From the Archives: A List of Alternative Oscar Nominees

From the Archives: A List of Alternative Oscar Nominees

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

This year’s Oscar lineup is fantastic. The Academy has nominated a variety of talents, successfully responding to the criticisms of last year’s ceremony without dipping into tokenism. Just about everything in the nominee pool deserves its spot, and it pleases me to say that there’s not a single potential win that would result in me screaming “this is robbery!” at the screen. Heck, even Hidden Figures, a film that I didn’t much care for, is so timely, well-meaning, and beautifully performed that if it ran away with everything, I’d still be happy.

It’s been such a good year for movies overall that I bet I can find an un-nominated entry for each of the big categories, which is totally the premise of this article.


Best Adapted Screenplay


Ciro Guerra – Embrace of the Serpent

The screenplay for this underseen art-house adventure is based on journals from two real-life explorers, written decades apart. That alone should be enough to merit a nomination, but more impressive is the fact that the story isn’t just functional – it’s positively engaging.

Best Original Screenplay


Guy Hibbert – Eye in the Sky

Who doesn’t love a good bureaucratic talky thriller? It’s not easy to fill a feature length runtime with dialogue, especially when it’s mostly comprised of folks asking permission to do things. Hibbert’s script cleverly subverts the talk-drama form to apply a “single-location” template across multiple, layered settings. The dialogue isn’t heightened in the Mamet/Sorkin style, but it never becomes tiresome nor is it ever lacking in substance and entertainment value. Eye in the Sky could be just as successful on stage as on screen, which is a sure sign of an excellent script.

Best Supporting Actress


Rachel House – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s hard to be a villain in such a feel-good movie — come at it too harshly and you can ruin the breezy tone. Come at it too softly and you’ve failed at being an antagonist. House’s performance as a well-intentioned, if overly intense social worker is as hilarious as it is touching. It’s clear that she cares about the well being of our hero, but she also can’t resist the allure of power. It’s a grand comic display that could have easily erred on the side of empty silliness in the hands of a less gifted actress.


Best Supporting Actor

Harvey Scrimshaw – The Witch

There’s a scene midway through The Witch where young Caleb suffers a fever dream complete with religious proclamations, physical convulsions, and the gruesome regurgitation of a full apple. It’s the type of sequence that an adult actor with classical training would struggle to make compelling, especially given the old-timey nature of the dialogue, and Scrimshaw pulls it off with gut-wrenching aplomb. Arguably the most effective horror sequence in the film and it’s all centered around an unknown adolescent actor.

Best Director


Matt Johnson – Operation Avalanche

Shot guerrilla style in a found footage format, Canadian filmmaker Matt Johnson crafted a narrative from footage obtained while undercover at NASA. Despite being shot in 2014, the 1960s setting feels genuine. Either NASA has been in a cultural bubble for fifty years or Johnson is a master of clever design. The bulk of the film was made through smart manipulation of fair-use laws, assembling footage from NASA’s vaults without losing the film’s distinct visual style. There’s also the single most dynamic and exciting car chase this side of The French Connection. The full name of the Oscar category is “Best Achievement in Directing.” Operation Avalanche is exactly that.


Best Actress


Kika Magalhaes – The Eyes of My Mother

The naive exterior of Francisca is merely a ruse, shielding the world from her madness, but it is a madness that stems from a cycle of abuse that she knows no better than to continue. Is she a villain, an antihero, a lost soul? Whatever label is most apt, she’s a terrifying creation, and Magalhaes carries the film with a metered, disarming characterization of pure horror.



Best Actor


Daniel Radcliffe – Swiss Army Man

Anyone who reads Cinedelphia knows of my deep love for this strange, lovely film, and just left of center of it all is Daniel Radcliffe as Manny the farting corpse. To portray Manny, Radcliffe taps into a previously unused physicality – equal parts rag doll and marionette puppet. He also has the thankless task of being the emotional anchor for an unreliable narrator, finding genuine truth in a situation with only the most tenuous ties to reality. It’s a bold, unconventional take on a character with no forbears. An original — moldy top to gassy bottom.

Best Picture


The Handmaiden 

Chan-wook Park’s latest is closer in tone to Stoker than Oldboy, but it’s no less operatic and stylized than any of his prior work. The dense texturing of even the smallest details in every frame makes it seem impossible that this 167-minute epic didn’t take a decade to shoot. Even at a length that should be punishing, The Handmaiden is a wickedly entertaining period thriller with no shortage of the classy filth for which Park has become the auteur-laureate. It’s also a film with enough twists and reveals that it merits multiple rewatches, granting new perspective with each go-around. The performances are as stellar as the material is challenging, and it’s all wrapped in a beautiful, technically impressive package. Park is a master craftsman, and The Handmaiden is him operating at his most mature and proficient. It’s a masterpiece of sorts and would fit perfectly amongst all of the Best Picture nominees.

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