The Alternate Oscars

Well, the Oscars have come and gone, and even more than usual, this year the lineup of films featured at the biggest awards show in cinema left me cold.  I’m sure The Artist is a wonderful film (plenty of people whose opinions I trust say as much), but I have very little interest in seeing it, and its utter dominance of awards season has made me (perhaps unfairly) slightly resent it.  But beyond The Artist, right from the point of nominations being announced I found myself thinking that the nominations were so off-base, so unrepresentative of what I thought were the best films of the year, that I could make up my own awards shortlist based on movies and people that weren’t nominated.

So, that’s what I’ve done.  Presented here are nominees (and winners) for 6 of the main characters voted for each year at the Oscars.  I’m drawing from the same period of eligibility as this year’s Oscars, and the won determining  factor for whether or not someone gets nominated (aside from me seeing/liking the relevant movie, of course), is that they weren’t Oscar nominated in their respective category.  It’s a bit of a geeky exercise, but I thought it could be interesting.  I start with a disclaimer that this list is utterly subjective, and reflects my own personal tastes and movie viewing of the year.  And now… the alternate Oscars!


Most years, I will have seen almost all of the Best Picture nominees, and there have been a couple of years where I’ve seen them all.  This year, however, I saw hardly any.  Very few interested me enough to make me want to see them.  Some of the films I missed did get critical acclaim and great reviews.  But others (I’m looking at you, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) were dismissed as shallow, exploitative piffle, the kind of films that just seem cycnically manufactured for awards-grabbing.  What would it be like if the nominations went not to the films with the most heavily-funded “For Your Consideration” marketing strategy, but simply to the films that were the best?  The shortlist might have looked something like this:


Perhaps the most unforgivable of all the omissions.  In recent years, The Academy has had a shortlist of 10 films.  This year, they presented a shortlist of 9 films, saying they only saw 9 films this year worthy of the Best Picture nod.  To many, this seemed like a direct snub of Drive, the popular favourite to enter that 10th slot.  It got nominated for a Bafta, and though few thought it had a serious chance of winning, there was already much talk going in about this being the “people’s choice” dark horse on the shortlist.  But then the Academy decided that they’d rather recognise no film at all than recognise Drive!?  For me, this tense, stylish crime thriller would be first film on the shortlist.


At first glance, it might seem an unlikely choice.  It’s an action/thriller.  It was released in the Spring, no man’s land for any film with the slightest hopes of Oscar recognition.  It has a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers.  But on closer inspection, it becomes clear this in fact has a strong Oscar pedigree.  It’s directed by awards season darling Joe Wright, here doing what I’d say is easily his best work thus far.  It stars Cate Blanchett, perhaps second only to Meryl Streep in terms of how much love is bestowed upon her by awards voting bodies.  And then there’s the fact it’s bloody brilliant.  It has much of the style and hard-hitting action of the Bourne films, but with an added dose of heart behind it all.  One of the year’s best, even if it was never going to be recognised as such at the Oscars.


Perhaps the most criminally under-recognised film of the year, what sets this apart from Hanna is that I seriously thought this had all the tools to be a big player at the year’s awards season.  Released at the right time.  Great acting.  Great direction.  Socially relevant.  When I first saw this, and was utterly floored, I thought the Oscar nominations were inevitable.  But then this film just dropped off the radar, a practical non-entity not just at the Oscars, but at the Baftas, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Director’s Guild.  Only the Independent Spirits gave it a few nominations, and even then it didn’t win any.  This is a prime example of how often it’s not quality, but whether or not you have the money and influence to promote your film and really shill for that nomination slot.  A real shame.


Part crime movie, part horror, part pitch-black comedy, Kill List is an odd, difficult film that likely never had any intentions of awards prestige when it was made.  It tells the story of a hitman coming out of retirement for One Last Job – so far, so cliche – but from there it goes off the deep end into unexpected, nightmarish directions that feel more like something you’d see in a David Lynch film.  The stunningly crafted narrative builds steadily and quietly immerses you, and you’ll likely leave the movie feeling disturbed and baffled in equal measure.  You may love it or hate it, but Kill List is a film you’ll be thinking about for some time after seeing it.


