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Oscars 2024: They Should Have Been Nominated!

An old-fashioned old-world epic: Mads Mikkelsen surveys his domains in "The Promised Land" / Photo by Henrik Ohsten, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

An old-fashioned old-world epic: Mads Mikkelsen surveys his domains in "The Promised Land" / Photo by Henrik Ohsten, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

By now, we know better than to get mad about the Oscar nominations. They will fail miserably through no fault of their own, and it couldn't be any other way. The sole act of parsing down the best of anything to a randomly selected number is a fool's errand. The five best of anything? Why not ten? Oh, wait…there are ten best film nominees, and still, they could not find a place for the best movies of the year - at least in my book. Those are Todd Haynes' "May December" and Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City." If anything, the snubs serve as an excuse to highlight, for one last time, notable movies, performances, and artisanship left out of Hollywood's biggest night. 

Here are my most mind-warping omissions from the list of nominees for the 2024 Academy Awards. Movie buff, you can treat this as a list of the Best Movies of 2023.

May December

Best Movie, Best Director: Todd Haynes, Best Lead Actress: Natalie Portman, Best Supporting Actress: Julianne Moore, Best Lead Actor: Charles Melton, Best Supporting Actor: Cory Michael Smith.

Todd Haynes' latest movie, inspired by the real-life Mary Kate Letourneau case, is a scorcher. It is a beige American nightmare about sex, power, and the vampiric qualities of acting for a living. The reigning narrative is that Natalie Portman's manipulative character so put off actors that they shut off the movie when the time came to acknowledge its quality with awards. I doubt thespians are such delicate flowers about it, especially with the magnificent work on display on the screen. If the movie failed to gather much support, it must have been due to the ickiness of the subject and Netflix's poor theatrical release plans.

Portman and Moore are excellent as Elizabeth and Gracie, the actress and her inspiration, trapped in a fearsome pas-de-deux about the malleability of identity. Melton is heartbreaking as a man whose boyhood was truncated by sexual abuse, finally realizing what was taken from him as his kids navigate the passage from their teen years to young adulthood. He was worthy of a Best Leading Actor nomination. The Best Supporting Actor nod should have gone to Cory Michael Smith. He is devastatingly compelling as the other side of the coin, the son that Gracie left behind to pursue her underage victim. 

Asteroid City

Best Movie, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Lead Actor: Jason Schwartzman, Best Supporting Actress: Margot Robbie.

Hollywood is taking Wes Anderson for granted. Audiences, not so much. His latest whimsical creation brought in $53 million in global box office revenue, doubling its budget. It's not so bad for a colorful and moving exploration of mourning and the elusive power of art. Those are heady subjects, hidden under a constellation of stars clashing in a candy-color desert set and a black-and-white invocation of New York theater. People are shocked that Margot Robbie was not nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role for "Barbie." I say she should have been selected as Best Supporting Actress for her single-scene apparition in this movie. It used to be a staple of the Oscars, but the scene-stealer who takes the prize in a few minutes has been replaced by the lead surreptitiously downgraded to improve her winning chances. Here, Robbie is in the league of Beatrice Straight in "Network" (1976), walking off with the statuette thanks to a 5-minute, 2-second display of scorned wife fury. 


Best Lead Actress: Cailee Spaeny,  Best Director: Sofia Coppola, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design.

Don't mess with the legends, especially if they are men. Sofia Coppola's sober adaptation of Priscilla Presley's memories confronts us with the biological reality of the age gap between Elvis and his child bride. Priscilla Beaulieu was a 14-year-old child when he set his eyes on her. Sure, life was different then. Rich, famous men did not have to contend with the concept of grooming. The movie is as clear-eyed about it as it is still questionable, even if, back then, it was socially acceptable. Audiences and Academy members did not have the stomach for it. If we are to consider idols of yore, the tone has to be celebratory. They can be brilliant, victims of others - like Elvis was, of Colonel Tom Parker - or of their vices and weaknesses. They can never be portrayed as predatory, even when they are. "Priscilla" should have had the accolades shed on "Elvis" (Baz Durham, 2022) a couple of years ago. Forget Robbie going empty-handed for her acting in "Barbie." This is the true snub of the year. Here's hoping Spaeny gets the roles she deserves. She is the real thing.

Past Lives

Best Director, Best Lead Actress: Greta Lee, Best Supporting Actor: John Magaro.

Greta Gerwig missing a Best Director nomination for "Barbie" is the second most decried snub after Robbie's. If you wanted another woman in the run - besides the well-deserving Justine Triet for "Anatomy of a Fall" - my proposal is Celine Song. This intimate drama mines emotion for all it's worth, contemplating and eviscerating the fantasy of the life - and the paramour - not taken. It's hopelessly romantic and realistic at the same time. The movie got a token nomination for Best Screenplay. Also left high and dry were Lead Actress contender Greta Lee and Supporting Actor Dark Horse John Magaro, as her fretting but understanding husband. Sure, Teo Yoo had the costarring clout and the dashing good looks, but the movie's heart resides in Magaro's forlorn stare. 


Best Foreign Film.

Lila Avilés' rambunctious and moving drama is like a Mexican Jonathan Demme movie. A large family gets together to throw a birthday party for Tona (Mateo Garcia), a man bedridden with a terminal illness. We see the event coming together through the eyes of his daughter, Sol (Naíma Sentíes), a wise-beyond-her-years child who has not yet grasped the concept of mortality. This may be the closest any movie has ever been to plunging the viewer into the chaos of a large Latino family bickering and celebrating under one roof. It's also insightful about the follies of the bohemian middle class. Check out how one of the sisters spends money on a witch doctor but pinches her pennies when it comes to paying the in-home nurse who cares for her brother - the wonderful Teresa Sánchez, also seen in the Sundance hit "Dos Estaciones." It's so unfair and so….common. The lapidary time jump that closes the movie is sobering. It carries the comfort of acceptance of our shared destiny. 


