Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
Winners the Oscars missed

At the end of On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando looked into the camera and spoke the memorable line, “I could have been a contender.”

If some of the films that didn’t walk away with Academy Awards this year could have the luxury of a closing line, theirs no doubt would have been something similar.

This wasn’t the first time, of course, that the Academy veered down a wholly different course than what the prognosticators had expected. Hitchcock fans may be surprised to learn that Rear Window failed to earn even a nomination the same year On the Waterfront won Best Picture.

With that in mind, here are some 2004 notables not to be overlooked if they return to the big screen or show up at your local video store.

A Very Long Engagement is a portrait of a determined young widow’s unwavering love for a man lost in the chaos of World War I. A touching and sometimes gruesome story, starring Audrey Tautou as small town French country girl who goes into denial when informed of the fate of her sweetheart.

Tautou’s character embarks on a passionate, single-minded detective mission to find him or his remains at any cost. She meets a lot of interesting folks along the way.          

Assassination of Richard Nixon, starring Sean Penn (Mystic River), is loosely based on a true story of a would-be hijacker determined to fly a jetliner into the White House in 1973. 

Penn plays the role of an angry and frustrated “average Joe” with little talent and less confidence. This troubled soul can’t cut it as a furniture salesman because he can’t stand lying to customers. Penn’s performance draws us in as his character strikes out on his own with a wacky business idea. When the idea fails, it sends him into downward cycle from which he cannot escape.

Before Sunset is an excellent sequel to Before Sunrise, with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reprising their roles as Celine and Jesse.

It’s nine years later and these two love-starved celestial soul mates meet once again and have a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking and time is running out. Dialogue between two people is the essence of this film, yet it moves along briskly through the streets of Paris until the sun goes down. 

Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo, is a gripping and disturbing true life story of an Oscar Schindler-like hero determined to save thousands from certain death in the midst of inter-tribal genocide.     

Maria Full of Grace stars young Catalina Sandino Moreno as an impoverished manual laborer turned heroin smuggler in rural Colombia. In this tense, no-frills look at drug mules recruited from the ranks of the poor, Moreno presents an empathetic protagonist on the emotional roller coaster of a journey from Bogotá to New York City.   

In The Machinist, Christian Bale plays Trevor Reznik a man who hasn’t slept for a year and can barely tell whether he exists.

There’s a good explanation for his condition, which remains a mystery until the end. This existential psychological thriller works, and Bales’ haunting performance is unforgettable. Also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh.

While some of the listed films did receive Oscar nominations in one category or another, none emerged victorious.

As in any contest, there always will be losers, but the outcome of this year’s Oscar awards should not discourage you from seeking out these films when you’re in the market for solid entertainment. No matter how the Academy members voted, I think you’ll consider all of them winners.