Oscar’s hidden gems
by Jodi Berman
Once I began my obsession with the Oscars and with seeing every film with a nomination in any category, I began discovering films that I hadn’t even heard of prior to their nominations, but which became some of my favorites over time. I call these films the “hidden gems,” because they didn’t have enough profile or money to be advertised widely, but were of such tremendous quality that they were able to garner nominations in their respective categories. In some cases, they are foreign films or documentaries.
I’ve chosen 6 films as my all time favorite hidden gems from the last 10 years (listed in chronological order).
1. Street Fight (2005)
This film was nominated in the full-length documentary category and it follows a young Cory Booker (now Senator from New Jersey) in his campaign for Mayor of Newark in 2002. Booker ran against the 16-year incumbent Mayor running an entrenched political machine. His opponent had no problem with dirty tricks, even using the police department to tear down Booker’s campaign materials. The film is captivating with a young, idealistic, indomitable, and impossible to tire Booker at its center. It was easy to tell even in 2005 that this guy was going to be a major player in politics, but his tremendous personal character also gives you the sense that he is someone of which we can all be proud.
2. Lars and the Real Girl (2008)
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Lars and the Real Girl is a sleeper movie starring Ryan Gosling in one of his more awkward roles. The story is lovely and delicate but unexpectedly so because the premise seems so ridiculous. Lars is a socially challenged person who orders a full size doll to be his companion and who becomes a very real person in his own mind. His family and community are told that the best way to help him past his delusion is to act as though she is real. Watching this community rise to the occasion and treat him (and the doll) with sensitivity and honor is one of the most touching things I have ever seen.
3. Happy Go Lucky (2009)
The tale of a young woman with an unusually positive attitude sounds at first like a big sappy sandwich with a side of cheese. Not so, with this film nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay in 2009. The lead character, Poppy (played to acclaim by Sally Hawkins, who won a Golden Globe for the role) exudes joy and optimism in the face of misery and even physical pain like I’ve never seen before. I fell in love with this character and so did everyone who saw the movie. I left with an enormous smile on my face, and I continue to get that warm feeling to this day when I even think about it.
4. In the Loop (2010)
Anyone who follows politics will love this satirical film that was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The absurdities of entering the Iraq war, the special relationship between England and the United States, and the seemingly unknowable chess moves that it takes to make or block any decision in the English Parliament and the American Government are played out in a hilarious script that has an incredible cast. Most notable is Peter Capaldi in the role of the UK Prime Minister’s chief spin-doctor who steals every scene he is in, though his monologues are not for the faint of heart or those who don’t like cursing. I thought In the Loop was one of the funniest movies of the decade, and well worth the accolade of “hidden gem.”
5. Dogtooth (2010)
Nominated for Best Foreign Film, Dogtooth documents the lives of three adult children who have been held nearly captive by their subtly abusive parents. These parents have painted a picture of the outside world that is ominous, and they have purposely sabotaged their children by teaching them incorrect language so that they couldn’t survive outside of the oppressive household. The abuses go far further, while these stunted children-cum-adults dream of the outside world. The movie is terribly disturbing, but truly outstanding.
6. Ernest & Celestine (2013)
Nominated for Best Animated Feature, Ernest & Celestine is an adorable French tale about the unlikely friendship between a mouse and a bear. Of course it was delightful and of course it had a nice moral about not fearing those who are not like us, but even more than that, the gentle nature of both lead characters is so compelling that it’s a film that is impossible to dislike. It was translated into English and re-released in the United States, but I highly recommend the French version with subtitles. It touched my heart and is well worth the viewing.
What are your favorite hidden gems? Looking forward to discovering this year’s together!
To read more of “And The Oscar Goes To…” stories, please click below:
How my Oscar obsession began
5 lovable Oscar losers
War and the Oscars: A love story
The most memorable Oscar speeches
The Oscars are coming! The Oscars are coming!