Only so many movies can get nominated for Oscars. Inevitably, some of the year’s best and most interesting films end up without a shot at Hollywood’s biggest prize. For some films this feels like a tragedy; for others, it’s more like, Well, yeah, the Academy was never going to vote for that weird movie anyway.
But no matter the case, as we head into the home stretch of awards season, it’s a good time to pause and celebrate the movies that didn’t earn a nomination, but are worth seeing nonetheless. We’ve compiled a list of 15 of our favorites, and named the nominations we think they could have gotten, too. (We didn’t list Best Picture, because we’d have been happy to see any of these films show up in that category.)
Kept under a bushel for more than four decades while it was held up by both technical issues and lawsuits, it seemed like Amazing Grace (which Sydney Pollack filmed in 1972, as Aretha Franklin recorded the live album of the same name that would become one of her most acclaimed) would never see the light of day. But in late 2018, it was finally finished and released, just months after the singer’s show-stopping funeral.
The result is a concert documentary, one of the most electrifying ever made, that captures Franklin at her peak, backed by the Southern California Community Choir over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Early buzz suggested it might be able to sneak its way into Oscar contention, especially in the year in which Franklin passed away. But in the end, it didn’t quite make the cut. —Alissa Wilkinson
Could have been nominated for: Documentary, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
Where to watch: After a limited release last fall, Amazing Grace is slated for theatrical release in early 2019.
Bisbee ’17 wasn’t even shortlisted for the Oscars, which seems to me to be a clear and giant misfire. Directed by one of the most forward-thinking nonfiction filmmakers in America, Robert Greene, the film was undoubtedly one of the most “cinematic” of 2018. It’s about a town in Arizona grappling with its past, and its story touches on issues of immigration, labor, and xenophobia in ways that are both historical and painfully contemporary.
But aside from the subject matter, Bisbee ’17 is a remarkable work of nonfiction cinema. It feels most like a ghost story, in which the town’s secrets and past haunt its present residents. Although it’s truly a documentary, shot with the real residents of Bisbee, it has the look of a carefully scripted and planned fiction film, with sweeping landscapes, tracking shots, and intimate interiors that weave together a story that’s hard to forget. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Documentary, Cinematography, Editing
Where to watch: Bisbee ’17 toured the country in limited release last fall, and is slated for a full theatrical release in 2019.
South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong’s eerie, swooning tale of apathetic and disaffected young people drifting through a series of connections, romantic and otherwise, actually cracked the list of nine finalists for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar, and if it’d scored a nomination, it would have marked the first nomination for any Korean film in the category. (This is staggering when you consider how great Korean cinema has been in the 21st century.) But it just missed out on the category, which is too bad.
All things considered, Burning is probably a little too strange for the Oscars. It is, after all, adapted from a short story by the great Japanese author Haruki Murakami, who’s a genius but also deeply, deeply weird. The most unsettling elements of Burning, however, are the most prosaic, like a cat the protagonist keeps feeding that he never once sees. It’s a detail that puts Lee in league with directors like David Lynch. And once you realize why the film is called Burning, so much more of its woozy, dream-like state of being will snap into place. —Todd VanDerWerff
Could have been nominated for: Foreign Language Film, Supporting Actor (Steven Yeun)
Where to watch: Burning is still playing in a handful of theaters. It will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 5.
Crazy Rich Asians was one of 2018’s most talked-about films, a strong adaptation of a best-selling novel that managed to break barriers and preconceived notions in Hollywood about who wanted to watch a movie with an all-Asian and Asian-American cast. And it made a lot of money — nearly $175 million in North America and almost $240 million worldwide.
It may, however, have run aground on the long-running notion that only “serious” films can really contend for Oscars. Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy in the Cinderella vein, a funny, romantic movie about a woman who finds out her boyfriend is absurdly rich and must contend with his family’s expectations for him. For many, rom-coms still don’t rank with “prestige” films. But I can imagine a world in which Crazy Rich Asians received some Oscar recognition, particularly for its sumptuous design and clothing. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Supporting Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design
I don’t like to label movies as underrated; it’s an overused, hackneyed phrase. But with that said, I genuinely think The Death of Stalin was grossly underrated, particularly by audiences that might have loved it. Written and directed by Veep’s Armando Iannucci, it’s an inky-black comedy about Stalin’s lackeys falling over one another in the wake of his death (no spoilers, it’s in the title) to establish themselves as his natural successor, without looking like they’re trying too hard.
