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27 Movies And Performances We Wish Had Been Nominated For Oscars

Now that we know the contenders for this year's Academy Awards, here are the overlooked films, actors, writers, directors, and composers, who deserved more attention.

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We have finally reached the homestretch of awards season! The Oscar nominations have been announced, giving us an actual list to focus on and argue over until the Academy Awards ceremony airs on ABC on Feb. 22.

And yet, we cannot help but wonder what could have been. For well over a decade now, awards season has become restricted to a narrow list of films that dominate online speculation and industry conversation. Most of these films are great, some are amazing, but rarely do they hold a monopoly on being the best films of the year.

Sometimes, certain movies are deemed too commercial for awards season. Other times, they're deemed too small, or strange, or bleak. Occasionally, a worthy nominee is dismissed because others from the same film are considered more likely to win the Academy's votes. These appraisals are tailored to the perceived tastes of the voting body, and reinforced by distributors whose business models (and marketing budgets) are dedicated to getting their movies onto that awards season shortlist.

The result is a narrow band of "awards movies," when awards season should assess the entire year in cinema, big, small, and everything in between. Why not a superhero movie, or a contemporary comedy, or an animated feature?

Below are some daring, inventive, and moving films and performances that we wish had earned recognition from the Academy, but instead were not even given a fighting chance at consideration for an Oscar nomination this year.

1. Best Picture: The LEGO Movie

Warner Bros.

Inexplicably passed over for a nomination for Best Animated Feature, this movie is also a winning, emotionally complex, and involving movie. Period. The LEGO Movie blissfully satirizes cultural homogenization and takes one of most satisfying storytelling risks of any movie in recent memory. If I were describing a live-action movie instead of an animated film, it would seem much less absurd to suggest it be considered among the best films of the year. And yet, it is! —Adam B. Vary

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2. Best Picture: Snowpiercer

RADIUS-TWC

Snowpiercer takes place almost entirely within the walls of a perpetually moving train whose passengers live in monstrous social stratification 17 years after industrialization froze the earth. A rebellion of the unwashed masses in the train's rear section, led by a reluctant white man named Curtis (Chris Evans), moves up toward the front section, itching for a coup. In Bong Joon-ho's exquisite masterpiece, the tough, capable, masculine Curtis is the obvious revolutionary leader until, all at once, change is beyond his ideological limits. Ultimately hopeful, the film contends that to effect real change, you can't swap one white man leading everyone in a circle for another: You have to blow up the train. With that in mind, it makes sense that this film might not appeal to the disproportionately white, male, and old Academy members! But that doesn't mean it's not beautiful, arresting, and worthy of attention. —Ariane Lange

3. Best Picture: Under the Skin

A24

Horror and science fiction are too often overlooked when it comes to the Oscars: Under the Skin is both and neither, a genre-bending allegory about a man-killing alien that's also a thoughtful study of the male gaze in film and Hollywood's treatment of women. It vacillates between the gorgeous and the grotesque, anchored by Scarlett Johansson's largely silent performance as a creature who turns predators into prey. While it may be more offbeat than the typical Best Picture nominee, Under the Skin deserves recognition for its ability to embrace and amplify its genre, using horror's most frequent tropes to deliver powerful commentary on all film. —Louis Peitzman

4. Best Actress: Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle

Fox Searchlight

It was almost as if Gugu Mbatha-Raw was born to take on the title role of the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a British admiral in Belle. The British actor allowed herself to disappear inside Belle, which was inspired by a 1779 painting, and which focuses on the fight to abolish slavery in England. Clearly, she's an emerging superstar, primed to be one of the next big screen sirens — she also turned in an inspired performance in Gina Prince-Bythewood's romantic drama Beyond the Lights. A nomination this year would have introduced Mbatha-Raw to a larger audience and encouraged people to check out the type of film we seldom get to see on screen. But it didn't and that's a problem.—Kelley L. Carter

5. Best Actress: Jenny Slate in Obvious Child

A24

Jenny Slate managed to make me cry with laughter (and in sympathy) while watching the seemingly unfunny dilemma she faces in Obvious Child. After a night spent lamenting a breakup and a one-night stand with an actually nice guy, Slate's Donna Stern soon realizes that she is pregnant as a result of the boozy escapade and plans on having an abortion. The actor's hilariously self-deprecating line-readings and honest portrayal of some of life's most uncomfortable moments make the film relatable to all, while tackling and normalizing a sensitive issue. —Susan Cheng

