The Alternate Oscars

A moment for the best pictures not nominated for Best Picture

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2015 was a remarkably strong year for film. So strong, in fact, that there’s an alternate, but equally-strong Best Picture race being run in a parallel Los Angeles, featuring none of the films currently vying for a trophy. Some were early favourites that dropped off, some received bafflingly-average reviews, others were near-locks right up until they weren’t.

Without further ado, the Alternate Oscars.

Sicario

Denis Villeneuve’s pitch-black drug war thriller was the best film of the year, and as dark, grim and beautiful as you’d expect from the director and cinematographer (Roger Deakins, speaking of hilariously long-standing Academy oversights) behind Prisoners.

Villeneuve is one of the most exciting directors of the last few years, and in an alternate universe he’s being feted in the same way we should also be celebrating David Fincher. Alas, both directors are lumped in ‘genre’ jail right next to Christopher Nolan.

Next up, he turns his hand to sci-fi with both Story of Your Life (starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner), and the Blade Runner sequel, so apparently pandering to the Academy’s taste isn’t foremost on Villeneuve’s mind.

Steve Jobs

This was a clear case of a train being derailed by box office. A frontrunner long before it switched leads and studios, the wheels began to fall off after it failed to connect outside its limited release. It’s a shame, because Steve Jobs was a dazzling, uniquely-structured display of what a biopic can be. At least the performances were nominated.

Carol

As with a few films on this list, the Academy saw fit to recognise the performances while leaving the movie in the cold. If this was a weaker year, you could imagine an awards-bait movie like The Danish Girl sneaking in, and in those circumstances it’s preferable that the Academy doesn’t feel the need to fill the entire 10-film Best Picture field. But when there are empty slots, and a movie as good as Carol doesn’t get nominated, you can’t help but give the voting rules a second glance.

Trumbo

Trumbo was derided as being more ‘made for TV’ than ‘made for Academy Awards’. That’s true… insofar as much of the best content in the world is now made for the small screen. Jay Roach travels back and forth between broad comedies and HBO political dramas, and Trumbo borrows from both, to excellent results.

It’s a more conventional biopic than others on this list, but it’s sharply-written, hugely fun, and packed full of genuine laughs and great performances. At this point it feels as though Leonardo DiCaprio is preordained for Best Actor, but Bryan Cranston would be another worthy winner (and not just because it would put him three-quarters of the way towards an EGOT).

Roach and Cranston are re-teaming for HBO’s All the Way, a Steven Spielberg-produced adaptation of Cranston’s Tony Award-winning Lyndon B. Johnson play.

Joy

After The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, it seemed like David O. Russell could do no wrong with the Academy. That they didn’t warm to this one in the same way is a small mystery, because Russell and his repertory theatre of actors produced their best effort to date. And while he’s known for getting excellent performances, Russell is an underrated craftsman. Joy sizzles with life and excitement; from the camerawork to the music, it’s a whirlwind in the best possible way.

Creed

Who thought this was a good idea? Sit down, liars. This was far better than it had any right to be, and the single-take fight sequences are nothing short of remarkable. Between Creed and Mad Max: Fury Road, we’ve seen two seemingly past-their-prime franchises continued in stunning, exciting fashion; if every reboot and sequel was this good, critics would have a lot less to complain about.

Straight Outta Compton

This snub has been cover ad nauseam, but it’s worth saying again. Like Steve Jobs, you can pay Compton the highest of compliments: this was a biopic that never felt like one. Music biopics, in particular, fall prey to the fallacy that famous musician equals interesting film. But not all talented, famous, important, even iconic, people had lives worthy of a movie. NWA, however, did. They had it in spades.

The Hateful Eight

This could easily have been Tarantino’s folly. There are a LOT of things that could have gone wrong here; The Hateful Eight is a high-wire act that could have dived straight into ego-ville. From the three-hour running time, to the interval, to the narration from Tarantino himself, to the fact that it started life as a Django Unchained sequel, to the leaked script and subsequent ending change. That Tarantino managed to nail the landing, and produce a mostly-single-location film this riveting and funny and well-acted is testament to the brilliance of his writing and directing, the latter of which has perhaps reached a new peak.

Beasts of No Nation

For anyone used to watching Netflix, the idea that a movie isn’t really a movie because it’s mostly on TV is silly. But the more you read about the Academy’s membership, the greater the likelihood seems that a significant chunk don’t even know what streaming is. It’s hard to tell whether the older voters are out of touch, scared of the perceived encroachment on the traditional distribution model, or put off by a difficult subject matter. That it’s probably some combination of all three didn’t help Beasts much. You wouldn’t bet against Netflix cracking the Oscars in the next couple of years though, and it might not even be that long if the Brad Pitt-starring, David Michôd-directed War Machine lives up to its potential.

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