Oscars: Scott Feinberg on the Underdogs Worthy of Academy Attention

Rush Film Still - H 2013

Rush Film Still - H 2013

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's November stand-alone.

Great work slips under the Academy's radar every awards season for any number of reasons -- an ill-advised release date, a lack of adequate resources for a campaign, work by competitors that is flashier and therefore steals the spotlight and, well, the list goes on. As we approach Thanksgiving, when many Oscar voters first begin to really delve into their movie-watching duties, I thought I'd highlight a few contenders that deserve more consideration than they are otherwise likely to receive.

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My favorite film of the year is Short Term 12, Destin Daniel Cretton's second feature film, which is about a young couple (Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are outstanding) who supervise a facility for at-risk teens and a number of their charges (the standouts being Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever). The film came out in August, but Cinedigm does not have the resources that bigger distributors do for a campaign, so you're going to have to trust me on this one because you may not hear about it elsewhere. Also worth remembering: Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, the third and highest-grossing installment in his beautiful series of Before films that star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy -- who also co-wrote the two most recent -- as a couple who walk and talk their way across beautiful European cities while falling in and out of love. The series collectively has received only a single nomination thus far, a crime that should be corrected this year.


Adam Leon's Gimme the Loot is among the most exciting directorial debuts in recent memory. Leon's little indie offers a fun and funny look at class and race in present-day New York, as seen through the eyes of two teenage graffiti artists whom you can't help but like in spite of their petty crimes and who can't quite bring themselves to admit that they like each other. It's like an early Spike Lee movie infused with Quentin Tarantino's wackiness and deserves more than just a Gotham Awards nom for best breakthrough director. And J.C. Chandor, who has ceded most of the spotlight for All Is Lost to the film's star, Robert Redford, deserves a nomination, too, for transitioning from writing and directing the beautifully verbose Margin Call to this almost wordless, sea-set thriller.

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The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann's flashy 3D adaptation of the great American novel, opened Cannes in May to great fanfare -- but now largely is forgotten. If it had come out on Christmas Day 2012 (as originally was planned) or even 2013 (depending on how strong The Wolf of Wall Street turns out to be), it might actually have been a player because Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect in the title role. Chris O'Dowd also deserves to be remembered -- and, frankly, deserves a best actor (musical or comedy) Golden Globe -- for the delightful The Sapphires. And I have to say that I feel a little sorry for Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte, who gives a sweet, sensitive and perfectly competent dramatic performance in Nebraska that caught many by surprise, but who completely has been overlooked by virtually everyone in favor of his older co-star Bruce Dern, who is competing in the same category. 


The aforementioned Larson, who also appeared this year in The Spectacular Now and Don Jon, recently received a best actress Gotham nom and really deserves an Oscar nom to go with it. Also extraordinary: Rooney Mara as a poker-faced housewife in Steven Soderbergh's Hitchockian swan song Side Effects and 13-year-old Sophie Nelisse as the wide-eyed lead in the Holocaust drama The Book Thief, her second-ever movie.

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Ryan Gosling is only in the first third of the morality triptych of The Place Beyond the Pines, in which he plays a guy who does bad things for good reasons, but he haunts the other two. The perennially great Sam Rockwell totally steals the coming-of-age indie The Way, Way Back. In Blue Jasmine, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay more than capably go toe-to-toe with Cate Blanchett. Then there is James Franco as agangsta rapper with cornrows and a teeth grill in Spring Breakers, for whom his distributor is mounting a tongue-in-cheek awards campaign built around the slogan: "Consider this shit." If Robert Downey Jr. could get nominated in this category in 2009 for Tropic Thunder, anything is possible. And let's not forget Spanish-German actor Daniel Bruhl (he also appeared in Disney's The Fifth Estate), who delivered a visceral turn as Formula One driver Niki Lauda in Ron Howard's Rush.


Sarah Paulson, who recently was robbed of an Emmy for her work on American Horror Story: Asylum, is deserving of an Oscar nom for her heinous slave master's spouse in 12 Years a Slave; the Academy loves to recognize villains in the supporting actress category, which is big enough for both her and her co-star Lupita Nyong'o. Lea Seydoux is magnetic as a blue-haired heartbreaker in Blue Is the Warmest Color. And Melissa Leo also deserves a mention for her (menacing) character work in Prisoners, in which she is virtually unrecognizable.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg