The Best Movies You've (Probably) Never Heard Of




And so once again it is Oscar season. That time of the year when Hollywood dresses up at its most glamorous and celebrates the art of cinema. How much people plan to celebrate is questionable. People are very upset that the awards for the technical categories and short films will be given out before the ceremony. ABC threatened to cancel the entire telecast if its notoroiously long running time wasn’t shortened and ratings continue to be abysmal while things have sort of gone back to the pre-pandemic phenomenon of kids flocking to see superhero movies and adults staying home and streaming stuff.

Oh well, I still love the movies and I still love the Oscars. Every year I offer my choices, predictions, and opinions about what films and artists were overlooked. I don’t have a crystal ball and in recent years I’ve been pretty off about some of the winners but hey, this is, despite what “experts” say, an unpredictable game.

I wanted to wait until I saw all of the Best Picture nominees before I wrote this blog entry. I haven’t seen all of the nominated movies, of course, and as is so often the case I haven’t seen any of the short subjects or documentaries, a problem I really should remedee. Regardless, here are my thoughts.

Best Picture

MY CHOICE: I’ll be honest, I didn’t think this was a particularly strong year for movies and none of my favorites were nominated for Best Picture. I would say that for me it’s a horse race between Belfast and West Side Story and I think I’m gonna go with the Jets and the Sharks on this one.

WHAT WILL WIN: The Power of the Dog is leading the pack, having won the Golden Globe for Drama, the BAFTA Award and the Critics Choice Award. Who knows? There may be an upset, but I think it has the best chance.

OVERLOOKED: Tick…Tick…BOOM! Hands down the best film of the year IMO.

Best Director

MY CHOICE: I’d like to see Kenneth Branagh win this one.

WHO WILL WIN: The Best Director and Best Picture Awards are starting to go together again. I think Jane Campion will win.

OVERLOOKED: Jon M. Chu for In the Heights.

Best Actor

MY CHOICE: Andrew Garfield as the late Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick…Boom!

WHO WILL WIN: I hate to say it, because I didn’t like the movie and I didn’t like his character, but it looks like Will Smith will win for King Richard. Blech.

OVERLOOKED: Remember when kids actually got nominated? Why hasn’t the wonderful Jude Hill been nominated for Belfast? Is the ghost of W.C. Fields on the nominating committee?

Best Actress

MY CHOICE: Nichole Kidman channeled her inner Lucy. She didn’t just do an impression of her but gave us an idea what this first lady of comedy was like behind the scenes – tough, sardonic, and fearless.

WHO WILL WIN: The smart money is on Jessica Chastain but I’m in a gambling mood. I think Olivia Colman might get it.

OVERLOOKED: Jodie Comer for her harrowing performance in The Last Duel. No doubt about it, she’s one to watch.

Best Supporting Actor

MY CHOICE: I think I’ll go with Kodi Smit-McPhee on this one.

WHO WILL WIN: Troy Kotsur is the front runner and he will be only the second deaf actor to win an Oscar which will mean a lot to ultra woke Hollywood.*

OVERLOOKED: Mike Faist for his dynamic performance as Riff in West Side Story.

Best Supporting Actress

MY CHOICE: Ariana DeBose for her electrifying portrayal of Anita in WSS.

WHO WILL WIN: She’s won just about every award so far. Pretty sure she’s gonna win this one too.

OVERLOOKED: At the risk of evoking moans of “not her again,” the divine Meryl Streep was really funny as the president in Don’t Look Up.

Best Original Screenplay

MY CHOICE: Don’t Look Up.


OVERLOOKED: Paralell Mothers.

Best Adapted Screenplay


WHAT WILL WIN: The Power of the Dog.

OVERLOOKED: The Last Duel.

Best Animated Feature Film

MY CHOICE: For what might be the first time in years, I haven’t seen any animated films this year. Pass.

WHAT WILL WIN: I think Disney’s Enacto has it pretty well sewn up.

Best International Feature Film

MY CHOICE: I’ve only seen Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World. I wasn’t crazy about either of them but if I had to choose I’d pick the entry from Norway.

WHAT WILL WIN: Drive My Car.

OVERLOOKED: Why Paralell Mothers, Pedro Almodovar’s best film in years isn’t nominated I swear I don’t know.

Best Documentary Feature

MY CHOICE: I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen any of them. I must pass.

WHAT WILL WIN: Summer of Soul sounds like good Oscar bait.

