This season proved to be inundated with some intriguing movies and streaming series just ahead of the current awards season.
Many of them were noteworthy films with unique storylines and thought-provoking scripts, often featuring moral dilemmas or coming-of-age challenges. Others were remakes of former films or biopics about inspiring people.
Some received numerous accolades, whereas others were unfortunately overlooked. Here are a few well-deserved nominations, and others that were surprisingly absent.
Films That Deserved the Noms They Got
The marvelously moving CODA, which had its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, received six Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture.
Director Sian Heder crafted the story of Ruby, the one hearing member of a deaf family, who assists her relatives in their Gloucester, Massachusetts, fishing business.
Ruby becomes the interpreter for her father and brother with the other fishermen and wholesale businessmen. Yet, she has dreams of her own to be a singer — to give herself a voice, literally and figuratively.
It is a film about family, hope, support and love.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the classic West Side Story also garnered the attention of the Academy and other awarding bodies.
A fresh cast (except for returning star Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her role in the 1961 film version of the 1957 stage musical) performs the original score— Leonard Bernstein’s music, and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics— but amps it up with superb dance numbers, which are almost better than the original.
As intended, it remains a colorful and tragic reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet.
Belfast is one of the most beautifully crafted films I’ve seen in a long time.
Shot in black and white, the semi-autobiographical account of director Kenneth Branagh’s working-class childhood tells of the struggles in Northern Ireland that erupted in the 1960s.
The story is told brilliantly through the eyes of Buddy (Jude Hill), a 9-year-old boy who stumbles in and out of trouble, and falls for the smart girl in school, all while the world around him seems to be exploding with violence and fear.
It’s a film to watch repeatedly to know that family is what gets us through any challenge in life. It deservedly received seven Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director.
King Richard deserves the nomination for Best Picture and Best Actor. Will Smith delivered a powerful performance as the father of tennis superstars Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) Williams.
What’s so wonderful about the story is that he encourages them to play only if they are having fun, and makes sure they know themselves deeply through the practice of journaling their hopes, dreams and goals.
He and his wife (Aunjanue Ellis) also guided the girls to live virtuously. He gives them what he could not have when he was young. It’s one truly inspiring film!
Deserving Films That Were Snubbed
One of the most surprising Oscars snubs is Respect, the incredible biopic about Aretha Franklin, performed flawlessly by the talented Jennifer Hudson.
This film is beautifully redemptive, telling of Aretha’s struggles but how her faith in God, present since she was a child, saved her from herself and her own destructive behavior.
Hudson has a way of taking on the mannerisms and character of the person she is presenting, so, in this case, you forget it’s her and only see Aretha.
The live recording of Amazing Grace, Aretha’s best-selling album of all time, was so perfectly crafted that it mimicked the actual documentary of this recording to a T.
Aretha grew up in the church, and Gospel music was her starting point, so the film has deeply religious overtones. Hudson and the film being overlooked could be interpreted as the Academy avoiding the Christian connection.
Another largely overlooked film during this awards season is the powerful drama Mass, about two families who meet after a tragic school shooting to talk about one son’s murder of the other’s daughter.
Director Fran Kranz also wrote the moving script, charting a journey through grief and anger that each person makes to face those left behind in such a tragedy.
Ann Dowd deserved, but didn't receive, an Oscar nomination as the mother of the mentally disturbed boy who took his fear and anger out on his classmates.
It's a heartrending tale, as the film offers no answers to the questions raised, but leaves us with the mystery that so often accompanies such dreadful circumstances.
Come From Away
Though it would unusual if this kind of film was nominated, Come From Away nevertheless deserved some recognition.
This film of a Broadway musical tells the true story of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, which become the hospitality center of the world when all aircraft headed to the United States were grounded on September 11, 2001.
Passengers of diverted aircraft almost doubled the size of the town’s population overnight, bringing out the generosity and hospitality of a people whose quiet existence turned tragedy into hope.
This emotionally gripping musical expresses the best of humanity when challenged with overwhelming situations.
Hope is something we could all use more of, and this film offers it in generous doses. It’s too bad the Academy doesn’t notice the creativity of a simple film can have such lasting effects.
There are more films that did not get significant recognition, but these are just a few.
Too often, stories from Hollywood about Hollywood get the most notice, such as in Licorice Pizza. Awards also frequently favor politically ideological commentaries, like Don’t Look Up, when such creatively beautiful films, like The Tragedy of Macbeth, are overlooked.
But that is the way of the Academy.
Regardless of what awards are given out, if a film speaks to humanity’s longings and hopes, even with the direst of circumstances, it will have a lasting effect on viewers, who repeatedly turn to it for an uplift.
Those are the best kind of movies, and the ones the Academy sometimes fails to reward.
Editor's note: Our Father Vince Kuna noticed a trend in films about families, including Belfast, CODA and King Richard. Click here for his rundown.
We also offered an online event on our Facebook page, featuring Sister Nancy and Father Vince debating the awards, with journalist and FTP Social Media Content Manager Kate O'Hare as moderator.
Click here to learn more about Sister Nancy Usselmann and her work.