And the winner isn’t … where the Academy Awards nominations got it wrong | Oscars

The Green Knight

How on earth did The Green Knight get passed over for any Oscar nominations? This visionary drama, directed by David Lowery, stars Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander and is incidentally co-produced by the achingly trendy company A24 – currently the toast of indie Hollywood. It is a freaky folk horror, or prog-rock hallucination, based on the 14th-century chivalric poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dev Patel is Gawain, challenged by the mysterious Green Knight to a sinister game. Gawain is allowed to take a free shot at the knight’s head with his sword, on the understanding that in a year’s time the knight can do the same to him. Gawain chops the knight’s head off, and this unearthly figure simply picks up the head – which reminds Gawain to seek him out next year for the rematch – and strides off. The resulting quest is as disturbing and beautiful as anything I have seen in the cinema in the last 12 months. Why couldn’t the Academy see it? Peter Bradshaw

Zola

‘Outrageously entertaining’: Riley Keough and Taylour Paige in Zola. Photograph: A24 / Anna Kooris / Allstar

The Academy usually goes gaga for an interracial buddy film involving a lot of driving around – see best picture winners Driving Miss Daisy (1990) and Green Book (2019). Yet, somehow, Janicza Bravo’s outrageously entertaining road movie about a part-time pole dancer (Taylour Paige) and her di lei crassly charismatic new pal (Riley Keough) has been overlooked. The main difference between those award-winners and Zola is that Zola is actually good. It doesn’t traffic in trite racial reconciliation fantasies and the performances are uniformly excellent – Colman Domingo! Cousin Greg from Succession! Best of all, Bravo’s agile direction successfully translates a phonescreen-scale Twitter drama into a bounteous big-screen odyssey. This is an urgent task for contemporary cinema that’s barely been attempted by Hollywood’s more feted “auteurs”. Zola deserves noms in everything from best bad accent to best twerk. But it has none. Proof, yet again, that the Academy has no taste. Ellen E Jones

Red Rocket

Simon Rex and Suzanna Son in Red Rocket.
‘As hilarious as it is grim’: Simon Rex and Suzanna Son in Red Rocket. Photograph: A24

If you had to pick a film that really summed up these crazy times, you would struggle with this year’s nominees, most of which are set in the past or 20,000 years in the future. By that measure alone, Red Rocket deserves a shout. It’s bang on the money about modern-day America without being obvious, grandstanding, preachy, weepy, joyless or dumb – which probably explains why it got no Oscar love. Its protagonist is the epitome of masculinity in crisis: a washed-up porn star whose economic and sexual impotence are inextricably linked. Simon Rex plays him with a manic (Oscar-worthy) brilliance, and as with director Sean Baker’s previous films (Tangerine, The Florida Project), Red Rocket goes places Hollywood doesn’t: this time an end-of-the-road Texas refinery town. You could call it realism – Baker uses found locations and non-actors – but the screen bursts with garish color, and the story is as hilarious as it is grim. Steve Rose

7 Prisoners

Christian Malheiros in 7 Prisoners.
‘The movie is a Russian doll – two films in one’: Christian Malheiros in 7 Prisoners. Photograph: Netflix / Aline Arruda / Allstar

It came as no surprise that the electric Brazilian social thriller 7 Prisoners went missing from the Oscars. It’s not that the film isn’t a knockout (it is) or didn’t impress the festivals (it did). But somehow, Alexandre Moratto’s loaded account of modern slavery and moral bonfires vanished between the cracks almost as soon as it appeared on Netflix. When I mention it to friends, I get blank looks; I sometimes wonder if I’ve made the whole thing up. The movie is a Russian doll, two films in one: the first sturdy, the second extraordinary. Each begins as a tale of human trafficking, three rural teenagers working unpaid in a São Paulo scrapyard that keeps them under lock and key. You brace for hardcore realism. The story has that to burn. But then creeping ambiguities come into play, too, more awkward questions asked than simply how outraged we are. Complicity is everywhere; a spotlight falls on how films themselves manipulate who we root for and why. Put like that, the exile from the Oscars seems obvious. Their loss. Danny Leigh

Passing

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing.
‘A riveting performance’: Ruth Negga, with Tessa Thompson in Passing. Photograph: Netflix

Rebecca Hall’s delicate, devastating directorial debut could have been nominated for Eduard Grau’s pearlescent black-and-white cinematography, which gives the film a beautiful yet clandestine perspective, all swinging hems, stirring curtains and lowered hat brims. It could have shown up in adapted screenplay, with Hall herself dextrously negotiating the minefield of Nella Larsen’s 1929 book, on which it is based. Tessa Thompson would have made a powerfully understated best actress choice and André Holland might have perked up a patchy supporting actor field. But the one that really hurts is Ruth Negga’s absence di lei in supporting actress: hers di lei is a riveting performance that both dazzles and shows the toll that maintaining a dazzling front can take on a brittle heart beneath. We’ve come far if in the same year we get Passing and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s superb triple nominee The Lost Daughter – two exceptional female-led debuts from actors turned writer-directors. But it shows how far we still have to go if we can’t find space to nominate both. Jessica Kiang

Memory

Tilda Swinton in Memory.
‘Miraculous scenes of solitude and trauma’: Tilda Swinton in Memoria. Photograph: Sandro Kopp / Kick the Machine Films

Parasite’s win at the Oscars had the hilarious effect of invalidating so many of the Academy’s choices in one fell swoop: “You mean to say that instead of tedious American dross being nominated every year they could have been including good stuff from abroad? ” Of course, it would be insane to suppose that a work of art such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria could compete against Belfast or the extended Twitter thread that is Don’t Look Up, but the world’s greatest living film-maker delivered something truly beautiful this year with his first film outside his native Thailand. With Tilda Swinton (a worthy best actress nominee) sublimating her star power into Weerasethakul’s story of a woman haunted by strange noises, the director somehow creates miraculous scenes of solitude and trauma seemingly out of thin air. In an age that is constantly on the go, Weerasethakul takes the time to look and hear and feel – with exquisite compositions and knotty sound design helping to create a truly immersive film experience. Caspar Salmon

Jackass Forever

Jackass Forever.
‘Suffering for their art’: Jackass Forever. Photograph: Landmark Media / Alamy

There are some fine movies nominated for best picture this year, but I am not sure any of them are doing anything we haven’t seen before. Jackass Forever is a true original. I know it might sound strange to make great claims of originality for the fourth feature film in a filthy, funny, scatological stunt comedy franchise. But Jackass ringleader Johnny Knoxville is 51 now. When he gets taken out by a charging bull, the result is a revealing scene about mortality. Jackass used to be about the cocky invulnerability of youth, about a bunch of guys not giving a shit if they hurt themselves, as long as they got the shot. It was like nobody believed they could really get hurt, no matter how many bumps and bruises and breaks they notched up. This time round, they know. But they’re out there anyway, bravely suffering for their art, lighting the way for the next generation of Jackasses and connecting with audiences. If that’s not the kind of movie the Oscars are meant to support, I don’t know what is. Catherine Bray

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