I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing the majority of the Oscar nominees in the major categories, but there’s a better list to consider too: what films I love that should be nominated…
Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Be Nominated
Note on “The Favourite”‘s Emma Stone: To me, she’s really the lead actress of “Favourite,” but for some strange reason her Oscar campaign is pushing her for supporting. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows it’s really Abigail’s arc that’s the most significant, and I can’t totally commit to putting someone with this much screentime into the supporting category (it feels a bit like cheating).
5. Zazie Beetz in “Deadpool 2”…No, I’m not kidding and/or crazy and/or a Marvel fanboy who usually thinks comic book characters are on par with King Lear (although Zazie isn’t the only one you’ll see on here). But I think break-out talent deserves to be recognized no matter what genre it’s in, and Beetz walks away with the movie with nothing more than confidence and a few choice line readings.
4. Zoe Saldana in “Avengers: Infinity War”…She’s the real heart and soul of the movie. Her handful of scenes with potential-boyfriend Quinn generate a meaningful connection, as does her painful past with surrogate dad Thanos. Again, this isn’t easy to do when covered in green make-up, but Saldana can usually act her way through the CGI.
3. Zoe Kravitz in “Gemini”…Kravitz’s manipulative, sexually ambiguous actress is as scary as she is scared, and is so good in her brief scenes that the movie’s energy level suffers after she exits.
2. Cynthia Erivo in “Bad Times at the El Royale”…Broadway veteran Erivo delivers this year’s best musical moments in tricky, show-stopping renditions of 60’s classics like “This Old Heart of Mine” while long tracking shots snake around her. Not bad, considering she also has to run for her life from various psychopaths while shacked up in the most dangerous motel since Norman Bates walked the Earth.
1. Tessa Thompson in “Sorry to Bother You”…I can’t believe this vibrant, startling performance isn’t receiving more awards attention. Thompson lights every scene she’s in on fire, as an activist-artist who’s usually the most honest person on-screen. [As a bonus, Thompson was also great in “Annihilation.”]
Who Will Be Nominated: Emma Stone (“The Favourite”), Rachel Weisz (“The Favourite”), Amy Adams (“Vice”), and Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) seem to be the locks. And the last slot will most likely go to Yalitza Aparicio (especially if “Roma” is as beloved with the Academy as it is with critics), but who knows?
Best Supporting Actor
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Up: Richard Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”…I loved Grant in his most enjoyable, meatiest role in ages. If the competition weren’t so ferocious, I’d love to see him nominated.
5. Josh Brolin in “Avengers: Infinity War”…Brolin gives the year’s best motion-capture performance as the titanically villainous Thanos, who is surprisingly sympathetic in his mission to wipe out half the universe. [Why doesn’t Thanos just use the stones to terraform more planets for living creatures to spread out on? The fact that I didn’t think about that question while watching Brolin scheme is a testament to the fully realized character he creates.]
4. Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”…Yet I can’t quite call Brolin the best villain in a Marvel film since the vibrantly hateful, seethingly wounded Killmonger easily hijacks “Black Panther.” Jordan plays him with the swagger and menance of a young Wesley Snipes, but isn’t afraid to make him vulnerable too.
3. Mahershala Ali in “Green Book”…Viggo is great as the lead, but–to me–the movie is really Ali’s, as a superbly strange pianist (this is Prince before the sexual revolution happened) trying to broaden people’s narrow view of black Americans in the straight-laced 60’s. He wears impeccable manners and a rigid moral code almost like a suit of armor, but you can see why he might get a kick out of hanging with Mortensen’s meathead, who is so comfortable with himself and free in a way Ali’s character can’t be (yet).
2. Sam Elliott in “A Star is Born”…I love Sam Elliott. I’m thrilled that he’s likely to get his first Oscar nomination (I wish he’d been nominated for his career-best performance in “The Hero” last year) this year as the soulful, tired older brother and manager of Bradley Cooper’s child-like rock star.
1. Josh Hamilton in “Eighth Grade”…Hamilton surprised me completely as the put-upon single dad of an eighth grade girl. Most of the movie’s biggest laughs come from just his startled expressions, but he still manages to find the loneliness behind the surface of a goofy dad struggling to connect with a daughter who is losing touch with non-digital connections. His silent eating of dinner at a table where his daughter is completely lost in her phone is one of the saddest movie visuals of 2018.
Who Will Be Nominated: The Screen Actor’s Guild have nominated Elliott, Grant, Ali, Adam Driver (“Black Klansman”), and Timothee Chalamet (“Beautiful Boy”). It wouldn’t surprise me if four out of five of those are nominated, and the last slot goes to a “Vice” actor like Sam Rockwell or even Steve Carell (who’s had a great year between “Boy,” “Vice,” and “Welcome to Marwen”).
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Up: Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Kindergarten Teacher” gives one of the year’s most devastating performances. It’s really saying something about the competition that I wasn’t able to include it. Also, Natalie Portman in “Annihilation” would be a welcome surprise if she were nominated.
5. Jennifer Lawrence in “Red Sparrow”…No major movie star alive gives fearless performances like Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy,” “American Hustle,” “Mother,” “Silver Linings Playbook”). Here she takes a big risk–an ambiguous Russian spy who specializes in sexual seduction–and it plays off beautifully.
4. Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”…McCarthy has played depression and rage before (mostly in lousy films her husband directs like “Tammy”), but this is the first time that it feels completely organic and lived-in. You can feel struggling writer Lee Israel’s anger that the world doesn’t really care about her projects–a biography of Dorothy Parker, for example–and McCarthy manages to make something slightly esoteric (counterfeit literary letters and memos) feel completely relatable.