The cruel, oblivious yes-men that Stalin surrounded himself with are all played by English-speaking actors, like Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, and more, all of whom speak in their own voices. The implication quickly becomes clear: The Death of Stalin is less of a historical story and more of a biting satirical take on the present and our power-hungry, endlessly insecure leaders. It’s not a joke-a-minute movie like Iannucci’s previous work, which may be what kept it from catching fire. But it is every bit as insightful as Veep about the nature of power, and a great deal more somber in its comedy. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Supporting Actor (Steve Buscemi), Adapted Screenplay
Leave No Trace stars Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as a military veteran with PTSD and his teenage daughter, who are living off the grid in a state park — until they’re found. It’s the story of a bond between a daughter and her father, but in the background is another kind of bond, something that keeps the world from spinning apart.
Written and directed by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Leave No Trace is an often surprising and very moving film about familial love, as well as the networks of support and empathy that people living at the edges of society construct for themselves. Granik is an outstanding director, and she tells the story without patronizing, fetishizing, or aestheticizing her subjects. McKenzie and Foster turn in devastating performances, working from a screenplay that touches the ways people on the margins form communities to keep body and soul together in a world that does not want them. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Thomasin McKenzie), Actor (Ben Foster)
Eighth Grade did earn some attention during awards season, particularly from critics groups, both for its writer/director, the former YouTube comedian Bo Burnham, and for its star Elsie Fisher, who as our heroine Kayla had the unenviable task of living through the inanities and awkwardness of eighth grade. (Which may have been made easier by the fact that Fisher herself, born in 2003, was very recently an eighth grader.)
But while the movie didn’t ultimately snag an Oscar nomination, it’s still a triumph for Burnham and Fisher, who managed to bring to life an intensely relatable moment in adolescence and do it with humor, aplomb, and an authenticity that’s so often lacking from films about young people, particularly young people who live in a world governed by social media and ubiquitous smartphones. Josh Hamilton also turns in an unforgettable performance as Kayla’s dorky, loving father who knows just what to say at the most crucial moment. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Elsie Fisher), Supporting Actor (Josh Hamilton)
There’s a world in which Hereditary was nominated for five or six Oscars, thanks to how it deftly blends one of the Academy’s favorite genres — the family drama filled with repressed emotions and bitterness — with darkly disturbing horror. Horror is not typically the Oscars’ thing, but when it hits a certain level of craft, as with Get Out, The Silence of the Lambs, or The Exorcist, Oscar voters often takes notice.
And if nothing else, Hereditary is relentlessly well-crafted, with first-time feature director Ari Aster expertly ratcheting up the tension as he progresses from a relatively benign inciting incident (a woman isn’t sure how to cope with the death of a mother she had complicated feelings about) to an ending that pushes past metaphor into some other thing entirely. At the very least, Hereditary is the sort of movie where the performances — especially Toni Collette as the story’s center — should have garnered attention. —TV
Could have been nominated for: Actress (Toni Collette), Supporting Actor (Alex Wolff)
Imagine the Oscars ceremony that had the guts to nominate the brilliantly whimsical Paddington 2! Imagine Paddington Bear himself marching out on stage to proclaim, to a room full of jaded celebrities, “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right”! Imagine director Paul King being hoisted on the shoulders of his peers and carried out of the Dolby Theater to general acclamation! Imagine Hugh Grant finally getting an Oscar nomination for his hysterical work as the film’s campy villain and then his Oscar clip being the scene where he films a dog food commercial dressed as a dog! Imagine world peace being attained thanks to this one simple nomination!
Alas, we will just have to toil on in a world without world peace. Thanks, Academy. Thanks a lot. —TV
Could have been nominated for: Supporting Actor (Hugh Grant), Production Design, Best Bear (Paddington Bear)
Eleven years after the debut of her highly acclaimed feature The Savages, Tamara Jenkins returned triumphant in 2018 with Private Life, a funny, moving film about one couple’s maddening and harrowing struggle with infertility. The movie didn’t manage to eke out any Oscar nominations — Netflix has been pouring its campaign money mostly into Roma — but its critical and audience praise speak for themselves.
With an outstanding original screenplay by Jenkins, Private Life features strong, funny, and heartbreaking performances from Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, alongside a stellar supporting cast. It achieves a tricky tonal balance by irreverently locating the humor in the suffering that many experience when trying to conceive a baby — injecting hormones into buttocks, having to deliver semen samples for in vitro fertilization, readying one’s home for a visit from an adoption agency — without making light of those experiences.
The result is an accessible and complex portrait of two people whose ardent shared desire for a child takes them in some unconventional directions. And it’s a joy to watch, whether or not you can relate. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Kathryn Hahn), Actor (Paul Giamatti)
Where to watch: Private Life is streaming on Netflix.
