By now we all know the select nominees who will be waiting nervously, praying for their names to be announced on the hallowed stage at the Oscars on Sunday. For some, though, the race is already over. Here's a look at the films and actors who can consider themselves mighty unlucky not to be featured in Hollywood's premier celebration of the year.
DriveDanish director Nicolas Winding Refn's stylish thriller provides a template for how to emerge from a Euro art-house background into mainstream Hollywood without compromising any integrity. The film is beautifully shot and paced, which presents a surprisingly effective contrast to some ferociously brutal violence as the movie progresses. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are superb as the moral center of the piece, while Albert Brooks is also a surprise hit as a mercilessly chilling crime boss. That the film only picked up one nomination--for sound editing--is staggering.
Take ShelterThe dread-laden thriller increases in intensity with every passing moment as disaster begins to close in on Michael Shannon as blue-collar worker Curtis LaForche. For the entire two hours-plus the viewer is wracked with the question of whether this is an apocalypse film, a movie about mental illness, or a statement on the current struggle of working-class America. The truth is that it deals with all three in expert fashion. Shannon, best known for his role on Boardwalk Empire, gives an inch-perfect performance conveying a man wracked with foreboding. Jessica Chastain, in one of her several outstanding performances of 2011, is also great as Curtis' supportive wife.
ActorMichael Fassbender for ShameMaybe Academy voters couldn't get past the explicit nakedness. Surely the only way to explain why Fassbender's incredibly raw, yet captivating, performance in Shame was overlooked. Playing sex-addicted Manhattan executive Brandon Sullivan in a film that is about so much more than just the much-hyped nudity. It is the honest story of a self-abusive individual consumed with an addiction and loathing that leads toward his self-destruction. Following on from 2008's Hunger, Shame once again demonstrates why Fassbender and Steve McQueen might just be the top actor-director partnership working today.
ActressTilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About KevinIt was a big surprise when Swinton, a previous Oscar winner, was left off the shortlist for best actress, especially after her Golden Globes nomination. Perhaps Academy members could not make it through the challenging and relentlessly bleak I Need to Talk About Kevin. It is an intensely troubling film that tells of a disturbing boy's increasing descent toward psychopathic behavior. Swinton shows again that she is one of the premier actresses around as the attentive yet embittered mother whom the viewer is not quite sure whether to feel sympathy for or deride for bringing about the son's issues in the first place.
Documentary FeatureSennaThat this superb documentary on the life and career of Formula 1 great Ayrton Senna didn't even make the long list for best documentary feature raises big questions about the Oscars' selection process. It is noteworthy that the committee themselves seem to have acknowledged this fact by changing the process by which documentaries can be considered for nomination. Director Asif Kapadia does a brilliant job of sifting through hundreds of hours of footage on the Brazilian motor racing great to present a compelling and engaging picture of a man compelled to put his life on the line time and time again, despite knowing of the risks that would eventually catch up to him.