The Under-Ranked: The 83rd Academy Awards

25 Feb

Odds are this year, you’ve probably seen at least one Oscar nominee. Seven of the ten highest grossing films of 2010 have gained at least some nomination, and five of the ten best picture nominees have made over $100 million with two others teetering just under that mark. But with many of the nominees having excelled at the box office, there are plenty of other nominees that most haven’t even heard of that are pretty fantastic as well. So to prepare for this Sunday’s 83rd Academy Awards, here are the some of the under-ranked films nominated.

While it seems like the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is most likely going to go to Natalie Portman for Black Swan, some of the best performances of the year are in Rabbit Hole. Nicole Kidman has one of her best roles, along with an unfortunately not-nominated Aaron Eckhart, in probably his finest performance yet. Kidman and Eckhart play a married couple that has recently lost their only child.

It may sound like straightforward Oscar bait, but director John Cameron Mitchell (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus) has never been one to follow the mainstream. Mitchell realizes the film could easily drip with sentimentality and tows the line with care to not make it go over the edge. Kidman’s performance is one that at first makes her seem cold, considering her recent loss, but shows that she is trying to maintain some sort of strength for her household while Eckhart helplessly clings to the past. Rabbit Hole and Kidman’s performance would have probably racked up plenty more nominations had the film been released in a year that wasn’t already filled with several great nominees.

In the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role category, almost all the stars are in successful films that made tons of money and all the films earned best picture nominees. Except one. Animal Kingdom is a fantastic Australian film that only made a million dollars in its limited release late this summer, yet could easily stand against its more successful peers.

In Animal Kingdom, a seventeen year old is forced to move in with his grandmother, played by the nominated Jacki Weaver. Having not had much interaction with his extended family for years, he soon finds that his family is deep into theft and drugs and that his only safety may be found by helping the cop, played by Guy Pearce, who is out to arrest his relatives. Weaver’s role is dark and calculated, playing one of 2010’s greatest villains, and yet you can’t blame her for her actions. Animal Kingdom is bursting with great-unknown actors, and Weaver stands out in this outstanding cast.

The Best Foreign Language Film of the Year category has one of the most captivating, surprising and intriguing films of 2010, Greece’s entry, Dogtooth (available on Netflix Instant Watch). In Dogtooth, three adult children have their world created for them by their parents, who isolate them on their family estate. To give anymore away would ruin the craziness that Dogtooth becomes, but Scott Tobias of “The A.V. Club” best described it by comparing it to an extreme version of The Village and to the films of Michael Haneke and Luis Buñuel. Dogtooth is insane in a way few films are and will leave you speechless long after watching it.

One of the categories that is always vastly overlooked due to lack of distribution are the short film categories. However for years, the Best Animated Short Film category has been ripe with great new talent. A great example of this is one of this year’s nominees, The Gruffalo.

The short film has a mother squirrel, voiced by Helena Bonahm Carter, telling her children a story of a mouse that faces many adversaries in the woods on his way to find food. Along the way, he creates a fictional character called a Gruffalo to scare away his captors. But he is quickly surprised when the monster he thought he had made up confronts him in the woods. The Gruffalo is a simple tale, but the beautiful animation used, along with great voice talents like Robbie Coltrane and Tom Wilkinson, make this short one of the best in its category.

For years, the Best Animated Feature category has been for the most part a battle between the Hollywood behemoths – Pixar and Dreamworks. But once in a while, a completely original animated film comes along that also makes the cut with these nominees. Since the category’s creation in 2001, such films as Spirited Away, Persepolis and The Secret of Kells have brought exciting new animation more into the mainstream. This year, that unique film is The Illusionist, from Sylvain Chomet, who also directed former nominee The Triplets of Belleville.

Written by Jacques Tati, who played Mr. Hulot in such films as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, The Illusionist was written before Tati died, yet was never produced. Now Chomet uses his brilliant animation style to tell the story of a French magician who meets a Scottish girl who believes that he truly is magic. Their interaction changes both of their lives, some for the better, some for the worst. The Illusionist is absolutely gorgeous to watch and the film is touching in ways rarely seen in animation.

So before this Sunday, check out some of these lesser known nominees. Even if they don’t win, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Travis McClain

    What, no love for the documentaries? ;)

    I streamed Dogtooth from Netflix a few weeks ago. I liked the premise and understood what they were going for with its allegorical commentary on authoritarianism and control over education, etc. but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the actual movie. I’ve been accused of not “getting” it, and I assure you that’s not the case. Nor was I bothered by the graphic nature of the film; I’m fairly liberal, socially speaking, and can accept quite a lot–especially from art. I just felt that the movie meandered too much. I could just imagine the editor turning to the director, “Can we cut to something else now?”

    Still, I have to say it’s a great little conversation piece. It may not be for everyone (I’m certain it’s not), but I suspect that those who have seen it will eventually see themselves as part of a rather exclusive and small in-group. In short, it’s got “cult film” written all over it. Glad I’ve got a membership.

  • Ross Bonaime

    Yeah, I was going to comment on the documentaries, but “Restrepo” was already discussed in a recent blog post and while “GasLand” is decent, but I didn’t really feel like nomination-worthy, especially over films like “The Tillman Story” and “Best Worst Move”. Plus, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” has surprisingly been ranked quite a few times. And I just haven’t seen “Waste Land”. :(

    I think regardless of whether you like or don’t like “Dogtooth”, it’s just great to watch something different nowadays. I completely get your reasoning, but I loved it. It did give me that feeling that Haneke films, especially “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon” gave me, that just made me feel uneasy and worried about what was coming next. I also like the slow build reminiscent of films like “Elephant” and “Antichrist”.

    I’m interested to see if the second time around I will enjoy the film as much or if it’s just a shock value element. I don’t think it is though. I found it to be such a unique vision, yet surprisingly believable. But regardless of opinion, it’s definitely worth checking out.

  • Nigel Druitt

    My daughter recently brought the book, The Gruffalo, home from her school library. I imagine it would make a pretty cute short film…