Every year, the Academy Awards recognize the finest achievements in film, from the best performances in a given year to technical work in areas like sound editing and production design. However, the awards ceremony itself is also well-known for being heavily politicized — as made clear with last year’s controversy over the blatant lack of diversity — and the academy has a reputation for overlooking worthy films that are too obscure or unconventional for its often-staid taste. As a result, sometimes work that is deserving of recognition fails to make the Oscar shortlist.
While films like Moonlight and La La Land currently sit among the most heavily-buzzed Oscar contenders, we’re focusing less on such frontrunners and taking a look at other films that rightfully should be in the conversation for this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s get started with our own personal Oscar wish list.
1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Best Costume Design
The first in a planned prequel series set in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (predictably) proved to be box office magic, but director David Yates’ film really shined when it came to its period setting. In particular, the costume design team did a bang-up job imagining what wizards in the 1920s would look like. Eddie Redmayne’s coat alone is impressive.
2. Arrival, Best Film Editing
For a film that presents such a startling non-linear narrative, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama — which may very well earn some Oscar love, especially for star Amy Adams — deserves to be recognized for the way in which it compresses story time and the role it ultimately plays in the pivotal third act reveal.
3. The Jungle Book, Best Visual Effects
The Best Visual Effects Oscar often goes to films that pioneer or perfect new forms of technology. For instance, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and The Matrix are all previous winners because they delivered something audiences had never seen before. Jon Favreau’s Disney fable was shot entirely on a blue screen but was able to convincingly create an entire jungle around actor Neel Sethi. If that’s not movie magic, we don’t know what is.
4. Sing Street, Best Original Song
Considering that this critical darling was so woefully under-seen in its theatrical run, it’s highly unlikely to receive nods for original screenplay or supporting actor Jack Reynor (both of which are worthy). So we’re pulling for it to land a nomination for one of its astounding tunes. Though the academy can’t go wrong with any of them, let’s face it: “Drive It Like You Stole It” has the best shot of landing a nod.
5. Kubo and the Two Strings, Best Animated Feature
This year, the most beloved animated films are almost universally derived from Disney. Films like Zootopia, Moana, and Pixar’s Finding Dory are all leading the pack, but we implore the academy not to forget Laika’s stop-motion marvel. The studio’s film is not only visually arresting but features a truly beautiful message.
6. Zootopia, Best Original Screenplay
Disney may be known for their animated films, but rarely do they carry as much subtext as Zootopia. Who knew that a comedy/mystery featuring anthropomorphic animals would actually have an incisive point to make about racism, prejudice, and discrimination? For combining kid-friendly characters and humor with a powerful (and incredibly timely) message, screenwriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston (as well as the extensive story team) should be up for the gold this year.
7. John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Best Supporting Actor
For so many years, John Goodman has proven his knack for comedy and drama alike. Yet, the veteran actor has never been nominated for an Oscar. In this year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, he creates a complex and chilling portrait of a conspiracy theorist who just may be right. Goodman lends such gravitas to the film that the rave reviews he’s received for his role should, in a just world, earn him his first Oscar nod.
8. Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man, Best Supporting Actor
Speaking of worthy supporting performances, Harry Potter himself wowed us with his role as a farting corpse named Manny in this truly bizarre film. In the process, Daniel Radcliffe delivers his best performance to date, staring off into space with dead eyes and yet somehow making his character really incredibly alive.
9. Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures, Best Actress
Taraji P. Henson may be best known these days for her role as feisty Cookie Lyon on TV’s Empire, but in director Theodore Melfi’s historical drama, she is pitch-perfect as mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, who helped develop the launch sequence that put John Glenn in orbit. A stirring portrait of a difficult time in American history, the film spreads a positive and inspiring message, and it only works because of Henson’s outstanding work.
10. The Witch, Best Picture
In his feature directorial debut, director Robert Eggers created a horrific folk tale that stands as one of the year’s most polarizing releases. Its detractors say that it’s too slow-paced to be a horror film, but Eggers’ psychological exploration into the Puritan lifestyle is a slow burn that boils over into absolute chaos by the end. A Best Picture nomination may be unlikely, but it would be a bold move for the academy that we’d certainly approve of.
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