Best Documentary Short Subject



Best Live Action Short Film



Best Animated Short Film



Best Original Score

MY CHOICE: Don’t Look Up.


Best Original Song

MY CHOICE: “Down to Joy” from Belfast.

WHAT WILL WIN: “Dos Oruguitas” from Enacto. Won’t it be nice to see Lin-Manuel Miranda win something for once?

Best Sound

MY CHOICE: West Side Story.


Best Production Design

MY CHOICE: The Tragedy of Macbeth.

WHAT WILL WIN: West Side Story.

Best Cinematography

MY CHOICE: Nightmare Alley.


Best Makeup and Hairstyling

MY CHOICE: The House of Gucci.


Best Costume Design

MY CHOICE: West Side Story.


OVERLOOKED: House of Gucci.

Best Film Editing

MY CHOICE: Tick, Tick…Boom!


OVERLOOKED: In the Heights.

Best Visual Effects

MY CHOICE: I’ve only seen Dune. I’d say it wins by default.


*In an earlier version of this blog entry I eroniously stated that Troy Kotsur will make history as the first deaf person awarded an Oscar should he win. I was wrong about that. Marlee Matlin holds that honor, winning the award in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.

Osama (2003)

On September 11th of this year, we commemorated the worst terrorist attack to ever take place on U.S. soil. That date also officially ended the longest armed conflict in our countries history.

They say that those that don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Well, it sure seems like we repeated the mistakes of the Vietnam war, with the Taliban retaking the country, refugees being airlifted out of the war zone and millions left to face a very uncertain fate under the thumb of this notoriously violent and oppressive regime.

What’s particularly frustrating about the Afghan War is that on the one hand I don’t think we ever should of been there but on the other hand I do believe we needed to respond militarily after 9-11. The goal, of course, was supposed to be bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and breaking up al Queda. But did we need to take down the Taliban government to do so? Lord knows our track record when it comes to regime changes in other countries is pretty abysmal. And let’s not forget the track record of those who tried to take over Afghanistan. The Romans, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets – all failed. There’s a reason why they call the country the Graveyard of Empires. Of course the invasion started out very small, with only ten thousand troops. Would it have made a difference had we deployed more troops? One thing’s for sure, it was a giant mistake to go start a much larger conflict in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, over non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction.

More than anything though, I feel for the Afgahn people. The people we were supposed to liberate. Sure, the Taliban is claiming that they’ve reformed, that they want women to be educated, and that they will create a less oppressive government, but why should we believe them? Life under the Taliban was a nightmare. All we can do is pray that it’s not as big a nightmare this time around.

A movie that may give us a glimpse of what the Afghan people are in for is Osama, a 2003 Dutch, Japanese, Irish, Iranian and Afghan co-production that was the first movie to be shot in Afghanistan since the Taliban banned the production of motion pictures in 1996. Let me just say right off the bat that it is not a film about Mr. bin Laden, though he is alluded to in the film. It deals with a young, pre-adolecent girl who must masquerade as a boy if she, her mother and grandmother are to live.

Like the great Italian Neo-realist films that came out of Italy after World War II, Osama is a film that employs non-actors and avoids any and all flourishes that might be a distraction. The camera is no more than a window onto the real world. At the opening we see the young girl (Marina Golbahari), who’s name we never learn, and her mother (Zubaida Sahar) walk through the streets of their Afghan village as women in burkhas protest for the right to work. They are dealt with by the Taliban, who open fire hoses on them.

Mother works as a nurse at a nearby hospital. Unfortunately, we learn that the Taliban has cut off the hospitals funding. Not only does the hospital have to close, but Mother can’t receive her back pay. Of course just going to the hospital is dangerous since women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort. Since the young girl’s father had died in the Soviet war, the girl lives alone with her mother and grandmother. Without being able to even go out and find work, or shop for food, the family is doomed to starve to death.

Being stuck in such an absurdly dire position, Mother tells the young girl that she must disguise herself as a boy in order to go out and get work. The sensitive little girl doesn’t like the idea, and not just because she doesn’t want to be a boy. She knows all too well what will happen to her if she’s found out. Still, the family has no choice. Mom alters her husbands old clothes and cuts the girls hair. The girl takes a lock of one of her braids and plants it in a flower pot, perhaps symbolically hoping that one day she can grow her hair back and go back to being a girl.

Mother takes the girl to a shop keeper who knew the girls father, the two of them having fought together during the Soviet war. He agrees to give the little girl a job and also gives her a watermelon to take home to her Mom and Grandma. As Mom and the girl head home, she’s recognized by an orphan boy named Espandi (Arif Herati), an orphan boy who we see at the beginning of the film spreading incense for money. He demands some money for not exposing the young girl. Fortunately, he will soon prove to be an ally.

Not long after the girl begins working at the shop, a Taliban officer shows up and takes the young incognito girl, not because he sees through her ruse but because all the boys are being rounded up. She runs into Espandi and asks him what’s going on? “bin Laden is preparing us for war!” the boy says. Actually, the boys are being drafted into a Madrasa, a school where male youths are taught Islamic law. Still, it’s hinted that military training might also be in the cards. They are also taught by an elderly Mullah (Khwaja Nader) – or Islamic teacher – how to perform a ghouls, a ritual of absolution for after a man ejaculates. The boys are all dressed in towels and taken to a bathhouse where they are taught how to properly clean their genitals. Obviously this is very dangerous for our young heroine. Soon she arouses suspicion. Espandi comes to her defense, insisting that she’s a boy and even giving her a boys name, Osama. Does he think that naming her after that notorious terrorist will help spare her life?

Eventually, she is found out when she starts to menstruate. She is tied up and lowered into a well and when she is hoisted up with blood on her legs, her cover is blown. She is put on trail along with two other women. Her life, however, is spared when the same Mullah who was teaching the boys offers to take the young girl as his wife.

Her life may be spared but it’s soon clear that she has hardly gotten much of a better deal. When she arrives at the Mullah’s home she is told by his other wives how cruel he is. Indeed, we get a sense of his cruelty when he asks her to choose a lock for her bedroom door. We later see the old Mullah climbing into a heated wash barrel to perform his ghouls.

Osama is a no-nonsense movie, tight, compact and harrowing. One does perhaps wonder what the Mother and Grandmother are going through, living under house arrest while their daughter doesn’t return. But this is the girl’s story, it’s focused on her and what she experiences. And the sad truth is I don’t think her story is that unusual. Maybe not that many girls disguise themselves as boys to get work but many I’m sure are taken from their families to become wives against their will.

Is this what Afghanistan is going to look like again? Maybe there’s a chance the Taliban will show some progress in order to avoid any sanctions or other economic reprisal, but I’m pessimistic. Islamic fundamentalism continues to plague the Arab World and while it’s easy for us in the U.S. to look down on Taliban controlled Afghanistan we must remember that we backed them when they were fighting the Soviets. While I don’t think that the United States will ever be taken over by a regime as cruel and phallocentric as the Taliban, and you’ll have to forgive me for getting political here, I do think that religious fundamentalism has been infecting this country for years. Recently Texas passed a down right draconian abortion law that prevents women from getting one after six weeks of pregnancy. If you believe as I do that such laws exist to subjugate women, then this is a major step backward in the fight for equal rights. It also explains why the so called “Christian Right” pathologically embraced Donald Trump despite the fact that he was as unchristian as a guy could get. As long as he appointed the judges they wanted, they’d embrace him.

Cinema is such a remarkable tool. It allows us to see world and sights that we previously could only dream of. But it also serves as a window onto the real world. I do believe that every work of art, on some unconscious level, is an act of hope. Here’s hoping that more movies like Osama get made and find an audience. Maybe then someone will come up with a more practical solution to such problems than starting a never ending war.

26 Great Director-Cinematographer Collaborations

26. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Richardson

Originally I was going to cap this list at twenty-five, but there was one collaboration I just couldn’t leave off and that’s the incredibly fruitful partnership between Quentin Tarantino and the only person to make this list three times, cinematographer extrodinaire Robert Richardson.

Tarantino first recruited Richardson to shoot his two-part chop-socky epic Kill Bill Vol. I and II. The bold use of color brought a high gloss to what was otherwise a down-and-dirty exploitation flick. The two of them next teamed up for Inglourious Basterds, an off-beat World War II epic that deliberately painted pictures reminiscent of pin-up posters and the covers of pulp novels of their day, the perfect thing to draw us into this skewed version of histories greatest conflict.

The two men then traveled back to the mid-nineteenth century for Django Unchained, a Spaghetti Western set prior to the American Civil War (and set primarily in the South East) about a former slave who becomes a fearsome bounty hunter. Once again Mr. Richardson used a rich color palette with plenty of red (it’s a very bloody movie) to tell this revisionist take on the Old West and the Antebellum South. Tarantino and Richardson again went back to the nineteenth century, this time in the years after World War II, for The Hateful Eight. For this film the two men had the audacity to shoot the movie in 70mm, even though the majority of it took place entirely in a remote, snowed in cabin. Once again, Mr. Richardson delivered the goods and then some.

