In a fairer world, little film like ‘The Rider’ would have a chance at Oscars gold. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

In a fairer world, little film like ‘The Rider’ would have a chance at Oscars gold. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Who We Would’ve Nominated For 2019 Academy Awards

Narrow defintions of “Oscar worthy films” and Hollywood politics shut out some of the year’s best. Let’s change that.

While the Oscars remain the one artistic award show that really matters, it’s frustrating how flawed and exclusionary they remain. Still, only certain types of movies are even considered for nominations — sure, a horror film like Get Out or a comic-book movie like Black Panther can get nominated, but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule (and ones that would’ve received major backlash if snubbed). But even if a movie falls under the category of “Oscar bait,” it still requires a cash-back campaign targeted at voters to stand a chance. It’s a crummy system.

With that in mind, we threw any notion of standard Academy Awards qualifications out the window to nominate our favorite films of 2018 in some of the major categories (with entries marked with a * indicating our pick as the winner).

BEST PICTURE

Actual Nominees

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

A Star Is Born

Vice

Robert’s Nominees

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BlacKkKlansman

Burning

First Reformed

Hereditary

Leave No Trace

The Rider*

Roma

Support the Girls

You Were Never Really Here

I know what you’re thinking: This year’s Oscars look destined for disaster. Will they really not have a host? Are they actually not including a bunch of traditional categories in the televised broadcast? Would they really give the Best Actor Oscar to Rami Malek’s false teeth? Even if the Oscars seem loopier than ever, let’s remember some good movies came out in 2018. In drawing up a list of the movies I think should have been nominated, I went for two criteria: movies from my Ten Best list (Roma and First Reformed, for instance) and movies that didn’t make my Ten Best list but captured something vital and exciting about life in 2018 (BlacKkKlansman, for instance—despite its being a period piece!). I didn’t have a strong #1 this year, but The Rider gets my pick for its highly original and ultimately heartbreaking approach.

Seth’s Nominees

A Star Is Born

The Favourite

Eighth Grade*

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Paddington 2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The four best movies I saw last year were a stunningly authentic indie dramedy life as a modern teenage girl (Eighth Grade), an animated comic book come to life with stunning art and sharp wit (Spider-Verse), a heartwarming documentary about Mr. Rogers (Neighbor?), and a movie for kids about a polite talking bear (Paddington 2). All four of those are the types of movies that have no shot at taking home Oscar gold. And that’s a bummer. Just because a movie doesn’t remind old white people that racism (or Dick Cheney) is bad doesn’t mean it’s not important.

The art of direction displayed in ‘Roma’ is a thing to behold. Photo by Carlos Somonte

The art of direction displayed in ‘Roma’ is a thing to behold. Photo by Carlos Somonte

BEST DIRECTOR

Actual Nominees

Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)

Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Adam McKay (Vice)

Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Robert’s Nominees

Joel and Ethan Coen (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)

Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)*

Debra Granik (Leave No Trace)

Lucrecia Martel (Zama)

Chloe Zhao (The Rider)

Oscar nominee Cuarón will likely win this award, and it’s hard to argue with that. My other choices lean toward directors with strong styles, as demonstrated in Granik’s empathetic study of people adrift in the Pacific Northwest, Martel’s slightly surreal South America, and Zhao’s searching look at cowboys in the heartland. As for the Coens, they remain the masters of putting everything in place just where it needs to be.

Seth’s Nominees

Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade)

Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)*

Debra Granik (Leave No Trace)

Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)

Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here)

Even if you didn’t love Roma, the artistic vision on display makes Cuarón kind of an unimpeachable choice as Best Director. Burnham showcases a remarkably tender touch as a first-time feature director, while Lanthimos’ inherent oddity was reined in by directing someone else’s script for a change. And while both are far from token “women director” picks, the fact that the Oscars couldn’t find space to highlight Ramsay or Granik’s polar-opposite brilliant takes on PTSD — via visceral brutality and quiet hermitism, respectively — is a shame.

