We'd Like to Help the Academy is our Oscar column highlighting the outliers that should be nominated (but probably won't be).
The output of Abel Ferrara, a never-nominated New Yorker responsible for the likes of Bad Lieutenant and King of New York, may have been too superficially similar to that of Martin Scorsese for the most acclaimed stretch of his career to gain as much positive notice as it deserved. But as he's gotten more lo-fi and austere in recent years, Ferrara has also foregrounded the qualities that always made him a remarkable auteur: quietly intense attention to his troubled characters and a deceptively understated visual sense.
4:44 Last Day on Earth, his mostly-maligned take on our last night of existence centered around a boho couple played by Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh, was not only one of the best films of the year but also yet another showcase for its director's distinct skill behind the camera. Dealing in Skype conversations and introspection rather than the usual extinction-event accouterments, it's most memorable some nine months later for the calm with which it confronts the end of the world — an inversion of a tired genre that few others would have handled with such restraint.
The Academy's complete avoidance of Ferrara over the last few decades really is odd: he's a quintessentially American filmmaker whose violent, urban backdrops have often served as canvases on which to paint portraits of faith and redemption. But he's also been either too controversial or seemingly humble to ever land a Best Director nod — an oversight the Academy would do well to correct this year but won't.
This is a shame on its own, but it's exacerbated by the fact that, save for Ben Affleck, every other likely nominee has either won or been nominated before. Given the list of other working directors who have never been up for this prize — Wes Anderson, David Cronenberg, Terence Davies and countless auteurs whose movies require subtitles — it should go without saying that this hardly reflects the quality of his work.