Most recently the two men took us back to Los Angeles, circa 1969 for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino’s homage to the Tinsel Town of his youth and a revisionist take on the Manson Murders. Once again Richardson hit a visual home run.

Tarantino has claimed that he will only direct one more movie. Most of us hope he’ll do more. However many movies Tarantino makes in the future here’s hoping that Robert Richardson will be the man doing the lighting and lensing.

26 Great Director-Cinematographer Collaborations

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25.  Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister

Film Noir.  It’s not a genre per-se but a certain aesthetic style, one noted not only for its dark cinematography but also for its bleak worldview.  Few director or cinematographers in recent years have done a better (and not too self-conscious) job of keeping the tradition alive then Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister.

A one-time news cameraman, Pfister met Nolan at the Slamdance film festival.  The two got along and Nolan hired Pfister to shoot Memento, an unusual film about a man with no memory that moves backward in time.  The film won accolades from the critics and was compared favorably with the great film noirs of the forties and fifties.  They again received acclaim for the thriller Insomnia, which featured Al Pachino as a detective investigating a murder in Alaska during a time of the year where the sun doesn’t set, hence the insomnia of their title.

Then came a real tall order when Nolan was hired by Warner Bros. to revive one of their most prized properties.  The Batman movie series ran into a brick wall after the critical and commercial disaster Batman and Robin, and Nolan was hired not to continue the original storyline but rather to start the franchise anew, or as we say nowadays, reboot the franchise.  And so he and Pfister did with Batman Begins, a film that went back and explored the origins of the Dark Knight, played this time by Christian Bale.  Whereas the first four Batman films took place in a studio-bound fantasy world, Batman Begins opted for a greater sense of realism, with a number of scenes shot in Chicago (Pfister was born in the Windy City but raised in a New York City suburb).  The end result was a dazzling piece of cinematic storytelling, one that was followed with the even more commercially successful sequels The Dark Knight (above) and The Dark Knight Rises.  In each of these films, Pfister’s background as a news cameraman is quite evident as one watches the films and gets a feeling that this is really happening, right now!  

Aside from the Dark Knight films, Pfister shot Nolan’s The Prestige about two rival magicians in 19th Century London, for which Pfister received an Oscar nomination and the absolutely stunning Inception, which brought us into a hyper-real dreamscape and won Pfister and Oscar.  He was unable to shoot Nolan’s last three films, InterstellarDunkirk and Tenent but it’s entirely likely that they’ll work together again.  If so you can bet that if nothing else it will be the work of two men who are not afraid of the dark.

26 Great Director-Cinematographer Collaborations

Image result for the grand budapest hotel

24.  Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman

In recent years has there been a filmmaker with a more distinct visual style than Wes Anderson?  With his meticulously framed, symmetrical compositions peppered with the eye-popping yet meticulously controlled color palette, Wes Anderson has become something akin to a great book illustrator, which may explain why so many of his films actually begin with someone opening up a book.  And to achieve that unmistakable look, Mr. Anderson owes many thanks to Robert Yeoman, the cinematographer on every one of Anderson’s live-action films to date.

First, the two of them took us through a madcap series of heists gone awry in Bottle Rocket.  They really began to develop their signature style with their next film, Rushmore, about a student in a preparatory school who doesn’t want to leave.  They next took us to a New York City that never was in The Royal Tenenbaums, then an actual yellow submarine in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  It was off to India for The Darjiling Limited, a remote wooded island for Moonrise Kingdom and then a (fictional) bygone Eastern European country for The Grand Budapest Hotel (above).  In every film, they create a sense of magic realism that is unmistakable and, well, magical.  There next film, The French Dispatch is due out later this year.  Here’s looking forward to it and their future collaborations.

26 Great Director-Cinematographer Collaborations

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23.  Martin Scorsese and Robert Richardson

,,As you’re no doubt aware by now, directors and D.P.’s often form long-lasting partnerships.  Still, sometimes it’s necessary to work with new people to create a different effect and in the case of a new cameraman, to create a new look.  When Martin Scorsese decided to direct the Las Vegas-set crime drama Casino in 1995, he knew he needed someone who could capture the slick decadence of Sin City.  He achieved that by hiring Robert Richardson, whose bold use of lighting in Oliver Stones films made him the perfect choice for this glitzy tale of the underworld.  Sure enough, he didn’t disappoint.  While not everyone though Casino was one of Scorsese’s best films hardly anyone could argue that it was visually beautiful.

