Let’s gear up, it’s awards season! Though I’ve never been that fervently interested in the race – but always checked the nominees and winners out of curiosity – and its perks and valleys, I like awards season a lot. It’s that one period of the year where I know for sure many quality pictures will be released because most of the film industry is oh-so preoccupied with winning prestigious awards. That means there will be a good number of interesting movies for me to see. Sure, sometimes Oscar bait backfires (2004’s All the King’s Men, anyone?), but this remains a cool period to go to the movies nonetheless. And it’s also nice that it happens during one of the best periods of the year itself (Christmas/New Year’s celebrations, anyone?).
Obviously, the crown jewel of film awards is the Academy Award. It’s that one thing that everyone wants. While I’d never really bet my money on which film is going to win Best Picture, there have actually been times I felt fairly struck by the absence of certain films/performances among the nominees. Especially if certain films/performances had been snubbed in favor of less charming ones. This year, the Academy Awards have also been subjected to scrutiny and controversy due to the lack of nominations for the director and the star – Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, two of the most appealing up-and-comers around these days – of one of the most critically acclaimed films of the past year, Selma, as well as the omission of the similarly acclaimed Wild from the Best Picture category.
So, given it’s awards season, let’s revisit twelve egregious recent Oscar snubs:
Taare Zameen Par for Best Foreign Language Film
Three days before Chandni Chowk [to China (2009)] hit theaters in the U.S. and India, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films edging closer to a foreign-language nomination. India’s submission, the powerful and moving Taare Zameen Par by Aamir Khan, didn’t make the cut. Sadly, that film never will be seen by mainstream American audiences; yet Chandni Chowk is enjoying a hefty publicity push. If only Taare Zameen Par could have gotten its hands on that magic potato
— American film critic Lisa Tsering, The Hollywood Reporter
Taare Zameen Par, also known as Like Stars on Earth and Stars on Ground, is a 2007 Indian film which received glowing reviews from critics and was India’s official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film. Its failure to be nominated eventually sparked a debate about the underappreciation of Indian films by the Academy.
The plot centers on a very imaginative young boy who, due to his poor academic performance, is sent to boarding school, where he meets a teacher who discovers he suffers from dyslexia and helps him overcome it through art. I know, it sounds like a sappy tear-jerker. And while I have to admit the film’s not without its faults (e.g. there are scenes that play out as a little overly sentimental and it does sometimes feel like one of those somewhat simplistic movies made to “educate” the audience on learning disabilities), its charm and joy manage to transcend these minor flaws. Like its young protagonist, Taare Zameen Par flows with imagination and creativity: it’s lovely, heart-warming, fun, colorful and its distinct Bollywood sensibility, complete with the obligatory musical sequences (including a lovely one where Khan’s character introduces himself to his new class), only add to its charm.
Its use of animation to give insight into young Ishaan (Darsheel Safary)’s thought process also adds up to the film’s originality. Overall, the film plays nicely as an engaging and fairly moving celebration of imagination and expression withstanding difficulties. In spite of its sentimentality and sometime naive oversimplification of Ishaan’s condition, it still manages not to lessen the effect of its story to a better degree than many other films. It’s simply a delightful story about a skilled, creative student and an unorthodox, sensitive teacher, and it would be easy to say that if Taare Zameen Par received more exposure in the U.S. or was an American film, it might as well have gotten an Oscar nomination, à la Dead Poets Society (1989). In a year where the competition was less stiff, it might as well had gotten it.