Every year a select few get the opportunity to dress up, walk the red carpet and rejoice in their achievements at the Academy Awards. But, for a lot of people it’s a time of year that’s met with crippling disappointment. Although people like to say that awards aren’t necessary to validate artistic work we’re here, 93 years since the first Academy Awards, still debating and gushing over the most prestigious ceremony there is in the world of film. This year’s nominees are a great expression of 2020’s finest films that showcase a diverse range of wonderful stories – and in fact make it one of the strongest line-ups in years – but we’d be remiss if we didn’t feel a tad sorry for the wonderful work that went unnoticed. This list is less an attack on the films nominated but more about the films that received no inclusion whatsoever. While we are sad about Regina King’s missing Direction nomination, as well as Da 5 Bloods only getting a sniff in the Original Score category, we wanted to focus on those wonderful films that won’t be featured on the night.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography
This is the big one for us – included on our Films of the Year list, we believe that Eliza Hittman’s tender Drama about a teenage girl in desperate need of help, from a system that refuses it, is one of the best films we’ve seen in the past few years. It’s delicate, provoking and incredibly subtle and the fact it’s not been nominated for anything across the board is pretty astonishing.
Unfortunately for Never Rarely Sometimes Always it hasn’t received any nominations across the big three in mainstream awards (Golden Globes, Oscars and BAFTAs), but we have reason to believe it deserved inclusion in multiple categories. Hittman’s direction is wonderfully muted but creates so much reflection and thought in it’s drifting frames. The cinematography is a grainy vision of the difficult journey our main character walks and the most powerful part of the film is the two central performances given by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. It’s a shame to see it’s lack of recognition but hopefully Hittman’s Drama stands the test of time as one of the better commentaries of contemporary issues.
Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress
Kitty Green’s slow and methodical mediation on modern office abuse is, just like Never Rarely Sometimes Always, one of the best films attacking a contemporary societal problem. It’s about the combination of many abusive experiences had by women all channeled through one brutal workday suffered by the main character, Jane. Over the past few years the #MeToo movement has created some thoughtful films celebrating the women that have suffered on a regular basis, but The Assistant achieves an excruciating honesty in what it’s portraying, making it one of the most integral parts of the movement itself.
One snub that seems incredibly obvious in retrospect is the lack of nomination for the film’s lead actress, Julia Garner. Her performance is all internal, but what makes it even more impressive is her ability to carry such weight on her shoulders while never faltering. She’s very subtle about showing emotion but when she needs to release it, she does so in heart-breaking fashion. As for the film itself, everything is pretty pitch-perfect. Green’s direction is static and observant and the screenplay, while limited on dialogue, is incredibly well conceived. But from a more political standpoint (as we know a lot of award shows are), The Assistant seems perfect for a slot in the Best Picture category because of how honestly it’s telling a story about the film industry itself.
Potential Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (for both Firth and Tucci)
We were lucky enough to catch Harry Macqueen’s Supernova at the BFI London Film Festival and out of the plethora of films we were introduced to this one was a particular standout. A melancholic road film that sees a couple, Sam and Tusker (Tucci and Firth), explore the gorgeous English countryside as they both prepare for the long journey ahead of Tusker’s newly diagnosed dementia. It’s tenderness though, comes from a focus on the calibration of what’s to come instead of Tusker’s descent.
It’s difficult to assume where people land on leading or supporting roles for both Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, but in hindsight they are the two leads carrying the film’s emotional punch. Despite this being a British film even the BAFTAs haven’t touched either of the veteran actors, which is incredibly surprising considering these are two of the best performances given by the two legends. The acting plays a pivotal role in the film’s effectiveness and it’s a crying shame that it hasn’t received enough attention, as well as a screenplay that is wonderfully complex in emotion and brings to life much more than the two characters involved.
The Painter and the Thief
Potential Nominations: Best Documentary
Another film, the very first one we watched, at the London Film Festival was Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and the Thief. A moving story about the blossoming friendship between an artist and the thief that stole her paintings. But, what makes the film so unique and enjoyable to watch is it’s constant air of mystery and how much the two subjects begin to adore one another, despite their relationship starting from artistic intrigue. It’s paced to perfection and has some of the most striking scenes you’ll see, so it’s a shame to not see it among the Best Documentary category.
Another Doc that has sadly been left out is Netflix’s Dick Johnson is Dead, two films that are made with a wonderfully objective style despite having such personal connections. Not to besmirch any of the nominees, as they’ve all had a fantastic reception (particularly Collective), but it’s a shame not to see The Painter and the Thief among them because of it’s confined and touching humanity.
Potential Nominations: Best International Feature Film
It’s difficult to consider this a snub because World Cinema has offered us such great quality from every corner of the globe, but Bacurau is a great slice of unique cinema that’s tone and concept are as wild as they are smart. Set on the backdrop of a dusty Western-like town in Brazil, it follows numerous people from a small village as they try to understand the weird happenings all over. It’s an inventive and exciting film that at its core, takes some unresolved jabs at colonialism and its lasting effects in the world.
But, as we said it’s difficult to pick it out among the quality coming from World Cinema. One of our favourites was Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round that looks like a frontrunner in the Oscar race, and even got a nod for Best Director too. Bacurau’s uniqueness doesn’t deserve to go unnoticed and despite being a film that’s technical release was 2019, we think it still deserves to be seen and enjoyed by everyone. It’s difficult to have an odd tone meshing with such strong conviction, but it’s what makes Bacurau feel so genuine through all the chaos.
