Unfairly Unrecognized: Alternative Oscar Picks

Powered by its undying love to celebrate itself and honour every film that makes Hollywood (and filmmaking) look wonderful, the Academy sometimes swings and misses.

It’s easy to look at the Academy voters ahead of the Oscars and see what they’ve egregiously missed and curiously acclaimed. It’s easy to point out that which should be noted this coming Sunday, and that which audiences should put their energy and money towards instead. It’s easy to assume this ill-defined body of voters has a tough grasp on the world outside of Hollywood.

So — let’s do all that.

What follows isn’t just a list of those snubbed; it’s an argument for those who shouldn’t have just been nominated, but who should win outright. There is a massive promotion mechanism in place when it comes to the Oscars. After all, if voters aren’t sent screeners by a hard-working publicity group, they can’t decide whether the film is good at all. Perhaps some of the names that follow were victim because of that. Or perhaps the Academy just can’t get enough of La La Land — and if they can’t find a way to nominate it in a certain category, then they don’t care about that category at all.

Oscars are about handing out awards to those deserving, but there should also be message and meaning involved. Does the Academy want to see a love song about itself, featuring a bunch of young, attractive white people talking about how life is hard and how we ought to seize the day? Or instead of La La Land, should we look to Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences, and others to make a statement about the convergence of current life and art?

These are deserving of accolades, and with their victories would come curious and important dialogues.

Best Director: Ava DuVernay, 13th

I suppose it’s some solace that Ms. DuVernay’s powerful documentary 13th is nominated in the Best Documentary category, and she as a producer has a chance to win an award. Still, her talents and accomplishments as a director should be honoured in telling this vital, chilling, and eye-opening story. The Oscars also seem to be about making up for past oversights, or at least giving out awards with cumulative work in consideration instead of one movie. In that case, DuVernay can win for this as well as Selma, which was outrageously snubbed two years ago.

Best Actor: Colin Farrell, The Lobster

While this film made its way around the world in late 2015, including at the Toronto International Film Festival, it didn’t get a general release until early 2016, so this counts even if it feels like it was such a long time ago. Mr. Farrell disappears into this role as a fated, lonely man who seeks companionship in a strange, futuristic dystopia, lest he is turned into an animal. He is sober and funny, compassionate and tragic, and without his lead, this arcane film would be lost.

Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

This was a cruel case: not only was Ms. Adams positioned to be nominated after the public and press saw her performance in Arrival, but the Academy even went so far as to include her name online as a nominee. Of course, some 15 minutes later they rescinded that because it was an error. But really, she should be have been heralded, and that mistake wasn’t a coincidence.

It’s not as if the Academy is loathe to recognize science fiction as a legitimate medium; while it doesn’t often tag actors in such films (Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road), it did nominate Matt Damon for The Martian and Sandra Bullock for Gravity. However, there can only be room for five, and if Meryl Streep makes a movie, then she has a to be nominated. It’s hard to argue Emma Stone’s inclusion is more earned than Amy Adams; it’s not like the Academy gave Russell Crowe a nod for trying in Les Mis. Anyway, Ms. Adams carried Arrival and her stellar performance should be honoured.

Best Foreign Film: The Handmaiden

Firstly, it’s ridiculous that this category is only allowed five entries: there are a hell of a lot of countries making movies! Secondly, that The Handmaiden is kept out is something egregious, especially considering just how beautiful and cinematic the film is. And the Academy loves anything that displays how gorgeous the medium can be.

Aptly described as sumptuous and erotic, this captivating sexy thriller from Chan-wook Park plays with language, perspective, and voyeurism in telling a story about love and duplicity. The tale follows a young woman enlisted by a con man to lure a rich widow; what’s great is that not only is Park always in control of this layered story, it’s that even if you are keen enough to figure out what is going on, such cunning never matters. The Handmaiden is stunning throughout.

Best Makeup: Deadpool

That only three films are nominated in the Best Makeup category is a little ridiculous. I’m sure there is some procedural or logistic reason for this, but it needs to be fixed. It’s incomplete. No one looks at the body of film from 2016 and says “Wow, the makeup sure sucked this year.” Work harder, Academy, and find some more films to nominate. Like Deadpool. For starters, the film made Ryan Reynolds convincingly unattractive. Well done! What’s more, it’s clearly a better film that Suicide Squad or Star Trek Beyond; and no one has seen A Man Called Ove. But again, the Academy is sometimes good at handing out awards to films and people that deserve recognition, even if not for that particular role. Deadpool was fun and offbeat, and its name deserves to be said on awards night.

Best Picture: The Lobster

Sometimes films want to make you feel good, and sometimes they want to provoke, and all too often it’s the former type that the Academy embraces. Those feel good stories about overcoming a speech impediment, being able to act again, or likely in this year’s case, realizing it’s okay to be pretty and white in Los Angeles.

The Lobster is the film we need to be Best Picture. It’s smart and funny, it’s weird and wild, and it provokes with meaning and purpose. Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, this story imagines a different kind of bleak future ruled by a totalitarian state. It still kills people that don’t conform, but it looks to mindwash and condemn in different ways, and the results are both morbid and funny. And in today’s climate, we need to be able to find the humour in the horror, while still possessing courage and conviction. Like Mr. Farrell’s character.

Of those actually nominated, Moonlight is my pick for most deserving. La La Land is fun and lovely, but all style and surface (superb style, indeed). Stories like Moonlight and The Lobster, however––among many others––are harder to swallow and take more time to process. And in the meantime, they are compelling stories, told by great storytellers.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.