The two re-teamed in 1999 for Bringing Out the Dead.  This time Richardson needed to create the chaos and turmoil of life in a Manhattan E.R. plus the neon-lit action out on the city streets.  Next came The Aviator, Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic and valentine to old Hollywood.  For the early sequences, Richardson used a muted color palette to simulate the look of the early two-color Technicolor process, eventually employing a full, rich palette for the scenes set in the mid-thirties onward.  The Aviator won Richardson his second Academy Award.

Their fourth collaboration was the suspense thriller Shutter Island for which they created a forbidding atmosphere by adhering to the great tradition of film noir, even though the film was in color.  Their collaboration reached a new plateau with Hugo. Filmed in 3-D, Hugo was a complete departure for Scorsese, a family film with a juvenile protagonist living within the walls of a Parisian train station.  Richardson masterfully met the demands of the new technology while creating an atmosphere of pure cinematic magic.  He also received his third Oscar for his work.

At the moment Scorsese seems to be starting up yet another great collaboration with Rodrigo Prieto, with whom he’s worked with on The Wolf of Wall StreetThe Silence and The Irishman.  Whether or not they work together again Scorsese’s collaboration with Richardson constitutes a highpoint of both of their careers.

26 Great Director-Cinematographer Collaborations

22.  Alfonso Curon and Emanuel Lubezki

In 2019 director Alfonso Curon pulled off an amazing trifecta, winning Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography.  When he won the Oscar for the latter he said “It’s well known that Billy Wilder had a sign in his office that said ‘What would (Ernst) Lubitch have done?’  For me, it was what would Chivo Lubezki have done?”  He was talking of course about Emanuel Lubezki (Chivo being his nickname), the only other D.P. that he’d ever worked with and fortunately one as versatile as Curon.

The two men met while at the National Autonomous School of Mexico where Curon also studied cinematography.  Lubezki shot Curon’s first movie, the sex comedy Solo con Tu Pareja (English translation: Only With Your Partner).  In 1995 this led to their first assignment in the U.S, an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel A Little Princess.  If the thought of Curon directing a film about and primarily for little girls sounds odd then go see it.  It’s a beautifully made film and a visually spectacular production.  Curon’s rich use of yellows and greens gave the film a storybook quality that was positively enchanting.  They next brought a similarly enchanting look to a modern day re-imagining of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations.

They were back in their native Mexico for their next film, Y Tu Mama Tambien (Above.  English translation: And Your Mother Too) about two young men taking a road trip with a more experienced and worldly woman.  Great lovers of the French New Wave, the film was shot in the best road movie tradition, capturing the beauty of the Mexican countryside and contrasting it with the affluence of Mexico City.

Soon after they found themselves hired for a pretty big Hollywood assignment – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film in the insanely successful Potter series.  Lord knows it was a tall order and one misstep could potentially derail an incredibly lucrative franchise.  Fortunately, Curon and Lubezki knew just what He Who Survived Voldermort needed, a darker palette and a more mature tone.  It worked, not only making nearly $800 million worldwide but also changing the tone of the whole series.

Next, they traveled forward into a dystopian future for Children of Men, a science fiction yarn set in a world where human reproduction has stopped and Clive Owen is charged with protecting the last pregnant woman in the world.  Lubezki once again painted with a dark pallet to give the film a stark and realistic look.  It also included one of the most dazzling uninterrupted shots in movie history!  That of course was just a warm-up for Gravity, an 80 percent CGI film shot in 3-D about an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) cut loose in space was a visual tour de force, seamlessly blending the CG and live action footage so that they all looked like they were shot with the same elements and creating the illusion that the film was practically one interrupted take.  Both the director and cinematographer won Oscars for their work.  For Lubezki it was the first of three consecutive awards.  He followed Gravity with Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant, both directed by fellow Mexican Alejandro Inarritu.

When it came time for Roma, Lubezki was once again going to collaborate with his friend, but when the shooting schedule swelled to 108 days Lubezki had to withdraw.  By then he was one of Hollywood’s top D.P.’s, having attracted the attention of Michael Mann, The Cohen Brothers, and Terrence Malick.  Still, there’s every indication that they will work together again and if their first seven collaborations are any indication, it will be on something truly beautiful, both visually and thematically.

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