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The Films That Got Away (Without a Best Picture Oscar)

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Written by Charissa Roberson

One problem with annual awards ceremonies like the Academy Awards, which recognize the “Best Picture” of the year, is that often there are numerous excellent films vying for the same prize. Award-worthy films can fall by the wayside, simply because there happens to be a highly competitive field that year. But these nominees are still “Oscar-caliber,” even if they did not take home the coveted golden statue—and they deserve to be remembered and watched just as much as the winners.

Consider the 2015 Academy Awards. That year, the Best Picture category was packed with superb films, although only one could win. “Birdman” took home the prize, but it would be remiss to disregard the other films nominated that year. “American Sniper,” the heart-wrenching true story of a U.S. Navy Seal, received a nomination, along with biographical dramas “The Theory of Everything” and “Selma,” which follow the lives of Stephen Hawking and Martin Luther King, Jr, respectively. At the 2016 Oscars, “Brooklyn” and “Room,” starring actresses Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson, fell short of the Best Picture prize. However, both films feature riveting performances from their two rising stars, and their stories are complex and moving. Steven Spielberg’s Cold War drama “Bridge of Spies” also featured in the 2016 nominees, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance in a poignant story of trust and humanity. 2017 saw another jam-packed Best Picture category, including such nominees as “Hidden Figures,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Lion,” and “Fences,” among others. With so many films released in the same year, the Academy had to choose from a host of worthy candidates. “Arrival,” a rare science-fiction pick, even received a nomination that year. However, in the midst of such a competitive field, the alien linguistics film could not hope to make history by winning the Oscar.

In 2018, a science-fiction film did take home the big prize (“The Shape of Water”), but other genres got pushed aside, including the horror film/social commentary “Get Out.” Even if Jordan Peele’s film did not win an Oscar, it still certainly deserves accolades for its inventiveness and razor-sharp insights. Also featured that year were two World War II dramas: “Darkest Hour,” focused on political giant Winston Churchill, and “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s visionary account of the evacuation that changed history. One year later, at the 2019 Academy Awards, an even wider variety of genres were admitted to the Best Picture nominees. “Black Panther,” the epic superhero film of the decade, made history as one of the few superhero films nominated for the Academy’s most prestigious prize. However, it failed to earn the final nod, along with acclaimed foreign-language drama “Roma” and the electric “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The trend of swollen award categories continued in the most recent 2020 Oscars. Korean dark-comedy “Parasite” earned a well-deserved victory, becoming the only film to win both Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Picture. This film’s merit is undisputed, but unfortunately its sweeping win meant that other exceptional films nominated this year couldn’t compete. Don’t forget that “Joker” also received a nomination, along with Greta Gerwig’s fresh new take on “Little Women.” “Jojo Rabbit,” a World War II satire prompting both laughter and tears, also featured among the nominees, as well as the technologically and emotionally inspiring “1917.” Add Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour epic “The Irishman” to the mix (plus even more nominees), and you have a loaded Best Picture Category with a wide range of outstanding films. The Academy, unfortunately, could only recognize one. We as viewers, however, don’t have to choose, and we can give all of these films the attention and recognition that they deserve.