10 Underdog Movies That Deserve Oscars Attention

Judas and the Black Messiah Im Thinking of Ending Things Farewell Amor Oscar Movies
Farewell Amor: IFC Films; Judas and the Black Messiah: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.; I’m Thinking Of Ending Things: Mary Cybulski/Netflix

With Oscars season underway, Academy voters commonly ask for movie recommendations, whether to discover a great film or to see a “contender.” Too often, the small, quiet releases have a passionate base but are drowned out by louder, shinier competition. In a year when theaters are closed and streamers are “dominating” the conversation, the closest we may get to a level playing field is via the eligibility period being extended through Feb. 28, 2021.

The “Oscar movie” label has changed greatly, especially with a film such as “Joker” leading the nominations tally last year. As younger voters are invited into the Academy, we’ll see more instances of unconventional contenders breaking through.

For the best picture category, many films will be pushing a boulder up a hill to be noticed, but that shouldn’t keep voters from seeking them out. Below are 10 films fighting for recognition that deserve consideration. 

Farewell Amor (IFC Films)

Ekwa Msangi’s portrait of an Angolan family reuniting after 17 years apart is sensationally vivid and features one of the year’s most quietly affecting casts, with a standout turn from Jayme Lawson.

Happiest Season (Hulu)

Becoming the talk of Thanksgiving, Clea DuVall’s romantic comedy deploys all the best traits of Kristen Stewart and features a magnificent turn from Aubrey Plaza.

Herself (Amazon Studios)

Domestic abuse and being a survivor are conveyed exquisitely by star and co-writer Clare Dunne, with Phyllida Lloyd at the helm, in a film that showcases Dunne’s ability to connect with the viewer in any given moment.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

Charlie Kaufman won a screenplay Oscar for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but his directing eye has come fully into focus here with the help of powerhouse leads Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons.

The Invisible Man (Universal Pictures)

Leigh Whannell’s horror thriller was likely one of the last films seen in a theater. Elisabeth Moss delivers the goods, and so does the suspenseful score.

I Carry You With Me (Sony Pictures Classics)

Half narrative and half documentary, Heidi Ewing’s honest portrayal of two men falling for each other in Mexico, and coming to the United States so they can freely be in love, is tender and true.

Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.)

How can one of the year’s most anticipated films be an underdog? HBO Max scheduled a late release for this drama directed by Shaka King and starring Lakeith Stanfield.

The Mauritanian (STXfilms)

Similar to “Judas,” one of the final releases of 2020 showcases an outstanding Tahar Rahim as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay and Jodie Foster in a terrific comeback-level performance.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Eliza Hittman’s drama about a teenager looking to get an abortion lifts the spirits with powerful turns from Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder.

Onward (Pixar)

Pixar has found love in the best picture category before, most recently with “Toy Story 3.” The impact that this wizardly tale leaves on the viewer is well worth a look outside best animated feature.

With that, we’ve moved into the next phase of the predicting season. The major categories (best picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, original screenplay and adapted screenplay) have been switched from the “pre-season” to the “regular season” periods. You’ll now only see a Top 25 in the category, with expanded information about the probable nominees, with an unranked contenders chart for any film or performance outside of the 25 spots.

You’ll see the tech races, animated, documentary, international and other precursors get switched within the next few days.

Visit THE AWARDS HUB to see the full list of contenders by category.