Oscar Oversights: 6 Great 2016 Films Snubbed by the Academy
Hollywood: the scene that celebrates itself. The Academy Awards reflect this self-infatuation, favouring safe films by established directors over subversive, forward-thinking cinema created by up-and-coming filmmakers. Films that are nominated are often deserving: La La Land is a masterfully crafted homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age; Hell or High Water succeeds as both a genre pic and as a character study; Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea can be seen as nothing but cinematic milestones. Yet there is a constant lack of surprise in the Academy’s nominations, reflecting the industry’s inability to always spot what is truly new and fresh. Some such films are relegated to minor categories, such as the technical or screenwriting categories, while some are snubbed altogether. Here, we are giving mention to the best films of 2016 that were undeservedly given no mention at all. Take notice, Academy: you’re letting good celluloid go to waste!
- Paterson, Jim Jarmusch
Paterson, in some senses, is everything that people go to the movies to escape: it’s mundane, it’s commonplace, it’s unassuming. But for all these reasons, it is quite simply the best film of the year. Paterson brings attention to the little details, commonplace conversations and stray thoughts that make life beautiful. Its premise is simple and undramatic: seven days in the life of a bus driver named Paterson. He writes poetry, loves his girlfriend, and enjoys a nightly beer at the neighbourhood pub. Anyone familiar with Jarmusch’s past work knows him to be something of a visual poet (originally, he thought he was going to be a poet), and his directorial talent is on full display here. Jarmusch’s attention to detail is impeccable, and the quiet passion that he fills Paterson leaves a warm glow in the heart of the viewer.
- The Handmaiden, Park Chan-Wook
What can be said about The Handmaiden without giving too much away? Set in Japanese-occupied Korea at the turn of the 20th Century, it is the story of a con man who teams up with a young pickpocket to steal away the fortune of a lonely heiress. Let nothing else be known about it. The screenplay, based off the novel Fingersmith and co-written by Park, is masterfully developed, and is so full of off-the-wall madness that it leaves you in baffled stupor for its entire 145-minute runtime. Its cinematography is just as engaging, with long, sweeping shots that capture the intimacy that permeates the film’s plot. It may be a little too… sensual… for the Academy, but everything else about it screams “Best Picture Nominee.”
- The Witch, Robert Eggers
One of the grimmest debuts of the year, The Witch was both celebrated by critics and rejected by mainstream audiences, the latter undoubtedly enraged by the Old English dialogue and lack of jump scares. What is it exactly? The Witch is a “folk tale” about an excommunicated New England family that is haunted by an evil presence in the mid-17th Century. Essentially, it’s The Crucible, but even more isolated. The Witch is not only truly terrifying, but is far smarter than your average horror film. Heck, it’s smarter than 80% of the films nominated for Oscars this year. Of course, the Academy has a strong bias against films that go bump in the night, with the only horror movie actually nominated for an award in the new millennium being Black Swan. It’s hardly a surprise that The Witch got snubbed, but it remains a must-see for those who like their films dark, dangerous and feminist.
- Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick
Knight of Cups’ failure to receive any Oscar nominations is an astonishment to no one, seeing as even top critics were sharply divided on the film. It holds a 46% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes, with some critics calling it the best film of the year, and others (The New York Observer’s Rex Reed, in particular) condemning it as one of the worst of the decade. It is easily comparable with La La Land, as they both feature Californian entertainers pondering the cost of fame. However, where La La Land is a palatable musical that was bound to have wide appeal, Knight of Cups is an ambient tour-de-force that denounces all that La La Land celebrates. Malick’s philosophical take on Hollywood is beautiful to watch, thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s expert lens, and is carried by an ensemble cast that includes stars such as Christian Bale and Natalie Portman. Knight of Cups once again shows the height of Malick’s directorial abilities, though not everyone will find its slow pacing and abstract plot agreeable.
- Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier
Whereas The Witch’s intelligence flew under many moviegoers’ radars, Green Room’s even seemed to go unnoticed by many critics. Yes, its unapologetic tone, strong performances and taut script were all applauded – the latter uncharacteristic to the slasher genre – but for most, its strengths ended there. Green Room goes deeper than this, functioning as a subtle study on artistic authenticity. On any level, Sauliner’s third feature film is easily one of the best pictures of the year. If a film about a hardcore band duking it out with white supremacists sounds like something up your alley (it certainly isn’t up the Academy’s), then don’t miss it. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Patrick Steward playing a neo-Nazi? (spoiler alert: he’s terrifying.) Even though it didn’t garner any award nominations, you can still expect to see a tribute Green Room star, the late Anton Yelchin, at some point during the ceremony.
- Chevalier, Athina Rachel Tsangari
Chevalier is very possibly the most underrated film of 2016. Whereas many of the other films in this article ended up on critics’ year-end lists, the Greek comedy was strangely absent. Its premise is simple: while vacationing on a yacht, a group of men decide to compete to see who among them is the most masculine. They proceed to evaluate each other on everything, leading to high tensions and tested friendships. It is a unique study on manhood, and is one of the funniest films of the year (it is the only film on this list which actually drove me to laugh-induced tears). Unfortunately, foreign films are usually kept to their distinct category, and Chevalier just didn’t make the cut. Perhaps the inevitable American adaption will fare better.
Keep in mind, there are some pretty fantastic films nominated for Oscars as well. Leading up to this Sunday’s Academy Awards, the Mayfair Theatre is screening most of the gems nominated this year, as well as the ceremony itself tomorrow night. See showtimes here.