The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has not always been the most “in touch” of organizations when it comes to movie consumption by the public. After all, they did give an Oscar nomination to Ryan Gosling for Ken in Barbie but neglected to honor star Margot Robbie and director Great Gerwig. A decision that ran counter to everything the movie set out to promote.
Along with overlooking certain performers and filmmakers, the Academy also has a long-running track record of overlooking entire genres, namely horror films, when it comes to the honor of best picture. Sure, films like The Exorcist, Get Out, and The Sixth Sense have earned Best Picture nominations. But the six films honored with Best Picture nominations hardly scratch the surface of horror films that stand up next to any Best Picture winner in the history of the awards.
In just the past five years, horror filmmakers have produced some truly stunning films featuring impressive performances and exploring deep themes that are usually revered by the Academy. We aim to give these ten films the credit they deserve and show they were every bit worthy of receiving a nomination for Best Picture.
10 Us (2019)
- Release Date
- March 14, 2019
Modern master of horror, Jordan Peele made waves with his directorial debut in the form of 2017’s Get Out. A film that rightfully was honored by the Academy Awards as it would become just the sixth horror film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, Peele would also earn a nomination for his direction. Following up on the success of Get Out was always going to be a tough task, but Peele was able to pull it off with US, a short title that packs a big punch. A film that brings a family face-to-face with mysterious doppelgängers set on replacing them and focuses primarily on a mother determined to protect her family from their villainous counterparts.
Much like Get Out, Peele injects deeper meaning into the surface-level horror of Us. While a lot of the films’ deeper themes are up for interpretation, xenophobia and paranoia seem to be the most agreed upon, as the doppelgängers and the fear of them represent the idea of the “other” and the perceived idea that they are hell-bent on replacing “us”.
Lupita Nyong’o gives an all-time performance as both Adelaide and her “tethered” lookalike Red, and emotion runs deep throughout the film. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite took home the best picture award at the 92nd Academy Awards, and rightfully so. However, Us stands tall against other films nominated that year and deserved recognition.
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9 The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse tells the story of two 19th-century lighthouse keepers who become trapped on a remote island during a storm. The seclusion of the two men puts forth the ultimate test of their physical might and mental fortitude. The film is loosely adapted from an unfinished story by Edgar Allan Poe titled The Light-House, a story the author was unable to finish prior to his death in 1849. Starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson and directed by Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse pushed the boundaries of description and crafts a claustrophobic nightmare of a masterpiece.
Psychological Character Study
Director Robert Eggers has explicitly stated that the subtext in the story of The Lighthouse was heavily influenced by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. While exploring deep-rooted themes of mythology and sexuality, the film at the end of the day is a psychoanalysis of its characters and the direction of Eggers and both Dafoe and Pattinson completely lose themselves in their performances as only two of just four characters in the movie. With the film and more specifically, Pattinson’s role was compared by Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph to that of the film There Will Be Blood, a movie that was nominated for best picture in 2008.
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8 My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020)
The odds are very good that, unless you are a die-hard fan of horror films, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To may be an unfamiliar movie to you, and quite a mouthful of a title. Made by a virtually unknown filmmaker, Jonathan Cuartas, and starring Owen Campbell, who you may know as R.J. from X. The film finds two siblings caring for their ill brother, who dares not venture outside during the daylight and survives on the blood provided by his murderous siblings.
My Heart certainly does not possess the backing of a traditional best picture nominee. The film stars no big-name actors, is produced by an independent production company, and features an extremely dark subject, even for the best picture category at the Academy Awards. This is where the inherited flaw of the Oscars comes into the full light of the sun. Hundreds, if not thousands, of films are made each year, and only a handful are properly recognized in the mainstream. Underneath this blood-soaked vampire tale ultimately lies a story about family bonds and explores how those bonds can be stretched to their limits in dramatic situations.
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7 His House (2020)
His House follows a refugee family from South Sudan who struggle to adapt to their new home and haven in a small English town. After fleeing violence in their home country, the family finds themselves now dealing with a new kind of evil, an ancient one that lurks beneath their new town. Remi Weeks directs the film and stars Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, and Matt Smith drive home the movie’s poignant message.
Some of the best horror films tap into our deepest traumas and explore themes that run much deeper than the monster on the surface. His House takes the refugee experience and shines a dirty and gritty light on it, showcasing a family’s struggle to fit into a new world after escaping the only way of life they have ever known and their shared trauma. To take nothing away from the Best Picture nominations from 2020, His House deserved a deeper look from the Academy, recognition that it did receive from the British Independent Film Awards, earning 15 nominations and winning that institution’s Best Picture honor.
Stream on Netflix
6 The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man is a fresh and modern retelling of the classic Universal monster of the same name. Originally, the film was slated to star Johnny Depp in the titular role as part of Universal’s failed Dark Universe. The film audiences eventually ended up seeing takes the campy concept from the 1930s and injects it with a dose of deeply emotional themes and exceptionally acted performances, especially from star Elisabeth Moss. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell of Saw fame, the film would be one of the last major releases before most theaters shuttered their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plain to See
The Invisible Man is more than just another horror film pumped out of the Blumhouse production machine. Critically praised for its acting and impressive adaptation of the source material, the movie transcends its genre to tell a harrowing story about the trauma associated with domestic violence. Similar to His House, The Invisible Man stands up with any Best Picture nomination from the film for the year 2020.
