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 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: Tangerine is unique in that the first thing you’re likely to hear about the film is how director Sean Baker shot it. Yes, this is the Sundance movie captured entirely on an iPhone 5, but that factoid doesn’t scratch the surface of its significance. Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alex (Mya Taylor) are two best friends — and transgender prostitutes — in Los Angeles celebrating the former’s release from a short stint in prison. Festivities take a quick turn south after Alex reveals that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend (James Ransone) has been cheating on her.
Why it wasn’t nominated: The #OscarSoWhite controversy is about more than representation for people of color. The all-white nomination field of actors reflects the Academy’s failure to build a voting membership that reflects the changing demographics of modern America society: women and minorities are just two of the groups who are underserved by the prestige organization that selects the best films that will live on and be immortalized by our culture.
Tangerine, on the other hand, is so proudly and triumphantly a story of today that it could stand as a perfect, depressing model of the exact kind of film that doesn’t get Oscar nominations. Tangerine‘s never played in more than 50 theaters at a time, but its distributor, Magnolia, did mount an Best Supporting Actress awards campaign for Mya Taylor, a trans person of color.
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: Shot on an iPhone or not, Tangerine is a gorgeously rendered film that tells a new story. These are characters we simply do not see in a version of Los Angeles (read: poorer) that’s typically hidden from the lenses of Hollywood movie cameras.
But beyond what is new about Tangerine, there is something essentially old-school about Sin-Dee’s and Alex’s bad day in L.A. It moves at a clip that’s electric to tell a story that’s human to its core. Because while it’s about prostitutes and cab drivers, it’s also about the people who will love you at your most vulnerable and your most desperate.
The Academy overlooked the quality of the filmmaking on display in Tangerine but also the rarity of its subject matter. History will not, especially as it inspires more stories about the margins of society, because this is exactly the kind of film that inspires artists — the kind of film that deserves the recognition.