Best Supporting Actor: Alden Ehrenreich.

Even the most nominated movie can be snubbed. Case in point, Christopher Nolan's biopic on the maker of the Atom bomb amassed 13 nominations, the most of any other. The large cast was filled with possible Best Supporting Actor nominees, of which only one prevailed. Robert Downey Jr. is great as Lewis Strauss, but part of the credit should go to Alden Ehrenreich, who works as his foil in the pivotal scenes where he awaits the senate interview upon which his future depends. The character is a nameless aide, but Ehrenreich gives a memorable performance and turns into the moral reservoir of the movie. Among all the real-life figures parading on the screen, you will be asking, 'But who was that guy? He may be a dramatic conceit, but the actor makes it real. If not the realest. 

Killers of the Flower Moon

Best Lead Actor: Leonardo Dicaprio, Best Adapted Screenplay.

When the biggest are snubbed, part II. Leonardo Dicaprio already has an Oscar for surviving a bear mauling and the fury of the elements in "The Revenant" (Alejandro González-Iñárritu, 2016). He did more deserving work in "The Wolf of Wolf Street" (2014) or "Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood" (Quentin Tarantino, 2020), 2 of his five other nominations. He will not even get that for his towering work in "Killers of the Flower Moon" as the duplicitous, greedy Ernest Burkhart. You don't have to feel sympathy for one of the many perpetrators of the slow-motion massacre against the Osage people. Still, you can contemplate the tragedy of a man whose morals are so corrupted that he can't help but attempt to extinct even the woman he loves and who loves him back. The depiction is not approval, and Dicaprio, as an actor, makes this pathetic vessel of evil recognizably human.

Equally mystifying is the absence of "Killers…" among the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. Those lucky enough to have read the book by David Grann before watching the movie are aware of the fantastic adaptation work performed by Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese - with an alleged rewrite by Paul Thomas Anderson -. Whoever wrote it, the script certainly deserves the award just for the power of its epilogue, a bit of narrative sleight-of-hand that manages to comment on the existence of the movie itself, and the brutal irony of having white artists telling a story of native American martyrdom. 

All Of Us Strangers

Best Lead Actor: Andrew Scott.

Some movies get almost all the nominations they deserve. Others go empty-handed. A case in point is Andrew Haigh's "All of Us Strangers." His adaptation of Taichi Yamada's ghost story transplants the action to London and switches the protagonist from straight to gay. Andrew Scott is compelling and heartbreaking as Adam, a gay man who, even though "out" and about in the world, remains isolated in a cocoon of internalized homophobia. He is besieged by the nagging feeling that his parents would not have accepted him. They died in a car accident years before he could grasp his sexuality, but as a child of the middle class in the '80s, he knows the way things were back in the day. A visit to his childhood home introduces the ghosts of Mum (Claire Foy) and Dad (Jamie Bell), as young as when they died, and curious about the life of the boy left behind. Even more miraculous is the interest that Harry (Paul Mescal), a lonely neighbor, shows for the aloof Adam. Scott was deprived of a chance to win the Oscar in a crowded field.


Best Movie, Best Director: Ira Sachs, Best Actor: Franz Rogowski, Best Actress: Adele Exarchopoulos, Best Supporting Actor: Ben Wishaw, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design.

Considering the puritanism of the eldest members of the Academy and the public discourse against sex scenes in movies, it is not unsurprising that Ira Sachs' drama about a queer romantic triangle in contemporary Paris went unmentioned during the nomination announcement. German film director Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and printer Martin (Ben Whishaw) live as a committed but open couple in contemporary Paris. Their union is tested when the mercurial filmmaker falls, not for a man, but for a woman. Schoolteacher Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos) was not planning on anything more than a fling, but pregnancies tend to make people reconsider their choices. The frank, matter-of-fact depiction of sexuality goes hand-in-hand with the impassive look at the bohemian sphere they inhabit. Everything feels lived-in and earthbound. Despite the drama that flourishes in their situation, the theatrics are kept at a minimum. It's better to let drama queen Tomas shine. Rogowski is fantastic as a self-destructive looker who tramples everyone around him to follow his desires.  

A Thousand and One

Best Lead Actress: Teyana Taylor.

Too uncomfortable and mature to pull a "CODA," A.V. Rockwell's feature-film debut won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival but failed to make a dent with the Academy. And it's a shame. The movie is a vivid time capsule of '90s gentrifying New York, centered on a fierce, star-making performance by Teyana Taylor. Inez de la Paz is a young black woman who will go to extremes to provide a home for little Terry. We follow them through time, with three outstanding young actors taking turns in the son's role. The mystery of motherhood and the pull it exerts on women is explored in this fantastic drama. 

Taylor might not be an Oscar nominee (not yet), but great directors are paying attention. She is currently shooting the next Paul Thomas Anderson movie with Leonardo Dicaprio.

The Promised Land

Best Foreign Film, Best Lead Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, Best Supporting Actress: Amanda Collin.

They don't make them like they used to, at least in Hollywood. But in Denmark, it's a whole different story. "The Promise Land" is a throwback to the old historical epics of yore. Mads Mikkelsen is a headstrong pioneer, willing to sacrifice everything to tame the wild lands of Jutland for the glory of the King - and his gain. He will have to face decadent aristocrats, a stiff social order, and the fury of the elements before finding out what matters. Nicole Kidman-look-alike Amanda Collin should make a Mikkelsen-size jump to the international scene, propelled by her scene-stealing proficiency. Academy members gave the cold shoulder to the Danish candidate for Best Foreign Film. Don't make the same mistake. The movie is currently playing in your local Art House. Or it should!

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