From ‘Ex Machina’ to ‘Spy,’ Underrated Movies on Our Oscars Wishlist

TheWrap’s film critic offers some achievements he’d like to call to the (red) carpet

This story first appeared in the Nominations/SAG/Golden Globes issue of TheWrap magazine.

It’s the season when observers turn from “What a terrible year for movies” to “How can I possibly narrow down my list of favorites?” on a dime, so it’s inevitable that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is going to leave some deserving honorees off its shortlists. As voting begins, here are some noteworthy entries from 2015 on our Oscars wishlist, mentioned in the hopes of upping their chances to make it to the big show.

BEST PICTURE
“Ex Machina”
This directorial debut from “Brit pack” novelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland faces a number of hurdles, from its early-in-the-year release to the fact that if only one genre film makes it, it’s most likely going to be “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But if there can be room for a second non-Oscar-bait movie, it should certainly be this one; the writing is taut and unpredictable, the three lead performances are outstanding and the film incorporates visual effects as an invisible yet indispensable element of the storytelling.

BEST ACTOR
David Thewlis, “Anomalisa”
There has never, ever been a nominated performance from an animated film, not even when Disney/Pixar mounted a campaign for Ellen DeGeneres in “Finding Nemo.” But Thewlis — as a character who’s relatable even when he’s despicable — merits award-season attention. (As do his co-stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan.)

BEST ACTRESS
Juliette Binoche, “Clouds of Sils Maria”
Kristen Stewart deserves all the praise she’s gotten from critics groups (and the Césars) for her work in Olivier Assayas‘ gorgeous drama, but the film’s lead is no less captivating in a role that’s just as complex. There have been many movies about aging actresses, but Binoche finds new tones and insights for her performance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sam Elliott, “Grandma”
For decades, Sam Elliott has walked on screen and played Sam Elliott brilliantly, but here’s a film in which he’s asked to portray someone entirely different. It’s a powerful, vulnerable, subtle piece of acting that reaffirms this reliable supporting player as one of the real treasures of American movies.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rose Byrne, “Spy”
Comic turns are generally ignored by this august body, but this category occasionally honors great practitioners of the craft. After stealing scenes in “Bridesmaids” and “Neighbors,” Byrne explodes with full force here, snarling with villainy while exchanging brutally barbed banter with Melissa McCarthy.

BEST DIRECTOR
Andrew Haigh, “45 Years”
Haigh has established himself as a skilled observer of the human heart, from the gay love stories of “Weekend” and HBO’s “Looking” to this subtle, devastating observation of a lengthy heterosexual marriage that threatens to become unglued by new revelations and old regrets.

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