The Academy likes nominating British films.  But the image of British cinema that appeals to the Oscars (and, indeed, to David Cameron, given his recent comments about the kind of British movies that he wants funding to be focused on) is sumptuous, gloosy, classy fare, awards-friendly films like The King’s SpeechTyrannosaur is not this kind of movie.  It’s harsh, dark, with characters that are hard to like, but though the word “bleak” has been thrown around freely when describing it, I wouldn’t say it is.  Director Paddy Considine has crafted a movie that suggests hope and beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places, and though they may be fragile and in danger of being stomped out, they are worth fighting for.  A moving, powerful film: Considine deserved the Bafta he got for it, but it deserved further recognition.


Of course, The Academy are reticent about recognising summer blockbusters, or about recognising sci-fi, so a sci-fi summer blockbuster has practically no chance.  But in a summer packed with superhero films I was keen to see, it was Rise of the Planet of the Apes that ended up ruling the roost.  There was action (though much of it was given away in the trailer), but what really made the film memorable was how moving it was, the drama building up to that action that made us emotionally invested in the characters: both the humans and the CGI primates.  The best film of the summer, and if the Oscars wanted to give a slot over to recognising a blockbuster this year as they sometimes do, this should have been their choice.


Another divisive film, this one.  Some thought it was too unpleasant.  Others thought it was too aloof and disengaged.  Those could be valid complaints, but underneath all that is perhaps one of the scariest films of the year.  Unfolding like a nightmare, the tension is thick and palpable throughout as we build to a climactic crisis we know right from the start is coming, like a car crash we can’t look away from.  There is a lot of craft in the making of this film, and while I’d probably enter it into the ranks of “great films I probably never want to see again”, I’d still say it deserved a nomination.


Apparently, Academy voters don’t like being made to think too much.  This film is meticulous and labyrinthine in its plotting, and at points it’s hard to keep up with all the inricacies of the unfolding conspiracy.  Indeed, at first it feels a little boring, and it’s only once it’s been going on a while that you realise you have been slowly drawn in and enthralled by the meandering narrative.  Everything is anchored by a mighty performance by the always-brilliant Gary Oldman, and it’s a film that definitely merits repeat viewing.


I can kind of understand why this didn’t get much awards love.  It’s very similar to The Fighter, which got plenty of recognition last year.  And it very much plays to the broad strokes of sports movie formula.  Not to mention, MMA might be less sexy to crusty old awards voters as more traditional sports like boxing or baseball.  However, taking all that into account, Warrior still managed to be one of the most engaging films of the year, well-acted and tightly-plotted, pulling on the appropriate heart strings.  It’s a well-worn formula because it works so well!


It’s a well known fact that comedy doesn’t do well at the Oscars.  That’s a shame, as you could argue that just as much craft goes into making a genuinely great comedy as a genuinely great drama, even if different muscles are being flexed.  This year, no comedy was better than Bridesmaids.  It’s been called “the female Hangover“, which I’d actually say is derivative, as it’s better than The Hangover.  There are some truly genuis comedy setpieces, and the cast deliver quality performances that make you invested in the story beyond just laughing at the gags.

And the winner is…



A very competitive category this  year.  The shortlist that was actually nominated featured some worthy names, and even when limiting my choices to those not nominated, I had to make a couple of painful omissions: special mention, then, to Ben Wheatley for Kill List and Rupert Wyatt for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  But here is the final shortlist of some of the most outstanding directing to quite bafflingly go unrecognised by the Academy, let’s call it The Christopher Nolan Award:


Really, Alfredson should be a two-time nominee by now: he deserved a Best Director nod for the sublime Let the Right One InTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy served as further testament to his mastery of crafting a scene and building tension.  Classy, innovative work that the Academy had no excuse not to make room for.


Bronson showed some glimpses of Nicholas Winding Refn’s promise as a director, but it was with Drive that this promise was truly fulfilled.  Switching effortlessly between the slick and serene to the brutally violent, Refn helped shape what could have been a standard crime story into the coolest film of the year.