Judging from the Oscar nominations chatter on my Twitter feed, first-time feature director Boots Riley’s scabrous black comedy about a world just a couple steps removed from our own, where corporations literally own people and black telemarketers adopt the voices of white comedians to better make sales over the phone, is the movie that spoke to the most people this year only to be utterly ignored by the Academy.
Now, I think even Sorry to Bother You’s most ardent fans would admit the movie is probably way too bonkers for the Academy to fully embrace. But why not find room for Riley’s wildly inventive screenplay, which comes up with a third-act plot turn that simultaneously twists the knife in late capitalism’s back and leaves you laughing? Or any of the original songs from Riley’s hip-hop group The Coup? Or lead actor Lakeith Stanfield, a major star in the making? —TV
Could have been nominated for: Original Screenplay, Original Song
Like Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls is a comedy that incisively dissects the way that capitalism exploits those who live within it. But where Sorry to Bother You is a wildly imaginative dance through a near-future Oakland, Support the Girls visits an unspecified, strip mall-filled city to chronicle a day in the life of the staff of Double Whammies, a Hooters-esque sports bar that caters to the fantasy of men who just want to watch the game, ogle some women, and drink a beer in peace.
Director and writer Andrew Bujalski specializes in the kinds of seemingly light movies that nonetheless hold deep truths within them, and he’s eventually going to make a film that receives several Oscar nominations. But it should have been this one! Support the Girls is the kind of movie that might initially make you think, “Yeah, that was pretty good!” only for you to realize weeks later that you can’t stop thinking about it. —TV
Could have been nominated for: Actress (Regina Hall), Supporting Actress (honestly, anybody in the cast, but I might have picked Haley Lu Richardson)
Widows entered awards season seeming like a sure thing. With great reviews and a big, buzzy debut on the fall festival circuit, Steve McQueen’s followup to his 2013 Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave seemed likely to earn a prominent spot on the year-end awards circuit. Then the movie came out, and audiences mostly avoided it.
They shouldn’t have! Widows is ostensibly a heist movie, where the widows of four dead thieves unite to carry out the last score their dead husbands were unable to complete. Of course, complications immediately ensue (one of the widows wants no part of the heist, the women have no experience with criminality, etc.), which creates a twisty genre delight. But the movie also captures an America in freefall, divided between haves and have-nots. Its rich, tapestry-like portrayal of a Chicago caught in the grips of its own extended death throes is what will stick with you almost as much as the look on star Viola Davis’s face in its perfect final shot. —TV
Could have been nominated for: Actress (Viola Davis), Supporting Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Supporting Actor (Brian Tyree Henry), Cinematography, Best Dog
Shirkers was on the Oscars shortlist for Documentary Feature, and it seemed like a possible contender — but though it ultimately missed a nomination, it’s a must-see. Director Sandi Tan takes a deep dive into exactly what happened with the footage from the original Shirkers, a movie she made as a teenager, and with George Cardona, the mysterious American man twice her age who mentored Tan and her friends Jasmine and Sophie, shot the movie with them, and then disappeared with the footage in tow.
Tan, who wrote the screenplay for the original (fictional) Shirkers and starred in it, was left adrift, angry and confused. Then, 20 years after the original film wrapped, 16mm film canisters containing the footage were found in New Orleans, and Sandi got a call.
In addition to telling a compelling story, Shirkers uses a variety of media — including 16mm, animation, handwritten letters, tapes, digital, Hi8, and Super8 — to reconstruct the making of Shirkers and its aftermath. She works through her own history, sussing out what exactly had happened and how it affected the path that she and her friends took in their lives. It’s a reclamation of her own story. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Documentary, Editing
Where to watch: Shirkers is streaming on Netflix.
Suspiria is far too odd and violent and messy of a movie to ever really garner Oscar attention. The remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic delighted some and horrified others, and while its story of women and power seems of a piece with the much-nominated The Favourite, a few scenes of graphic bodily mutilation make it almost unwatchable.
But it still had a few legs up on the competition. It was directed by Luca Guadagnino, who was nominated for Best Director in 2018 for Call Me By Your Name, which was also up for Best Picture and won Best Adapted Screenplay. It boasts strong performances from a talented cast, including Tilda Swinton in three roles. It takes a sharp left turn from its source material, opting for a spare and brutalist production design that bursts (literally) into blood and hellfire by the end. And it has a suitably creeptastic score, composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. In the end, though, the whole, uh, meat hook thing was probably too much for most people. —AW
Could have been nominated for: Supporting Actress (Tilda Swinton), Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score (Thom Yorke)