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5 Last Night in Soho (2021)
Ellie, a young girl struggling with her mental health, makes the move to London to study at the London College of Fashion and winds up in the vivid dreams of a murdered aspiring singer. Writer and director Edgar Wright has described Last Night in Soho as his “dark valentine” love letter to London and, more specifically, the Soho neighborhood. The location is every bit a character in the film as the living, breathing actors. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Diana Rigg, and Matt Smith, Last Night in Soho may be Wright’s crowning jewel to date with one killer soundtrack.
Writing Duo Leads the Way
Part of what makes Last Night in Soho such a brilliant film and worthy of the best picture nomination is the story that is crafted by Wright and his writing partner on this film, the Academy Award-nominated Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Cairns, who co-wrote the Best Picture,-nominated 1917 with Sam Mendes, drew from her own personal experiences of tending bar in Soho to help craft the narrative. The two tell a tale of how society can romanticize the past despite the brimming darkness that often stems from it. The sum of the parts that make up the film shows a director who is at the top of his craft, creating a film that stands out as one of the best of 2021.
Rent on Apple TV
- Release Date
- November 18, 2022
- Mark Mylod
From one Anya Taylor-Joy-led film to another, The Menu tells the story of an eccentric chef and the guests he intends to serve at an exclusive dinner. Everything is not as it seems as the dinner progresses and the body count piles up. Alongside Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, and Nicholas Hoult feature in the film directed by Mark Mylod, a filmmaker with just four feature films to his name.
The Menu blends comedy and horror into a perfect mixture that is extenuated by the performances in the film and the twisted narrative crafted. While both Fiennes and Taylor-Joy would earn Golden Globe nominations for the film, The Menu would be left off of the Academy Awards completely. The film can be compared to a fellow 2022 release, Triangle of Sadness, which also delivers a black comedy and was nominated for Best Picture. With The Menu receiving higher critical and commercial praise than its counterpart, it is a curious case as to why the Academy snubbed this feature.
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3 Bones and All (2022)
Bones and All tells the twisted love story of two young cannibalistic lovers who find themselves on the run across the country. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet anchor the cast of this unique romantic tale, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Based on the 2015 novel of the same name, the film would debut at the 79th Venice International Film Festival to rave reviews before having a wider theatrical run in March 2022.
Guadagnino Does it Again
Director Luca Guadagnino is no stranger to creating a Best Picture nominee, as his film Call Me By Your Name was nominated for a slew of awards in 2018, a film that also stars Chalamet. While the subject may have restricted the film from reaching greater success, especially in the eyes of the Academy, Bones and All goes far beyond its fleshy human surface, diving deep into themes of identity and finding your place in the world. While the film was nominated for dozens of independent awards, its deserved credit should have expanded into the mainstream consciousness of the Academy.
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2 Pearl (2022)
- Release Date
- September 16, 2022
Director Ti West was on an absolute tear in 2022, producing two of the best horror movies of the past decade. Both X and Pearl redefined what a successful horror film could look like in 2022 and exceeded the expectations of horror fans and critics alike. While X would kick off the overarching story of West’s trilogy that concludes with 2024’s MaXXXine, it is Pearl where the filmmaker truly shines. Starring Mia Goth in the titular role, the film focuses on Pearl and her aspirations to become an actor and the repression and guilt that keeps her from truly realizing her dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may seem.
“Mesmerizing” is how multi-time Academy Award-nominated and winner Martin Scorsese described Pearl. Praise from an iconic filmmaker like Scorsese carries a lot of weight, but unfortunately, not enough to earn the film a nod for Best Picture. While Pearl may be one of the more overtly “horror” films on this list, the story it tells transcends this. Without much-needed generational change within the Academy, a film like Pearl, no matter how brilliant, may never get the rightful credit it deserves with Hollywood’s “biggest honor.”
Stream on Showtime
1 Talk to Me (2023)
Talk to Me
- Release Date
- July 28, 2023
- Danny Philippou , Michael Philippou
- Sophie Wilde , Joe Bird , Alexandra Jensen , Otis Dhanji , Miranda Otto
Talk to Me tells the age-old story of a group of people contacting spirits from beyond the grave and the consequences that can follow. The Australian film, led by first-time filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou, crafts a chilling narrative that is rooted in generations of horror film storytelling. Following the film’s debut at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, a bidding war commenced for distribution of the film, ultimately won by the new home of groundbreaking horror films, A24, and being released in the US in the summer of 2023.
Under the Radar
At a tight 95 minutes, Talk to Me is able to tell a story that is deep in emotion and rich with acting performances from its young and mostly unproven cast. While 2023 was ruled by tentpole films like Barbie and Oppenheimer, both Best Picture nominees. Talk to Me flies under the radar of most mainstream audiences, something that has not stopped the Academy in years past. The freshman feel of both the filmmakers and the actors may have been detrimental in the eyes of voters. Perhaps the field was just too crowed for a little engine that could like Talk to Me.
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