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 crowd-pleasing 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 snubbing Mean Streets. Just about every year, brilliant movies like Mean Streets are 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: One of last year’s most notable sleeper hits, It Follows stars Maika Monroe as a high schooler named Jay who is dealing with a very unusual, very terrifying sexually transmitted disease — or sexually transmitted curse, anyway. After sleeping with the hunky Hugh (Jake Weary), our heroine finds herself relentlessly pursued by a mysterious, slow-walking entity, which takes the form of many different people, all of whom are hellbent on killing her. Once Jay discovers the nature of her predicament, she, her sister, and her friends, first attempt to evade and then to destroy what amounts to a supernaturally-powered reinvention of the slasher villain.
Monroe makes for a winningly believable heroine, caught in a situation that is both obviously never-going-to-happen-in-real-life and yet oddly resonant, both in terms of its sexual theme and the nature of the entity — rare is the cinemagoer who didn’t look warily at approaching strangers after leaving the theater. In his second film, writer-director Robert David Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) wears his ‘70s and ‘80s horror influences on his blood-splattered sleeve, yet still succeeds in conjuring up something fresh, if that’s the right word for a film that features so much dead flesh.
Why it wasn’t nominated: The film’s low budget and lack of star wattage are two obvious strikes against it, as far as the Academy is concerned. But the real list of reasons why It Follows never stood a chance with the Academy pretty much begins and ends with the fact that it is a horror film. The Academy has always preferred to keep the terror genre hidden in the attic come Oscar night. The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Oscars. And Silence of the Lambs won the big prize while also securing Oscars for Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, director Jonathan Demme, and screenwriter Ted Tally. But The Sixth Sense’s ghost story with a twist was more suspense than horror, and given the high budget and the gilt-edged nature of Silence of the Lamb‘s creators, theirs was a case of Academy voters feeling they could reward a film without giving their blessing to the genre from which it had sprung.
Still not convinced about the Academy’s antipathy towards horror? Then consider this: the list of classic horror films that were never nominated for an Oscar in any category merely begins with Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and John Carpenter’s original 1978 slasher classic, Halloween, a film that It Follows strongly evokes. Going back further, it was worth noting that James Whale’s 1935 film, The Bride of Frankenstein, which is now widely regarded as an absolute masterpiece of the genre, was nominated only in the category of Best Sound Recording. It lost.
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: Never mind history — the present has already given it two big, severed, thumbs-up. Embraced as an instant classic by the horror community, It Follows also featured on EW’s list of 2015’s best films with critic Chris Nashawaty describing it as “a playfully subversive thriller fueled by an almost suffocating sense of dread and tension.” It’s almost tempting to say the film’s rep can only diminish from this point, such is the love that has already been lavished upon it, but that seems unlikely to happen. Indeed, one suspects future horror filmmakers will be influenced by Mitchell’s movie in the same way the director followed the terror template established by his predecessors.