There are many frustrating things about the Oscars: the Academy’s ghettoisation of foreign-language films and animation, their insulting downplaying of technical categories to give more time for it-girls to show off their red-carpet “looks”, the deeply boring ceremony itself, Sandra Bullock. The list goes on. Most irritating though is the Academy’s staggeringly short attention span. In the past thirty years, all but six Best Picture winners were released in late autumn or winter: anytime before that and Academy voters can’t be bothered to stretch their memories back all those long weeks, so November/December becomes a frenzied season of movies jostling for Oscar attention instead. Not only that, but a film that wants Oscars has to mount a massive campaign, constantly taking out advertisements, lobbying influential industry figures, sending out free DVDs. God forbid the esteemed Academicians actually go out and discover a movie for themselves.
You can find out about the big Oscar contenders anyoldwhere, but that would make you just as lazy as the Academy: right now, pick a multiplex, schedule it right, and you could probably see all the likely big winners in one exhausting and expensive day. So instead, in the spirit of actually going to the movies all year round and discovering things that aren’t blaring “For Your Consideration” ads in your face, here is a list of the films that should, but won’t, be winning Oscars come February- for the most part, won’t even be getting nominated. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I really don’t think I will.
Red State was released in the UK back in September, with the tagline “an unlikely film by that Kevin Smith”, and this is indeed a surprising film from the man behind Clerks, Zach and Miri Make a Porno and copious internet whinging. Red State is a violent and involving hostage thriller that centres round three teenage boys who are lured into a trap by a tiny, fundamentalist Christian congregation in the style of Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptists, and the ensuing attempts to get them out of the cult’s compound. There’s a scattergun approach to political and social issues and the picture goes badly off the rails in the final act, but it’s compelling stuff centred around several brilliant performances by a number of America’s best character actors, including Melissa Leo, Stephen Root and the film’s confounded moral centre, John Goodman. Best of all though, and monstrously deserving of a Best Actor nomination he won’t get (Red State barely got released stateside), is Michael Parks as the pastor, preaching bile with twinkly benevolence and pausing between bursts of gunfire so his daughter can fetch him some sweet tea. Seek it out.
Speaking of religion and violence, did you see Super? Probably not. Super is a strange, fascinating little film by James Gunn that ostensibly has “the Kickass plot”: normal guy becomes real-world superhero, finds out it’s all a bit more complicated than that. Super is a far more complex and disturbing piece though, anchored by Rainn Wilson’s role as a childlike and profoundly religious man who veers between gentleness and outbreaks of rage. The film also veers too much between different tones, though this adds to the visceral shock of the violence, but is again packed with excellent actors – Kevin Bacon, Ellen Page, Nathan Fillion – working as hard as they can for the love of a film that clearly cost next to nothing to make, and earned even less at the box office.
More successful, and in fact in with a chance at the Oscars, had been Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which has a high-profile recent release and an awards campaign on its side: but for its efforts it was recently nominated for absolutely nothing at the Golden Globes, and since the Academy’s laziness is also expressed by their traditional strategy of “slightly rejigging last month’s Globes nominations”, there’s reason to be worried. Tinker Tailor is a deeply brilliant, glacial piece about Cold War machinations and the lonely men who at once controlled and were controlled by them. Filled with talent – Gary Oldman, John Hurt, an excellent Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth – it was above all directed with exemplary care and stately skill by Tomas Alfredson, of Swedish vampire movie Let The Right One In fame. This deserves far more than the Adapted Screenplay nod it will likely get (the Academy’s traditional “this film is too clever for us but it was probably good” prize).
The Academy’s patience with foreign-language films is short, but while we’re on the subject of Scandinavians, The Troll Hunter was one of the year’s most surprising films, a Norwegian mockumentary about a team of film students tracking a recluse who turns out to work for the government, keeping Norway’s indigenous troll population a secret. It’s a funny, frightening, and occasionally touching movie, made with convincingly brilliant trickery and attention to detail.
Lastly, a film starring a bunch of people you’ve never heard of, which earned less than $40,000 on release this summer (which was about what it cost to make), and which is my nomination for Best Picture: The Myth of the American Sleepover. It isn’t really possible to describe a film of this kind of low-key perfection. Remember being 14? That’s what this film is like; like simultaneously being 14 and remembering being 14. Slowly, lightly, an evening of interlinking sleepovers and parties unfolds in a late summer night in suburban Detroit. Kisses, betrayals, secret, broken hearts, everything that doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things and couldn’t matter more in actual life. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a sweet, subtle, sad and funny film featuring half a dozen teenage actors who deserve to be world-renowned and probably never will be. Go on, Oscars: prove me wrong.
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The Myth of the American Sleepover Trailer