The Oscars are kinda like high school: the popular kids always seem to pull in the lion’s share of the attention. Yep, that’s life — although it’s a shame, because for every well-deserved Best Picture nod (Argo, Lincoln, Les Misérables, Zero Dark Thirty, et al), there are a veritable truckload of gems rounding out the other categories. For your consideration: here are five that deserve a moment of your time…
‘Head Over Heels’
The nomination: Best Short Film Animated
U.K. stop-motion prodigies Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly give us the story of Walter and Madge, a post-middle aged couple that’s grown apart. So much so that while he occupies the floor of their home, she now resides on the ceiling. The good news: one day, ol’ Walt tries to reignite the spark that once made their marriage so wonderful. The not-so-good news: this throws off their equilibrium, both figuratively and literally. Think of Head Over Heels as a rich, moving alternative to the sophomoric shenanigans of Robot Chicken (a.k.a. the only stop motion animation most of us ever watch these days).
The nomination: Best Documentary Short
Unless Michael Moore is involved, your typical documentary is rarely able to crack the shell of our cultural zeitgeist. Short-form docs? Even less so. Kind of surprising since, given our A.D.D.-riddled culture, shouldn’t 15-minute films about more-than-fascinating topics be right in our wheelhouse? Innocente is a prime example: it’s the coming-of-age story of a 15-year-old homeless girl whose artistic gifts help her break free from an abusive past. Inspiring stuff to be sure. And believe it or not, even MTV became hip to the power of this film; the former music channel aired it in its entirely last August. Who’d a thunk it?
‘Searching for Sugar Man’
The nomination: Best Documentary Feature
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugar Man is a Swedish/British documentary about a pair of music fans investigating the rumored death of Sixto Rodriguez. Never heard of him? Well, join the club. Although the mysterious 1970s folk artist’s career never took off in his American homeland, his music went on to garner a massive following throughout South Africa. Kinda weird and random thing to happen, no? As for the twist, allow me to paraphrase Mark Twain: rumours of his death may have been greatly exaggerated. The plot thickens!
‘War Witch’ (a.k.a. ‘Rebelle’)
The nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Sure, it’s set in Sub-Saharan Africa, but check this out: War Witch is a 100% bona fide Canadian film! Written and directed by Kim Nguyen, it gives us Komona, a 14-year-old girl who regales her unborn child with the story of her life since being abducted by a rebel army. Not exactly light, fluffy fare, nor should it be; this is bold, challenging film-making that proves once and for all Canadian movies don’t have to take place on the prairies or some nondescript Maritime harbour. Not surprisingly, War Witch is also a Best Picture nominee at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards.
‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’
The nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin), and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis)
If there’s any film on this list some of us may vaguely recognize, Beasts of the Southern Wild is this one. Although this wouldn’t be the case had it not locked down a more-than-impressive four Oscar nods. This American fantasy drama spins the yarn of a six-year-old bayou girl who, after her community is leveled, uses equal parts optimism and imagination to try and save her sick father and sinking home. Although the ‘hero’s journey’ monomyth is nothing new in modern film, to pin the weight of this narrative device on a young child is risky business. Amazingly, Quvenzhané Wallis rises to the occasion, and then some. Which explains why she’s now the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history.