The Films that Oscar Forgot

For what is supposedly the most prestigious and authoritative celebration of cinematic excellence on the planet, the frequency with which the Oscars gets it wrong is startling and not a little depressing. This isn’t exactly a new problem – in 1942, How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture, while in his long and brilliant career, Hitchcock never won Best Director (though the Academy subsequently realised their mistake and attempted to cover their tracks with a conciliatory memorial award in 1967) – yet it still persists to this day. In 1995, Oscar deemed Forrest Gump to be superior to both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, in 1998 LA Confidential was beaten by the mawkish, overlong and water-logged weepie that was Titanic, while even as recently as 2006, the heavy-handed Crash was favoured over the braver and subtler Brokeback Mountain. Indeed, while smaller ceremonies such as the BAFTAs are far more discerning in their decisions – as seen in the recent sweeping victory of The Hurt Locker over Avatar [working title: Smurfahontas] – it’s a rare thing indeed for the Academy to get it right, with last year’s victory of Slumdog Millionaire being an unexpected and extremely welcome surprise. Yet although the nominations this year haven’t been too disastrous, there were some gaping and unforgivable omissions from the shortlists. Some of the best of 2009 were forgotten by the Academy, so this is a chance to sit the Oscars in the chair, clamp open its eyelids and force it to acknowledge its mistakes. Preferably to Beethoven’s Ninth.

In The Loop
One of the finest British comedies of the decade was rightly nominated for its screenplay, but it was Peter Capaldi’s blistering and surprisingly heartfelt performance which was the film’s sweary centrepiece. His absence from the Best Supporting Actor category is conspicuous and worrying, “like a big hairy rapist at a coach station,” to quote the man himself.

The Road
On a purely aesthetic level, the cinematography and art direction of this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s supposedly unfilmable novel were astounding, as they brilliantly and beautifully evoked a slowly dying world. But the film wasn’t just about looks; it also showcased two heart-wrenching performances courtesy of Viggo Mortensen and Jodi Smit-McPhee as the Man and Boy respectively. The film owes much of its success to these two actors, yet the Academy has ignored both. Mortensen is familiar with injustice at the hands of the Academy, but hopefully his young co-star won’t be afflicted with the same curse.

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
While the merits of the film can be debated, what cannot is the powerhouse performance of Andy Serkis as the late, great Ian Dury. Perhaps the CGI ghosts of Gollum and King Kong still haunt him, but whatever the reason, he was denied a deserved Oscar nod.

Staying with acting, Moon is a film that succeeds or fails with the central actor’s performance, and fortunately Sam Rockwell knocks it out of the park in a part written specifically for him. His portrayal of the lonely Sam Bell is fragile and affecting, and so, predictably, he was denied a nomination. Indeed, the film itself has been entirely ignored by the Academy, despite being a superior sci-fi to District 9, which received a somewhat bizarre Best Picture nom. Fortunately, its director, Duncan Jones, was given due recognition at the BAFTAs, yet this ingenious little film deserves so much more.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
While this wasn’t the triumphant return to form for Terry Gilliam that had been hoped for, it was frequently intriguing and original. Tom Waits was a seductive and achingly cool Satan, while Christopher Plummer gave a subdued and tragic (in a good way) performance. It’s been nominated for two technical awards, but deserves quite a bit more.

Let The Right One In
This is undoubtedly the finest film of the year. By turns staggeringly beautiful, quietly poignant and horrifically violent, this bizarre tale of a vampire romance was the anti-Twilight. Though its absence from the shortlist for Best Foreign Film is the fault of Sweden rather then the Academy – they refused to nominate it for consideration – the latter can be blamed for not considering it for Best Picture. The inexplicably inhospitable treatment of foreign films at the Oscars is downright shameful, and only serves to perpetuate an American monopoly on what should be a global artistic medium. Frankly, this little Swedish gem deserves every award going.

This short selection barely breaks the surface of the under-appreciated films of 2009, yet the Academy seems depressingly insistent to keep its mainstream blinkers firmly on. Perhaps one day its decisions will validate its status as the supposed ultimate authority on cinematic merit, but somehow I doubt it. It’s simply too big and mainstream a ceremony to bestow awards purely according to quality, and politics always seems to be the primary factor in its decisions. It might be the biggest event in the film calendar, but it seems that as an arbitrator of excellence, this ungainly leviathan cannot be trusted. Not one little bit.

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