Should have been contenders

By Julian Wise - February 22, 2007

The Oscars are supposed to celebrate the best and brightest output from Hollywood, but we all know that back-room politicking and out-front PR campaigns have as much to do with nominations as the films themselves. This article celebrates the often overlooked films that somehow slipped through the cracks, never generating major box office buzz yet worthy of a second chance.

"Jacob's Ladder"

Tim Robbins excels in his portrayal of a Vietnam veteran plagued by ghostly visions. The film is virtually incomprehensible right up until its final frames, at which point it snaps into jaw-dropping focus. While this film was too cryptic and cerebral to appeal to mass audiences, it deserves to be sought out on DVD.

"The Sweet Hereafter"

Atom Egoyan directed and wrote the screenplay to this adaptation of the Russell Banks novel The film uses a tragic school bus accident to serve as the locus of the hermetic dysfunctions of a chilly northern town. Ian Holm is phenomenal as a lawyer hot on the trail of the accident.

The Sweet Hereafter

"Searching for Bobby Fischer"

Is it worth sacrificing childhood to realize the full potential of one's talent? This film is a fascinating exploration of philosophical issues surrounding giftedness in children. When the Waitzkin family realizes their son, Joshua, is a chess prodigy, they must decide whether to push him into the world of competitive gamesmanship or let him live a normal life. The specter of Bobby Fischer, the gifted but insane chess master, hangs like an invisible presence over the film. Bit parts by Ben Kingsley and Lawrence Fishburn add spark to the film.


Meet Elling and Kjell Barne, two of the greatest misfits to grace the screen in decades. This prize-winning Norwegian comedy chronicles the lives of two psychiatric patients turned roommates as they take tentative steps to surviving in the real word. The film treats its subjects with humorous sensitivity and achieves a life-affirming grace at the end.

"Beautiful Girls"

This mid-1990s comic gem assembled Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Lauren Holly, Rosie O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, and Natalie Portman in its exploration of misfit adulthood and small town roots. A high school reunion serves as the backdrop for Willie Conway's (Hutton) return to his small town, where he discovers most of his buddies are fumbling with the transition into adulthood.



Clive Owen's breakout role came as Jack Manfred, a struggling writer who takes a job as a croupier in a casino, only to find himself drawn into a plot of intrigue and betrayal that outdoes his own fiction. Manfred discovers that there is no such thing as safe odds in gambling.

"Dark City"

This is a truly bizarre science fiction film that suggests "The Matrix" devoid of the hype and bombast. Hidden memories, a nightmare world without sunlight, and telekinetic beings who steal human souls all co-exist in this arty, dystopian masterpiece.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.