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6. Best Actress: Hilary Swank in The Homesman

Roadside Attractions

In an alternative universe, Hilary Swank would be a frontrunner to win her third Oscar for her unforgettable performance in this unsparing and startling Western from co-writer-director Tommy Lee Jones. She plays Mary Bee Cuddy, an unmarried farmer living in the American frontier who agrees to transport three young, married women, whose sanity has disintegrated from the harshness of life in the 19th-century American west, back east. Swank reveals every chip at Mary Bee's brittle but determined soul. She's unforgettable, and yet she was collectively forgotten when it came time to survey the best female lead performances of the year. Insane. —A.B.V.

7. Best Actor: Tom Hardy in Locke and The Drop

It's rare for an actor to turn in one award-worthy performance in a given year, let alone two — that's what makes the fact that every guild and voting body has completely overlooked Tom Hardy's work in Locke and The Drop all the more disappointing.

In Locke, Hardy was the only actor on-screen for the film's duration (he interacts with other characters via his car's speakerphone) and he shouldered that burden brilliantly, taking the audience on a literal and figurative ride. Then, in The Drop, Hardy seamlessly inhabited the introverted skin of a Brooklyn bartender with an inflammatory past and a deep love for puppies. Hardy might be best known for starring in big-budget spectacles such as The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, but in these films, the explosive action is all internal, and Hardy's sublime performances ensured you felt every punch to the gut and heartbreaking revelation. —Jarett Wieselman

8. Best Actor: Jack O'Connell in Starred Up

Tribeca Film

The former star of the hit U.K. teen series Skins earned quite a bit of attention for his turn as Louis Zamperini in Unbroken. And Jack O'Connell certainly accomplished some impressive feats in the buzz-y movie (Angelina Jolie's second feature as a director): He lost a dangerous amount of weight, played a real-life American hero, and went through numerous types of physical torture. But the 2014 movie that showcased O'Connell at his best was the much smaller, quieter Starred Up, in which he plays Eric Love, a juvenile criminal who — as the term of the film's title indicates — is bumped up to an adult prison, which happens to also house his estranged father. The amount of swagger, innocence, strength, and vulnerability he brought to Eric is what really should be earning O'Connell his first chance at Oscar gold. —Jaimie Etkin

9. Best Actor: Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher

Sony Pictures Classics

By now, it's perfectly clear that Steve Carell (who plays John du Pont, a dangerously ignorant wrestling coach and heir to quite the fortune) and Mark Ruffalo (who plays Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestler who eventually joins du Pont at his estate) — both of whom are Oscar nominees— earned all the attention for Foxcatcher. But the only performance truly worthy of awards season chatter in the otherwise boring biographical movie is Channing Tatum's, who will make you forget every Step Up dance move and dirty 21 Jump Street joke with his turn as younger Schultz brother and fellow wrestler Mark. In Foxcatcher, Tatum acts from his head to his toes: He has an entirely differently gait, and gives the rather dense character of Mark depth without saying a word in many scenes. Tatum was grossly overlooked in his more subtle, but also more stunning performance, and for more on this topic, please read Alison Willmore's on-the-nose piece. —J.E.

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10. Best Actor: Andy Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox

It feels unfair to say that Andy Serkis brings humanity to the character of Caesar. After all, Caesar's defining characteristic is that he isn't human — yet, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the depths of his emotions far surpass those of his human co-stars. While Serkis did impressive work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the first installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series, his work in Dawn is a stunning step forward. His Caesar is so compelling and emotionally resonant that the performance-capture technology that brought him into existence feels largely like an afterthought. —L.P.

