Three standout Oscar nominees you might've missed

TORONTO -- The weekly Next Big Thing column highlights what's bubbling under the surface in entertainment with a look at rising stars in the world of music, as well as standout TV shows, movies and web series that would be a shame to overlook.

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This week, the spotlight is on some of the hidden gems in the smaller categories of this year's Oscar races.

The Oscars air Sunday on CTV from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

'GROUND' WORKS FOR GOLD

Pop superstar Lady Gaga has been on a tear this year, racking up a Golden Globe win and acclaim for her performance of the U.S. national anthem at the Super Bowl.

Could an Oscar statue be in the cards too?

Gaga is nominated alongside songwriter Diane Warren in the best original song category for "Til It Happens to You," featured in the documentary "The Hunting Ground." The track is a sombre anthem which addresses the lingering emotional effects of sexual assult. The film highlights rape crimes on U.S. college campuses and how administrators have covered up the incidents for financial reasons.

"Til It Happens to You" appears twice in the film at key moments, which could give it an upper hand against its fellow nominees. Academy voters are asked to pick the song which is best used in the context of the movie.

Also working in its favour is Warren, who has yet to win a golden statue despite eight nominations for a raft of unforgettable Hollywood movie anthems.

She was first nominated for "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," performed by Starship for the 1987 comedy "Mannequin," and since then has gathered a list of other nominated songs that scaled the charts, including Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" from "Armageddon."

"The Hunting Ground" is available on Netflix.

VILLAGE WARFARE

Plenty of documentaries tackle the gritty world of drug trafficking, but "Cartel Land" is fearless in its portrayal of Mexicans who refuse to live in fear.

Director Matthew Heineman scours the depths of the Mexican Drug War and the complex world of vigilante justice unfolding in the fight against drug cartels.

"Cartel Land," up for best documentary feature, is riveting and unyielding in its storytelling, and the filmmaker's cameras show the darker side of Mexico where corruption runs rampant.

Heineman captures a number of heart-racing moments, including one where citizens are caught in a shootout with the drug kingpins who massacred their families.

"Cartel Land" is available to watch on Netflix, and will arrive on DVD next month.

DESERT TURMOIL

This year's foreign film category is filled with titles you probably haven't seen yet, and "Theeb" is one of the nominees with the smallest amount of attention.

But the Jordanian film deserves far more praise for its crafty bursts of tension.

"Theeb" uses non-professional actors to tell the story of an 11-year-old Bedouin boy who becomes embroiled in an attempt by British soldiers to detonate a railway line during the First World War.

The plan quickly goes awry and the boy is left to for fend for himself in the middle of the desert.

"Theeb" is the first foreign film Oscar nomination for Jordan. It's available for digital download.



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