5 Great Movies the Oscars Overlooked this Year

Oscars history is flush with moments when the Academy passed on the chance to nominate films that went on to become critical darlings, cult classics, or even some of the most beloved films of all time. It’s hard to say if any of the movies the Academy ignored this year will go on to join any of those categories, but what I do know is that there are an incredible number of great films from the past year that the Academy fully ignored that you should make sure to dive into. For the sake of variety, I’m not including snubs that I already mentioned in earlier Oscars-related pieces or movies we have already covered on the site. And now, before I fully sell my soul to covering the run-up to the Oscars in my Category Deep Dives, here are five overlooked films that you should seek out. 

Possessor (2020)

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of horror maestro David, Possessor is equal parts philosophical science fiction and sublime body horror. Centered around a searing pair of performances from Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott, Cronenberg’s movie imagines a reality where an elite mercenary group utilizes a technology to infiltrate minds and pose as other people. These “possessions” drive the story in thrilling fashion, but also provide a cerebral subtext about the essence of identity and how easily we can get lost, here quite literally, in another person. Possessor is everything I hoped Tenet (2020) would be and more. Cronenberg and company strike the enviable balance of explaining the tech enough to have us understand it, but not enough to get bogged down in the mechanics, which allows for the tone and themes to rise to the top. Whether or not you normally watch anything horror-tinged, Possessor should be on your watchlist. 

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

I had the great pleasure of briefly meeting Eliza Hittman (I said “hello” and “thank you for speaking with us,” and then nervously went on my way), the writer and director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, when she introduced her last film, Beach Rats (2017), at a screening at Middlebury College. I was awed by both her and her film, and so awaited her next feature with fervent anticipation. The resulting film is a tender and gorgeous near-verité story of a young woman named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) who has to travel to New York City to get an abortion. Hittman also weaves in another storyline focused on Autumn’s relationship with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who insists on accompanying Autumn through the whole process. The film drove me laughter and tears, and Flanigan’s performance is astonishing. Hittman handles a divisive issue with grace and humanity, never wavering for a moment from her poetic focus on the thing that really matters: Autumn’s quest to get what she needs and, more importantly, deserves access to. 

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

I suppose Kirsten Johnson’s documentary Dick Johnson is Dead was always going to be too far afield for the traditionally stiff-lipped documentary wing of the Academy, but it is still an utter shame that this film was not a part of the final nominations. A lifetime documentarian, Johnson here turns the camera on her father Dick, who is in the early stages of dementia, with the goal of preemptively processing his impending death with him. One strand of the film is a traditionally staged documentary made up of filmed conversations between Kirsten and Dick, footage of Dick packing up his longtime home to move in with  Kirsten, and everything from doctor’s appointments to reminiscence. The other strand is definitively non-traditional: Kirsten and Dick stage a series of ways that Dick might die, from falling down the stairs to having an air-conditioner flatten him while he walks on the street. The documentary is moving and hilarious and emerges as one of the most complete meditations on grief, albeit pre-emptive, and the father-daughter relationship that I have ever watched. 

The Half of It (2020)

The Half of It should have been one of the dominant hits of Netflix’s 2020 film slate. Writer-director Alice Wu’s queered and high-school-set loose adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s legendary play Cyrano de Bergerac is every bit charming and introspective as one would expect from the woman who gave us Saving Face (2004). In Wu’s version, Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a brilliant and socially-shunned Chinese-American teenager yearning to get out of her small Washington hometown while keeping a side hustle writing her classmates’ papers. Enter Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a big-hearted but bumbling young man who wants Ellie to ghostwrite love letters to their popular and beloved classmate Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), who also happens to be dating the local football hero. Just when you think it can’t get any more complicated, Ellie realizes she might be in love with Aster. With a cast as adept at slapstick and one-liners as delivering heartfelt speeches about grief and love, Wu takes her high-concept comedy and molds into one of the most accomplished stories about coming into yourself as a teenager and how some bonds can weather even a love triangle. 

Let Them All Talk (2020)

Steven Soderbergh, who directed Let Them All Talk from a Deborah Eisenberg script, has enjoyed one of the most fascinatingly eclectic directorial careers in Hollywood. This is a man who broke into the film world with the indie classic Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), struck Oscar gold with Erin Brokovich (2000), drove Ocean’s Eleven (2001) into unexpected franchise success, and then somehow outdid himself by giving us the first iteration of Daniel Craig with a southern accent in Logan Lucky (2017). The list of things that Soderbergh cannot do has to be a small one, a fact further exemplified by the tragicomic Let Them All Talk in which he takes a run-and-gun approach to directing a story about an aging writer reuniting with her two estranged best friends during a cross-Atlantic voyage on the QE2. The cast includes Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen, three absolute legends who seem to have the time of their lives in this one. The story goes that Soderbergh enlisted Eisenberg to write the skeleton of a script, and then asked the cast, which also features Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan, to improvise, all while he shot nearly the whole thing during an actual Atlantic crossing. The final product benefits from consummate professionals doing their thing in a setting that allowed for an incredibly organic feel. The Academy may have blanked the film, even Queen Streep, but Soderbergh gets the last laugh; he is directing this year’s Academy Awards telecast. 

Bonus Suggestions of Snubbed Movies we Already Covered:

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