By Daniel Howat
Awards season can be a long haul. As the “narrative” of Oscar season begins to take shape after the Academy's announcement of the shortlists yesterday, the SAG, Critics Choice, Golden Globe nominations and a slew of critics groups chiming in, it’s all too easy for smaller films and performances to get lost in the shuffle. There are so many performances, artists, and craftsmen that just never end up breaking into the gridlock of the awards race. To that end, the staff of Next Best Picture are here, each with a passion pick from this year of people or films that might not be gaining traction yet, presented for your consideration.
Click below to see our picks which deserve the Academy's consideration.
Best Supporting Actress: Margot Robbie - "Mary Queen Of Scots"
By Nicole Ackman
After being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress last year for the title role in “I, Tonya”, Margot Robbie returns this year as Queen Elizabeth I in Josie Rourke’s visually stunning and fiercely feminist “Mary Queen of Scots.” Playing Elizabeth I has traditionally been a good bet for winning a nomination at the Oscars; Cate Blanchett was nominated not once, but twice. The role is easily Robbie’s best yet as she perfectly navigates the balance between Elizabeth’s incredible vulnerability and powerful pride. She went through a physical transformation to play the role and it’s hard to glimpse Robbie herself under the prosthetics and layers of makeup at times, especially as Elizabeth goes from a beautiful young woman to one intensely insecure about the smallpox marks scarring her face. While Saoirse Ronan delivers a strong performance as Mary Stuart, it is Robbie that has the flashier role that surely deserves Oscar recognition. From the way she handles the men at court to her tearful scenes with those she actually considers her equals, Robbie does justice to England’s most famous queen.
Best Supporting Actor: Alessandro Nivola - "Disobedience"
By Dan Bayer
It’s a quiet performance in a quiet film surrounded by showier work this season, but no single male performance this year has moved me like that of Alessandro Nivola in Sebastian Lelio’s tremendous “Disobedience.” As a religious scholar wrestling with the death of his mentor, having to step up to take his place, and having a blast from the past swoop in and completely upend his wife, Dovid is a man with a lot on his mind. Nivola deftly shows us what is going on in Dovid’s head using mostly only his eyes and his body language. And then in the film’s climactic sequence, makes the character’s soul-searching reach critical mass before blossoming into the last thing he would ever have expected. It’s a simple arc, but a big one, one Nivola charts with grace and marvelous specificity. His climactic gesture to Rachel Weisz’s Ronit may be small, but it carries the weight of a lifetime, and Nivola’s smart, subtle work ensures that it makes a big impact. And really - he de-glams, does sterling accent work and delivers a climactic monologue. What more could you want?
Best Director: Paul Schrader - "First Reformed"
By Danilo Castro
The story of the broken man who undergoes a violent catharsis is nothing new for director Paul Schrader. It’s a story he’s redressed and retold countless times over the course of his lengthy career (“Taxi Driver”, “Mishima”, “Light Sleeper”), and yet there is something different about “First Reformed.” Schrader has always been a screenwriter first and a director second, but I’d actually wager that the opposite is true here. His pensive, ghostlike camerawork and Bresson-like framing take career-long obsessions with nihilism and faith and elevates them to torturous new heights. “First Reformed” is a film you can feel in your gut, like the sickening concoction of booze and Pepto Bismol that the main character, Father Toller (Ethan Hawke), chokes down. It is the rare artistic triumph that comes five decades into a filmmaker’s career, and given that Schrader has yet to be nominated for an Academy Award, not the sort that should be ignored.
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton - "Suspiria"
By Cody Dericks
"Suspiria" is undoubtedly the most divisive movie of the year. There's no getting around that. But what's one thing we can all rally around? Hail our Mother of Off-Beat Characters, Tilda Swinton. In Luca Guadagnino's completely off-the-wall remake, Swinton is doing triple duty, playing not only the mysterious dance teacher Madame Blanc, but also doing a gender flip in her portrayal of the elderly Dr. Klemperer and (spoiler alert) she dons some extremely heavy prosthetic makeup as the devious and disgusting Helena Markos in the film's bloody finale. Each of these characters is fully realized and completely individualized, with many audience members not even realizing Swinton is playing all three roles. Plus, she hasn't been nominated since she won on her first (and to this day, only) nomination for 2007's "Michael Clayton". Isn't it time we had some Tilda at the Oscars again?
