The 90th Academy Awards went more or less according to script. “The Shape of Water” cleaned up, winning Oscars for Best Original Music Score, Best Director and Best Picture. Meanwhile, movies like “Lady Bird” didn’t get on the board (just another night where Kobe Bryant wins and Sacramento loses). Surely that decision will age gracefully, much like the decision to give Best Picture to “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan” or “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain.”
We get it, the Academy sucks — this isn’t news. They’re almost entirely out of touch with the average American moviegoer, let alone the average American, and their decisions are largely self-serving rather than based on merit.
Every year, there are great movies that not only lack a win, but go without any recognition from the most prestigious awards ceremony on the planet, costing them millions of potential viewers and millions of dollars: both potential feathers in caps that could land them funding for their next project.
Most independent filmmakers toil in obscurity, but it’s really where you’ll find the best cinema currently. Unfortunately, they typically get release dates that don’t lend themselves to awards season, don’t get an Oscars campaign, or just don’t get to see the light of day.
With that in mind, here are the best movies from 2017 that the Academy passed over altogether:
Wind River—dir. Taylor Sheridan
Dating back to “Sicario” in 2015, writer/director Taylor Sheridan has strung together a streak of three great films, including last year’s Best Picture Nominee “Hell or High Water” and 2017’s “Wind River.” It’s really hard to say why “Wind River” hasn’t received the acclaim of the previous two, but this tale of revenge set in the stifling Wyoming cold should have garnered Sheridan a nod for Best Director.
It Comes at Night—dir. Trey Edward Shults
“It Comes at Night” had absolutely no regard for its audience, and I mean that in the best way possible. The second time I saw this movie in theaters, a man stood up in the crowd upon the fade to black and foppishly announced that he “should have seen ‘Wonder Woman’ instead.” And that’s when I knew it was special. Shults blends mystery and suspense in a post-epidemic story of two families attempting to survive in spite of each other. The movie works largely because of the tension, so how about a Best Film Editing nomination?
Logan Lucky—dir. Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh’s plight has taken him from indie legend starting with “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” to an Oscar win (“Traffic”) and a foray into television before returning to the big screen. He directs “Logan Lucky” wonderfully, and gets unexpected performances from actors like Daniel Craig and Channing Tatum, but it’s Rebecca Blunt’s screenplay that makes the film stand out, and that’s worthy of a Best Original Screenplay nomination. The only problem is that no one is actually sure if Rebecca Blunt is even real, or whether it’s a pseudonym for Soderbergh. Either way, nice job Stevebecca Soderblunt.
Good Time—dir. Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
A24 had about as good a year a studio could possibly have between “Lady Bird,” “The Disaster Artist,” “The Florida Project,” and finally “Good Time,” the passion project of the brothers Safdie. Robert Pattinson shines as a bank robber from Queens trying to locate his disabled brother, but it’s Benny Safdie who turns in the best performance as the aforementioned brother, Nick, and deserves recognition as a Best Supporting Actor nominee.
American Made—dir. Doug Lyman
Doug Lyman is as thankless a director as you’ll find in Hollywood. He’s made “Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “Edge of Tomorrow” all while being overshadowed by his lead actors. “American Made,” his second time working with Tom Cruise, is an unheralded tour-de-force about TWA pilot Barry Seal, who played a key role in the rise of Medellin and the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s. In the same vein as Martin Scorsese and early Paul Thomas Anderson, Lyman creates a fast-paced crime epic that should have earned him some Best Director love. I still love you, though, Doug.
Five Came Back—prod. Steven Spielberg
When America declared war in 1941, it needed propaganda to sway public opinion from isolationist to interventionist. Five legendary directors; John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston, and George Stevens put their lives on hold to document some of the biggest turning points in the war from Ford’s “The Battle of Midway” to Capra’s “Let There Be Light,” the first serious exploration into what we now know as PTSD. The series, which features three parts, includes testimony from contemporary greats like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Guillermo Del Toro. Like “O.J.: Made in America,” “Five Came Back” received a brief theatrical release, which would have made it a prime candidate for Best Documentary Feature.
Honorable Mentions: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, A Ghost Story, mother!, Detroit.