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Oscar Should-Have-Beens: Our Dream Academy Award Alternatives

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 20, 2015 4:20PM

Every year, the Oscars hype surrounds the horse race (who will win, possible upsets) and the so-called snubs (expected nominations that didn't happen). As you could easily make an encyclopedia-sized list of great films and filmmakers never even nominated, this annual media ritual just serves to emphasize how meaningless that shiny little trophy really is in the scheme of things.

Still, the Oscars do a little bit of good, if only by setting a supposed standard for movies beyond box office tallies in the consciousness of mainstream popular culture. In that regard, when smaller, riskier movies like Boyhood and Whiplash share the stage with the usual "prestige film" Oscar bait, that's a healthy thing.

In that spirit, we're not making Oscar predictions, nor expressing outrage over widely perceived snubs. Instead, here is a dream selection of movies or artists we admired in 2014 that were never even in the discussion of possible Academy Award nominees, but were more than deserving of consideration. We're not covering all the categories here, but your suggestions for those included or not are welcome in our comments section below.

Best Picture: Calvary - It topped our end-of-the-year list of favorite films, so of course this remarkable drama about faith and sin in the cold, hard, real world would be our pick for the grand prize.

Best Actor: Jim Broadbent for Le Week-End - Film acting simply doesn't get any better than the veteran British actor's performance as a man struggling to save his problematic marriage. Broadbent's subtle playing of the frustrations and heartbreak of his character is right on the money in every single scene.

Best Actress: Juliette Binoche for Clouds of Sils Maria - Binoche is already an Oscar winner (1997 Best Supporting Actress for The English Patient), but her career has been consistently impressive (especially overseas) and her complex performance as an insecure middle-aged actress in this film is one of her finest to date. Already released in several other countries, the movie will get a limited opening in the U.S. in spring, so technically she could be eligible for an Oscar next year, but that is a long shot to say the least.

Best Supporting Actor: Matthias Schoenaerts for The Drop - This Belgian actor has come on strong in recent years, with superb performances in Rust and Bone and Bullhead, where his director was also The Drop’s Michael Roskam. As Tom Hardy's nemesis in this underrated drama of Brooklyn bar operators under the thumb of organized crime, Schoenaerts is both quietly intimidating and darkly magnetic.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Benoist for Whiplash - Sure, Tilda Swinton's hilarious turn as the dystopian disciplinarian in Snowpiercer was the glaring omission, but she's gotten plenty of attention for her memorably over-the-top role. Benoist makes a big impression more quietly and with very little screen time as the girl Miles Teller pursues and later rejects in the name of musical perfection. Benoist's heartbroken kiss-off to Teller at a diner is played perfectly.

Best Director: James Gray for The Immigrant - I’ll be happy as a clam to see Richard Linklater walk away with the award for Boyhood, as many expect he will. But Gray's delicate, classical visual craftsmanship deserved some recognition and might have received it had The Weinstein Company not treated the movie like an unwanted stepchild.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Dennis Lehane for The Drop - Lehane's books have been brought to the screen effectively before (Mystic River, Shutter Island), but this time the author did it himself with a terrific adaptation of his short story "Animal Rescue." Lehane must really be fond of this story, because after writing the screenplay he also expanded it into a novel.

Best Original Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch for Only Lovers Left Alive - Indie cinema icon Jarmusch is so celebrated as a stylist that not enough attention is paid to his equally distinctive writing. His witty, melancholy take on vampire mythology is packed with rich, sometimes poetic dialogue.

Best Cinematography: Peter Flinckenberg for Concrete Night - Let's give the Academy credit for nominating the black-and-white Polish drama Ida in this category. Though that film has been a bit overrated overall, it does have a memorably stark visual palette. Still, as black-and-white foreign films go, this Finnish tale of troubled siblings (which was submitted for Best Foreign Language Film consideration, but didn't make the Academy's cut) is a true dazzler. From its high-contrast scenes of realism to evocative dream imagery, it displays real beauty in every frame.

Best Foreign Language Film: 7 Boxes - While Concrete Night would also be fully deserving of this honor, the Academy tends to lean toward serious movies and overlooks well-crafted entertainment, so the inclusion of this fast-paced thriller from Paraguay would buck that trend. It paints a portrait of the underclass in that country within genre boundaries: wheelbarrows in a street market take the place of cars on the highway. With well-drawn characters in a tightly crafted story, 7 Boxes has qualities a lot of bland Hollywood chase films would do well to emulate.