I could just repeat what I said about Take Shelter in my Best Picture list.  As bafflingly overlooked as the film itself, here Nichols really marks himself as a director of note, steadily building the dread as the story progresses, and leaving us as viewers questioning until the last moment whether the impending disaster is real or all in lead character Curtis’ head.  This might have been a little indy film, but you wouldn’t think it looking at how it was directed.


Lynne Ramsay did some really interested things with the direction of this movie, making a viewing experience as jarring and fragmented as Eva’s state of mind.  A suitably convincing depiction of trauma.


With some of the most skillfully crafted, exhilerating action sequences of the year, and style and memorable motifs even in the quiet moments, Joe Wright continues to evolve as a director.  Awards history may remember Hanna as a little stop-gap between Atonement and his next big award-gobbler film, but in truth, this is his best work yet.

And the winner is…



I will say that I was greatly pleased to see Gary Oldman recognised in the Oscar nominee shortlist, though I was devastated when he didn’t win.  With one of my faves recognised, who else stood out this year?


I wanted Gary Oldman’s George Smiley to be my top performance of the year, I really did.  But if I had to be honest and objective, I can’t deny that, without a doubt, the acting performance of the year belonged to Michael Shannon in Take Shelter.  An understated, heartbreaking depiction of mental illness, Shannon was utterly convincing and sympathetic in this role.


This was a marvel of a performance.  You really shouldn’t like Peter Mullan’s Joseph in Tyrannosaur.  In the difficult-to-watch opening of the movie, he kicks his dog to death.  He’s a nasty, violent drunk, vindictive even towards people attempting to be kind to him.  But Mullan invests Joseph with a quality that, even underneath all the unpleasantness, suggests a hope for redemption.  He’s a deeply damaged soul, someone who’s done a lot of bad things, but he might just still be capable of being a good man.


Much has been made of the physical mass Tom Hardy put on for this role, all hulking shoulders and tree-trunk neck.  But while that’s impressive, let’s not forget the actual performance.  Hardy’s Tommy Conlon is a seething mass of barely repressed fury and resentment, and though Joel Edgerton’s Brendan Conlon is supposed to be the hero of the film that we can relate to, it’s Hardy’s performance that proves more memorable.  Further proof that Hardy is one step away from emerging as one of the world’s top actors.


Ryan Gosling was in approximately 637 films this year, so it’s funny that the one he made the most lasting impression in was the one where he barely said anything.  But Gosling does so much with his eyes and his body language that he doesn’t really need to say much to deliver a mesmerising, iconic performance.


The King of Motion Capture has already gone through the whole “he should have been nominated” argument for his performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings.  But his work as ape Caesar could be his best yet.  We’ve reached a stage where CGI animals can feel more human than actual actors!

And the winner is…



It’s a real shame that in this year’s award season, Meryl Streep’s “Margaret Thatcher as Erin Brokovich” turn in The Iron Lady was seen as the undisputed winner in a one-horse race.  Because while that performance was good, and the best thing in an underwhelming film, I would hardly rank it among the year’s best.  This was actually a particularly competitive year for great performances by actresses, and I wish that had been reflected more in the year’s nominations.  Here’s how I’d have had it:


One of the biggest shocks when the nominees were announced was Tilda Swinton’s snubbing from the shortlist.  Her performance as broken mother Eva was seen as the only one with a hope of upsetting Streep’s Thatcher, having picked up a few of the more minor awards in the circuit over her more celebrated rival.  It was a longshot, but I’d held out hope that Swinton could somehow pull off the upset on Oscar night.  But her inexplicable absence on the shortlist assured Streep’s victory.


Twitter was aflame with celebrities expressing outrage at Olivia Colman not getting a Best Actress nomination at the Baftas.  With the Oscars, it was grudgingly accepted that they probably wouldn’t even know who she was.  But at the Baftas, where British cinema is supposed to be at the forefront, the snub is unforgivable.  Yes, Oliva Colman is best known as a comedy actress.  But that doesn’t change the fact that her performance as Christian shopkeeper and battered wife Hannah was tragic and moving, and the best in a film rich with powerhouse performances.


