The 89th Academy Awards will be remembered as the year that two movies won Best Picture. When it was time to announce the winner, Hollywood legends Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty received a card that simply read “Emma Stone—La La Land.” This was, of course, some time after Stone had already been awarded the honor of Best Actress. Dunaway and Beatty, obviously confused, declared La La Land the recipient of the Best Picture award. Makes sense, it was the only title on that card. It was only after the cast and crew of La La Land had gathered onto the stage and speeches had commenced that showrunners had to halt the celebration and usher them away. “Hold up, we meant to give it to Moonlight.” Not so fast, Academy, I see through your little ploy. I vow to study the footage like the Zapruder film until the truth is uncovered, so help me God. Because if Hollywood is going to decide on which movie Hollywood thought was best, it better not have been Hollywood’s movie about Hollywood nostalgia. No, no, that would be so unlike Hollywood…
Winning an Oscar is as much of an achievement in lobbying, pandering and timing as it is in writing, filming and editing. After the year’s best movies are narrowed down into a field of no more than ten, the Academy tends to get it mostly right within that limited range of films they’ve deemed worthy.
There are still some infamous and egregious snubs Hollywood will likely never live down, such as “Shakespeare in Love” weaseling past “Saving Private Ryan” for Best Picture at the 1999 Academy Awards. It would be far too generous to say that history has not been kind to that decision. A more accurate way of describing the “Shakespeare in Love” victory would be calling it a complete miscarriage of justice to be thoroughly mocked and ridiculed by generations and generations of moviegoers. Watch the YouTube clip of Harrison Ford announcing the winner, and pause the video at precisely 1:08 to see the exact moment when Ford loses all faith and is engulfed in pure, unadulterated nihilism after rendering such a senseless verdict. But I digress…
Most of the injustice the Academy serves is in the narrowing-down process itself rather than choosing between the nominees. Of course, there are more worthy movies than there are nominations across the various categories to be handed out, but movies like “La La Land,” “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” were awash in expansive Academy recognition while plenty of deserving flicks were given the cold shoulder. Namely, the broad, bulbous shoulders of Hollywood producers who spend award season lobbying until they’re very quickly out of breath. It’s basic economics: the more nominations and wins their movie gets, the more press it gets, which makes it easier to re-release in theaters, slap the golden Oscar sticker on the Blu-Ray case a couple months down the road and collect the money as it rolls right in. Harvey Weinstein’s third divorce isn’t going to pay for itself, folks.
With that in my mind, allow me to shine some light on a few movies the Academy didn’t handpick—not because they weren’t good enough—but because they may not have been marketable enough for one reason or another. Sad!
“The Founder”—dir. by John Lee Hancock
This biopic of fast-food opportunist Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) and his introduction of California burger joint McDonald’s onto the national stage is an engrossing tale that calls back to the (albeit toned down) cutthroat nature of “There Will Be Blood” and the docudramatic style of “The Big Short.” However, the marketing of this well-done movie remains a mystery. “The Founder” received a curious lack of advertising and marketing around its suspiciously quiet opening, despite it being dropped in the dead of winter, when most Oscar contenders are traditionally released. Maybe In-n-Out offered the producers the ol’ plata o plomo ultimatum like Pablo Escobar? It’s hard to sleep when you’re this woke.
“Green Room”—dir. by Jeremy Saulnier
After beholding this horror/thriller about a nomadic punk rock band that gets trapped in a Neo-Nazi hang out after witnessing a brutal crime, I declared it the best movie of the year all the way back in May of last year. After seven months of subsequent moviegoing and re-watching it on Amazon Prime, I stand by my scorching hot take. “Green Room” grips you like few other movies and exposes the audience to some of the most horrifying and realistic violence the big screen has ever offered. “Green Room” deserves a nod for, that’s right, Best Picture. But since that would never happen in 10 million years, how about Patrick Stewart for Best Supporting Actor?
“Indignation”—dir. by James Schamus
Rookie director James Schamus faithfully translates author Philip Roth’s 2008 novel “Indignation” to the big screen, getting a typecast-breaking performance from Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner, a self-assured Jewish college student trying to find his way at a small, Christian school in Ohio juxtaposed against the anxious backdrop of the Korean War. Let’s give James Schamus a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for accomplishing the extremely difficult task of capturing Roth’s subtle themes and repackaging them for the screen.
“Anthropoid”—dir. by Sean Ellis
A solid WWII thriller that came and went without much stir, “Anthropoid”’s greatest achievement was proving that Jamie Dornan (AKA Christian Grey) is actually a pretty good actor. Dornan and Cillian Murphy play exiled soldiers who attempt to assassinate a high-ranking officer in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Certain parts of this movie are so tense that you’ll be dining on your cuticles, and that’s worth a Best Film Editing Oscar.
“Sing Street”—dir. by John Carney
An Irish high-schooler with no musical experience starts a band to impress a girl, as one usually does at that age. “Sing Street”’s best moment is a fantasy sequence where the eponymous band plays an absolutely electric song called “Drive It Like You Stole It” in front of their school at a 50s-style sock hop. I demand the members of the so-called Academy surrender one of “La La Land”’s two Best Original Song nominations to “Sing Street,” then immediately burrow 50 leagues underground to live among their fellow lizard people… where they belong.
“Everybody Wants Some!!”—dir. by Richard Linklater
It remains unclear as to why Linklater’s best work, such as “Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise” and “Tape,” are ignored like the plague while his lamest movie, “Boyhood,” was gobbled up by Hollywood and praised with awards all because he probably just procrastinated on finishing the script and decided to film one or two scenes every couple of years for a decade. “Everybody Wants Some!!” falls into the ‘best work’ category, and its story about a college freshman’s first weekend away at school is so immersive in its early-80’s atmosphere that the opening riff of “Your Love” by The Outfield may permeate your subconscious for months post-viewing until you finally order a waterbed. Linklater can write circles around everyone else when it comes to dialogue, so let’s give him a Best Original Screenplay nod for one.