At every Oscar party, there is usually that head-scratcher, the category in which you haven't heard of a single nominee.
At every Oscar party, there is usually that head-scratcher, the "Who Is Bonnie Bear?" moment, the category in which you haven't heard of a single nominee. This year, there's a Belgian film noir about bovine growth hormone (Bullhead), a story about the civil rights movement that isn't The Help (The Barber of Birmingham), and a 3D movie whose visual effects are engineered by a company of modern dancers (Pina). Among the many worthy contenders that have floated underneath the collective radar, here are five I haven't seen yet that now have leapfrogged to the top of my cinematic priorities. What's on your list?
1. Albert Nobbs — Best Actress (Glenn Close)
Glenn Close is no stranger to Oscar, but this film, a late-year entry, has been somewhat of a secret—not unlike the true identity of film's main character. Close plays a woman who, at 14, began to dress like a man to work as a servant in a manor house. She lives that life uninterrupted for decades until she is accidentally revealed. Imaging if Downton Abbey had a transgender character.
2. A Better Life — Best Actor (Demián Bichir)
You've heard of Twilight, yes? Director Chris Weitz's last directing gig was for the "New Moon" chapter of that franchise. Suffice it to say that A Better Life didn't make as big a box-office splash. But Mexican movie star Demián Bichir (Che, Weeds) is nominated for his role as a gardener living illegally in Los Angeles who attempts to ensure financial security for his family by buying a truck for his business. When the truck is stolen, Bichir's character must figure out how to get it back without getting "help" from the police.
3. Chico and Rita — Best Animated Feature
Looking more sensual and less esoteric than last year's adult-themed animated nominee, The Illusionist, this Spanish-language feature is a love song to Latin jazz. The filmmakers spent weeks shooting on location in Havana and sought out Cuban music greats Bebo Valdés and Estrella Morente to help bring the sound of that era alive.
4. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom — Best Documentary Short
Documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker, who was nominated for an Academy Award last year for her feature Waste Land, had been planning a trip to Japan to film the ritual cherry blossom festival when the horrifying earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck. When she arrived, Walker collected harrowing witness footage and testimony of the disaster. But she also found that many survivors were able to meditate on the loss through the beautiful ephemery of the falling blossoms.
5. God is the Bigger Elvis — Best Documentary Short
An appealing Hollywood ingenue in the 1950s, Dolores Hart went from smooching Elvis in his first on-screen kiss to following her true heart and devoting her life to her faith as a Catholic in a convent in Connecticut. Hart is a member of the Academy; she'll be attending the ceremony and walking the red carpet. Maybe, like Tim Tebow, she'll pull out a win.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Waste Land won an Academy Award last year. Though nominated for Best Documentary Feature, the film did not win.