Cinephiles and awards prognosticators alike had a lot to celebrate when the nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards were revealed last month. The inclusion of filmmakers of colour was one of the major talking points; this year’s Oscars saw a record number of filmmakers of colour making the cut in multiple categories including acting and screenplay.
From Viola Davis bagging her fourth nod, making her the most-nominated black actress in history, to Steven Yeun becoming the first Asian-American to break into the Best Actor category and Chloé Zhao the first woman of colour in Best Director—and the heavy favourite to take home the gold—the latest batch of nominees shows a great promise for the under-represented talents in cinema.
That said, there are lots of outstanding motion pictures that were left out in the cold by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as they failed to land a single spot in the coveted list. Here are four of them:
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
This is quite easily one of the best stories cinema had to offer last year. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, the film narrates the life of a teenage girl saddled with an unwanted pregnancy and forced to make a life-altering decision as she resorts to embryoctony. In Never Rarely Sometimes Always, the soft-spoken, buttoned-up Autumn travels across state lines to New York City with her cousin Skylar on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion.
The release of Never Rarely Sometimes Always comes timely to an acute degree. It poses important questions on women’s rights, female autonomy, sexuality and, to a lesser extent, domestic violence that demand a long-overdue conversation. Political without overtly trying, Hittman’s sensibility infuses the film with the sensitivity it requires and grounds the film as a mirror image of real-life circumstance as opposed to a mere tool for provocation.
It has been 30 years since The Silence of the Lambs was awarded with the Best Picture gong—the first and the last horror flick to receive the recognition—and the trend continues this year with the Relic snub. Drawing from the experience of her own relative, Japanese-Australian director and lover of gothic and Asian horror Natalie Erika James contemplates on the waking nightmare of Alzheimer’s in a film full of symbolisms that’s both unsettling and cathartic.
Relic delves deep into the psyche of Edna, played to a menacing effect by actress Robyn Nevin, who is suffering from a cognitive decline that threatens her own literal and metaphorical existence. Her decaying memory is brilliantly visualised through the dark, maze-like hallways strewn with piles of memorabilia and watching her, her daughter and granddaughter fighting a losing battle to find a way out, a cure, is simply heartbreaking.
Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin is en route to become a cult classic and a guilty pleasure watch among fashion folks—you can bet on it. A biting commentary on the fashion business and its obsession with animal skin, the demented dramedy—which follows the deceitful protagonist Georges on his morbid sartorial quest for all things leather—plays like an innocent belly rub that quickly turns into a sucker punch to the gut with the first swing of the spade.
Resolute on making the fringed suede jacket on his back the only one in the world—yet another jab at the fashion industry for its supposed superiority complex—Georges falls into a downward spiral that drives him to go on a killing spree to get rid of every remaining jacket in town. His insatiable thirst for genuine pelt becomes him; he is eventually decked in head-to-toe deerskin but only to end up like the animals he wears: dead.
Malcolm & Marie
Critics have been up in arms against Malcolm & Marie since it came out on Netflix early this year and it’s easy to see why. Putting the pundits on blast with its scathing commentary on film criticism in the 21st century in the midst of an all-night verbal sparring between the titular characters, the Sam Levinson-directed feature tackles both thematic elements gracefully and yet with such abandon.
Anchored by the towering performances of its two leads Zendaya and John David Washington, and the atmospheric use of black and white photography by Marcell Rév, Malcolm & Marie dives into the premise of a toxic and exploitative relationship, as well as power dynamics, from the first face-off that stems from Malcolm’s failure to properly acknowledge Marie at the premiere of his movie.
The pushback on the film is asinine, to say the least, especially in regard to the critics in question who are unable to take products by filmmakers of colour at face value, so to speak, and consistently trying to push the race narrative, which is reflective of today’s standard in film analysis and evaluation. Levinson dares to call them out on this faux woke, performative activism and we are here for it.