Twenty Performances, or Bird is the Word

academy luncheon

Now I’ve completed the process of listing my ten best films of the cinematic year not-so-recently-completed, I have one more bit of annual business to take care ahead of this Sunday’s trophy ceremony. As usual, I share the Actors Branch nominating ballot I would have turned in had some strange shift in the the fabric of the universe had placed the document in my eager hands. I’ve tried to be resolutely honest in settling on the twenty names that follow, eschewing sentimentality or gamesmanship.

And I’ll open with the strongest category of the year.


1. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
2. Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus
3. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
4. Carey Mulligan, Mudbound
5. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Ronan, Hawkins, and Robbie all made the Academy’s cut, and their fellow nominee Meryl Streep was likely my sixth name, her crafty nuance in The Post just an eyelash behind Robbie’s fierce inventiveness. I suspect it’s Frances McDormand who will win in this category, and I have to grudgingly admit that her having a second Oscar on her shelf in a fine thing, even if I think she overacts in the highly problematic Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m hoping that McDormand using her SAG Awards acceptance speech to essentially give permission to pick someone else opens the door for Ronan. Because Lady Bird has got to win something, doesn’t it? Richardson never had a chance here, but she’s nearly Ronan’s equal in the category playing a role that’s similar on the surface, but less flashy. I do wonder if Mulligan would have been more of a factor for her bruising performance had Mudbound gotten a more traditional Oscar season roll-out than the popping into ubiquitous availability that is the Netflix model.



1.  Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, The Phantom Thread
3. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
4. Jason Mitchell, Mudbound
5. John Cho, Columbus

I believe Chalamet’s performance is the best of the year, regardless of category, and I felt that way even before the heartbreaking power of the final shot, the most emotionally devastating acting to close a film since Glenn Close sat before the makeup mirror to bring the curtain down on Dangerous Liaisons. He doesn’t have a chance against Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, a classic case of the the Academy’s dismal “great man” blind spot, which leads to a confusion over the deeds of the character versus the quality of the acting. As for the others in my quintet, I’ll note that my admiration for Kaluuya’s performance only grows every time I catch another bit of Get Out on cable, Cho is a beautifully understated partner to Richardson, and, while readers may find this a bold pronouncement, Day-Lewis is quite good at acting. I had a hell of a time placing the male actors from Mudbound into categories, but ultimately decided Mitchell’s character was closest to a protagonist’s arc.



1. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
2. Lesley Manville, The Phantom Thread
3. Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!
4. Allison Williams, Get Out
5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Metcalf losing to Allison Janney’s adequate but hammy performance in I, Tonya will be one of the night’s most dispiriting moments for me. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is exactly the godawful disaster its reputation makes it out to be (and the critics who have devoted some of their end-of-year energy to championing its daring are either adorable or delusional, I can’t quite decide), but Pfeiffer is blazingly good in her role. Had the movie taken its cues from her sly bravado, it might have been something. I’m very happy Manville and Spencer were both lauded by the Academy, but Williams deserved a place among the contenders, if only for the scene in which she talks to Rod on the phone.



1. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
3. Tracy Letts, Lady Bird
4. Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound
5. Lil Rel Howery, Get Out

Speaking of TSA agent extraordinaire Rod Williams, you’re damn right I think Howery deserves to be in the running in the supporting actor category. Jenkins is the only performer the Academy and I agree upon.  It’s not so surprising in the cases of Letts and Hedlund, but its downright criminal that Stuhlbarg was overlooked. His monologue toward the end of Call Me By Your Name is one of the clear highlights of the entire year. Of course, anyone in this category is doomed to applaud for when the win is claimed by Sam Rockwell, an actor absolutely overdue for awards acclaim who is getting his prize for a mediocre turn in a poorly conceived character that — as a bonus — really belongs in the lead category. It’s going to be a rough Oscars year for me, friends.

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