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. Sadly, the Academy has a long history of overlooking masterful 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: Playing a hyperbolized version of herself (same first name and all), Amy Schumer brought her sharp brand of feminism to the big screen in a Judd Apatow-directed comedy that’s part rom-com satire, part filthy comedy. The Trainwreck version of Amy, whose mantra is “monogamy isn’t realistic,” is more than happy to spend her days working at a men’s magazine and her nights boozing, partying, and hooking up with some very questionable men. But when her editor (a delightful and unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) assigns her a story on a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader), Amy is shocked to discover that she actually likes him — and she finds his niceness and normalcy absolutely terrifying.
Why it wasn’t nominated: There’s a reason that sweeping period dramas and schmaltzy biopics are so frequently labeled Oscar bait. Nominations for comedies are rare, and when the Academy does deign to honor one, it’s usually a comedy-hyphen-something-else. Best picture nominees like this year’s The Big Short and The Martian — whose comedy label at the Golden Globes has been called category fraud — are dramas first, comedy second. Trainwreck plays many roles, working both as a send-up of traditional rom-coms and as a sharp commentary on female sexuality. But first and foremost, it’s a comedy, and its raison d’ˆêtre is to earn laughs.
Besides, Trainwreck wasn’t marketed as an Oscar movie. Its July release date relegated it to summer blockbuster status, and most of the buzz about how smart Schumer’s screenplay is died out long before Oscar nominations were announced. Two Golden Globe nominations (best comedy and best actress in a comedy for Schumer) helped revive its Oscar chances, but even at the Globes, it lost to The Martian and Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, both of which have dubious comedy credentials.
Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: From her raunchy HBO special to her sharp Inside Amy Schumer sketches, 2015 was one long coming-out party for Schumer. But Trainwreck was her biggest introduction yet, and the film’s stellar box office receipts ($110.2 million) proved that Schumer wasn’t just a comedy darling but a bona fide star.
Trainwreck is Schumer’s showcase, but she’s bolstered by a deep supporting cast, many of whom are playing against type. Hader made his name as one of Saturday Night Live’s most valuable players, but with Trainwreck, he cements his status as a leading man — and a charming one at that. Who knew Stefon could be a romantic lead?
And who knew LeBron James had such comedic chops? Playing himself, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward proved that not only is he one of the most formidable athletes in the world, but he can hold his own against professional comedians, whether he’s interrogating Amy about her intentions with Aaron or rhapsodizing about the merits of Cleveland. James’ role is no small cameo, and his performance opened the gates for signing a deal with Warner Bros. to start developing new TV and movie projects. (In case you forgot, Warner Bros. owns the rights to Space Jam.)
And then there’s Tilda Swinton. If anyone on Trainwreck deserves an Oscar nod, it’s the makeup artist who transformed the regal, ethereal Swinton into a raunchy, tanning-bed-baked Miranda Priestley.
Perhaps most importantly, Trainwreck is both funny and smart. Postmodern rom-coms are nothing new, but Schumer’s take is incisive, poking fun at not just the genre’s biggest tropes — James tackles the supportive best friend role, as himself — but its gender roles, too. Unlike your traditional PG-13 rom-com leading lady, whose only real flaw is being adorably clumsy, the Amy we see on screen is a mess. She’s selfish, she’s petty, and she’s frequently unlikable. But she feels like a real human being, one who can make mistakes and still deserve love. Schumer is hardly the first woman to bring such a complicated female character to the screen, but here’s hoping Trainwreck paves the way for even more messy, unapologetic heroines.