I have a very broad definition of horror, which is why this (very short) list about the 2016 Oscars exists at all. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, true to form, ignored the many exceptional horror films of 2016, most egregiously The Witch (Robert Eggers), Don’t Breathe (Fede Alvarez), Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari), and Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho). All of which were brilliant.
That said, let’s move on to what we have rather than gnashing our teeth about the sorry taste in film of Academy members
All three of these films are categorized on IMDb as neo-noir, drama, or thriller—not horror, but there is a long tradition of shying away from calling horror “horror”—and there are veritably thin borders between horror and some of its adjacent genres.
Actor in supporting role: Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals is written and directed by Tom Ford, who also directed A Single Man (2009), and is based on the 1993 novel, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright.
The film weaves together two plots. In the framing plot, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a novel from her estranged ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), and she becomes obsessed with it, not least because her subsequent marriage is deteriorating. The second plot is the novel itself—about a man named Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) who is on a road trip through Texas with his wife and daughter. After he runs afoul of some locals, they abduct his wife and child. Michael Shannon plays Detective Bobby Andes who is assigned to the case and who, later, helps Tony track down the men to exact his revenge, justice, as he sees it. The film is drawn together by the different forms of violence people engage in (often toward the people they claim to love)—and by the consequences of that violence: “Nobody gets away with what you did. Nobody,” says one character.
Actress in a leading role: Isabelle Huppert in Elle
Elle is directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct ), and stars Isabelle Huppert as business woman Michèle Leblanc, who is raped in her own home by a masked assailant, and who plans her revenge. The film focuses on Michèle’s increasing suspicion and paranoia to suggest the many ways in which women’s relationships with men are infused with violence.
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: The Salesman
The Salesman is an Iranian film directed by Asghar Farhadi, who directed the brilliant, A Separation (which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011). The film follows a young couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) who live in Tehran and are playing the lead roles in a local production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. They move into an apartment and, shortly afterwards, Rana is assaulted. Emad becomes obsessed with exacting justice, but things only get more complicated when he finds out who the attacker was.
All three of these films, tellingly, address profound violation and the fine line between justice and revenge. Staple themes, I have to add, of the horror film.