The ones that got away

MARCH 25 ― Sometimes a film can seem like the most perfect of Oscar baits, yet somehow still fail to gather the required momentum to turn all the support into actual Oscar nominations and wins. 

Sometimes they fail simply because they just weren’t good enough. Other times they fail just because it’s not the right time for such a film to stand out from the Oscar chasing pack.

Recent examples that come to mind include films like In The Heart Of The Sea, Allied and even Sully, which are movies that seem tailor made for the Oscars yet ended up with only a solitary nomination (in the more minor categories) or even none at all. 

So spare a thought for those that didn’t even come close, even if they at least merit a nomination like Annette Bening in the wonderful 20th Century Women... these are the ones that got away and probably would’ve gotten something if their studio had campaigned better.

It’s sometimes quite fun going through these Oscar-bait movies just to see the disparity between the attempt and the actual achievements of the films, and recently I found myself thinking about three of them that I think many of you might find interesting.

20th Century Women

Given the choice, I’d take out Lion from the list of major nominees in this year’s Oscars and put in 20th Century Women instead, especially for the Best Actress category in which Annette Bening is simply radiant and pleasingly complex as one of the three 20th century women surrounding the life of the film’s central character ― a teenage boy growing up in 70s California. 

Writer-director Mike Mills has been praised many times before for his previous work, especially the autobiographical Beginners, but I think 20th Century Women is comfortably his best film yet, and is one of the best films from this year’s Oscar season. 

One might even go so far as calling this film the unsung hero of this year’s Oscar season. It’s really just that good. Boldly punctuating its episodic and very much novelistic structure with not only literary but also very striking visual flourishes, this is just such a lovely, rich and enjoyable cinematic experience that simply refuses to be understood or pegged down by easy categories. And that’s exactly why it’s so special. 

A United Kingdom

In any other year, this probably would’ve been a truly irresistible Oscar bait for the voters. Not only is this a period piece, but it’s also based on an inspiring true story, of the lengthy diplomatic crisis caused by the marriage of Seretse Khama, a law student in London and king-in-waiting to Bechuanaland (now Botswana), to a white British clerk named Ruth Williams. 

It is handsomely shot and mounted, just like all great period films are, and it goes about telling its story with a hugely involving blend of melodrama and history lesson that makes its 110-minute running time seem way shorter than it actually is. 

In short, this is a first class lesson in how to make a period film, with everyone from lead actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike to writer Guy Hibbert and director Amma Asante doing really sterling work. 

I bet this got lost in the shuffle just because it’s a UK production. If this got into the hands of the Weinsteins, they’d have campaigned the hell out of this one and it would probably even score some really big nominations. So please, just trust me on this one, it’s good. Real good!

Queen Of Katwe

Never mind that this is a Disney movie, because when you have a prestigious name like Mira Nair in the director’s seat, telling another inspiring true story, this time about a Ugandan chess prodigy from a shantytown called Katwe, you know that they must have set some of their sights on the Oscars. 

Quite clearly the weakest film out of the three I’m writing about here, Queen Of Katwe is nevertheless still a very competently executed film of the inspirational Hollywood sports movie variety, only this time there’s not much need to embellish the proceedings for this true life saga possesses all the requirements needed to make such a movie. 

Phiona Mutesi’s story, which begins with her as an illiterate nine-year-old when she first learns how to play chess and ends with her as Uganda’s national champion and a world class player by the age of 15, is quite simply rousing. Too safe for its own good, even with the presence of David Oleyowo and Lupita Nyong’o, Queen Of Katwe will still leave you cheering by virtue of the power of its story.

But this is one movie that the Oscars definitely didn’t miss.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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