Things always gets intense in Oscar season, and voters may feel overwhelmed by the huge numbers of contenders (streaming and sometimes in theaters) that are hoping for some love.
This year, as always, several films are getting the bulk of attention, while other movies may need a little extra love. So we are offering some gentle reminders to voters of Oscar and every other voting group. You can call these films underdogs. Or simply call them deserving of attention.
In alphabetical order:
Mads Mikkelsen stars in the Danish film, directed and co-written by Thomas Vinterberg, as a teacher who experiments with raising his alcohol level. Mikkelsen offers key criteria for an Oscar nominee: His work is always surprising; you can’t imagine any other actor playing the part; and he has several outstanding scenes, including a finale that is one of the year’s greatest. On Jan. 16, Guillermo del Toro tweeted “The final scene (incredibly skilled and beautiful) had me standing up, clapping.” I agree.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
When Amazon debuted Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” sequel in October, those right-wing buffoons seemed easy targets for mockery. However, the D.C. events of Jan. 6 showed that buffoons can be lethal. That sobering reminder could give “Borat” enough urgency to land a best-picture Oscar nomination.
The film, marking the writing-directing debut of Viggo Mortensen, has begun screening late in the season, so it’s below the radar of many voters. But it’s got a great script and great acting: Variety’s Peter Debruge said the film is “more deeply felt than your typical American debut” and that Lance Henriksen “gives the performance of his life.” See it.
“Let Them All Talk”
Steven Soderbergh continues to push the boundaries of filmmaking, and creates fascinating movies in the process. His direction, cinematography and editing are first-rate. Also FYC: Candice Bergen as supporting actress.
“The Little Things”
John Lee Hancock’s script is great because it’s so subtle in the ways it defies audience expectations: Hancock uses the cop/thriller genre well and offers a hard-to-predict third act. In addition, actors including Jared Leto are very strong, and Hancock’s BTL peeps (composer Thomas Newman, DP John Schwartzman, editor Robert Frazen, production designer Michael Corenblith) do stellar work.
Andy Siara’s screenplay juggles science, comedy and heart. When Andy Samberg deadpans, “It’s one of those infinite time loops you might have heard about,” it’s clear that that the characters have seen “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and that they will be taking the time-warp idea into places we haven’t seen. In addition, the film embodies our COVID year when one character says, “My sense of time is a little fuzzy.”
“The Personal History of David Copperfield”
You may think you’ve seen this Dickens tale a million times but director/co-writer Armando Iannucci makes the story seem like something new and exciting. The film is consistently entertaining, exhibiting Iannucci’s “Veep” sensibility yet maintaining more fidelity to the spirit of Dickens than most adaptations.
The film features two actors at the top of their game, Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. With a script by director Harry Macqueen, this is the very definition of a “little film,” and it’s a reminder that little films pack a wallop.
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