As part of Collider’s new column, Oscar Beat, I’ve been covering the in’s and the out’s of this year’s awards race for the past few months. While there are plenty of excellent films contending for a number of different awards, there are also a number of films that, for one reason or another, don’t fit the “Oscar mold” but deserve recognition all the same. The Academy is loathe to recognize any kind of comedic work despite the fact that the “Best Actor” or “Best Picture” categories lack disclaimers that would disqualify genres other than drama, and smaller pictures have a hard time drumming up support against the studio-backed fare.
After the jump, I run down a number of films, performances, and screenplays from 2013 that are deserving of awards attention despite failing to drum up serious support.
Despite being one of the most powerful artistic mediums, a documentary feature has never been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Looking back on fantastic works of non-fiction like Hoop Dreams and The House I Live In, it’s a shame to think they failed to make the Best Picture cut, and this year’s The Act of Killing looks destined to join them on that list. Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s doc is a harrowing, uniquely crafted look at a group of people who over forty years ago took part in a genocide in Indonesia and are now hailed as heroes. The film explores the long-lasting effects of committing such unthinkable acts, and instead of confronting his subjects “Gotcha!”-style, Oppenheimer instead opts to have his subjects create their own film to show what they did. The results are unforgettable, and The Act of Killing represents cinema at its absolute best regardless of genre or category.
Also Consider: Blue Is the Warmest Color
Director Derek Cianfrance’s drama The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the more ambitious features from the past few years. The pic’s triptych structure didn’t work for everyone, but I found it to be a fascinating and ultimately emotional way of telling this sprawling family saga. Although the film changes protagonists after each act break, Cianfrance is able to have the actions of his characters reverberate throughout the rest of the film thanks in no small part to fantastic performances by Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper.
Also Consider: Destin Cretton – Short Term 12
Comedy is rarely recognized by the Academy, and in the unusual instances that they do acknowledge the existence of more comic-leaning performances, it’s usually in the Supporting Actor/Actress categories. But Simon Pegg’s wonderfully layered performance in The World’s End is absolutely worth consideration in the Best Actor category. The film marks the best performance of Pegg’s career as he brilliantly brings the troubled character of Gary King to life. Just beneath King’s manic façade is a deep sadness and depression, and Pegg is able to layer shades of King’s darkness in with his loveable goofball exterior. It all comes to an emotional head in the third act, and Pegg’s performance never verges on the predictable or sentimental. When will the Academy start to recognize that just because a character is funny, that doesn’t mean the performance is any less impressive?
Also Consider: Miles Teller – The Spectacular Now
Brie Larson – Short Term 12
Actress Brie Larson is already a bit of a contender in the crowded Best Actress Oscar race for her work in Short Term 12, but it’s such a fantastic performance that I feel it deserves a mention on this list. Short Term 12 is an incredibly small, delicate work from a new filmmaker, but it’s one of the most emotionally involving films of the year. Larson takes the role of a foster-care supervisor—one that could easily have delved into over-the-top Lifetime Movie territory—and absolutely knocks it out of the park. Larson plays her characte with equal parts passion, toughness, and uncertainty, and she completely disappears into the role.
Also Consider: Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Color
Best Supporting Actor:
While Brie Larson is very much the standout in Short Term 12, the film is packed with stellar performances from the entire ensemble cast. In the role of Marcus, a quiet boy at the home who is about to turn 18 and thus be forced out, newcomer Keith Stanfield turns in a breakthrough performance. The character doesn’t speak too often, but one particular scene in which he performs a rap he wrote about his feelings towards his mother is a heartbreaking moment Stanfield performs perfectly. Surely a sign of great things to come, Stanfield’s supporting performance in Short Term 12 is among the best of the year.
Also Consider: Danny McBride – This Is the End
Best Supporting Actress:
Voice acting is not new territory, but in director Spike Jonze’s unique love story Her, Scarlett Johansson is tasked with selling half of a burgeoning relationship using only her voice. Johansson brings just the right amount of nuance to the role of Samantha, an artificially intelligent operating system that becomes the object of Joaquin Phoenix’s affection. It’s a difficult task, as Johansson has to bring just enough life to the character to get the audience to invest in this relationship while also playing into the limitations of an A.I. The result is a deeply moving relationship drama the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and Johansson is one of the major keys to the film’s success.
Also Consider: Sarah Paulson – 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay:
The Academy tends to favor Best Picture contenders in the Best Screenplay categories, and sometimes it leads to genuine snubs like Rian Johnson’s excellent Looper script and Stephen Chbosky’s touching adaptation of his book The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It looks like yet another stellar script will be overlooked this year by way of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s The World’s End. In a world filled with sequels, remakes, and reboots, this film feels like the epitome of what “Best Original Screenplay” encompasses. Just because it happens to include robots and a pub crawl doesn’t mean it’s any less emotionally investing than something like Nebraska. The World’s End is one of the best original screenplays of the year, and deserves recognition as such.
Also Consider: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg – This Is the End
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Spectacular Now
This year’s crop of November and December releases has been so good that many films that premiered at Sundance back in January have been lost in the shuffle. One such film is director James Ponsoldt’s rich drama The Spectacular Now, and the screenplay adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is particularly impressive. The film refuses to smooth out rough edges when it comes to teenage life and romance, opting instead to show with refreshing candor the struggles of both romantic and familial relationships as well as addiction. The lead characters of Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley) are extremely well-written, and it would be wonderful to see some awards attention thrown to this screenplay.
Also Consider: David Gordon Green – Prince Avalanche