Best Film Editing: "American Animals"
By Daniel Howat
Following his highly acclaimed documentary “The Imposter,” Bart Layton returned after six years with another inventive blend of narrative and documentary. “American Animals” is a powerful, pitch-perfect heist film, gripping from beginning to end. The ensemble is excellent, with Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters giving phenomenal performances. Still, the star of the show is the brilliant editing. A team of editors, Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, and Julian Hart, managed to seamlessly cut between interviews with the real characters and the actors portraying them. In lesser hands, this could feel like a gimmick, like a cheap re-enactment. Here, the interview footage enhances the narrative, bringing depth to the story we see unfolding before us. The wise editing creates enormous tension in a theft sequence that could be inherently silly. It’s a heist film, yes, but also the story of young men searching for meaning in their lives, searching to make their mark. This remarkable feat of editing deserves your consideration this awards season.
Best Supporting Actor: Steven Yeun - "Burning"
By Beatrice Loayza
Long gone are the days of sweet and loyal Glenn Rhee of “The Walking Dead” fame, enter the era of Mr. Steven Yeun. After his literally lady-stealing role as “Squeeze,” the smooth-talking labor rights leader of Boots Riley’s summer sleeper hit “Sorry To Bother You,” Yeun went on to take the biggest role of his career thus far, as the mysterious Ben in famed Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s Hitchcockian masterpiece "Burning." Yeun’s Ben is the stuff of Best Supporting Actor glory, a presence that doesn’t need dominant screen time in order to baffle and mesmerize to disconcerting effect. Yeun’s intelligent, magnetic gaze draws you in, conveying an inscrutable combination of erotic and threatening energy that spearheads the ambiguity that hangs throughout the film. Though Yeun is himself South Korean, the actor was raised in Michigan for most of his young life and considers English his dominant language. For this role, Yeun took intensive Korean lessons to smooth out his accent, though in execution the performance is devoid of insecurity. With a nonchalant but sharp delivery, Yeun teases a menace that will go down as one of the year’s best performances.
Best Supporting Actor: Russell Hornsby - "The Hate U Give"
By Will Mavity
2017 and 2018 have offered viewers a wealth of inspiring cinematic father performances, between Michael Stuhlbarg in “Call Me By Your Name,” Tracy Letts in “Lady Bird,” and Josh Hamilton in “Eighth Grade,” but arguably none leave an impression as memorable, touching, and downright towering as Russell Hornsby in “The Hate U Give.” Hornsby has been consistently delivering solid performances in the background of films and stage productions like “Fences” for years, but it is only this year that we have a chance to see his raw talent showcased. Supporting Actor contenders usually have one of the following: yell, cry, or have an inspiring monologue. Hornsby does all three. Repeatedly. Imagine combining Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight,” Michael Stuhlbarg in “Call Me By Your Name” and JK Simmons in “Whiplash” and you get this performance. He’s got three heartbreaking monologues. He’s utterly menacing when the moment calls him to be, and minutes later can transform into the embodiment of warmth, comfort, and compassion. And of course, in addition to that, he gets to partake in some of the film’s strongest comic relief moments. This is a massive performance, that checks off all of the Supporting Oscar boxes, and somehow is being forgotten in light of the film’s somewhat tepid box office results. In a Best Picture contender, or with a more widely known actor in the role, this would be a shoo-in for a nomination. Try to watch his scene-stopping monologue in the grass and not get a tear in your eyes. This is masterful acting, and easily one of the strongest male performances of the year.
Best Actress: Toni Collette - "Hereditary"
By Matt Neglia
Toni Collette's manic-depressive performance in "Hereditary" is not only the best leading actress performance of 2018, it's one of the all-time great performances for the horror genre. Joining the likes of Ellen Burstyn in "The Exorcist" and Kathy Bates in "Misery," what Collette accomplishes is nothing short of sheer mastery of craft that pushes the boundaries of the horror genre. Confusion, terror, grief, resentment and a physical change in the third act, her performance runs the gauntlet in conveying a wide range of emotion. She makes us feel every outburst, every cry, every stroke of pain. The real horror in "Hereditary" is not in the cheap jump-scare horror that moviegoing audiences are so accustomed to nowadays. It's through Toni Collette's empathetic performance, that we are forced to confront real and unspeakable horror, the kind that we don't laugh or even talk about. It's the horror of a grieving mother, whose soul has been shattered and can never be whole again. Collette had to go to a dark place to get that kind of performance out of herself for us all to understand what true horror really is.
Best Original Screenplay: "Sorry To Bother You"
By Tom O’Brien
Most years, the Oscar nominees for Best Original Screenplay are simply those that were not adapted from another source. Not this year, especially since Oscar voters have the option of supporting for a genuine ORIGINAL Original Screenplay. The first two-thirds of Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You" is a sharp racial satire in which an African-American telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) is urged to use his "white voice" when talking to customers, and his resulting sales zoom. When we get to the third act, he is brought into the fold of the company's big-wigs, however, he discovers a secret that I guarantee that you will not foresee coming. Giddy-up!
