I’ve been covering this year’s Oscar race pretty extensively over the past few months, running down the ebbs and flows of the various categories as 2014’s awards contenders came into focus. With under a month to go before the nominations are announced, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who the major players are, and even which films and performers could act as dark horse candidates. At this time, however, I’d like to highlight a number of films, filmmakers, and performers that seem to have gone overlooked in terms of awards consideration despite the fact that they’re just as deserving—if not moreso—than some of the candidates that are currently considered “frontrunners”.
After the jump, I offer up a series of For Your Consideration Oscar candidates in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay in this special edition of Oscar Beat.
Best Actress – Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
The entirety of Obvious Child is a high-wire act in that it’s a romantic comedy about a woman who gets an abortion, and the lynchpin to the film’s success is Jenny Slate’s hilarious, honest lead performance. It’s truly one of the most fully realized characters of the year, and Slate pulls it off with ease, announcing herself as not only an adept comedian, but also an immensely talented actress period.
Best Actress – Rose Byrne, Neighbors
The Academy has never been crazy about recognizing comedies, let alone female actresses in the genre, which is a shame because there’s just as much skill involved in pulling off a memorable comedic performance as there is a dramatic performance. Nowhere is this more clear than in Rose Byrne’s hilarious work in Neighbors. The actress more than holds her own in the “boys’ club” cast opposite Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, and instead of relegating herself to playing the nagging wife, Byrne plays an integral and meaningful role in the plot with a stereotype-breaking turn. To say Byrne is a scene-stealer in the film is a massive understatement, and in a movie filled with hilarious sequences, it’s refreshing to find that a woman is key to a great deal of them.
Best Actor – Tom Hardy, Locke
A guy driving a car, talking on the phone for 84 minutes should not be a movie, but it is—and it’s a great one. Locke is more compelling than most blockbuster tentpoles released this year, and that’s thanks to Tom Hardy’s phenomenal one-man-show performance. Holding the screen for the entirety of a film’s runtime is no easy task, especially when you’re confined to the driver’s seat of a car, but Hardy offers up not only one of the year’s best performances, but also one of the most dynamic.
Best Actor – Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
Director Bennett Miller’s slow-burn, quietly intense drama Foxcatcher has been drawing considerable attention for its stellar performances from Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, and while the two are indeed great in the film, this is Channing Tatum’s movie. The guy has already shown his versatility and talent over the past couple of years, but this is truly his best performance to date and one of the best of the year. It’s a difficult role as Tatum’s Mark Schultz is the heart of the film yet has so few lines; it’s a performance that hinges on body language and facial cues, and Tatum knocks it clear out of the park. I’m happy Carell and Ruffalo are getting deserved attention for their work in the film, but man, Tatum deserves to be a major part of the conversation as well.
Best Supporting Actress – Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street
As I said before, the Academy is somehow blind to the comedy genre, but in an alternate universe where that isn’t the case, I think we’d all be talking about Jillian Bell’s chances in the Best Supporting Actress category for 22 Jump Street. This is one of the great scene-stealing performances of all time, as Bell’s deadpan delivery and unassuming nature make it hard to hear any other lines after hers on account of laughing so loudly. Seriously, Bell is genuinely great in this movie, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing much more of her very soon.
Best Supporting Actress – Carrie Coon/Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
David Fincher has many talents as a director, but possibly one of his greatest strengths is casting. Name any Fincher movie and you’ll come up with a handful of actors and actresses that were absolutely perfect for their parts. This is certainly the case with this year’s Gone Girl, a film overflowing with standout performances. While the central couple of Nick and Amy are the driving force of the plot, Carrie Coon’s Margo “Go” Dunne and Kim Dickens’ Detective Rhonda Boney are the film’s secret weapons. Go is the film’s voice of reason as Coon nails both the dramatic beats and wicked sense of humor, while Dickens serves as the movie’s true hero with an assured, confident performance. It’s tough to pull the spotlight away from the transfixing turns of Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, but Coon and Dickens do so consistently throughout the film.
