9:00 am EST, January 18, 2019

2019 Oscar wish list: 10 unlikely nominees we’re rooting for

With nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards coming up, we take a look at 10 dark horse nominations we hope could sneak into the fray.

By this time, it’s pretty set in stone what many expect to be among the nominated motion pictures from last year to make the cut for the 2019 Oscars. However, there are always those small chance surprises that make nomination morning all the more exciting.

Next Tuesday morning when the nominations are announced, we’re bound for some unexpected nominees. Here are our 10 picks for what we hope make it on the ballot this year.

Best Picture:
‘First Reformed’

One of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, landing on dozens of year-end best lists, oftentimes landing in the #1 or #2 spot, the latest from legendary director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) is a searing and vital piece of filmmaking.

The word “important” gets tossed around a lot for movies, but here, the descriptor is more than apt. Following the soul-searching pastor Reverend Toller — Ethan Hawke in the best performance of the year, but we’ll get to that in a minute — it’s a meditation on religion, climate change and how it’s us who will be the cause of our own demise.

The fact that First Reformed will be looked over for the 9 to 10 available Best Picture slots for the likes of fake-woke movies Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody is a tragedy. In the words of Reverend Toller himself, “somebody has to do something!

Best Director:
Marielle Heller

Marielle Heller has directed one of the best films of the year, hands-down, with her Can You Ever Forgive Me? The film will likely land acting nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, along with an adapted screenplay nomination, but it’ll unfortunately most likely miss the top two category nominations of director and picture.

While I won’t specifically campaign Best Picture, the fact that we’ll go yet another year with an all-male list of director nominees (thank goodness Greta Gerwig last year), it demands the inclusion of Marielle Heller. With only her second feature — check out her debut, the wonderful Diary of a Teenage Girl — her style, voice and direction is already affirmed and confident.

Best Actress:
Toni Collette

There was a glimmer over the summer when the A24 horror movie Hereditary hit theaters and everyone was buzzing about Toni Collette’s tour-de-force performance, and people thought it might translate to Oscar. That, however, didn’t pan out. A few are still predicting she’ll sneak into that up-for-grabs fifth slot that’ll otherwise likely go to Roma‘s Yalitza Aparicio.

And so, I’ll jump on the bandwagon of holding out hope for her nomination, as well. She’s beloved by fellow actors and the Academy gave her a nod for another horror movie, The Sixth Sense, so many years ago. There’s no harm in wishful thinking for one of our most unsung actresses finally getting her due.

Best Actor:
Ethan Hawke

Back to First Reformed, here’s another instance where the fifth slot in a category is up in the air. It’s a shame that a towering performance, a display of interiority and grappling with a soul being torn to shreds, will most likely be ignored by the Academy. Ethan Hawke has become a staple, an actor who rarely delivers a false note, here he somehow outdoes himself and delivers what could easily be considered a career-best for the veteran.

Other inevitable nominations in the category are impressions — Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Vice and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody — while one in particular boggles the mind — Viggo Mortensen in Green Book.

Meanwhile, Ethan Hawke is standing right here with a deeply affecting, career-defining role, wrapping himself in barbed wire and baring his soul for all to see. First Reformed asks, “Can God forgive us?” For these incoming Best Actor nominations specifically, the answer is “no.”

Best Original Screenplay:
‘Private Life’

Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, now on Netflix, is a rich, rewarding, emotionally resonant and bitingly funny comedy that deserves a spot among the nominees for Best Original Screenplay.

The writer/director landed a nomination in 2008 for her previous comedy, The Savages, so it’s not too much of a long-shot to hope for another nomination here. With most prognosticators, she’s landing at the sixth possible nomination. Again, female representation will be decidedly low this year, so it would be a minor win to have Jenkins slip in here.

And beyond that, the film decidedly deserves it. Jenkins’ words have such a lived-in and honest quality to them that creates movies that are so sad and funny because they’re unflinchingly real. Nobody captures humanity quite like she does.

Best Supporting Actor:
Brian Tyree Henry

You could nominate Atlanta breakout Brian Tyree Henry for one of two astonishing performances this year, so that’s all the more reason he shouldn’t be overlooked here.

In Steve McQueen’s political heist thriller Widows, he plays Jamal Manning, the cold, calculated yet charming villain whose scene opposite Viola Davis is bone-chilling. And in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, he plays Daniel Carty, and delivers one of the film’s most powerful scenes, a frank and sobering conversation about racism with Stephan James’ Fonny.

Playing two completely different characters with effortless grace, 2018 really became Brian Tyree Henry’s year. And that’s without even mentioning his superb voice performance in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Best Supporting Actress:
Michelle Yeoh

Comedic performances are rarely recognized, but what Michelle Yeoh does in the wonderfully diverse, record-breaking romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians deserves the highest praise. As the unaccepting mother Eleanor Young, she delivers icy micro-aggressions with perfect comic timing.

The movie’s crowning achievement is the mahjong scene where Michelle Yeoh’s performance really shines, opposite Constance Wu’s steadfast and unwavering Rachel Chu. Behind the veneer of her poker face, when the realization spreads across her face that she’s truly met her match, it’s a sight to behold, and Yeoh gives Eleanor unexpected and earned vulnerability.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
‘Paddington 2’

Hear me out. Paddington 2 is easily one of the best movies of the year and the unlikely sequel that surpasses the original in nearly every way. The BAFTAs last year had the right idea showering Paul King’s light-footed but meaningful romp and the Academy could and should follow suit with at least this one category nomination.

A children’s movie that transcends being only that and expands to be an examination of Brexit and the prison system and a poignant message about chosen family, Paddington 2 incorporates slapstick humor and deeply felt pathos in one fell swoop.

Best Cinematography:
‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’

The latest from Joel and Ethan Coen, now on Netflix, is a gorgeous rendering of the Old West, a winding parable told through six individual short stories that paint a portrait of death, violence and isolation. It’s also hysterically dark and twisted.

Many consider this to be a lesser work from the Coen Brothers — I disagree — so it likely won’t get any of the awards attention it deserves, it could at least sneak into Best Cinematography.

Director of photography Bruno Delbonnel is an Academy favorite — he received a nomination for Darkest Hour last year — having been nominated for five Oscars, and re-teaming with the Coens again since Inside Llewyn Davis proves a match made in heaven.

Best Documentary:

Yet another Netflix original, Sandi Tan’s deeply personal documentary Shirkers deserves to be among the five nominated films. It recounts the ill-fated demise and disappearance of the filmmaker’s long-gestating narrative film, also titled Shirkers, and how at the hands of a power-hungry man, her vision never saw the light of day.

It’s a thrilling procedural while also deeply sad, feeling like we’re peering inside Sandi Tan’s own diaries. Through a collection of interviews with friends who worked on the film from the 90s while also putting herself on display as subject, the movie is a kaleidoscopic exploration of what it takes to put creativity out into this world and how quickly it can all be stripped from you.

What nominations are you hoping to see next Tuesday?

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