Academy Award statuette

As the late-year Oscar rush continues, here are a few of the year’s worthiest contenders the Motion Picture Academy has probably missed.

Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru,
THE FALL — Picture, Director (Tarsem Singh), Actor (Lee Pace), Actress (Catinca Untaru), Cinematography, Score, Costume Design, Film Editing

Well on its way to becoming this decade’s Dark City: a visionary achievement the Academy has never heard of, let alone honored. Singh’s thrilling work of visual art is a testament to what the movies can be; its exquisite location shoots put green screens to shame. You could watch it with the sound off and still be filled with a certain childlike wonder for the possibilities of the cinema. It features a career-vaulting performance by Lee Pace (TV’s Pushing Daisies), and one by young Catinca Untaru that is perhaps the finest youth performance I’ve seen this generation. It’s one of the best films of the year.

Minnie Driver, in
TAKE — Actress (Minnie Driver), Original Screenplay (Charles Oliver)

Go figure. My favorite film from 2007’s Tribeca Film Festival is finally released to theaters and it disappears without a trace. What’s more, it receives a drubbing from most critics. Consider me the minority report: The emotional continuity of Oliver’s screenplay improves upon the often self-conscious time-shifting of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga’s films (21 Grams, Babel). And the performance of Driver, playing a mother seeking closure after the death of her young son, is remarkable.

Brendan Gleeson, in
IN BRUGES — Actor (Brendan Gleeson)

Gleeson plays Ken, one of a pair of hit men forced to lay low in Belgium after a job. There, he must make a decision between a man he is loyal to and one who has hope for a better future. Gleeson expresses the weariness of a man eroded by a painful and violent past, but with enough of his soul intact to imagine a different way to live.

Frances McDormand and Amy Adams, in
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY — Actress (Amy Adams and Frances McDormand), Adapted Screenplay (David Magee, Simon Beaufoy)

An unexpected gem. Magee and Beaufoy add the subtext of war to a story adapted from Winifred Watson’s novel, adding a somber gravitas to an otherwise delightful farce about the transformations of women in 1939 London. Adams and McDormand, as a vain actress and her overwhelmed social secretary respectively, give performances that work on two levels: as delirious comedy, and as a study of women who survive in an inhospitable era.

Steve Coogan and Elisabeth Shue, in
HAMLET 2 — Actor (Steve Coogan), Original Song (“Rock Me Sexy Jesus”)

British comic icon Coogan is the glue that holds together a freewheeling comedy that at every instant threatens to fly off the rails. He plays hapless drama teacher Dana Marschz as an artist of such pure creative abandon that he draws us in despite his obvious lack of talent. Finally, he puts on his titular masterpiece, an uproariously inappropriate mishmash of styles and subjects whose highlight is “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” the year’s most audacious original song. If the Academy had the courage to nominate South Park, they should nominate this one too.

Richard Jenkins and Hiam Abbass, in
THE VISITOR — Actor (Richard Jenkins)

It’s easy to overlook Jenkins, just as it’s easy to overlook his character, Walter Vale. The actor uses eloquent body language to express the loneliness and isolation of the college professor, whose life starts to gradually open up again as the result of a newfound friendship with immigrants illegally subletting his New York City apartment. But don’t mistake subtlety for ease. The veteran character actor inhabits this tortured man from the inside out.

Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds, in
IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS — Original Screenplay (Alex Holdridge)

Owing its inspiration to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, this indie comedy follows a young man and woman (Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds) who arrange a meeting through Craig’s List so they won’t be alone at midnight on New Year’s. We follow them on a Los Angeles adventure that neither will ever forget, and we get to know and love them through dialogue so sublime that we hardly want the night to end.

Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins, in
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY — Supporting Actor (Eddie Marsan)

Marsan’s irascible driving instructor Scott serves as the counterpoint for the effervescence of star Sally Hawkins’s Poppy, but soon he explodes in a scene of such profound hurt that we, like Poppy, are taken aback. In this climactic scene, he shows us Scott’s raw soul, and in his quivering lip we see the deep, deep sadness of a man exposing his most personal wounds.

Emily Mortimer, in
TRANSSIBERIAN — Original Screenplay (Brad Anderson and Will Conroy)

A study in suspense writing. Director Anderson and his co-writer Conroy have Hitchcock’s understanding of how to make an effective thriller. Their wily misdirections and psychological perceptiveness (star Emily Mortimer plays a reformed bad girl falling back on old habits) expertly engage and manipulate us. They play us like a fiddle.

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