Not an Oscar Contender? That Doesn't Mean It's Not Still a Great Movie
by Joey Magidson
November 8, 2013
A little bit of a silly misnomer about me (but a somewhat understandable one considering my line of work) and many of the other folks who write about the awards circuit is that we only care about Oscar contenders and don't look at movies on their own terms. Yes, I make my living mainly writing about the awards season and how certain films will make a play for the Academy Awards but I'm also just a lover of cinema in general. I'm a sucker for a solid Judd Apatow laugh riot or even a good romantic comedy, maybe moreso than top notch promising Oscar players like 12 Years a Slave or the awards-baiting biopics like Lincoln.
When it comes to relationship dramedies or straight dramas? Forget about it if they're good, I'm all over them. It doesn't always have to be Blue Valentine; it can just as easily be something comparably lighter like (500) Days of Summer. Basically, since I'm still relatively new to you readers, and the awards season is in full swing, I wanted to showcase how my focus isn't 100% on simply precursors and Oscar campaigns.
This year, while some of my very favorite movies of the year have been incredible pieces of cinema that I see contending for awards love like Her and Inside Llewyn Davis, I've also been in love with more fringe contenders like The Place Beyond the Pines and The Spectacular Now. Beyond those even, I have a half dozen other flicks that are in my current top 25 of the year so far that pretty much no one considers a legitimate awards vehicle. They may not be headed for precursor love, but they have my love nonetheless.
The one that sparked me to think about this is actually a dramedy called Stuck in Love that just hit Blu-Ray/DVD this week. It played the festival circuit a year or so ago when it was still called Writers and didn't seem to impress many people, but when I went to a press screening earlier this year, boy did it impress me. The tale of the romantic woes of a family of writers (led by Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, and Nat Wolff as part of a strong ensemble cast) perhaps could have come off as cheesy and overly earnest to some, but it spoke deeply to me. It's a well written movie with a great soundtrack, but it's also one of those rare films that comes along and just hits you in a very personal place, making for a flick you know you'll be re-watching again and again as the years go by.
Another one that only I seem to like is Ryan Gosling's reunion with his Drive filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, the incredibly divisive Only God Forgives. Ever since that first screening at Cannes (which Alex attended and actually liked about as much as I did), almost anyone who's seen this arty action drama has mostly made fun of it. There are a few defenders out there besides me and Alex, but we're in the minority of appreciating Refn's artistic vision and Gosling's captivatingly minimalistic performance. Almost more of a fever dream than a cohesive film, it's still the type of movie that I found myself incredibly fascinated by. I'm sure I'll be studying it for a long time on subsequent viewings, and you can give it a first or second try too when it hits home video next week.
I'm not only talking about movies I'm in the minority on. For a while, my favorite film of the year was Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut Don Jon, dating back to when I saw it at Sundance while it was still called Don Jon's Addiction. It's well liked by my fellow critics (if not necessarily by paying moviegoers), but it's simply not the sort of flick that Academy members jive to. I've written about how hard it is for Oscar voters to get behind "different" movies (as was the case here when I wrote about Her a few days ago), so a comedy about a porn addict was always a nonstarter. If they couldn't handle Shame, this was dead on arrival in terms of the Academy. Still, it was one of my most enjoyable times at the movies, and that remained the case when I saw it a second time at a non festival screening right before it hit theaters.
If you're looking for a few other examples, I'd point to the shockingly ignored upon release coming of age comedy The Kings of Summer, the lowbrow yet meta apocalyptic comedy This is the End, and the home invasion horror/thriller hybrid You're Next, among others. They were all well reviewed and in some cases even did well financially, but they're no one's idea of an Oscar contender.
At times, I know it can seem like the only thing I (or colleagues of mine in the same line of work) write about is Oscar contenders, but this can, if nothing else, serve as a reminder that we see just about everything. I see about 300 movies a year, and even more often than the ultimate Best Picture winner winds up on my year end Top Ten list (Argo was the only one of late to actually pull double duty in that regard), less loved titles like The Beaver, Bellflower, The Cabin in the Woods, Clerks II, End of Watch, Funny People, Liberal Arts, Moon, Red State, Two Lovers, and more tend to show up with frequency. When it comes to film, it pays to be well rounded, even if you're an Oscar prognosticator...
Essentially, I just wanted to sort of keep things light and non awards related for a moment before we dive back into the impending fates of Oscar vehicles. I'm obviously passionate about the awards season, but I'm more so just passionate about film. I'm looking forward to taking us all the way to the Academy Awards show and potentially beyond, but I'm also looking forward to occasionally talking about other types of films too, so I hope you'll continue to join me on the journey!