Potential Nominations: Best Director, Best Editing
If you’ve listened to our podcast discussing the best of 2020 you’ll know just how high we regard Brandon Cronenberg’s mind-splitting Possessor. A film that oozes creativity and affirms Cronenberg’s individuality as a filmmaker. The film is about an assassin agent who kills her targets by taking over the consciousness of someone close to them, but when the job takes its toll she struggles to maintain balance between her own mind and her subjects. The film is a densely packed psychological thriller, one that gives the director his own voice away from his father’s work, the great David Cronenberg.
There are a slew of impressive aspects to Possessor including a spellbinding performance by Christopher Abbott, but it’s Cronenberg’s direction that is so daring and unconventional. The choices he makes, not just in the hypnotic meshing of two minds but also in the softer moments, are the reason the film has such a presence about it. Adding to that the editing by Matthew Hannam that feels perfect for the vision of Cronenberg and what you have is a film that – doesn’t just give you style – but tells it’s narrative in one of the most creative ways you’ll ever see.
Potential Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress
Written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan Saint Frances is about the modern woman and the normalisation of their experience. It’s a tender Drama Comedy that doesn’t break boundaries in filmmaking but certainly breaks boundaries in how authentic and honest it’s representation is. O’Sullivan plays Bridget, a 30-something server whose life seems to be on-hold until she gets a job as a Nanny for a young girl named Frances. While Bridget tries to navigate her new job she also tries to deal with her decision to get an abortion.
This movie belongs to Kelly O’Sullivan, her personality and conviction are widespread across the entire film’s narrative and while Alex Thompson’s direction seems conventional, it’s incredibly important to highlight the performance and script by O’Sullivan. The screenplay is honest, funny and at times emotionally complex but it’s dedication to the female experience never overpowers the film’s own entertainment. As for O’Sullivan, her personal connection to the story makes her performance, as well as the supporting performances, wonderfully natural.
Potential Nominations: Best Director, Best Cinematography
Over the past few years or so A24 have had impeccable taste in the films they stand behind. Their wonderful run comes down to the dedicated and talented filmmakers that work with them and Kelly Reichardt – director of Wendy & Lucy (2008) – has the right amount of vision and experience. First Cow is an observant and soft Drama about two friends, a chef and an entrepreneur, who attempt to prosper in an ever-changing American landscape. It’s a film that demands patience, but when stuck with you’ll be gloriously rewarded with a visually striking Drama that challenges one of the earliest ideas of the ‘American Dream’.
While A24 sibling Minari has been showered with award nominations and praise it seems a shame to see First Cow left so far behind in the mainstream award circuit. Maybe not every aspect of the film would be an instant choice for nomination but both Reichardt’s direction and Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography deserve applause for their wonderfully mindful approach to each shot. Not only is this film filled with prosperity and a natural beauty, it’s ability to weave a sense of loneliness and nihilism into each frame cannot go unnoticed. Thankfully First Cow has been nominated for quite a few critic awards, but we would have loved to have seen it among the mainstream nominees.
The Human Voice
Potential Nominations: Best Short Film (Live Action)
Already a winner for Best Original Screenplay for his film Talk to Her (2002), it’s quite shocking to see Pedro Almodovar’s newest short film not in contention for this year’s Oscars. Sitting at 30 minutes long, The Human Voice is a vibrant and talky adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s play of the same name. It stars the enigmatic and wonderful Tilda Swinton as she works herself through a break up while on the phone to her ex, without us ever really hearing their voice. It’s a wonderful slice of contained filmmaking that allows Swinton to flex her presence as the sole character in this film. Not just that though, the production design and costumes create such personality despite coming from such a famous source material.
This list was more about quality over Award politics or expectations but it is a massive surprise not to see Almodovar’s film in contention. His international acclaim is one of the strongest and most respected among all filmmakers and that’s mostly down to his consistency. The Human Voice is another wonderful exercise of the director’s talent as well as oozing style from start to finish and arguably the only reason it may have not been included is its inability to break free from it’s stage-play roots. That being said, The Human Voice is a short and sweet performance piece that deserves to be noticed.
Potential Nominations: Best Original Screenplay
One of the more surprising successes of 2020 was the charming Palm Springs, yet another spin on the Groundhog Day concept (that’s basically becoming a genre at this point) starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Everything about the film’s concept points to signs of unoriginality but, thanks to two fantastic performances and a lot of personality, the film somehow finds a way to be original. It’s about two people who find themselves repeating the same day as guests at a wedding – but the twist is that one of them drags the other into the loop. That’s where the film finds a lot of personality, in it’s exhausted explanations as well as Samberg and Milioti’s impeccable chemistry.
At first the overused concept won’t scream Best Original Screenplay too you, but there’s something so wonderful about what writer Andy Siara does with it, finding humour in the worn out parts of the concept and rejuvenating them with such lovable characters and creativity. The comedy has bleak undertones that fit perfectly with the sarcastic sense of humour, as well as a romance that will win you over every time. It may not be the most perfect film to come from 2020 but Max Barbakow’s high-concept Comedy manages to feel fresh despite having so much inspiration from films before it.