The 88th Oscars are behind us, after much turmoil surrounded the nominations, the nominees and, most of all, the non-nominees. Hence trended the much discussed #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Host Chris Rock let Hollywood have it from the first second of the telecast. Naturally, it’s not that the nominees were not good films. It’s that they were not really representative of the talent out there -for the second year in a row. If you’ve been disappointed, watch again/catch up on these films.
The sequel four decades in the making that saw Sylvester Stallone stage a come back and give a profound, emotionally impressive performance as the hero he created forty years ago. Stallone did not win, because of Mark Rylance’s impeccable performance in Steven Spielberg’s equally impeccable “Bridge of Spies”, thus messing with the odds of half of the bookmakers in the world.
Director Ryan Coogler and lead Michael B. Jordan, who had previously worked together on the gripping “Fruitvale Station” (also a must-watch), carried this movie, and when the young star came to the stage to present an award on Sunday, he was introduced as “should’ve-been nominee Michael B. Jordan”.
I Will Follow
Also a should’ve been nominee the previous year, Ava DuVernay was conspicuous at the previous ceremony by her non-nomination as best director for the best-reviewed film of the year. After a career as a Hollywood publicist, the director made her first foray into film with this lo-to-no budget ($50k) about the enormous difficulties we have about coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
That led to another lo-to-no-budget film, Middle Of Nowhere, which itself led to the Oprah-backed, painfully relevant and instant classic Selma. It’s not really about black culture (even though it’s steeped in it and all its characters are black) it’s clear that such a story couldn’t have made its way to the screen any other way but the indie way.
I also suggest you read about the touching story about how Roger Ebert supported that film.
Technically anyone over 40 is an anomaly in mainstream film. A woman is an anomaly in mainstream film. A woman over 40 who isn’t Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren? Who else this there, am I right? As this film reminded us, there’s Charlotte Rampling. She’s been a force in film (both English language and French language) since the sixties, and it took a small-scaled drama to remind the world that everyone, whatever their gender or their age, has story to tell, even though they may have been 45 years in the making.
Andrew Haigh directed it, after a stunning debut called Weekend (add that one to your watchlist as well) and a short-lived HBO series Looking, with beautiful sensitivity, grace and emotional range, all of which reach their pinnacle in the very last shot of the film.
As women’s rights are still threatened all over the globe, the release of the movie was timely and, of course, not without controversy. Helmed by Sarah Gavron and written by Iron Lady scribe Abi Morgan, it’s beautifully carried by Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, and reminds us not to take for granted the rights of half the population, and to go forward in the fight.
It also features stellar performances from Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep and a BIFA-winning turn from Brendan Gleeson.
Saoirse Ronan was nominated for the best actress Oscar for her performance, and won the BIFA in that same category. Times have changed, and the themes of home, family, longing and belonging are timeless. In a time when immigration and refugees are chastised in the media comes the story of Eilis, an Irish immigrant to America in the 1950’s.
Classic filmmaking exploring everlasting themes is always a sure winner with us, especially with such great performances, including Julie Walters. Also, the theme of immigration and being a stranger is particularly relevant to this political news cycle, right, Donald?
Yet again, a lo-to-no-budget should’ve-been nominee (even though it realistically stood no chance), this film made headlines because of its groundbreaking and smart use of iPhone cinematography as well as for its subject matter. On Christmas Eve, we follow a transgender sex worker and her best friend in search of her pimp boyfriend who broke her heart.
It quickly became a sensation after it premiered at Sundance, and even was endorsed by whether-you-like-it-or-not-transgender-icon Caitlyn Jenner during the Oscars campaign (a.k.a. the past six months). If you’re disappointed that it didn’t get the recognition it deserved, you can still watch it.
Todd Haynes had been a fixture on the queer indie film scene since the 90’s, broke everyone’s heart with Far From Heaven and kept going his own way all through it. By everyone’s standards (except those of the Academy) he made one of the finest films of the year.
Not that it’s overtly political as Milk was, the crushing weight of society’s norms is obvious on these two women’s inclinations for each other. It’s a kind of romance that sweeps us off our feet and break our hearts mercilessly and manages to make us feel grateful for it.
Straight Outta Compton
One of the most talked about films of 2015, it was an enthralling story exploring the origins of NWA and Ice Cube, and how they progressively reflected and influenced both black culture and pop culture.
Even though it’s timid in tackling some of its subjects, it’s an essential film to watch for its vitality and energy, and intense story. It earned a well-deserved nomination for its screenplay, and it remains a “should’ve-been” nominee in many other fields.
French film by the director of Tomboy, it’s a fascinating coming-of-age film about a group of girls growing up in the suburbs of Paris, trying to find themselves in a world that perpetually shoves them around and diminishes their aspirations.
It’s a bold exploration of the making of girlhood in a society that’s, in many ways, traditional, all while belonging to a minority. It’s a complex portrait of France’s minority, and was selected as one of the French films that speak to the identity of the nation by the New York Times after the Paris attacks.
The French entry for the foreign language category is in Turkish and explores the social mores of contemporary Turkey. It follows sisters that are as endearing as they are different and whose love for one another is so sincere, luminous and profound that the plight they find themselves in is only more gripping.
Trapped in a traditional patriarchal society, raised by their uncle, they’re to be married off to local boys, and that’s the way it is. Or so thought the adults. This beautiful, breathtaking story of emancipation and hope is a complete must-see.
Son Of Saul richly deserved its win, but so did this film.
These are just some films that explore stories that are different, that showcase the making of complex identities, that show the light within those we’re quick to call strangers, that make us understand the humanity in those that had been related to subaltern ranks. That’s what indie film is about. Get to your watch list.