Now, I’ve not seen the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so maybe Rooney Mara is great in it.  But I think it’s a disgrace that she got an Oscar nomination for the remake while Noomi Rapace’s depiction of Lisbeth Salander in the original went unrecognised.  The Oscars should have remedied that oversight by recognising Rapace’s chilling performance as Anna in Babycall.  The film itself is flawed, but Rapace is stunning, proving to be equally great in a role that is practically the polar opposite of Lisbeth Salander.  Rapace is marking herself out as one of the best actresses working today, and I hope that success continues with her leading role in Prometheus.


Saoirse Ronan is one of our most promising young talents.  She was the best thing in Atonement, acting both Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy off-screen.  She was great in The Lovely Bones.  And still only 16 at the time this film was made, she manages to carry Hanna on her shoulders, with her genetically modified assassin proving to be a very different and much more physical role than her earlier parts.


I could reiterate the whole “comedy doesn’t get recognised” argument here.  Kirstin Wiig isn’t afraid to make herself look ugly, or stupid, and in amidst starlets delicately doing romantic “comedy” while always looking pristine and stylish, that in itself is an admirable skill.  But on top of that, she manages to craft a flawed, nuanced character that the film revolves around.

And the winner is…



This year, the Academy seemed to make this category about throwing bones to old favourites (and Jonah Hill).  In the process, a collection of great performances were overlooked.


You know, I used to like Eddie Marsan.  But Tyrannosaur might have forever ruined him for me.  As Hannah’s abusive husband, he is an utterly vile, detestable human being.  He also serves as a nice contrast to Mullan’s Joseph: polite and successful on the outside, with the nice car and the nice house, but utterly rotten and petty on the inside.


This was one of the great “a star is born” performances of the year, with Miller’s Kevin dominating the film, and the young actor showing a truly magnetic screen presence that belies his relative lack of experience.


Albert Brooks – known largely for his comedic roles and for being in Finding Nemo – flexed a different set of muscles here, playing an intimidating villain who was all the more sinister for how he replaced snarls with smiles.


While Neil Maskell was good in the leading role as assassin Jay, it was Michael Smiley who stole the show as his affable partner Gal.  Smiley played Gal like a nice guy you wouldn’t mind having a drink with, who just happens to kill people as his day job.


This was a breakout year for Tom Hiddleston, and the film that first brought him to the attention of many was Thor.  As Loki, he was easily the best thing in the film, so much so that his return for The Avengers was hotly demanded, and thankfully, has been confirmed.  What made the performance so compelling was the duplicity, where right up until the end we were unsure of Loki’s true intentions and motivations.  Shakespearean stuff.

And the winner is…



Not the most competitive of categories this year, but there were still a few performances that merited recognition:


The proverbial Wicked Witch of this grim fairytale, Cate Blanchett crafted a memorable screen villain.  Marissa was also a triumph for the wardrobe department: all angular clothes and uncomfortable shoes.  Blanchett complemented it perfectly, externalising her characterisation by making Marissa come across as almost self-flagellating in her obsession with order.


I was pleased to see Melissa McCarthy get nominated for her role in Bridesmaids, but I think Rose Bryne also deserved recognition for her role as Helen, the prim, glacial nemesis to Wiig’s Annie.  She could have easily been played as just a baddie, but what made the character compelling was that she was so layered, and Bryne did a great job displaying that in her nuanced performance.


I’ve not mentioned Submarine much in these alternate Oscars, but if I had to give it recognition anywhere, it would be for Sally Hawkins’ work as the lead character’s mother.  It’s a believable performance, at turns sympathetic and unlikeable, but always understandably human.  Much like the film, Hawkins treads the line between comic and tragic in her performance.


Responsible for carrying much of the emotional weight in Drive, Carey Mulligan does a great job of playing off Gosling’s strong, silent type and investing those scenes with heart and warmth.


Jessica Chastain was actually nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars this year.  But she was nominated for the wrong film.  Her conflicted performance in Take Shelter is great, as we see her torn between her doubt over her husband’s well-being and her desire to still stand by him.  It’s saying something that, as powerful as Michael Shannon’s performance is, the film still feels very much like a two-hander rather than a one-man show thanks to the contribution of Jessica Chastain.

And the winner is…


What do you guys think?  What would be your chosen winners from this alternate shortlist?  Or would you have made your own shortlists?


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