It’s time for our final Oscar-themed Roundtable of the season. This week, we want to highlight some movies that the Academy Awards outright ignored. We’re not talking about films that were snubbed by losing their categories to something less deserving. We’re talking about movies that weren’t even on Oscar’s radar at all. These films received no nominations at all in any category, despite their terrific performances, direction, storytelling, or other qualities of merit. How did Oscar miss these?
- ‘Heat‘ – I really can’t comprehend what happened at the 1996 Academy Awards. The Best Picture nominees that year were ‘Apollo 13‘ (vastly overrated), ‘Babe’ (cute but insubstantial), ‘Braveheart‘ (the winner, also astoundingly overrated), ‘Il Postino’ (middlebrow fluff), and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (a stodgy Merchant/Ivory knockoff). Where the hell is Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ in all this? The movie is extraordinary on every level, from script to direction to performances. It’s a flat-out masterpiece. Was it overlooked because the Academy thought it was too similar to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Casino‘? No, that can’t be it, because ‘Casino’ was also largely bypassed, save for a Supporting Actress nomination. ‘Heat’ wasn’t even recognized for the amazing sound design of its central heist sequence? Are you kidding me? This oversight is unconscionable!
- ‘Zodiac‘ – When I was considering this question, I immediately shot to my favorite movie of the aughts, David Fincher’s masterful ‘Zodiac’. Then I began doubting myself. “Surely this must have gotten some nomination, maybe in a technical category or two,” I reasoned. Then I looked it up. Not a single Academy Award nomination. This is an absolute travesty. I can’t imagine why the film was so universally overlooked, other than its early-March release date (Academy voters have notoriously short memories) or the fact that some may have found its labyrinthine plot too impenetrable. It shared similar DNA with the Best Picture-nominated ‘All the President’s Men‘, but failed to elicit any kind of response. At the very least, ‘Zodiac’ should have nabbed a Best Visual Effects nomination. People will one day and look back on it as a more important visual effects film than the newer ‘Star Wars’ movies. With any luck, audiences will be discovering this film for years to come, even without the Academy accolades.
- ‘The Informant!‘ – I remember walking out of ‘The Informant!’ thinking that Matt Damon had a Best Actor prize already sewn up. His performance is that good. When the Golden Globes rolled around, Damon was nominated, only to lose out to Robert Downey, Jr. in ‘Sherlock Holmes‘. I consoled myself saying, “The Golden Globes are a joke. Everyone knows that. The Oscars will get it right.” Then the Oscar nominations came. Matt Damon was nominated, no surprise there. But he was nominated for the wrong movie! Jumping on the Clint Eastwood bandwagon, Damon was nominated for his role in ‘Invictus‘ instead of his much more engaging and demanding role in ‘The Informant!’ I was beside myself. ‘Invictus’ called for Matt Damon to beef up, stand around looking like a stoic rugby player, and run around a lot. That’s hardly an Oscar-worthy performance. The fact that ‘The Informant!’ went without even one Oscar nomination that year floored me.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
- ‘The Shining‘ – I’ve griped previously about how Stanley Kubrick was nominated for more than a dozen Academy Awards but only took home a single statuette, and even that was in a technical category. Still, at least the likes of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ and ‘Dr. Strangelove‘ were nominated. ‘The Shining’, on the other hand, was wholly and completely ignored. At the very least, its cinematography and editing deserve to be recognized. Oh well. On the upside, the Academy did lavish Richard Rush’s gleefully insane ‘The Stunt Man’ with multiple nominations in key categories that year, so there’s a part of me that still loves them for that.
- ‘Dazed and Confused‘ – You could put Richard Linklater’s entire filmography in a hat, blindly pick a title, and find a little gem that was almost entirely overlooked by Oscar. But of all his pictures, Linklater’s first classic, perfectly-realized snapshot of life captured on film is also one of the most criminally overlooked pictures he ever made. I was probably as guilty as the Academy in overlooking this film upon its release. The marketing, which pushed the ’70s stoner comedy angle relentlessly, really didn’t inspire me to go see it in theaters. That’s a shame, because there’s so much more to it than that! While ‘Dazed’ perfectly captures a time period and locale (I grew up in the Southwest; these folks are all too real), the experiences and uncertainty of high school life portrayed in Linklater’s breakout film are universal even today. The sights, the sounds, the attitudes, the smells. Hell, I never smoked pot, but the first time I actually identified that signature aroma, it answered so many question from days gone by, and instantly transported me back in time to some very vivid memories. (sniff sniff) “Hey! That’s the smell outside the bathroom by Ms. Chabot’s Latin classroom!” The truth is, you didn’t have to live like these characters (I was probably more like the dorks played by Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp) to recognize their real life counterparts from your own high school. And if you did live like some of these folks, all the better. From the writing and direction, to the acting (come on, Affleck is fantastic! Has Matthew McConaughey ever had a better part than David Wooderson?!), to the cinematography, editing, costuming (this movie certainly triggered a ’70s revival at my high school), everyone right across the board was criminally overlooked. This, my friends, is a great movie, one that will stand the test of time. As I seem to have to say at the end of every one of these Roundtables, where is the Blu-ray?
- ‘The Big Lebowski‘ – I find it interesting that the Russian Guild of Film Critics awarded ‘The Big Lebowski’ “Best Foreign Film,” but the movie couldn’t come up with even a single nomination here at home. Big Oscar winners/nominees that year (1998) were ‘Shakespeare in Love‘, ‘Saving Private Ryan‘, and ‘Life is Beautiful’. We were in the midst of the dot-com bubble and clearly delusional on a few fronts. So I don’t understand why there wasn’t room for a little of what the Big Lebowski had to offer. Then again, it is a bit of a stoner flick and those have never been terribly popular with the Oscar crowd.
- ‘Speed Racer‘ – I’m going back to Best Visual Effects again. It’s a category that I’m passionate about, since digital effects are so often used poorly. When a movie uses them right, I believe it should be recognized for that. In 2008, a horribly underrated film called ‘Speed Racer’ did just that. I’m the first to criticize digital effects, but the Wachowskis got it right with ‘Speed Racer’. The effects were unreal, but they were unreal to establish a certain mood, rather than just to dazzle the audience and show off. Despite the amazingly detailed, bright and fast car races, the sequences were created in such a way that I was able to follow the action. I knew where the cars were on the track, how close they were to the end, and who was winning. Even the pod race in ‘The Phantom Menace’ got confusing fast. It’s a travesty that ‘Speed Racer’ was overlooked for the category. It’s an even bigger shame that ‘Benjamin Button‘ won. All that movie did was make Brad Pitt look like William H. Macy. You get an Oscar for that?
Now it’s your turn to remind us of some worthy movies that slipped under Oscar’s radar.