Which movie was better: Mean Streets or The Sting? There’s no wrong answer, but here’s something that’s criminal: The Sting, George Roy Hill’s reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. (That’s not the criminal part…) Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese’s gritty crime pic with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, won zero Oscars. It didn’t win any Oscars because it wasn’t even nominated for a single award. Not one…
So you can debate whether The Sting was the best movie of 1973. But you can’t excuse the Academy for completely ignoring Mean Streets. Just about every year, brilliant movies like Mean Streets are completely ignored by the Oscars. The Academy has a long history of overlooking comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, and artsy foreign films — films like The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Touch of Evil, and The Big Lebowski.
History, fortunately, is the ultimate arbiter of greatness. Before this year’s ceremony, we’re taking a closer look at 2015 films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.
The film: Writer David Lipsky spent five days with David Foster Wallace in 1996 for a story that later became the 2010 book, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself. The End of the Tour chronicles the relationship between the two writers over those five days, a time when Wallace was enjoying — and at times, struggling with — newfound fame thanks to the wild success of that year’s Infinite Jest. James Ponsoldt, previously known for other well liked indies like 2012’s Smashed and 2013’s The Spectacular Now, directed the film, which stars Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky.
Why it wasn’t nominated: Because no one — or, at least, not enough people — saw it: The film had an extremely limited release, arriving in just four theaters July 31 before eventually expanding to 355. The End of the Tour would have fit in better during the winter or even fall months, when smaller, serious films get attention thanks to Oscar chatter (all the films nominated for Best Picture, save for the all-around anomaly that is Mad Max: Fury Road, came out between September and December). Instead, it went up against big-budget blockbusters and was forgotten by the time awards season rolled around.
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: Before End of the Tour, Jason Segel was mostly known as that tall goofy guy from Judd Apatow projects and How I Met Your Mother. As soon as the movie premiered at Sundance in January 2015 though, Segel began receiving well-deserved awards buzz for his surprisingly affecting turn as the self-conscious, sweet Wallace. Just because he didn’t end up receiving any major awards nominations doesn’t negate the fact that he gave a stellar performance that will be remembered as a significant turning point in his career.
Although Segel’s performance is the most talked about facet of the film, End of the Tour as a whole is a beautifully shot and beautifully written depiction of a heralded writer — and what it was like to spend time with that writer — that manages to be enlightening without being exploitative. That last part is important: Wallace famously died from suicide at the age of 46 after a long battle with substance abuse and mental illness, and it would have been easy for the movie to focus on that, giving in to the tortured artist trope. But that’s not what happened.
Director James Ponsoldt previously told EW that he and screenwriter Donald Margulies were intent on making a film “that did not define [Wallace] by the pain he felt in his life,” a choice that, coupled with the fact that they chose to focus on a short period of time rather than cover his entire life, sets End of the Tour apart from other films based on famous artists. It’s a respectful tribute that proves a movie doesn’t have to a trace a beloved celebrity’s downfall to be powerful. All it has to do is show that that beloved celebrity is human — and that’s exactly what The End of the Tour does.