As a chief film critic at the New York Times, A.O. Scott is arguably one of the most important movie reviewers in the world. He published his first book, “Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth” earlier this month. For our first annual NOTscar show — in which we celebrate everything the Oscars aren’t celebrating — he thought up an appropriate list.
A.O. Scott: Every year I look back at all of my favorite movies that were released. And some of them I think, “Boy, those should really get an Oscar nomination.” And some of them do.
And then there’s another category of movie — probably the biggest category — which is movies that I think are just wonderful and terrific… that are never ever ever gonna get the attention of The Academy. Because The Academy has its own standards, its own criteria, that are not the same as mine.
So here are my picks of three movies that were never gonna get Oscar nominations in the major categories, but that in a just world, should have.
Number one is a movie that I think I underestimated a little bit when it came out. It is “Spy,” with Melissa McCarthy. A just amazing comedy. And The Academy is notoriously blind to comedies; comedy is very rarely in contention for the Best Picture.
And, you know there’s the old saying, “Comedy is hard.” What Melissa McCarthy does, in going from a mousy desk jockey at the C.I.A. — with literal mice in her office — into an international woman of mystery and intrigue and an action heroine, is so incredible. It’s like Peter Sellers, like Inspector Clouseau. You know, it’s at that level of inventiveness, physical and verbal.
Absolutely the Best Actress. Like, there’s no question that she was robbed for Best Actress. And yeah, Best Picture too. Why not? Get rid of “The Martian,” you know? Give it to “Spy.”
“The Kindergarten Teacher”
My second film is an Israeli film called “The Kindergarten Teacher.” It’s a story about a kindergarten teacher, a woman who discovers that one of her young students, this cherubic little 5-year-old boy, is a poetic prodigy.
The movie is, on one level, a kind of a psychological thriller, and a very disturbing one, about her growing obsession with this boy. And her sense that it’s her mission to save him from a society that isn’t gonna care about him. It also works, though, as a critique of that society; Israel, in the director’s view, has abandoned its cultural heritage, its commitment to art, and has become a materialistic and shallow society.
The filmmaking was so simple and clear, and it was a very suspenseful movie. I was sort of frustrated because it had a very small release in the United States. It didn’t have Juliette Binoche in it [laughs], so it was not even on the radar, necessarily, of people who go and see movies with subtitles. And yet, it’s very entertaining. But also with this theme: “Why is poetry important? What are the values of a society that kind of push it to the side or don’t take it seriously? And how do you counteract that?”
It’s just a very rich movie that I wish more people had seen.
My third and final pick is “Grandma,” a comedy about a grandmother and her granddaughter. Her granddaughter is pregnant, she wants to have an abortion. And it’s this very low-key, good-humored… it’s not a movie that tries to be about too much. It’s just about these characters and their situation.
The grandmother is played by Lily Tomlin, and [in] this performance she plays this feminist poet and writer who’s just a wonderfully cranky, uncompromising woman. I don’t know, if that is not a great performance, I don’t know what is. And it’s a very underplayed, very controlled performance. The Oscars like to award sort of big, emotional, weeping-and-fist-pounding moments of acting, and there’s none of that in “Grandma.” It’s just such a delight.
If I were to give the Oscars advice, first thing I would say is: just lighten up. You know, there’s a lot of really great movies that are funny. And I don’t even wanna get started on the Foreign Language Film category, which is such a mess. The one-film-per-country-rule… Just find the movies from all over the world that are most exciting and most original and find a way to give those some prizes.