3. Charlize Theron in “Tully”…Theron is plumbing the exhaustion and isolation of parenthood so realistically here that many people may take this performance for granted. It’s that effortless, and I was thrilled to see it recognized by the Golden Globes in the comedy category.
2. Lady Gaga in “A Star is Born”…It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Gaga won Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards. She’s that good in a performance that’s equal parts strong, vulnerable, sympathetic, sexy, and radiant.
1. Elsie Fisher in “Eighth Grade”…My personal pick for the best performance of 2018. It’s not easy playing “quiet” characters, but Fisher is able to show you the full range of emotions lurking just beneath the surface of this introvert. Whether she’s quietly lusting after her school crush or desperately hoping for friendship with other girls or deeply uncomfortable in the backseat of a car with a lecherous older boy, Fisher can do more with a slight grimace than actors twice her age can do with a speech.
Who Will Be Nominated: It seems a fait accompli that Lady Gaga, Olivia Coleman (“The Favourite”), and Melissa McCarthy will be nominated. But who gets those last two spots? The smart money is on Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins Returns”) and Glenn Close (“The Wife”), but I think Fisher may beat Close out for that final slot, and Lord knows I’m hoping she does.
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Up: Brady in “The Rider” and Robert Redford in “The Old Man and the Gun”…One actor is just starting out (playing an extremely soulful, heartbreaking version of himself in “The Rider”) while Redford is supposedly retiring, going out with one last great performance. It’d be exciting to see either of them break into the nominees list.
5. John Cho in “Searching”…Cho is sensationally intense as a father searching for his daughter in this mesmerizingly innovative thriller. He has to play most scenes in an ambiguous key–did he really have something to do with his daughter’s disappearance? If not, will he kill whoever did?–but Cho pulls it all off in one of the year’s most underrated performances.
4. Steve Buscemi in “Death of Stalin”…It’s a crime that the Golden Globes (who have an entire comedy category) couldn’t find a way to honor Buscemi for his hilarious, bruise-black work as a comedic version of Nikita Khrushchev.
3. Christian Bale in “Vice”…Christian Bale probably wouldn’t be at the top of your initial list to play Dick Cheney (he’s Batman-buff, younger, not bald, British, etc.), making this the year’s most fully chameleonic performance. That he can so fully inhabit Cheney’s powerful stillness and ruthless sneer is almost scarily uncanny.
2. Willem Dafoe in “At Eternity’s Gate”…Dafoe is giving a close to career-best performance (beautiful, heartbreaking, pitiful, sympathetic, and so warm you almost can’t look away) and I’m wishing on a prayer he’s not ignored come nomination time. He stands a better chance than my favorite male performance this year…
1. Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed”…Hawke has quietly become one of the best actors alive, and here the famously free-spirited actor is working in a completely different tone than his loose Linklater characters (“Before” trilogy, “Boyhood”). His Reverend Toller is usually the most serious in any room, but is shaken to the core by stomach cancer and an encounter with a radical environmentalist who just may be making more sense than Toller’s sleepwalking reverend wants to admit. This is nuanced, challenging, confident work that will haunt you for days, and Hawke makes the most of the opportunity.
Who Will Be Nominated: I think Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”), and Bale are the locks. Other than that, it seems likely Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and John David Washington (“Black Klansman”) will be nominated, but I’m hoping against hope Dafoe or Hawke can find their way to an upset here.
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Up: Panos Cosmatos for “Mandy”…Okay, I get that there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell this guy will be nominated for an Academy Award, but you can’t watch this film and not tell me you’re watching a director’s singular vision from beginning to end.
5. Ryan Coogler for “Black Panther”…While “Panther” stands a good chance at being nominated for Best Picture, I think this is more a director’s triumph. It’d be great to see Coogler recognized for creating inarguably the most socially relevant, politically-minded superhero film since Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy almost a decade ago.
4. Paul Schrader for “First Reformed”…Schrader has never been nominated by the Academy before, and I’d absolutely love to see him this time out. [He likely will be nominated in the Screenplay category, but what a blast it would be to see him in Best Director as well.]
3. Boots Riley for “Sorry to Bother You”…What a bold, wild, original vision, perhaps the only one more so than “Mandy” to hit a theater this year. I can’t say enough about this wild, surrealist-yet-sociopolitical masterpiece that expertly combines genres like a director’s 20th feature instead of his first.
2. Alex Garland for “Annihilation”…The directing here is something I didn’t fully appreciate at first. [I thought Garland’s take on this material was too slow.] It’s only on a second viewing I began to really appreciate what he’s going for here. Yet there’s no question he creates two of 2018’s most unforgettable sequences: the bear attack scene and the fantastical climax inside that lighthouse.
1. Bo Burnham for “Eighth Grade”…You’re watching something so culturally specific, yet so universal it’s a miracle Burnham pulled it off. People could watch this movie 20 years from now and understand it perfectly, yet it acts as a hyper-specific time piece on exactly what it’s like to be growing up right now.
Who Will Be Nominated: It seems likely Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”), Spike Lee (“Black Klansman”), and Barry Jenkins (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) will be nominated. Out of the people likely to actually get nominated, I’d love to see that fifth slot go to Adam McKay for his great work directing “Vice,” but I freely admit that the Director nominations are harder to predict.