The Alternative Oscars

JACKSON CAINES brings you four films the Oscars forgot…

ai weiwei: never sorry Amour argo berberian sound studio jackson caines sightseers the hunt the oscars

Roll out the red carpet – it’s that time of year again. Yes, tomorrow is the annual ritual in which Hollywood gives itself a big pat on the back, dazzles us plebs with its awesome glamour and attempts to justify its continuing dominance in the global film industry.

And if that sounded cynical then perhaps I’m being a little unfair. Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences manages to nominate at least one film it can really be proud of. This year’s Argo, for example, is first-class, and the inclusion of Michael Haneke’s devastating Amour in the Best Picture category certainly raises the bar. Inevitably, though, there remain some superlative films which have been left on the shelf. So before you go assuming that this year’s Oscar list is a definitive round-up of the best of 2012, give these neglected gems a chance.

Berberian Sound Studio (dir. Peter Strickland)

Could Peter Strickland be the UK’s own David Lynch? The ambiguous, unsettling and downright eccentric Berberian Sound Studio certainly puts Strickland in the same maverick camp. Toby Young plays a sound engineer working on a gory low-budget Italian horror film in the 1970s; a timid mummy’s boy, he’s a fish out of water among his macho Italian colleagues, and his psychological wellbeing quickly takes a turn for the worst. The film is an atmospheric tour de force, and the fact that it wasn’t even Oscar-nominated for its sound design is a crime.

The Hunt (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)

The bleak woods and claustrophobic villages of Denmark provide the setting for The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg’s magnificently accomplished tale of a man falsely accused of paedophilia. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, the nursery teacher whose life is turned upside down when pupil Klara concocts a story implicating him in sexual abuse. What follows is a deeply disturbing examination of human behaviour at its least rational, as friends, colleagues and strangers turn brutally against Lucas on the basis of little to no evidence. Mikkelsen picked up the Best Actor prize at Cannes, but the Academy has shown no love to this masterpiece.

Sightseers (dir. Ben Wheatley)

The innocent countryside holiday has rarely been given a darker twist. When Tina (Alice Lowe) is taken on a rural ramble by her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), she is forced to confront his psychopathic tendencies as he begins gorily bumping off Daily Mail readers and pretentious travel writers. Lowe and Oram make an endearing and hilarious double act, injecting an irresistible warmth which balances the graphic violence characteristic of director Ben Wheatley. Brave, bonkers and unmistakeably British, Sightseers is not your typical Oscar fare, but the Academy could have at least given a nod to its wonderful screenplay.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (dir. Alison Klayman)

Surely one of the defining activists of our time, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the subject of this extraordinary documentary, which takes us behind the scenes of his long-running conflict with the Chinese government. In the space of ninety minutes, Alison Klayman’s film manages to bulldoze any cynicism we might have regarding the power of the individual to fight for freedom – that’s no mean feat. Taking us through Weiwei’s creative roots as a New York radical in the ‘80s and culminating in the recent controversies back in his homeland, Never Sorry is a cinematic punch to the gut. It’s just a shame it didn’t make it into this year’s Best Documentary category.