Best Picture: "Minding The Gap"
By Josh Parham
This has notably been an incredible year for documentaries, and the best of this very impressive bunch has been “Minding the Gap.” However, for my money, this is a film that is so utterly magnificent that it deserves consideration not just for Best Documentary Feature but for Best Picture as well. What makes this a particularly special film is the way it is able to capture its setting and characters in such an authentic way. The subjects in the film inform on real desires and problems in the world, and it is told in such a powerful manner. There are discussions of class, race and domestic abuse, and every one of these subjects is approached in an insightful manner that never feels overly manipulated. The film comments on real people in a way that is genuine and captivating, and it is an achievement that deserves to be recognized as one of the absolute best films of the year.
Best Actor: Willem Dafoe - "At Eternity’s Gate"
By Kt Schaefer
Willam Dafoe has played a huge variety of roles from the campy Green Goblin, the villain of Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man" series to a brooding Jesus Christ in Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”. He has a knack for disappearing into his character and finds a way to bring something new to every role. With his most recent performance in 2018’s “At Eternity’s Gate”, he shows us all of these skills and more. With the character of Vincent Van Gogh Willam Dafoe is able to portray a vulnerable and fragile man who is riding the edge of madness with a painful accuracy. His facial expressions, body language and tones of voice all seem to perfectly capture the inner turmoil that Van Gogh experienced and communicate it to the audience with an enviable ease. Dafoe is one of the most interesting actors working today and this year’s performance in “At Eternity’s Gate” is one of his best and well worth considering for recognition for even the most prestigious awards.
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Yeoh - "Crazy Rich Asians"
By Michael Schwartz
When we refer to an Oscar-friendly performance, we often think of loud or emotional work that involves a fair amount of shouting and/or crying. However, it is not often that performances based around glances makes it to Oscar glory. Glances are just a part of what makes Michelle Yeoh's work in “Crazy Rich Asians” so special. As Eleanor, the mother of eligible bachelor Nick Young, Yeoh brings an icy coolness to the film that is incredibly effective in Eleanor's encounters with Nick's middle-class girlfriend Rachel. Whether she is displaying signs of caution or simply flat-out disapproval, Yeoh's often silent expressions say it all. She'll break your heart during a monologue before creating palpable tension during a high stakes Mahjong game. A diverse performer with over fifty credits to her name, Yeoh is overdue for awards attention. Following the massive success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” there is no better opportunity than now to pay tribute to such a gifted global actress.
Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin - "Avengers: Infinity War"
By Josh Williams
Josh Brolin gives an impeccable performance as Marvel's mad Titan in the studio's biggest film yet, "Avengers: Infinity War." Not since Andy Serkis' work in the "Planet Of The Apes" films has there been a more soulful performance from an actor doing the motion capture suit. Underneath all of the motion capture and CGI, we still see Brolin scratch and claw his unique acting traits to the surface. The way his eyes shift depending on the emotion he is portraying or even his ability to speak heart-wrenching dialogue while barely moving his mouth, his performance as Thanos is truly one for the ages. While there is a lot of digital work on display, from his huge muscles, overbearing height and purple skin, there still is plenty of Josh Brolin to be seen underneath all of the special effects. An emotional, nuanced, regretful, angry performance that could have easily just been another straightforward, "end of the world" villain, Josh Brolin gave us one of his best performances yet and it is sadly going unnoticed.
What do you think of our choices? Are there any contenders you would like to see be in the conversation more for an Oscar nomination? Let us know in the comments section below.
You can follow Dan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @howatdk
Belfast - TIFF
Happening - VENICE
Titane - CANNES
Jane Campion - VENICE
Leos Carax - CANNES
Penelope Cruz - VENICE
Renate Reinsve - CANNES
John Arcilla - VENICE
Caleb Landry Jones - CANNES
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Drive My Car - CANNES
The Lost Daughter - VENICE
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
BEST FILM EDITING
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Addams Family 2 - HMMA
C'mon C'mon - HMMA
Don't Look Up - HMMA
Dune - HMMA
Julia - HMMA
Parallel Mothers - HMMA
A Quiet Place: Part II - HMMA
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
CODA - HMMA
No Time To Die - HMMA
PAW Patrol: The Movie - HMMA
Rebel Hearts - HMMA
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Summer Of Soul - CCA