You know what’s even more satisfying than your favorite movie cleaning up on Oscar night? The righteous indignation that comes from knowing that Academy members were too busy nominating Meryl Streep again to throw a bone to works of high art like “Under the Skin” or “In the Mood for Love.” One of the most important traditions during awards season is getting angry and/or surprised by which movies were snubbed, of which there are more than a few — for every “Shape of Water” with 13 nominations, there’s a “Zodiac” with zero.
And so it is that we’ve assembled this look at 25 great movies that went entirely unrecognized by AMPAS, some of which are unsurprising (they don’t often give much love to wrenching Korean dramas, after all) but unjust all the same. Have a look, and try to quell your outrage as you’re reminded that, seriously, “Melancholia” didn’t even land a cinematography nod.
25. “Love Is Strange” (2014)
Ira Sachs makes movies that leave indelible imprints on the viewer, films that alchemize the daily heartbreaks of human experience into essential cinema. Turning his lens on a facet of life many gay men would like to forget, “Love Is Strange” follows an aging couple fallen on unexpected hard times who must move out of their apartment. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are equal parts tender, charming, and naturalistic, delivering complex performances too rarely seen from these masters of craft. Marisa Tomei is excellent as their sharp-tongued niece-in-law. Sachs is firmly an indie filmmaker, and “Love Is Strange” certainly didn’t have much of an awards budget. Still, it’s precisely the kind of beautifully made small film the Academy likes to highlight with acting nods, which easily could have gone to Lithgow, Molina, or Tomei. —Jude Dry
24. “Dear White People” (2014)
One of the most perceptive movies about race relations in America, period, Justin Simien’s whip-smart satire of black-white tensions on an American university is at once acerbic and insightful. Plus, it gave the world Tessa Thompson, the remarkable centerpiece of a movie about struggling to speak across that awful racial divide while galvanizing one side of the equation. As radio deejay Samantha White, Thompson’s fast-talking truthteller instantly became the voice of a generation, her dialogue laced with so many keen observations it’s no wonder that Simien continued them with his Netflix series based on the movie. But the absence of “DWP” in the Oscar race for its shrewd screenplay speaks volumes about how much 2014 was out of touch with true diverse talent producing work worthy of attention. Things are a little better now, but nothing will change the fact that “DWP” was robbed. —Eric Kohn
23. “Under the Skin” (2013)
22. “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014)
Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” represents his own meditation on fame, and his screenplay effortlessly weaves in observations on YA movie stars, aging female icons, and the obsession we all have with holding on to the past. The script should’ve been a contender, as should’ve Kristen Stewart for her supporting turn as a quietly manipulative assistant to a legendary actress. Stewart’s internalized acting was pitch perfect for the role, and we’re starting to think she’ll never be Oscar nominated if the Academy isn’t smart enough to recognize her for her work here and in “Personal Shopper.” —ZS
21. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)
A survivor story that brings together Plato’s ancient texts, Cold War tensions, and David Bowie’s swagger, “Hedwig” (2001) is a fiercely original musical. An East German performer — described by the film’s director, star and co-writer, John Cameron Mitchell, as belonging to a “gender of one” — repeatedly reinvents herself when men steal away all she holds dear. Unaware that Berlin will soon be free of Communism, the character undergoes a bungled sex change to escape with an unfaithful Kansan sergeant (Maurice Dean Wint); she sues her next love (Michael Pitt) for passing off her discography as his own. “Hedwig” originated as an award-winning off-Broadway show, and the screen adaptation earned two Sundance Film Festival prizes, a Gotham Award, five Film Independent Spirit nods, and a Golden Globe nomination for Mitchell. In 2014, two decades after Mitchell began entertaining audiences as Hedwig, Neil Patrick Harris took the production to Broadway, where the glittering globe-trotter won four Tonys. —Jenna Marotta
20. “Elephant” (2003)
One of the most haunting films of the 21st century, the second chapter of Gus Van Sant’s thematically connected “Death Trilogy” is a mesmeric, multi-headed portrait of a society that’s sleepwalking its way towards tragedy. Strongly inspired by the Columbine High School massacre that had shaken America four years prior, “Elephant” follows a number of kids through the banality of another average school day, Harris Savides’ camera gliding behind them as they drift towards the darkness. The film provides a cross-section of the student body, introducing us to all the usual archetypes (the jock, the cheerleader, the nerdy girl, the boy with his head in the clouds, etc.), and uniting them together by their shared interest in the future; this is a quiet film broken into small fragments, but virtually every conversation before the shooting starts is about what these kids want to do later, what their plans are for tomorrow, etc. One of the most deeply unsettling things about the movie — in which Van Sant offers a wide variety of “explanations” that all work to embarrass each other — is how it snuffs out all of this potential, leaving us with nothing but a profound sense of pure senselessness. “Elephant” is not the kind of story that America wants to tell itself, and so it’s easy enough to explain how it might have won the Palme d’Or but also have been largely ignored back home. —David Ehrlich