11. Best Actor: Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins; 12. Best Actor: John Lithgow in Love Is Strange; and 13. Best Supporting Actor: Alfred Molina in Love Is Strange

All three of these actors played gay men in 2014, but the real similarity between their fantastic performances is how unshowy and subtle they are. None of them are required to undergo any major physical transformation, and their narrative arcs — Bill Hader as a depressed out-of-work actor who reunites with his sister (Kristen Wiig), and John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to live apart after 39 years together — remain human-scaled. They're not playing exceptional people conquering unimaginable odds. Instead, all three actors employ finely tuned emotional shading to create deeply moving inner lives, capturing how ordinary people confronting ordinary problems can still add up to an extraordinary experience. Lithgow and Molina, at least, earned Independent Spirit Award nominations; Hader's come up empty this season. —A.B.V.

14. Best Supporting Actress: Jillian Bell in 22 Jump Street

Columbia Pictures

There is a lot going on in this acutely, hysterically self-aware sequel. And yet Jillian Bell, best known for Comedy Central's Workaholics, still manages to stand out as a brutally deadpan college student who unleashes a gut-busting torrent of abuse (verbal and otherwise) upon Jonah Hill's hapless character. There wasn't a character quite like her all year, and rarely a funnier one. These are exceedingly difficult qualities to pull off, and yet they scarcely get recognized come awards season — Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder are the only examples in over a decade. Bell deserved the same consideration. —A.B.V.

15. Best Supporting Actress: Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow

Warner Bros.

In Edge of Tomorrow, Emily Blunt wields a massive blade and wears an even bigger suit as a distaff avenging knight placed into a war-ravaged sci-fi future. But it's her tough, soulful performance as a famous soldier in an unending alien invasion that grounds this effects-driven spectacle, giving us a deep sense of what is at stake and why we should care. Also, and this should not be overlooked, she kicks major ass. Why not honor that with an Oscar nomination? —A.B.V.

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16. Best Supporting Actress: Melanie Lynskey in Happy Christmas

Magnolia Pictures

Joe Swanberg's largely improvised comedy Happy Christmas is certainly worth watching for the utter joy that is the filmmaker's then-2-year-old son Jude, who plays the offspring of Swanberg's and Melanie Lynskey's characters. But Lynskey is the true star of this movie about family, relationships, passion, marriage, and parenting. Her character’s struggle to reconcile the immense love she has for her child and the suffocation that stems from her inability to follow her professional passion is something that seeps into viewers’ bones. Even though the Academy doesn't seem to recognize the incredible and moving effect Lynskey can have on an audience, let us be grateful for Swanberg's filmmaking compatriots the Duplass brothers for casting her as an equally complex woman in their new series Togetherness. —J.E.

17. Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart in Still Alice

Sony Pictures Classics

Many have been focusing solely on Julianne Moore's haunting, Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated performance as Alice, a 50-year-old woman diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. But Kristen Stewart deserves a tremendous amount of credit for her portrayal of Lydia, Alice's youngest child. Stewart had a hell of a year, but her performance as the emotional yet extremely strong daughter of a woman suffering from an unimaginable disease is her best to date. Every time Stewart and Moore shared the screen together, I cried — not necessarily because of the circumstances their characters were facing, but because Stewart gave Moore the space to tackle Alice's difficult decline in an overwhelmingly raw manner. And Stewart silently shined with her each step of the way. —Emily Orley

18. Best Supporting Actor: Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy

In addition to being the tightest and most fun of the Marvel movies so far, Guardians of the Galaxy was the studio's most emotional. I cried a number of times that I won't list, lest I ruin some plot points toward the end of James Gunn's wonderful movie. But it's no spoiler to say that Bradley Cooper's Rocket — adding New York-accented fury to every line — not only had me laughing throughout, but moved me as well. Rocket is a lab experiment, and in a less responsible and thoughtful film, that fact would be treated as a joke instead of both a burden and a gift. This recognition should be Cooper's, but it should also be shared with the movie's (Oscar nominated) visual effects team and Sean Gunn (pictured, right), the director's brother, who embodied Rocket on set and performed the role with the other actors. The ensemble would not have worked without him. —Kate Aurthur

19. Best Director: Denis Villeneuve for Enemy

A24

The concept of encountering one's double is inherently horrific, but Enemy is not a horror film. Still, that doesn't stop Denis Villeneuve from dabbling in the genre, continually subverting audience expectations throughout the 95-minute mindfuck. With Villeneuve at the helm, Enemy is a psychological drama that at times feels like a neo-noir thriller or a body horror flick. That persistent push and pull— coupled with a constant feeling of dread — contributes to the overall feeling of unease that makes Enemy so effective, right down to the shocking punch line of a final shot. —L.P.

