This Sunday’s Academy Awards will offer one more glitzy push for 10 films that have dominated the movie discourse for the past half year. And while Dune, West Side Story, Drive My Car and the other Best Picture nominees are worthy of the spotlight (okay, maybe everything except Don’t Look Up), there are a Dolby Theatre’s worth of eligible movies that didn’t get any love from the Academy at all. Which is why The Globe and Mail presents its inaugural Alterna-Oscars: a quick guide to the should’ve-been-contenders – and how you can watch them from the comfort of your own home this weekend.
The Card Counter
Whether it was HBO’s Scenes from a Marriage, Dune, or this under-the-radar Paul Schrader thriller, Oscar Isaac offers every inch of himself to the screen, resulting in performances that linger all awards season long. In The Card Counter, Isaac plays one of Schrader’s signature loners, a man who can only survive if he holds his deck close, metaphorically and literally. It’s a killer role, played with intensity and heat – yet I suppose too dark or textured or just plain excellent for the Academy’s tastes. Streaming on Prime Video
In addition to having the perfect title, Pig has a perfect little idea, too. The film casts Nicolas Cage as Rob, a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregon woods. Everything is wonderful, until someone steals Rob’s pig, sparking a journey of revenge and redemption in the underground world of Portland restaurateurs. With its conceit and casting, Pig could have been an overstuffed indulgence. But it is instead a deliciously balanced feast of character and emotion, with Cage chewing just the right amount of scenery – yet somehow failing to net Oscar’s attention. Streaming on Crave
The Last Duel
Ignored by audiences and mismarketed by its studio, Ridley Scott’s medieval spin on Rashomon will go down as one of 2021′s most epic surprises. With Scott’s A-level craftsmanship; an ambitious script by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener; and excellent lead performances across the board – especially a steely Jodie Comer and a sly Affleck, who really should’ve nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nod – The Last Duel is a welcome reminder of what Hollywood titans can do when they’re not squeezed into the confines of a superhero film. Streaming on Disney+ with Star
Zola & Red Rocket
For whatever reason, 2021 featured two high-profile films focusing on sex workers from cool-kid U.S. distributor A24 – both of which were overlooked by Academy voters. Janicza Bravo’s Zola is an upside-down fairy-tale about autonomy, exploitation and power that is also achingly funny, deserving of at least a Best Adapted Screenplay nod. Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, meanwhile, presents a sitcom-level premise – a porn star runs back to his Texas hometown – then twists it into a darkly comic tale of ambition, greed and desire that features a blazing, career-making/defining performance from one-time MTV personality Simon Rex. Zola streams on Netflix; Red Rocket is available for rent on-demand, including Apple TV
The French Dispatch
By this point in Wes Anderson’s career, you know whether you love the filmmaker or want to push him into a puddle. For those who cannot get enough of the meticulous, hilarious, extraordinarily confident director, The French Dispatch is his best film in a decade. Jammed with wonderful actors, so intricately shot that it requires freeze frames to reveal its true depths, and written with warm, inviting wit, the film is a sublime creation. Yet it didn’t even net a production design nomination, which is a perfectly tailored travesty. Streaming on Disney+ with Star
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