Ethan Hawke brought emotion grit to the role of a conflicted man of the cloth in ‘First Reformed.’ Photo courtesy A24

Ethan Hawke brought emotion grit to the role of a conflicted man of the cloth in ‘First Reformed.’ Photo courtesy A24

BEST ACTOR

Actual Nominees

Christian Bale (Vice)

Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Robert’s Nominees

Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Ryan Gosling (First Man)

Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)*

Viggo Mortensen (Green Book

Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here)

From the Oscar list, I’m keeping Mortensen’s raucous comic performance (the man can fold a pizza in half like a pro) and Dafoe’s sensitive Van Gogh. The Academy’s biggest mistake was leaving out Hawke, who won lots of critics’ awards. Phoenix is an actor I don’t always like, but his absolute commitment to playing a disheveled assassin is impressive, and Gosling does a minimalist thing as the tightly buttoned astronaut Neil Armstrong that strikes me as much more challenging than Rami Malek’s single-note turn in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Seth’s Nominees

Christian Bale (Vice)*

Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)

Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here)

Robert Redford (The Old Man & the Gun)

Compared to other categories, I’m mostly on board with the Academy here. But it’s worth spotlighting that Redford (in his alleged final role), hasn’t lost an ounce of his movie-star charm as a old bank robber. Phoenix also manages to be both thrilling and vulnerable as a traumatized killer. And slightly related to You Were Never Really Here’s plot: I haven’t seen Bohemian Rhapsody because I’ve adopted a strict “Don’t support movies with probable pedophile directors” policy (so sorry to Rami, but not sorry in general).

Regina Hall (center) led the Double Whammies crew in ‘Support the Girls.’ Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Regina Hall (center) led the Double Whammies crew in ‘Support the Girls.’ Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures

BEST ACTRESS

Actual Nominees

Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Glenn Close (The Wife)

Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Robert’s Nominees

Toni Collette (Hereditary)

Edie Falco (Outside In)

Regina Hall (Support the Girls)*

Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace)

A much richer category than Best Actor this year—I could easily make a case for Natalie Portman (Annihilation or Vox Lux), Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scots), KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), or Carey Mulligan (Wildlife) too. Nothing especially wrong with the Oscar picks, but come on — Collette would’ve been an easy nominee except for the prejudice against horror movies, and Hall doesn’t get credit for being such a great comic actress. Lynn Shelton’s locally made Outside In was way under Hollywood’s radar, but Falco was mighty in it.

Seth’s Nominees

Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)*

Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

Emma Stone (The Favourite)

Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Rant time: Find me one person on the planet who saw The Favourite and thought it was a movie about the queen (Colman) and not the catty battle of her two underlings (Stone and Weisz). I’ll wait. The fact that the movie’s co-leads are categorized under “Supporting Actress” is a ludicrous by-product of awards campaigning that’s divorced from the actual art on the screen. Absurd. That said, no performance on screen in 2018 was even remotely close to as authentic and believable as Fisher’s portrayal of Kayla Day, and she had much more of the movie to solely carry than any of the other choices.

Ben Foster deserved recognition for ‘Leave No Trace.’ Image courtesy SIFF

Ben Foster deserved recognition for ‘Leave No Trace.’ Image courtesy SIFF

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Actual Nominees

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)

Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Robert’s Nominees

Simon Russell Beale (The Death of Stalin)

Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

Ben Foster (Leave No Trace)*

Hugh Grant (Paddington 2)

Brian Tyree Henry (Widows)

Hugh Grant is too handsome and makes it look too easy — but he’s always been a terrific actor. His hilarious performance as a hammy thespian deserves at least a nod. The acting in Spike Lee’s movies is consistently inconsistent, but Oscar-nominated Driver quietly did offbeat things within the KkKlansman carnival. Beale was terrifying as a lethal Soviet politico, and Henry (also spellbinding in If Beale Street Could Talk) owned the screen, although his role in Widows was probably too small to get past the competition. Foster will win an Oscar some day, and if Leave No Trace had gotten the attention it deserved, he might have won this year.

Seth’s Nominees

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

Ben Foster (Leave No Trace)

Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade)*

Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite)

Harry Melling (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)

Hamilton is the warm heart that makes Eighth Grade’s message resonate. There’s never been a better, more authentic portrayal of an awkward loving dad; every subtle note hits the mark. Not to be overlooked, delightful Hoult chews up the scenery with dandy flair in The Favourite, no small feat considering he’s opposite Weisz, Stone, and Colman. And Melling’s portrayal of a limbless traveling orator brings a painful humanity to one of the most tragic characters of the year.