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20. Best Director: Adam Wingard for The Guest

Picturehouse

As he demonstrated in 2013's excellent horror film You're Next, Adam Wingard has an eye for strong action set-pieces, artful gore, and surprising humor. He manages to once again combine all three in The Guest, which — while more thriller than horror — shares much of You're Next's sensibilities, thanks also to another great script from Simon Barrett. Wingard's work here is particularly impressive for the way he makes the film feel intimate and personal, despite bursts of violence and explosions. Wingard has proven himself an expert at knowing when to show restraint, and when to let it all hang out. —L.P.

21. Best Adapted Screenplay: What If

CBS Films

We used to value whip-smart romantic banter in contemporary light comedies as a supreme art form in this country. But for some reason, not anymore. Moviegoers and the Academy should have collectively gushed over the delightful, lighthearted, crackling dialogue (adapted from the play Toothpaste and Cigars) that bounces between Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as they pine unrequitedly for each other. Wake up, Hollywood! —A.B.V.

22. Best Original Screenplay: Dear White People

Roadside Attractions

The best satire offers incisive social commentary while also being really fucking funny, and Dear White People excels at both. Justin Simien's brilliant screenplay refuses to pull any punches as it tackles issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, all without breaking a sweat. There's something particularly admirable about how effortless the comedy is in Dear White People. It's a testament to Simien's prowess that he can pack his film with so much rich irony and so many laughs without sacrificing a timely plot and complex characters whose varied backgrounds and identities reflect a level of diversity rarely seen in film or on television. —L.P.

23. Best Original Screenplay: Obvious Child

A24

While it's reductive to call Obvious Child the "abortion movie," that's exactly why the film should be celebrated. The character of Donna owes much to her portrayer Jenny Slate, but it's Gillian Robespierre's screenplay that manages to seamlessly work abortion into a charming romantic comedy. Her treatment of the common but shockingly stigmatized medical procedure is revolutionary in that it's both central to the story but not a source of conflict. Abortion is presented as a normal (though, yes, confusing) part of life. With Robespierre's sharp sense of humor and subtle pathos, Obvious Child delivers an important message without being a message movie at all. —L.P.

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24. Best Original Screenplay: The Skeleton Twins

Roadside Attractions

Both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are exceptional in The Skeleton Twins, but it helps that they were given two gorgeously complex roles in Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman's screenplay. The Skeleton Twins traffics in ambiguity, and that goes beyond its comedy-drama designation. In twins Milo and Maggie, Johnson and Heyman crafted characters that are likable when making very bad decisions, and sometimes frustrating when doing the right thing. Either way, the film refuses to pass judgment on them, which makes their journeys all the more satisfying to watch unfold. —L.P.

25. Best Original Screenplay: Top Five

Paramount Pictures

How often is comedian Chris Rock going to knock it out of the park with a film — which he penned himself — that smartly illustrates his frustrations with Hollywood? I'm going to go with once. Top Five is Rock's best film yet; he nails the coltish dialogue and mosaic-like storyline, and taps into small cultural nuances that carry throughout the film and add to the comedy. For the most part, he avoids the pitfalls of his earlier films, and doesn't inject any over-the-top antics into moments that don't need them — save for that one flashback scene. Instead, he turns in one of the best written, most comical scripts of the year. —K.L.C.

26. Best Original Score: Under the Skin

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Jonathan Glazer's predatory alien drama goes for long stretches without words. Instead, there's Mica Levi's eerie, menacing, totally awesome score, which sustains it and propels it forward. The woozy strings and that slow, inexorable beat slide between scary and seductive, just like the movie itself. No other film this year used original music so well. —Alison Willmore

27. Best Cinematography: Chef

I lost count of the number of times I wanted to eat the screen while watching writer-director Jon Favreau's ode to authentic cooking. I don't know if honoring food porn cinematography is something the Academy is into, but, like, it should be. —A.B.V.

Those are our choices, but what films and performances from 2014 would you have wanted to be nominated?

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