Oscar predictions that stick to nominated films are boring. No one wants to read another forecast of a sweep by The Revenant or some contrarian making a sleeper case for Bridge of Spies. Besides, the films the Academy overlooks in each category make for a far more interesting list than the ones they spend hours honouring, as evidenced by the blinding whiteness of this year’s nominees.
None of the following films or people are nominated for these respective categories, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to win.
Much like my best blockbusters of 2015 list, which was mistaken for my list of favourite films, Sicario is misunderstood. The action set-pieces are visceral enough to make viewers believe they’re the point of the film, but it’s much more than another pro-American war screed.
If anything, Denis Villeneuve’s dark tone poem about the war on drugs is an indictment of America’s militaristic foreign policy, which Sicario strongly suggests leads to an unending cycle of escalating violence and a normalization – even commodification – of said violence. The eventual rationale for all of the bloodshed in the film is akin to trying to put a genie back in a bottle by shooting the bottle (and the genie).
When Emily Blunt’s protagonist raises moral and ethical objections, she isn’t doing so as a woman out of her depth in a man’s world, but as a person with strong convictions baffled by the inhuman machinations that surround her. We should all be as concerned as her – and Sicario – about actions committed in the name of concepts like freedom and democracy.
Denis Villeneuve – Sicario
The most exciting part about Villeneuve’s rise to mainstream prominence is how his distinct cinematic voice remains uncompromised. Sicario’s undercurrent of tension and dread was mapped out in his earlier work, from Polytechnique to Enemy and Prisoners.
No detail is spared pulling the viewer into a world ruled by misdirection and brutality. Take the scene where an American convoy of SUVs barrels through Juarez. You feel every bump in the road when you ride along with a Mexican police escort, you feel the anxiety when the convoy comes to a screeching halt at the wrong time, and by the time the scene is over you’re left wondering how moral complexity can feel this thrilling. If this is a land of wolves, Villeneuve is the alpha.
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
I considered putting Jason Segel here because his work as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour deserves recognition, but #OscarsSoWhite, so I’ll go with the man who was called “too street” to be James Bond instead.
Yes, Abraham Attah gets top billing and his face on the poster for Beasts of No Nation, but the film runs on the energy of Elba’s onscreen presence. His potent combination of swagger and menace is all-consuming as cult leader and general of his child army, but he never loses sight of his character’s humanity, which makes his eventual downfall inevitable, tragic, and completely believable.
Benicio del Toro – Sicario
I could try to explain what makes this performance so timeless, but I’ll leave that to one of Benicio’s few lines from Sicario:
“You’re asking me how a watch works. For now, just keep an eye on the time.”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor – Tangerine
Tangerine is the most un-Hollywood film to come out of Los Angeles: a charming tale about a day in the life of two transgender prostitutes, set to trap music and shot on an iPhone. If that sounds like a complete mess to you, Rodriguez and Taylor deserve a lot of credit for grounding the film with painfully human performances that are equal parts honest and absurd, and always engaging.
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
It’s not as though Tarantino is forging a new path with his latest film, in which he took many of the themes and ideas he has explored previously and crammed them into a cabin in a blizzard in the 19th century as part of a statement about the American dream. The Hateful Eight’s savage, lyrical dialogue works because for once Tarantino doesn’t seem like he’s trying to impress anyone (other than himself).
Donald Margulies – The End of the Tour
The End of the Tour is basically two writers in a car. It’s an interview at the end of a book tour. This film has no business being as poignant and touching as it is, and while a lot of that has to do with excellent performances Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, Margulies’ script captures the naturalistic flow of two articulate, flawed individuals trying to make sense of their worlds.
Adam Curtis – Bitter Lake
Bitter Lake probably wasn’t even eligible to be nominated for an Oscar. It received no theatrical or broadcast premiere and was released exclusively online by the BBC, with no distribution or publicity outside of the UK. This is a problem, because Bitter Lake is a history lesson America desperately needs.
Taking its name from the location of the Quincy Agreement – when FDR traded security for oil with Saudi Arabia in 1945 – the archival collage documentary charts the course of Western foreign intervention (among other things) from the end of World War II to the 21st century, using Afghanistan as its fulcrum.
Curtis has made a career out of shedding light on the hidden history of recent events, but none of his previous work feels as complete or as important as Bitter Lake. Do yourself a favour and watch it.
Sebastian Schipper – Victoria
It’s easy to forget Victoria is one continuous shot over two hours long once the film sucks you into its dizzying world of Berlin nightlife and youthful overconfidence. The less said about the plot, the better. Just be ready for a trip.