But who seriously cares about these supposedly big shockers? Dune, Belfast, West Side Story and House of Gucci all still got Oscar love, and there was another bit of good news when Steven Spielberg set a new record as the first director to be nominated in six subsequent decades. What is infuriating is that some of the best movies of 2021 were left completely empty handed. Annette. The Last Duel. Pig. Mass. The French Dispatch. A Hero. C’mon C’mon. The Card Counter. Red Rocket. The list goes on and on.
The medieval fantasy epic The Green Knight was perhaps the best film of the year. It’s been a while since a medieval fantasy adventure truly stood out, and recent efforts to revitalize the Arthurian legend haven’t gone exactly as planned (all apologies to Charlie Hunnam’s musclebound depiction in 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). The Green Knight retold the classic 14th-century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" in beautiful detail. The original text has fascinated historians and art critics for centuries with its ambiguous implications.
The Green Knight addresses centuries of art criticism with a mature interpretation of the legend; the story of King Arthur’s nephew Sir Gawain (played by the hearthrob Dev Patel) is reimagined as a thoughtful reflection on the nature of heroism, the power of storytelling and the contemplation of mortality. It’s not surprising that the film is so insightful considering the first title card that pops up in the credits. The film was directed and adapted by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery.
Although he was born in Milwaukee, Lowery has become a staple of the Dallas film scene. An alum of Irving High School, Lowery first caught the attention of national film critics’ circles with his 2013 feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. If the “getaway driver on the run” premise is intriguing to you, know that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints isn’t intended for the Fast and Furious fandom. It’s a much more sensitive, artful take on love in a time of crisis.
Lowery continued to tell powerful stories that reimagined well known genres from a mature perspective. If we’re being honest, most of Disney’s “live-action” reimaginings of classic animated fairy tale films (The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo) have straight-up sucked, but Lowery’s take on Pete’s Dragon somehow topped the original 1977 original. The locally shot A Ghost Story managed to reflect on the eternity of time on a $100,000 budget. Lowery even managed to bring in one of the greatest icons in film history, the beloved Robert Redford, and give him a powerful sendoff with the heartwarming caper film The Old Man & The Gun.
Regardless of our fondness and pride for local film, Lowery is easily one of the best filmmakers working today. Great filmmaking inevitably comes around with every generation, and Lowery inherits the “great Texan director” title from icons like Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, David Gordon Green and Tobe Hooper. This is all to say that the fact that The Green Knight is his best film to date comes as a significant achievement.
Yet The Green Knight received just as many Academy Award nominations this year as Lowery’s entire filmography has received thus far. That’s right, zero. Seriously, the Oscar voting clowns didn’t even give a Best Visual Effects nomination to Pete’s Dragon in the same year they nominated the creepy CGI Tarkin in Rogue One. Somehow, Lowery’s run of modern classics has gone completely unnoticed by the industry’s top award dogs.
Voters clearly didn’t watch The Green Knight if it was shut out completely, which is a shame because we haven’t talked about where it truly belongs: the Best Picture race.
This would all maybe be justified if they were simply waiting until the right moment to shower him with honors. It took Linklater and Anderson a good run before their under-the-radar work nabbed them recognition. However, The Green Knight is the pinnacle accomplishment that should have broken the barrier. The gorgeous reimagining of the medieval landscapes surely warranted recognition across the board for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score (from Dallas native Daniel Hart, who is up for an ASCAP Award), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. In a perfect world, we’d even throw a Best Supporting Actor nom to that adorable fox.
When looking at this year’s crop of nominees, it's easy to imagine that voters saw a few movies and just did a “straight ticket” ballot as if they were voting for their preferred political party. Yes, The Power of the Dog is one of the best movies of the year, but did it really deserve a nomination for Best Production Design? Do you watch a film like Belfast and think, “Wow, that should be up for Best Sound?” Could you hum a single note from the original score of Don’t Look Up?
Voters clearly didn’t watch The Green Knight if it was shut out completely, which is a shame because we haven’t talked about where it truly belongs: the Best Picture race. The Academy Awards are famously adverse to fantasy films, and following the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a high-fantasy film hasn’t popped up anywhere in the Best Picture lineup. Whether it's a longstanding ignorance of Lowery or disrespect for the entire fantasy genre, the Academy’s failure to rank The Green Knight among the 10 (!) slots for Best Picture is just another sign that they’re out of touch.
Look at this year’s nominees. You’ve got Don’t Look Up, the only film in recent years to get in despite being considered “rotten” by the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. You have King Richard, a great performance from Will Smith in a deeply mediocre movie. You have Dune, which we loved, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s only half of an adaptation.
Lowery doesn’t need an Oscar to make great films, and if you look at the history of cinema there are many great filmmakers who went their entire careers without being recognized. Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, Michael Mann, Sergio Leone, Paul Verhoeven, John Carpenter, Werner Herzog and other giants of the industry were never honored, even if it's clear that they influenced a generation of young filmmakers.
No, it doesn’t really matter, but an Oscar nomination sometimes gets casual viewers to watch something they may not have taken a chance on otherwise. So if the Oscars won’t say it, we will. Watch The Green Knight. Stream it. Rent it. Buy it. Hell, burn it on a VHS tape. In fact, you should probably watch Lowery’s entire body of work. Don’t stop there, either. There’s a great world of local, up-and-coming, and novice filmmakers who will never get an Oscar. It doesn’t mean that what they do doesn’t matter.