As the 85th annual Academy Awards get ready to honor 2012’s best films, renowned film critic Leonard Maltin looks back at some also-rans from years past that were worthy of more attention.

Becky Sapp
The Academy Awards tend to honor ambitious and important movies — Important with a capital “I,” that is — especially in the Best Picture category. This leaves comedies and popcorn films of every genre (horror, science-fiction, even Westerns) out in the cold. And while most great movies earn some kind of recognition, every year good movies slip through the cracks, in spite of critical praise or positive word of mouth. Or they just never build the momentum they need. 

These diverse films may have eluded Oscar recognition, but they get my vote for originality and entertainment value. They offer satisfaction and don’t make you feel like you’ve wasted your time. Check them out on DVD or online and see if you don’t agree.

2003: Owning Mahowny

Philip Seymour Hoffman (a Supporting Actor nominee this year for The Master) plays a bank manager who hides a dark secret: He has a gambling addiction. John Hurt and Minnie Driver co-star in this fascinating character study.

2004: A Home at the End of the World

Colin Farrell and Dallas Roberts are boyhood best friends who meet again as grown-ups and form an unusual triangle with Robin Wright. The story spans a dozen years and proves an unconventional relationship can still create a family unit. 

2005: Nine Lives 

A dynamite cast led by Glenn Close, Robin Wright, Holly Hunter, Amanda Seyfried and Sissy Spacek star in a series of provocative short stories about women at crossroads in their lives. No one writes more interesting parts for women than director Rodrigo García.

2006: Find Me Guilty

Vin Diesel — yes, Vin Diesel — gives a bravura performance as a real-life wise guy who represents himself in court when mobsters are put on trial. It’s a quintessential New York movie directed by quintessential New York filmmaker Sidney Lumet.

2007: The Lookout

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a former high-school hero who’s looped into a small-town bank robbery, with disastrous results. Jeff Daniels and Isla Fisher co-star in this ingenious sleeper that marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Scott Frank.

2008: Chop Shop

This eye-opening slice of life about an orphaned boy who fends for himself on the mean streets of New York City is one of several arresting fictional films by Ramin Bahrani that play like vivid documentaries.

2009: Two Lovers

Working-class Joaquin Phoenix falls head over heels for golden girl Gwyneth Paltrow, ignoring the woman who’s already in love with him, in this lush romantic drama from writer-director James Gray.

2010: Please Give

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are a New York couple just trying to get by while dealing with guilt, infidelity and a cantankerous older neighbor. Talented writer-director Nicole Holofcener creates indelible characters, as she always does.

2011: Sarah's Key

Kristin Scott Thomas plays a journalist who unlocks the secret World War II history of a Paris apartment in this moving adaptation of the best-selling novel by Tatiana De Rosnay.

2012: Bernie

Jack Black plays a Texas charmer who befriends Shirley MacLaine, the richest and nastiest woman in town. District attorney Matthew McConaughey leads a one-man crusade against Bernie in Richard Linklater’s tangy film that blurs the lines of fact and fiction.

The Academy may have overlooked these films, but American Way contributor and renowned film critic Leonard Maltin never does. You can read his reviews of these and many more films in his annual paperback, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, and at