And the nominees aren't: the Oscarbait films that failed in 2019

While Roma and The Favourite might be leading the race, there’s a list of major prospects that struggled to turn buzz into votes

This year’s nominations are out and while it’s a great year for Roma and The Favourite (leading the race with 10 a piece), there’s a trail of wreckage from those films that didn’t make the cut.

While there are some legitimate snubs (no Bradley Cooper for best director, no Emily Blunt for best actress, no Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for best documentary), there’s also an entirely separate category of films that didn’t enter the conversation in the first place, despite being crafted to do just that.

Boy Erased

Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased.
Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased. Photograph: Focus Features/AP

With his first film as director, 2015’s insidious psycho-thriller The Gift, actor Joel Edgerton showed remarkable deftness on both sides of the camera, infusing a familiarly structured tale with menace and morality. On paper, his follow-up seemed to suggest yet more critical acclaim, albeit for one with far weightier ambitions: the fact-based gay conversion drama Boy Erased. But a horrifyingly topical premise and a stacked cast, from Lucas Hedges to Nicole Kidman to Russell Crowe, couldn’t bring life to Edgerton’s stale direction and lifeless script, entirely devoid of specificity. An awards-friendly bow at Telluride led to some polite reviews but by release, any Oscar chances had been, ahem, erased.

Welcome to Marwen

Steve Carell in Welcome to Marwen.
Steve Carell in Welcome to Marwen. Photograph: Ed Araquel/AP

Rather like the lead character of his 2000 hit Castaway, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis has found himself somewhat adrift in recent years. His attempt to recreate Philipe Petit’s twin towers stunt in 2015’s The Walk equated to a seat-edge sequence lost in a dull movie and while 2016’s Allied was a solid thriller, it failed to impress the majority of critics and audiences. Last year was strike three with his schmaltzy dramatisation of the 2010 documentary Marwencol about the true story of a man struggling with PTSD who creates a fictional village. Seen by many as an overly Hollywoodised take on a fascinating true story, complete with falsification and a misfiring lead performance by Steve Carell, it was one of 2018’s biggest commercial flops and landed on roughly no one’s best of list.

Mary Queen of Scots

Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen Of Scots.
Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen Of Scots. Photograph: Allstar/Focus Features

If this time last year, one were to predict which female-fronted costume drama was going to be a multiple Oscar nominee in 2019 then it’s unlikely that a bawdy, surrealist, vulgar comedy about a same-sex love triangle from the director of Dogtooth would have been the pick. But Yorgos Lanthimos’s wonderfully rebellious retelling of Queen Anne’s unlikely reign scooped up 10 nominations this week while Mary Queen of Scots, its far more conventional cousin, was left with just two: costume design and makeup and hairstyling. Theatre director Josie Rourke’s drama joined the race rather late and while reviews were decent, it was inevitably affected by comparisons with The Favourite and stars Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie found out the hard way that playing monarchs doesn’t always lead to Oscar glory.

On the Basis of Sex

Armie Hammer, Justin Theoux and Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex.
Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux and Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex. Photograph: Jonathan Wenk/Focus Features

While the warmly received, and commercially successful, RBG might have nabbed a best documentary nomination, its dramatised equivalent left Oscar voters cold, just weeks after it left US audiences and critics rather chilly. The life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is indisputably ripe for a biopic but Mimi Leder’s textbook drama On the Basis of Sex struggled to make the case thanks to a miscast Felicity Jones and a strict adherence to the rather dusty rules of the genre. Given the undying public fascination with Ginsburg’s achievements, don’t count out another biopic landing in the race in the future.

The Front Runner

Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner.
Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner. Photograph: Courtesy of Sony Pictures/Allstar/Sony Pictures Releasing

Quite clearly sold as “the political film we need right now”, Jason Reitman’s fast-paced drama about the downfall of Senator Gary Hart was met with quite the opposite response from audiences and critics. After its premiere at Telluride, The Front Runner was met with indifference, a feeling that lingered through to its provocative release date on 8 November, when the US midterms took place. There was reserved acclaim for Hugh Jackman but even in a weak year for best actor, he couldn’t break through while, for Reitman, the film marks yet another Oscar-aiming project that failed to attract voters, to be filed alongside the sugary melodrama Labor Day and the salty, unfairly ignored black comedy Young Adult.

Ben is Back

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in Ben Is Back.
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in Ben Is Back. Photograph: -

With her lead role in indie drama Ben is Back, awards pundits were busy slapping themselves on their backs by announcing that in fact, Julia Roberts is back! But while reviews were mostly kind to the Oscar winner for her role as a mother dealing with a son struggling with addiction, there wasn’t quite enough buzz to fully launch her best actress campaign. Released soon after that other addiction drama (see below) and in a crowded early December slot, it promptly disappeared and while Roberts picked up a handful of nominations for her role in Amazon’s Homecoming, it was made very clear that this won’t be the year she’ll be returning to the Oscars main stage.

Beautiful Boy

Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy.
Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy. Photograph: François Duhamel/StudioCanal

After scoring a best actor nomination for his role in the sun-soaked romance Call Me by Your Name, it looked like Timothée Chalamet could be in the best supporting actor race just a year later. Even after Beautiful Boy’s high-profile premiere at last year’s Toronto film festival, when initial reviews were decidedly muted, Chalamet was still seen as a shoo-in. Yet despite some nominations along the way, both his performance and the film were Academy shut-outs this week. There was also considerable lack of audience interest and it’s unclear whether that was the result of a mixed critical response or whether watching a film about a teen struggling with meth addiction just didn’t seem like an appealing proposition, regardless of quality.

A Private War

Rosamund Pike in A Private War.
Rosamund Pike in A Private War. Photograph: Jonathan Prime/PR Handout

Ever since she picked up a best actress nomination for her show-stopping performance in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike has struggled to find the right follow-up. Nothing has been overtly awful but films like A United Kingdom, Beirut, Hostiles and Entebbe have just sort of existed, provoking little more than shrugs. Teaming with Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman for A Private War, the story of fearless war correspondent Marie Colvin seemed like a much-needed win, scoring her a string of positive reviews. But critical support could only do so much and despite a Golden Globe nomination, Pike couldn’t break into the Oscar conversation.


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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