Best Supporting Actress – Rene Russo – Nightcrawler
The thriller Nightcrawler is a movie about two psychopaths. Yes, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is clearly the film’s principal twisted protagonist, but Rene Russo’s news producer Nina is just as despicable and it’s a testament to Russo’s fantastic performance that the character’s nature kind of sneaks up on you. It would have been easy for Russo to play the character as obviously smarmy up front, but Russo brings a dimensionality to the role that captures the audience to a point of understanding if not also a bit of sympathy. It’s not like she’s hiding the fact that the character’s ethics are as low as Lou’s; it’s just that the performance is so damn good that you talk yourself into making excuses for her actions.
Best Picture/Best Original Screenplay – The LEGO Movie
Why not? It’s one of the best-reviewed films of the year, it’s wildly entertaining, it’s emotional, it’s insightful, and it’s also a bit edgy. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller turned a terrible concept into an incredible movie—one of the best of the year, in fact—and so why shouldn’t The LEGO Movie be a Best Picture nominee? Sure it’s more comedic than previous animated Best Picture nominees like Up or Beauty and the Beast, but again, why is drama somehow inherently more awards-worthy than comedy? It’s not called “Best Dramatic Picture”, it’s “Best Picture”, and by those standards The LEGO Movie absolutely fits the criteria. And if we’re talking about screenplays that are original, try finding anyone else who could’ve thought up the brilliant concepts and story beats of The LEGO Movie besides Lord and Miller.
Best Picture – Edge of Tomorrow
Also fitting the criteria of a “Best Picture” is Edge of Tomorrow, which was quite possibly the most entertaining film of 2014. The Academy is a bit more friendly to sci-fi than drama, but uh oh, Edge of Tomorrow is funny too so it’s automatically out of the running. That logic is ridiculous. Visually, directorially, thematically, and performance-wise, Edge of Tomorrow is at the top of the filmmaking game. It’s hilarious, thrilling, and most of all, unique. That’s something that’s sorely missing from many studio-driven films these days, and if movies like Inception and District 9 qualify as Best Picture nominees, Edge of Tomorrow surely does as well.
Best Picture – Wild
Here’s something a bit more traditional as far as the Academy goes. Wild has all the hallmarks of an Oscar-friendly film: a strong lead performance by a previous Oscar winner, a story based on true events, a thematically rich journey of redemption, and a director whose last film was nominated for Best Picture. But forgetting all of that, Wild is simply a great movie. It’s constantly surprising, emotional, and genuine. Here’s a film that gives us a three-dimensional, realistic portrayal of a woman (that’s a rarity, by the way), and yet it’s not garnering near as much Oscar attention as similarly pedigreed male-driven pictures. Reese Witherspoon is truly excellent here, and if director Jean-Marc Valle’s previous film Dallas Buyers Club warrants a Best Picture nomination, his superior follow-up does too.
Best Director – Steven Knight, Locke
Just as Tom Hardy’s gripping lead performance is integral to making Locke work, writer/director Steven Knight’s execution of the “man drives a car” drama is absolutely critical to keeping things compelling. Knight’s direction is dynamic without ever feeling showy, as he knows exactly when to let Hardy’s face push the plot forward and when the audience needs a short break, cutting to footage of the car penetrating the darkness as it barrels down the highway. It’s a terrific piece of filmmaking, and Knight’s accomplishment deserves serious recognition.
Best Director – Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
The thing that separates film from the medium of television is that it is absolutely director-driven. The filmmaker can make all the difference, and in a movie like Under the Skin, the director’s choices are absolutely crucial to making the film work, which is why Jonathan Glazer is the true star of this hypnotic, almost poetic drama. Scarlett Johansson gives a terrific performance as an extra-terrestrial preying on men in Scotland, but it’s the way in which her actions and thoughts are conveyed that we’re able to penetrate this particular character. Under the Skin is a story that is almost exclusively told through visuals, and the way in which Glazer opted to execute this sad tale is excitingly unique, cerebral, and otherworldly.
Best Original Screenplay – Nightcrawler
Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is surely one of the best films of the year, and in addition to Jake Gyllenhaal’s tremendous lead performance, the pic carries with it one hell of a script. It’s a truly nightmarish tale of how one twisted individual’s ambition and determination puts him on a path to success—although a win for Lou Bloom isn’t exactly a win for the rest of us. Gilroy offers a searing indictment of not only the media but our thirst for carnage without ever laying it on too thick, and the screenplay has a handful of memorable lines to boot. As you prepare for the holiday gift-giving season, remember the wise words of Lou Bloom: a friend is a gift you give yourself.