Make it a Double: Best Picture Alternatives

A look at some titles from the producers of this year’s crop of Oscar nominees.

The Oscars are here. At last. In spite of the prolonged awards season, shuffling release dates and wondering at some point if there would even BE a ceremony, let alone films worth nominating for the top prize. Despite the changes brought on by Covid-19, the traditions regarding the Best Picture Oscar race remain the same. There is the pointing out glaring omissions, the insistence that certain films don’t deserve the honor and the pushing forward of the title each person firmly believes will be taking home the gold.

Come Monday it will all be over as far as ceremonies and races go. What will remain is the kind of after-Oscars buzz that surrounds each of the nominated films following months of being in the spotlight. It’s that space of time when the general movie going public’s viewing IQ jumps a few points as they seek out the films Hollywood has been pushing and praising in order to be a part of the experience themselves. It’s a welcome time; one where the kind of cinema usually relegated to niche audiences has a chance to truly flourish.

For those of you who have already checked out the top films of the year however (according to the Academy), please check out these equally worthwhile efforts from the same producers of the eight nominated titles.

Molly’s Game (The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Drive, ambition and pride are taken to the extreme in this true story of a woman named Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). A former olympic hopeful, Molly goes from helping to run underground poker nights in L.A. to exclusive games for high rollers in New York City, where she soon incurs the wrath of both the mob and the feds. Sorkin is simply on fire with his directorial debut (which he also adapted from Bloom’s book), directing a soaring Chastain in this highly watchable tale of power and obsession.

The Wings of the Dove (The Father)

One of the more underrated Henry James adaptations came with this 1997 tale of a young woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who puts into motion a plan of deceit in order to win the heart of her penniless lover (Linus Roache). Featuring hints of Dangerous Liaisons, this stunning period piece earned its lead actress an Oscar nomination as it delicately touched on such elements of class, passion, greed, envy and fate for one of the most sumptuous period dramas of the late 90s.

Just Mercy (Judas and the Black Messiah)

It’s a shame that Just Mercy’s 2019 release was delayed so much that it was all but ignored by the Academy when voting time came around. The awards-friendly movie tells the story of a civil rights attorney (Michael B. Jordan) and his decision to represent a wrongly-convicted death row prisoner (Jamie Foxx). Just Mercy features the kind of soulful performances and moving speeches a drama like this needs to work, but ultimately succeeds by favoring justice over politics and holding onto the belief that every person is entitled to the former.

Zodiac (Mank)

David Fincher’s sprawling 2007 crime thriller proved to be a perfect exploration of one of the most notorious unsolved serial killer cases in American history. Zodiac follows a cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a crime reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) and a homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) as they each become consumed in their own ways by the titular killer, who terrorized Northern California in the 1970s. More than a decade later, Fincher’s retelling remains a stunningly-made thrill ride that pulls the audience in and never lets them go.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Minari)

The year before Minari came out, it’s makers brought another tale of class and identity to the screen with 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Written and directed by Joe Talbot, the film told the story of a young man (Jimmie Fails) trying to hold onto both his and the city’s past, specifically the historic home his grandfather built. With issues of history and gentrification flowing throughout the beautifully made film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was one of the most surprising gems to be found in the indie film world that year.

Every Secret Thing (Nomadland)

Before Nomadland, Frances McDormand produced this dark, haunting small-town thriller about two teenage girls (Danielle Macdonald and Dakota Fanning) linked together by a shared crime they committed when they were younger. Every Secret Thing has a distinct darkness to it that stays at bay for a while and slowly creeps in closer as the film progresses. Everyone is at the top of their game, including Diane Lane as Macdonald’s alcoholic mother and Elizabeth Banks as a police detective in this tale of the sinister side of youth.

The Nest (Promising Young Woman)

One of the more heralded films of the year which sadly fell off the radar once awards season started came in the form of 2020’s The Nest. Jude Law and Carrie Coon play a married couple whose move to a large English manor and the need to live up to societal pressures of the 1980s threaten to tear them apart. The Nest is the kind of the dark character drama that’s so rare to find anymore. The cinematography is bleak, the script is involving, the characters are flawed and the ending leaves the kind of impression on you that simply refuses to leave.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sound of Metal)

Few coming-of-age films get into the minds of their protagonists as honestly and eloquently as Marielle Heller’s debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The film tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie (an amazing Bel Powley), an amateur cartoonist who discovers the act of sex and all the life-changing emotions that come with it. Powley is accompanied by some ace talent here (including a knockout Kristen Wiig), but it’s her show and both she and Heller make the absolute ideal team in exploring this complex stage of life with humor and sensitivity.

Good luck to all of this year’s nominated films!

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