7 Oscar nominees that will (almost) restore your faith in the Academy

Blue Carpet Bash

FilmScene—Chauncey, Sunday, March 27, 5:30 p.m., Free

Still from ‘Bestia, Oscar-nominated Chilean short film featuring stop-motion animation.

The Oscars are bullshit, right? Well, not entirely. After you get past the massive marketing campaigns, backroom handshake deals and the skewed demographics of the voting body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you’ll find there are some bright spots — and even some welcome surprises — within the final list of nominees for the various awards.

A good place to start when looking for those hidden gems is the International Feature Film category, and this year is no exception. The final film in Norwegian-professional-skateboarder-turned-arthouse-filmmaker Joachim Trier’s Oslo Trilogy, The Worst Person In the World, was predicted to be one of the nominees for the category, but Trier also got an unexpected nom for the screenplay he co-wrote with his longtime writing partner Eskil Vogt. The film follows Julie, a magnetic peregrine on the verge of 30, as she tries to find her place in the world through her love life and her career struggles. It’s an impeccably crafted and beautifully acted comedic romance for our modern times that takes an empathetic look at introspection, with some excellent needle drops throughout. The Worst Person In the World is currently screening at FilmScene.

The critics and the Oscars are often at odds, at least when it comes to the more adventurous or conventionally challenging films. So it came as a bit of a shock when Drive My Car, the three-hour-long contemplative Japanese film that critics had been championing since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in July, got four nominations (Best Picture, Directing, International Feature and Adapted Screenplay). There are few films that elicit a true sense of emotional catharsis, leaving the viewer more acutely aware of their humanity by the end of their runtime than when they first sat down and the lights went dark. This is precisely that kind of film. Filled with quiet moments of poetic grace whose impact are all the more profound given their serenity, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s breakthrough international arthouse hit is a life-changing tale of love and loss that has catapulted the Japanese auteur into his rightful place as one of the most lauded and discussed directors of today — a real arthouse It Boy. With transcendent performances and an endlessly elegant script, this delicate and precise exploration of what it means to be alive is that rare piece of art that lives up to the full potential of its medium.

After the International Feature category, the next most reliable spot to mine for gold among these nominees is easily Best Documentary Feature. Really, there’s not a bad one in the bunch this year. The biggest long shot of the five is also one of the most remarkably uplifting, Writing with Fire. The film is an inside look at the Khabar Lahariya, India’s only newspaper run and staffed entirely by Dalit women. This group of probing investigative journalists are effecting real change with their reporting and never let their interview subjects weasel out of a question. Seeing their camaraderie even in the face of myriad injustices, hypocrisy and life-threatening situations is truly heartening.

Ascension marked the return of FilmScene’s Vino Vérité series back in November and deservedly made the cut for the documentary nominees. This tightly composed exploration of the Chinese Dream is as enlightening as it is damning, with a fair amount of levity mixed in alongside its Koyaanisqatsi-esque visuals.

Speaking of damning portrayals, veteran documentarian Stanley Nelson alongside co-director Traci A. Curry take a fresh look at the inmate uprising at Attica Prison 50 years after the fact in their film Attica, finally earning Nelson his due from the Academy. Featuring new interviews with survivors, observers and expert government officials that further expose the atrocities of the past, this incisive documentary is yet another reminder of the urgent need for carceral and police abolition today.

The short films are always a fan favorite and a prime spot for new discoveries at the Oscars. The Best Animated, Live Action and Documentary shorts often feature a cadre of up and coming talent that go on to have rich careers in film. With 15 titles among the three different categories, there are quite a few to choose from. A real highlight from all the nominees is a short from Diluvio, a Chilean audiovisual, art and film production company specializing in stop-motion animation. Their latest creation, Bestia, is a dark masterpiece featuring ceramic, clay, wood and more mixed materials expertly animated and lovingly crafted. But be warned, this one is not for kids. You can catch all of the shorts packages currently at FilmScene.

Not that The Power of the Dog needs any more love with 12 Oscar nominations in hand and a company like Netflix behind it, but given its relatively quiet theatrical release, I will go ahead and give a tip of the hat to the Academy on their taste in getting behind this psychosexual western from the great Jane Campion. Of course it didn’t hurt the film’s chances that she’s a former winner for her screenplay for The Piano.

While yes, it’s true that capitalism is so entrenched in our society that an outpouring of online complaints conflating box office results with artistic merit has resulted in a consolation prize of a #OscarsFanFavorite award, to be tallied up by Twitter votes and presented live during the official Oscar ceremony, there are still plenty of smaller films to root for and maybe a good drunken acceptance speech or two to catch during the ceremony. And if you’re feeling like a party, you can come to FilmScene for Hollywood’s biggest night and the annual tradition of the Blue Carpet Bash and catch all the action on the big screen.

Ben Delgado is the programming director at FilmScene. When he’s not spending every waking hour of the day watching, thinking about, planning or writing about movies, he’s getting his ass kicked in hard video games or eating cheese. Sometimes both. A shorter version of this article was originally published in Little Village issue 304.

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