The Academy has a bad habit of forgetting movies that open early in the year. Of the 17 best picture nominees for the last two Oscars, only one (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) had a release date that was before September. But as the ceremony continues to grasp for new energy, following a ratings slide with this year’s show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, one big improvement would be if the telecast tried to recognize movies from throughout the year. Here are 13 films — from the both indies and studios — that opened this summer that deserve to be celebrated on the Oscars stage.
1. “Inside Out”
For Your Consideration: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
With the expanded best picture race, Pixar’s box office juggernaut ($344 million so far) set inside a young girl’s head — amidst a sea of conflicting emotions like Joy, Sadness and Fear — will probably be nominated in the top category, becoming the fourth animated film (after “Beauty and the Beast,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3”) to receive that honor. But wouldn’t it be great if the Academy made history by recognizing Pete Docter as the first best director for an animated film? It’s hard to imagine five more expertly crafted stories coming out this year, and Docter (who also directed “Monsters, Inc.” and “Up”) and also wrote the script for “Inside Out,” has paid his dues. –Ramin Setoodeh
2. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”
For Your Consideration: Best Picture
If history is any guide, this year’s Oscar race will come down to a fight between a bunch of well-meaning biopics. Largely ignored, except in the technical categories, will be the popcorn pics that drive the business and are more concerned with delivering pure fun than articulating a social message. That’s a shame, because in terms of pure filmmaking, the fifth Ethan Hunt adventure ranks with the best of them. A lengthy fight sequence in the Vienna opera house is a marvel of well-choreographed action, and a deep water heist at the picture’s midpoint nearly tops the Burj Khalifa climb in “Ghost Protocol.” Plus, any movie that straps Tom Cruise to the side of an A-400 plane during takeoff deserves a little Oscar love. –Brent Lang
3. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
For Your Consideration: Bel Powley (Best Actress), Alexander Skarsgard (Best Supporting Actor), Best Adapted Screenplay
Not since Carey Mulligan in “An Education” has a young actress made a more stunning lead debut than Powley, the Brit who captures the spirit of an American teen coming of age in the 1970s. But Skarsgard also deserves attention for giving her love interest, a man twice her age, true complexity. And writer-director Marielle Heller’s script is raw, honest and fascinating. –Jenelle Riley
For Your Consideration: Best Documentary
For some reason, the Academy’s documentary branch has shown a resistance to celebrity docs — snubbing recent audience favorites such as “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,“ “Life Itself” (about film critic Roger Ebert) and “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” But Asif Kapadia’s “Amy,” which investigates the rise and fall of the British chanteuse who died in July 2011, is an astonishing work of nonfiction about the perils of drug addiction and fame. It doesn’t just deserve to be nominated. It deserves to win. —R.S.
For Your Consideration: Lily Tomlin (Best Actress)
Forty years after her first Oscar nomination for “Nashville,” Lily Tomlin delivers one of the best performances of her career as a sharp-tongued grandmother who spends a day visiting old friends in an attempt to raise money for her granddaughter’s abortion. Tomlin is funny, tart and never sentimental in a tour-de-force turn. -J.R.
6. “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
For Your Consideration: Blythe Danner (Best Actress)
As much as I liked “Grandma,” my favorite performance from an actress this summer was Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Not only was this indie from Bleecker Street one of the few Sundance films to turn a profit at the box office ($7.4 million), it’s finally a star vehicle for Danner at the age of 72. She never hits a false note as a retired widow in Los Angeles dealing with grief. –R.S.
7. “Love and Mercy”
For Your Consideration: Paul Dano (Best Supporting Actor)
Paul Dano captures the genius and the madness of Brian Wilson, the pop-music Mozart who pushed rock in a bold new direction as the driving force behind the Beach Boys. As Wilson tries to outdo the Beatles by crafting surfer symphonies with his opus “Pet Sounds,” Dano captures the thin line he walked between inspiration and insanity. It’s a haunting, heartbreaking performance that is easily the best thing the actor has ever put on screen. —B.L.
For Your Consideration: Melissa McCarthy (Best Actress), Best Original Screenplay
Comedies rarely get awards love, but Paul Feig’s script manages to be clever and full of genuine surprises. It also has more quotable lines per minute than any other film this year. And the film would be nothing without its leading lady Melissa McCarthy, who plays a wide range of emotions, from insecure and shy to ass-kicking. –J.R.
9. “Mistress America”
For Your Consideration: Greta Gerwig (Best Actress)
Gerwig is sublime as a kooky Manhattanite named Brooke whose peripatetic attention span sees her juggling ambitions to be an aerobics instructor, restaurateur, novelist and Holly Golightly for the Twitter era. It’s a screwball comedy role to rival those played by Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby” and Barbara Stanwyck in “The Lady Eve,” but even as she nails the punchlines, Gerwig does something more impressive. She humanizes this whirling dervish, showing the insecurity behind Brooke’s brash facade, and making her a figure of hilarity and poignance. —B.L.
10. “The End of the Tour”
For Your Consideration: Jason Segel (Best Supporting Actor)
James Ponsoldt’s drama about a 1996 interview between novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel) and Rolling Stone journalist David Lipksy (Jesse Eisenberg) plays like the “Frost/Nixon” of the literary world. It’s also the best movie about journalism since 2000’s “Almost Famous,” anchored by Segel — who not only embodies the celebrated writer through an uncanny transformation, he also signals depth in a dramatic career that could lay ahead. A24 has decided to campaign Segel in the best supporting actor category. –R.S.
11. “Cartel Land”
For Your Consideration: Best Documentary
Director Matthew Heineman plunges viewers into the chaos of the Mexican drug wars. His look at two vigilante groups on both sides of the Rio Grande is a marvel of moral complexity. Of course, few film subjects are as dramatically rich as “Cartel Land’s” protagonist, Dr. Jose Mireles, a Michoacán physician who leads a citizens’ uprising against the drug cartels. His motives may be noble, but Mireles is no saint, and his rise and fall expose the seeming futility of attempting to end the cycle of violence and suffering embroiling Mexico. Like last year’s documentary Oscar winner, “Citizenfour,” “Cartel Land” is very much a film of its moment. –B.L.
12. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
For Your Consideration: Best Adapted Screenplay
Even though it failed to gain more traction with audiences (with a box office of $6.7 million), Aflonso Gomez-Rejon’s drama was the darling of Sundance, and will find new admirers as it’s released in home platforms. The film’s clever and soulful screenplay by Jesse Andrews (adapting his own book) is among the most accomplished pieces of writing from the movies this year. -R.S.
13. “Straight Outta Compton”
For Your Consideration: Best Picture
The N.W.A biopic may unfold in the 1980s and ’90s, but its searing look at urban poverty and police brutality resonate in a post-Ferguson world. It’s also topped the box office three weeks in a row. Wasn’t the point of adding more best picture nominees to include movies that audiences saw? -B.L.