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Nominated for Nothing: 'A Most Violent Year'

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Atsushi Nishijima

Just about every year, brilliant movies are utterly ignored by the Oscars. The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Breathless, King Kong, Casino Royale, Touch of Evil, Caddyshack, Mean Streets, The Big Lebowski, Blackfish — the Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, artsy foreign films, and documentaries that aren’t about World War II. Before the ceremony, we’ll be taking a closer look at films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.

The film: A Most Violent Year, directed by All Is Lost and Margin Call‘s J.C. Chandor, centers on Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) as he tries to grow his fuel oil business in 1981 New York. While he works to obtain a plot of land, his trucks are viciously hijacked, his company is targeted by an assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo), and his wife (Jessica Chastain) is worrying for the safety of her family. 

Why it wasn’t nominated: A Most Violent year wasn’t completely left out of the awards conversation. It won the top honor from the National Board of Review, and it looked like Jessica Chastain had a real shot at a nomination for supporting actress, the category in which she was nominated at the Golden Globes. One argument may be that the film just came out too late for Oscar voters, debuting on Dec. 31 in a limited run before expanding in January.

It’s also worth noting, however, that two of the movie’s principal players are getting a reputation for being ignored by the Academy. Chandor’s All Is Lost looked like a potential player last year, but came away with only a single nomination—for sound editing. Meanwhile, Oscar Isaac was robbed of a nomination for his work in Inside Llewyn Davis. Maybe these two and the Academy just aren’t meant to be together.

Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: When history looks back on A Most Violent Year, the film will stand as evidence of major talents whose careers are still on the upswing—and who haven’t nearly reached their peaks. I’m not just talking about Chandor, Isaac, and Chastain, though this film is a worth showcase for their talents talents. In addition to the big three, the film is a triumph for cinematographer Bradford Young, who was also overlooked by the Academy this year for his work on Selma. And then there’s composer Alex Ebert, whose collaboration with Chandor has proved he’s much more than an indie rock star. 

This time next year, everyone will have seen Isaac in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He’ll have become a huge star—but his Abel serves as further proof that he’ll have a place in the pantheon beyond franchises. (Isaac is also joining the world of X-Men.) As he did in Llewyn, Isaac relies mostly on restraint. Abel is a man who works to keep things in check—his business, his emotions. Chastain, meanwhile, continues to astound in another character role. Though her climatic confrontation with Abel is pure Oscar clip material, she also makes Anna a hoot to watch—and she’s not afraid to camp things up when necessary. See, for instance, this GIF. Also, if you happen to be a fan of gorgeous coats—guilty!—her wardrobe in the film will make you swoon. I’d be remiss not to mention the work of Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel, and Albert Brooks as well.

The beauty of Chandor’s movie is in its murkiness. There are no clear heroes or enemies here, even when threats are present. Abel’s business practices aren’t 100 percent sound, but most of the movie finds him trying to stay on the moral high ground even as forces around him—his industry, his wife—conspire to turn him into what he fears becoming: a gangster. The movie purposely moves slowly, maintaining a steady thread of tension that sometimes explodes. And when those explosions do happen, as in two fantastic chase scenes, they’re made all the more spectacular by the contrast Chandor has created. 

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