sitting, looking down at the floor as he talks about how the war changed him, but we see so much of who he is and wants to be, and why he can’t be that, through Mitchell’s precise, minute expressions and almost poetic vocal pacing. And it’s Ronsel who we’re with at the end, hearts breaking before being lifted from ash by a narrated monologue that Mitchell performs with stunning empathy.
Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)
It’s rare that someone stands tall next to Daniel Day-Lewis, let alone takes over scenes that he appears in. In Phantom Thread, however, that’s not only the necessity of the character of Alma, but also the unbelievable strength that relative newcomer Vicky Krieps shows in her performance.
In a way, it’s rather meta that Krieps hasn’t been given her fair share of celebration. Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock has such a massive personality that eats up the screen.
But how Krieps subtly elevates Alma to a point where we believe the power dynamics that develop is exactly why she might be more deserving of praise than the legendary actor, as she, essentially, does more with less.
Alma is often silently staring, whether that be in longing, sensuality or even intense anger, and Krieps sells each one so magnetically. It might be that anger, though, that is the most delicious and plentiful, her eyes nearly materializing daggers.
Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)
Bale is a three-time Oscar nominee, winning once for The Fighter. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise, and as a bit humorous, that the actor’s arguably best performance in Hostiles was essentially left out everywhere.
In Scott Cooper’s brutal, bruised Western, Bale plays a man filled with anger, nearly broken by it. Precisely how the actor conveys it is where the performance elevates to the extraordinary.
Bale doesn’t have expressive monologues nor does he engage explosively with the other actors. Instead, he pushes all of the emotional work into his eyes. Whether they’re straining, holding a stare or looking on with deep care, Bale’s eyes are absolutely absorbing, and underscore his character with an intensity that renders a softly spoken word into a harrowingly touching moment, or a brief and firm line into the most intimidating, dominating action in the entire film.
So while Bale may be known for his rather outward transformations, it’s in this subdued, careful performance that he shows exactly how much he can do.
Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes (Best Director)
On nearly every level, Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes films have been under-awarded. And with War, which somehow tops Dawn, Reeves directs something truly special, a classically inspired epic that tells its story with grace and care in ways that few other stories of any kind are told.
It may be easy to look to the film’s visual effects, the actors, the set pieces and more, but we should take a step back and look at the person who orchestrates it all. Reeves’ hand is as firm as any other director’s this year, guiding us through a grand character arc that nails every turn, building the feel of a world imagined far beyond the edges of the frames we see, constructing cinematic language so rhythmically and sonically dynamic.
It’s hard to imagine few other directors delivering War the way in which it was delivered. It’s a blockbuster that doesn’t exploit its big budget, nor its visual spectacle, instead capitalizing spectacle in service of emotion and story. It’s a directorial wonder.
Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)
A long-after sequel to an absolute classic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it often is. Even with the recently Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve behind the project, it was hard to be anything but skeptical.
The director, however, arguably delivered the masterpiece of his career, topping even Arrival, with a visually arresting, thematically profound rumination on how we define our humanity. In a world that is quickly becoming digitized and uploaded, it’s strange that more weren’t overcome by 2049, a film that suggests that, even in the absence of natural life and vivid color, humanity can still live through our relationships and through our choices.
Every feature of 2049 is stunning. Roger Deakins’ photography is transfixing and haunting. The actors all work wonders, none over-the-top, all players committed to the subtleties of the many aspects that make us human, especially the stoic, lingering and vulnerable Gosling. Villeneuve directs with force, a true atmospheric genius. And the story builds to something truly tragic, yet invigorating and uplifting. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare film that takes its massive canvas and grounds each frame in the human soul.
Featured image via Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy.