The Academy Awards, or Oscars as they are more informally known, may seem out of touch with the mainstream movie-going public taste but it’s never been their intent to be populist. Instead these award shows tend to shine a light on some of the films that might not otherwise garner attention or even find an audience without them. However, these films tend to fit into a very narrow definition of cinema; that which is considered worthy, where the actors are deemed to have undergone a challenging transformation, all with either lavish costumes or stunning cinematography. There’s far more to film than that, so with that in mind, let us countdown the movies to which we would be handing out the big prizes.
Beasts of No Nation
This African war drama from True Detective director Cary Joji Fukunaga tells the story of a young boy, Agu, as a civil war breaks out in an unnamed country. After his family are killed, he finds himself a child soldier. He is placed under the command of a charismatic, eccentric Commandant played by Idris Elba giving a tour de force performance that was bizarrely snubbed by the Academy. It is a brutal watch as Agu is forced to sacrifice his childhood to survive and take on a life of violence. Perhaps Hollywood is not quite ready to reward a film which shows such disturbing truths. However it found a wide audience through production partner Netflix and if they keep producing drama of this quality, will surely be noticed during awards season.
Beasts of No Nation Trailer – https://youtu.be/2xb9Ty-1frw
Mia Madre is undoubtedly Nanni Moretti’s finest film since The Son’s Room won the Palme d’Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It is the story of Margherita, a filmmaker who must deal with the impending death of their mother, estrangement from her daughter all on top of professional pressures. It is a stunningly observed film dealing both with the universal human experience but also the art of making a film. It may sound bleak but there are laughs along the way with an overblown performance from John Turturro as a fading movie star. It’s a beautifully human film and one worthy of your patience and your time.
Mia Madre Trailer – https://youtu.be/jWiFif96t3Y
It Follows takes the horror clichés of the 1980s and elevates them with an arthouse aesthetic and packages them together in a knowing and horror-literate film. The concept is simple – a hex can be passed on via sex meaning a manifestation will follow teenagers to their demise unless they pass it on to someone else but if the next person gets caught, ‘It’ goes back down the chain. Creating a powerful and effective horror movie is no easy feat but it’s something that the Academy often fails to acknowledge. In fact, The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture back in 1973 and it has its literary roots to thank for that. It’s a shame to dismiss an entire genre but true film and horror fans know just how good David Robert Mitchell’s film really is.
It Follows Trailer – https://youtu.be/OaRx7iR9kXg
The title of this film perhaps deliberately evokes the British indie film Kidulthood, but this film takes the coming of age tale and creates something far more gritty and affecting. The latest film from Céline Sciamma is set in the concrete housing projects of Paris and follows 16 year-old Marieme, played by Karidja Touré and her trio of friends. The film uses bold imagery and stark editing to show her journey as she transitions from disaffected school girl to a life of crime, carving out her own place in a world where school and home life offer nothing. The film is neither judgemental nor sympathetic and instead attempts to be authentic. The performances from untrained actors are simply stunning in a powerful film sure to be seen as one a defining depictions of 21st century Paris.
Girlhood Trailer – https://youtu.be/lJudaZEY-Uc
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien was recognised as Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for his work on The Assassin. Although this was marketed as a martial arts movie, it’s actually something far more profound with the action only used fleetingly. The film is loosely based on the Tang dynasty story of young woman who is raised to be the assassin of the title. As the drama plays out Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) is haunted by guilt after she sees her target cradling a child. After her failings, she is given a test to kill her cousin – once promised to be her husband. The film utilises stylish and deliberate cinematography and artistic fight choreography which combine to create a magical atmosphere in this tale of freedom, love and honour. It’s baffling to many that it failed to gain the nomination for best Foreign Language film but who can possibly read into the minds of the Academy voters.
The Assassin Trailer – https://youtu.be/CKFtNsQ78oI