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Here Are Some Performances and Films Academy Voters May Have Missed (Column)

Just Mercy Little Women Overlooked Performances
Courtesy of Warner Bros./Sony Pictures

The road to the Oscars is full of shoo-ins like Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez. They, and many others, have consistently received nominations and awards as well as recognition from critics groups. But falling through the cracks are plenty of films and individual performances that I hope Academy voters will pay more attention to. 

Alfre Woodard  in Clemency

The veteran actor started gaining awards season buzz as soon as the drama premiered at Sundance. Woodard plays a warden grappling with the responsibility of overseeing death row inmates as her marriage is crumbling. “If Woodard is hoping for her overdue second Oscar nomination after 1983’s ‘Cross Creek,’ she’s got a decent shot with this excruciating character arc,” critic Amy Nicholson wrote in her review for Variety.

Just Mercy

The story of real-life civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson fighting to free wrongfully convicted death row inmate Walter McMillian was one of the year’s most anticipated films. Other than Jamie Foxx picking up a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of McMillian, the Warner Bros. movie has failed to score any accolades. Michael B. Jordan should be getting much more attention for his portrayal of Stevenson.

Florence Pugh

It’s been a strange awards season for “Little Women.” The Greta Gerwig-written and -directed adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of the same name was expected to clean house, but it hasn’t earned much besides Golden Globe noms for lead actress Saoirse Ronan and composer Alexandre Desplat, and a handful of Critics’ Choice noms. Pugh was a favorite for awards nods; hopefully the Academy will give her a well-deserved nomination.

“A Hidden Life”

Terrence Malick’s story of a real-life Austrian put to death after refusing to fight for the Nazis when Hitler invaded his country is one of the year’s most beautiful films. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been given its due. Maybe it’s because it’s on the longer side (so is “The Irishman,” for that matter) or because of the decisiveness of Malick’s filmmaking. Some worship his work, while others are hesitant to give him a chance because his films are slow-paced and tend to feature nonlinear storytelling. But “A Hidden Life” is a true narrative, and stars Valerie Pachner and August Diehl give Oscar-worthy performances.

Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. 

What happened to “Waves,” the buzzy drama about a family torn apart by a horrendous incident? Writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ film was one of the most-talked-about selections at Telluride and Toronto. But it gradually lost steam. That’s too bad: Its two young stars, Russell and Harrison Jr., should be a bigger part of the conversation than just an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Russell’s work in the film.

Robert Pattinson

The future Batman received some of the best reviews of his career for “The Lighthouse,” yet that hasn’t translated to awards love. Director Robert Eggers’ black-and-white two-hander centers on a pair of lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) stationed on a deserted rocky island in 19th-century New England. The men slowly go insane as they try to survive a brutal winter storm. What’s truly crazy is Pattinson’s name failing to rise in the Oscar discussion.

Zhao Shuzhen

Shuzhen is one of this year’s most exciting stories — she’s a Chinese television actor co-starring in her first American project, Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.” She picked up an Indie Spirit nom and lots of recognition from critics groups but didn’t hear her name called when the nominations were announced for the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards. Perhaps the Academy will do right by her with a supporting actress nom.