Awkwafina as Goh Peik-lin in ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

Awkwafina as Goh Peik-lin in ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Actual Nominees

Amy Adams (Vice)

Marina de Tavira (Roma)

Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

Emma Stone (The Favourite)

Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Robert’s Nominees

Sakura Ando (Shoplifters)

Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

Shayna McHayle (Support the Girls)

Andrea Riseborough (Mandy)*

The Oscars have the splendid Colman in the Best Actress category, but her role feels like it belongs more in the supporting ranks. McHayle (you know her better by her hip-hop name Junglepussy) was 2018’s biggest scene-stealer, and I love Ando’s soulfulness as the matriarch of the mysterious family in Shoplifters. As for the British Riseborough, her transformation into a mousy-nerdy-brilliant partner to Nic Cage’s recluse was one of the most astoundingly precise performances I saw last year — all the more amazing for taking place in a gonzo acid-trip of a movie.

Seth’s Nominees

Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians)*

Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

Sheila Munyiva (Rafiki)

Sissy Spacek (The Old Man & the Gun)

Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Enough with only rewarding “serious” performances. Why can’t acting awards — especially the supporting categories — go to performers who brighten up the proverbial room, making the whole movie much more fun? Without Awkwafina’s zany best friend character, Crazy Rich Asians would’ve been a ho-hum romantic comedy. Similarly, the tiny tech wiz Shuri is almost universally everyone’s favorite character in Black Panther, so why not reward the charismatic Wright? Munyiva’s Ziki — both in her performance and appearance — is the colorful blast that jolts Rafiki’s Kenyan drama about lesbian love into action. On the other end of the spectrum, Spacek’s calm serenity plays perfectly opposite Redford’s roguishness in The Old Man & the Gun.

Elsie Fisher stays glued to her screens in ‘Eighth Grade.’ Photo by Linda Kallerus/A24

Elsie Fisher stays glued to her screens in ‘Eighth Grade.’ Photo by Linda Kallerus/A24

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Actual Nominees

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

Roma

Vice

Robert’s Nominees

Eighth Grade

The Favourite

First Reformed*

Leave No Trace

Support the Girls

If I could sneak in one more as an underappreciated script, I might opt for Diablo Cody’s Tully, a clever and risky dark comedy. Otherwise, my choices — including the Oscar-nominated First Reformed and The Favorite — all share a willingness to take chances and not follow those formulaic how-to screenwriting books that everybody is supposed to obey. Among the pleasantest surprises of the year, Support the Girls and Eighth Grade were two funny/serious films with an abundance of heart.

Seth’s Nominees

Eighth Grade*

The Favourite

Green Book

Isle of Dogs

Sorry to Bother You

While the movie doesn’t 100 percent work for me, the audacity of Sorry to Bother You, with its wild premise, cutting social commentary, and even wilder twist, deserved to be recognized (but didn’t because Boots Riley didn’t campaign it). Isle of Dogs was far more clever and charming than some of the scripts Wes Anderson has been nominated for (looking at you, The Grand Budapest Hotel). Oh, and if you haven’t noticed by this point, I enjoy the motion picture Eighth Grade.

Credit should be paid for the dimensional balance of ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ Image courtesy Columbia Pictures/Sony

Credit should be paid for the dimensional balance of ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ Image courtesy Columbia Pictures/Sony

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Actual Nominees

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BlacKkKlansman

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

Robert’s Nominees

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs*

BlacKkKlansman

The Death of Stalin

Lean on Pete

Zama

Both BlacKkKlansman and The Death of Stalin are based on true stories, and both use comedy to tell wildly dramatic tales. Similarities end there: Spike Lee’s film is all over the place, while Armando Iannucci’s tale of Soviet chicanery is razor-sharp in its satire, but somehow they both succeed in ingenious ways. The low-key Lean on Pete is a deceptively simple yarn about a boy and his horse, while Zama is a model of how to adapt a challenging novel into an unconventional movie.

Seth’s Nominees

Crazy Rich Asians

Leave No Trace

Paddington 2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse*

You Were Never Really Here

While it should be a lock for Best Animated Feature, the fact that Spider-Verse managed to tell a Spider-Man story in a fresh and super-funny way while also feeling like a comic book and juggling a multiverse plot deserved recognition beyond the pigeonholed category. Crazy Rich Asians offered more laughs and depth than romantic comedies typically provide. I’ve already sung Ramsay’s or Granik’s praises for directing You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace, but they both also wrote the films’ screenplays and would be double-nominated in a just world. And if you haven’t treated yourself to the pure polite charm of the Paddington movies, change that ASAP.

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