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5 Riveting Films Snubbed By The Academy Awards

Even with a populist slant to the list of nominations, the Academy left out several noteworthy films released last year.

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Are Hollywood power players finally waking up to how out of touch they’ve been? Released last week, the nominations list for the 95th Academy Awards surprised many for including films that most moviegoers have actually seen. 

Alongside buzzy sci-fi dramedy “Everything Everywhere All At Once” leading the pack with 11 Oscar nominations, popular films such as “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Elvis” received multiple nods. And box-office record-breaker “Top Gun: Maverick” is nominated in six categories, including best picture. 

Even with this populist slant, several notable films escaped any notice from Academy members. Grounded in true stories, several emphasize family relationships and themes of faith, seemingly shunned in Hollywood. A handful of taut, visually breathtaking popcorn flicks — notably “Ambulance” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” — were also passed over, even in technical categories like visual effects and editing. 

While some critics will scoff at movies that cater to heartland audiences, sometimes they deserve a closer look. Here are five riveting films released last year — nearly all currently streaming — that were snubbed for any Oscar nominations. 

‘Thirteen Lives’ (PG-13, inspirational drama, Prime Video) 

In the summer of 2018, world news became transfixed on 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave system in northern Thailand — and how ‘expert amateur’ divers moved heaven and earth to save them. Similar to “Apollo 13,” director Ron Howard brings forward previously unknown details to amplify the human drama in “Thirteen Lives.”

Howard spent significant resources to get the details right, bringing on real-life British diver Rick Stanton as a technical consultant for the film’s cave sequences. He’s portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in the movie. In an interview, Stanton recounted the moment he found the boys and coach alive. “We felt relief, but it was very short-lived,” he said. “Now, what are we going to do?”

It became a race against two ticking clocks — their oxygen in the cave chamber getting thinner by the hour, and monsoon season on the horizon. With a wider lens than the various documentary versions, the inspirational drama “Thirteen Lives” underlines the stakes of more than 5,000 people from 17 countries working together to preserve precious lives. 

‘Jerry & Marge Go Large’ (PG-13, comedy, Paramount Plus)

A smart, feel-good comedy, “Jerry & Marge Go Large” recounts a true-story caper set in small-town Evart, Michigan. Director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) brings together a stellar ensemble cast, including Annette Bening (“Open Range”), Rainn Wilson (“The Office”), and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) as math genius Jerry Selbee. 

Soon after retiring from decades of teaching advanced math, Selbee glances at the state lottery rules posted in a local convenience store and notices an anomaly. A statistical flaw tilts the odds to players if enough tickets are bought at certain times. Gradually, he and his wife, Marge (Bening), start a homegrown corporation, invite hundreds in their community to join as stockholders, and net over $26 million in nine years.

Most critics found this whole escapade too uplifting for their tastes, while some religious reviewers seemed to think it endorsed gambling. (Real-life Selbee has said that no such math anomaly exists in any current lotto program.) Packed with laughs and moments that celebrate a loving couple in their twilight years, “Jerry & Marge Go Large” is worth seeking out. 

‘Good Night Oppy’ (PG, documentary, Prime Video)

When NASA launched two Mars exploration rovers in July 2003, engineers expected the robots to last 90 days. Instead, one of them, Opportunity, or “Oppy” for short, rolled on for 15 years, capturing never-before-seen footage of the red planet despite massive dust storms and treacherous craters.

Presenting an inspirational story as it chronicles recent scientific breakthroughs, filmmakers behind “Good Night Oppy” engaged visual effects artists at Industrial Light & Film to recreate the rovers’ journey on Mars. One NASA research scientist still working on the rover project, Abigail Fraeman, praised how this unconventional documentary brings their technical work to life. 

“When I saw the film, I knew exactly where Oppy was,” she told me. “From the rim of Victoria Crater to Perseverance Valley, I remembered the images. But it was a whole new way to see them.” It’s a must-watch for anyone into robotics, scientific discovery, and space exploration. 

‘Father Stu’ (PG-13, drama/biopic, Netflix)

Mark Wahlberg, producer and star of “Father Stu,” gets fired up talking about this unique story of an overcomer. “I don’t know if you’ve seen a lot of faith-based movies, but I have,” he said. “They all seem to be preaching to the choir and not really converting too many people.” He went a different route with this biopic, a rough-and-tumble narrative that initially got an “R” rating.

A statewide heavyweight champion in Montana, Stuart Long is hit with several life crises — and they don’t stop when he enters seminary to become a Catholic priest. Over two hours, viewers see him transformed from a foul-mouthed brawler to a man at peace whom even the most hardened feel they can trust. With wild swings, it’s at once brutal, comedic, and inspiring. 

Though Wahlberg was fresh off of “Uncharted” and has brand familiarity with faith-and-family audiences, the “R” rating for language kept many of them away; over Christmas, a version hit theaters that cut some cursing in the first hour. One of the most ambitious faith-centered films of the past decade, “Father Stu” addresses life’s limitations and losses with honesty and hope.

‘Johnny Cash: The Redemption of An American Icon’ (PG, documentary) 

Country-folk legend Johnny Cash (1932-2003) had many sides: consummate performer, troublemaker haunted by demons, hopeful evangelist, and defender of the downtrodden. The documentary film “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon” captures many facets of the Man in Black, whose music crossed all lines of genre and pop culture.

Focusing on his faith journey in particular, filmmakers admittedly sanitize some darker chapters in Cash’s life — with little focus on his bouts with drug addiction or his infidelity to his first wife. Where the film works is in allowing those who knew Cash best, such as producer Marty Stuart and Cash’s family members, to share the grit and grace that defined him. 

Among those featured is John Carter Cash, the singer-songwriter’s only son. “He would sing a song like ‘Cocaine Blues’ and follow it up with ‘Peace in the Valley’ and never lose an audience member — which is pretty magical,” said Cash. “I don’t know of anyone else who could do that.”

Following a limited theatrical run in December, digital and on-demand release plans have not yet been announced for this documentary.


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