As long as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finds a solution to its host deficit, resolves its internal politics, vets its nominees for any politically problematic tweeting and continues to keep its envelopes out of Warren Beatty’s hands, this year’s Oscars should go smoothly. Before the Academy reveals 2019′s nominations on Jan. 22, The Globe and Mail’s Film Editor Barry Hertz shares his own ballot – contenders that, in some ideal alternate reality, would be heading toward the podium next month.
Roma: There are now 7,902 members of the Academy eligible to cast Oscar votes – an increase of 644 potential voters from the year before, thanks to a membership drive focused on emerging and diverse artists. That should be good news for a host of contenders like Black Panther and might also benefit old-school Hollywood’s Enemy No. 1: Netflix. In other words, this could be the year that the streaming giant finally cracks more traditional perceptions about what a movie is and should be. A Best Picture nod for Roma could be read many ways. Would recognition of Alfonso Cuaron’s film, which only played cinemas that didn’t mind the fact that it was streaming globally at the same time, spell a mortal blow to the theatrical experience? Mostly, though, a nomination would affirm the fact that Cuaron’s drama is a towering achievement, no matter which size screen you experience it on.
Widows: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided that Bohemian Rhapsody was a better drama than Widows; so much so that Steve McQueen’s genre riff wasn’t even worth nominating for a single Golden Globe. Here’s hoping that the opinions of 88 members of the “press” who make up the HFPA won’t dissuade the Academy from recognizing McQueen’s audacious and thrilling work.
First Man: There are several reasons why Damien Chazelle’s NASA drama hasn’t made the impact many critics (including myself) predicted back during its film-festival run. There’s the wholly manufactured controversy about it being “un-American.” The more understandable sentiment is that some audiences found its tightly controlled narrative cold. The fact is that it should’ve been released during the busy Christmas season, not left to its own devices in October. Chazelle’s film will likely be regarded as a misunderstood – or simply missed – classic in a few years' time. But there’s still time to change history, Academy voters.
Burning: Hopefully, Lee Chang-dong’s South Korean mystery will be nominated in the foreign-language category. Here’s a quick plea, though, for Oscar voters to recognize that it’s not only one of global cinema’s greatest achievements of 2018, but one of the year’s finest films, full stop.
You Were Never Really Here: It’s a curious state of affairs when the Directors Guild of America decides that Green Book’s Peter Farrelly and Vice’s Adam McKay achieved some greater filmmaker achievement than, say, Lynne Ramsay, who simply directed the hell out of You Were Never Really Here. Her underworld crime thriller is a swirling, beautifully vulgar tornado of carnage and trauma – one of the most captivating and bone-shaking films of the year.
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma: Conspicuously ignored by all the film guilds – but recognized by many critics associations – Aparicio deserves the biggest spotlight the Academy Awards can afford. As Cleo, the fixed point around which all of Roma’s drama swirls, Aparicio delivers a grounded, delicate performance. Even if this wasn’t her first-ever acting job – she was an aspiring preschool teacher in Oaxaca before attending an open casting call – Aparicio would still stand high above the competition.
Kathryn Hahn, Private Life: While Netflix is pushing Roma as its one Oscars hope, it could save a few dollars to mount a campaign for Hahn. Her starring role in Private Life, available on Netflix (although likely further down your queue than most titles), is a strong reminder of the actress’s depths, especially if you only vaguely recognize Hahn for her television work on shows such as Parks and Recreation and Transparent.
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Forget, if you can, that McCarthy headlined two forgettable 2018 films – The Happytime Murders and Life of the Party – and focus instead on her tragic turn as down-and-out forger Lee Israel. With director Marielle Heller tamping down the star’s usual crash-into-the-walls shtick and co-star Richard E. Grant providing her ideal foil, McCarthy proves she’s more complicated a performer than most films allow her to be.
Toni Collette, Hereditary: Collette has a history of playing mothers dealing with supernatural family matters, thanks to her work in The Sixth Sense and Fright Night. But the actress digs deeper than ever before in Ari Aster’s artful horror film. As her lead character wrestles with demons both metaphorical and real, Collette burrows into the most unsettling corners of grief, culminating in a twisted feat of acting that may just make your head spin clear off.
Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace: It’s unclear why Leave No Trace’s producers decided to campaign Thomasin McKenzie as a supporting actress in this year’s awards races, as she’s in just as much of Debra Granik’s film as “best actor” Ben Foster. Maybe they don’t expect the newcomer to hold her own against the established performers angling for recognition this year, or maybe they don’t understand the true and pure work McKenzie puts into her character, a teenager who’s been led by her survivalist father to be wary of the modern world but can’t stop herself from falling for it all the same.
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here: It is disgusting how good a 2018 Joaquin Phoenix had, starring in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, The Sisters Brothers, and most importantly this film, a turbulent exploration of trauma. Watching Phoenix wriggle his way through Ramsay’s expertly uncomfortable thriller, it’s easy to take for granted just how committed a performer needs to be to make such a transformative experience a reality.
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed: Another performer who enjoyed a defiantly remarkable year, Ethan Hawke could be the poster boy for how to age gracefully in cinema. In Paul Schrader’s fascinatingly flawed attack on late-stage capitalism (among other things), Hawke is a guiding light for both audience and director. Take his hand, and this journey will be a rewarding one.
John C. Reilly, The Sisters Brothers: Not to belabour a theme, but John C. Reilly is another actor who won 2018 through sheer force of will. But whereas his other performances – Holmes & Watson, Stan & Ollie, and the ampersand-free Ralph Breaks the Internet – were contained in movies undeserving of his talent, The Sisters Brothers was the rare film where everything clicked.
Ryan Gosling, First Man: If you expected another wink-wink charmer from Gosling – not unfair, given First Man has La La Land in its DNA – this film about the career of Neil Armstrong will disappoint. For those eager to see how deep Gosling can sink into a character, then First Man offers a tremendous example of Gosling’s commitment.
Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther: Yes, this is by all definitions a supporting performance; Michael B. Jordan appears in maybe 20 per cent of the film’s running time. But every time he saunters on-screen as the-dude’s-got-a-point villain Killmonger, the rest of the movie disappears. No actor this year brought so much energy and wit to so little screen time. We should honour him as such.
Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 22.