Bizarro Oscars 2019: what did the Academy overlook?

Every year during Oscars season, a familiar hierarchy unfolds: the favorites, the sleepers, the long-shots. There’s an inevitable backlash cycle, and there’s inevitable griping that the Academy picked the wrong winners.

The entirety of this conversation, though, is based on the assumption that the field is generally correct. Sure, when the nominations are announced there are outcries over a few performances or films that got overlooked. But those performances and films are still usually within the conventional boundaries of Oscar nominees. What frustrates me is the Academy’s lack of imagination. There are certain types of performances that will never earn a nomination even if they were roundly praised, just because they are not ‘Oscar-worthy.’

I would like to rectify that. So here are my picks for the nominations the Academy should have handed out, but never, ever would.

Best Actor: Jim Cummings, Thunder Road

Thunder Road is both acutely familiar and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The film stars Jim Cummings (who also wrote and directed it) as Officer Jim Arnaud, a police officer facing a mental breakdown after the loss of his mother and an impending divorce. It’s funnier than it sounds. Cummings gives one of the strangest performances I’ve seen in a while, alternating between cringe humor reminiscent of Michael Scott on The Office and genuinely heartbreaking disarray. His nervous collapse is a case for allowing for emotional fragility in men, and his performance is perfectly encapsulated in the (mostly) single-take opening scene above.

Best Actress: Leslie Mann, Blockers

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Leslie Mann is a comic revelation in Blockers, a supremely undervalued comedy about a group of parents trying to stop their kids from having sex on Prom night. Mann has a comedic blend of fuck-it confidence, spacey aloofness and suburban malaise unrivaled by any other actress, and all her signature skills are on full display in Blockers. The men usually get all the attention in the Judd Apatow universe, but between this film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Funny People, and Knocked Up, we are severely underestimating Mann as one of the great comedic performers of our time.

Best Supporting Actor: Na-kel Smith, Mid90s

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Mid90s was plagued with a sympathy for toxic masculinity that made the film a problematic, if still promising, directorial debut for Jonah Hill. The character who most deftly rejected this dynamic, though, was Na-Kel Smith’s Ray, the most talented among a ragtag group of skaters main character Stevie (Sunny Suljic) falls into. Smith is the de facto leader of the group not only because of his athletic acumen but because of his wisdom. While all the others turn to skating to run from something, Ray skates to pursue a dream, and the insights he imparts to Stevie are the most moving moments of the film.

Best Supporting Actress: Haley Lu Richardson, Support the Girls

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The Academy rewards performances that contain multitudes, crowning characters with humor and anger, with quiet moments and big outbursts, with undecipherable accents and transformative makeup. But rarely do they award performances like Haley Lu Richardson’s in Support the Girls, a singular showcase of unabashed joy. Richardson’s Maci is the #1 character I’d like to spend time with from 2018, and for her radiant positivity she deserves recognition.

Best Director: Aneesh Chaganty, Searching

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This year’s nominees for Best Picture are deserving. Yorgos Lanthimos managed an absurd comedic tone in The Favorite, Alfonso Cuarón crafted Roma with impeccable precision, and film legend Spike Lee finally earned his first nomination. But I wish the Academy had found room, or even remotely considered, Chaganty’s innovative work in Searching.

Making a movie with the technical prowess that Cuarón did is a true accomplishment. But you know what’s really hard? Telling a cohesive story without a physical location. Searching takes place entirely within the confines of various screens: home videos, FaceTime calls, security footage. Chaganty manages these amorphous locales and creates a story that is clearly understood and deeply felt, and I think we will look back and consider Searching to be a piece of groundbreaking visual style.

Best Picture: Paddington 2

The most heartwarming movie of 2018 earned a grand total of zero Oscar nominations, an absolute tragedy. Ben Whishaw’s voice work as the clueless British bear is cuddly and charming, and he employs just the right amount of melancholy when needed. The Oscars often turn to self-serious stories to display the ceremony’s own importance, but the Paddington franchise has secretly been the most insightful film franchise about immigration and the societal value of kindness of the past five years. Here’s to hoping for an Oscars push for Paddington 3.