I’m not going to defend the inherent hackness of complaining about the Oscar nominations, because the Oscars exist to be complained about as much as anything else. We should be used to them getting it wrong by now, but it still comes as fresh betrayal every year to realize that the Oscars, still the only mainstream check on the monolithic commerce, still have all the taste of your parents’ least cool friends.
Gripes, oh yes we’ve got ’em. Two nominations for Scarlett Johansson? She must have kompromat. Two actors nominated for The Irishman? Oh, have we not celebrated Pacino and Pesci enough yet? A directing nomination for Sam Mendes (but not Greta Gerwig)? Christ, 1917 might as well have been called “please nominate me for best director, my name is Sam Mendes and I’m ever so good,” and they went right ahead and nominated it anyway. These bastards are nothing if not predictable. Even if we limited the directing category to just movies your dad’s golf friends would like there’s no way 1917 was better than Ford V. Ferrari. I. COULD. GO. ON.
But let’s stay positive, and recognize all the actors who deserved more this awards season. There are various reasons certain actors don’t get recognized as much as they should, from older actors sucking up legacy nominations as make-up for previous snubs, to the size of their roles, to toiling in underseen movies, to the poor taste of the voters, to them not fitting easily into any one category. Sometimes an actor puts in a great performance but never played a Pope. It happens! In any case, I’m going to list a few of them here. If I forgot your favorite it’s either because I didn’t see the movie or because you are wrong.
Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse. Jesus, how did the Oscar voters miss this one? One of our finest character actors in his perfect role. Dafoe was made to be shot in black and white, like one of Ansel Adams’ gnarled trees come to life. Dafoe’s exclusion is nothing short of a travesty.
Lupita N’yongo in Us. I would’ve thought this one was a lock, but the Oscar voters are notoriously poor at recognizing acting in horror movies — see also: Toni Collette in Hereditary.
Winston Duke in Us. I don’t know that he was for sure in the top five of supporting actor performances with so many good ones this year, but Duke was still wonderful. Also, he has great thighs.
Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. J-Lo did her best work since Out Of Sight, but a movie about strippers was apparently too big of a hurdle for the repressed shrivs in the Academy. This again? I’m still pissed at Magic Mike getting snubbed for Matthew McConaughey and “Ladies Of Tampa.”
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. I won’t shed any tears for a guy as rich as Adam Sandler, who generally gets to cast his high school buddies for a living, but come on, throw Uncut Gems a goddamn bone here. Keith Williams Richards should show up at all your houses.
Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. Eddie Murphy had been doing bad comedy or mediocre prestige these past few years, and I think he finally found his gear in comedic prestige.
Florence Pugh in Midsommar. What was that thing I just said about horror actors? It’s true Pugh got nominated for Little Women, but I think what she pulled off in Midsommar was arguably even harder.
Lucas Hedges in Honey Boy. Of all the acting performances this year, there were probably two that were so patently incredible that they threw me back in my chair. One was Hedges playing Shia Labeouf (despite looking nothing like him) in Honey Boy. This was one of the better performances of the decade, let alone the year.
Riley Keough in Under The Silver Lake. I don’t expect many of the Oscar voters to have seen Under The Silver Lake considering it made just $46 grand at the box office (I’m not exaggerating) but Riley Keough has been putting in awards-worthy performances since American Honey. She’ll get it one of these years.
Andre Hyland in The Death Of Dick Long. Hyland was the other performance I mentioned above. Like Honey Boy, every single actor in The Death of Dick Long could’ve been nominated, but even so, Hyland’s performance as a vaping, stammering goofball is one of the most comedically unsettling things ever captured on film.
Virginia Newcomb in The Death Of Dick Long. See above. Even in a movie composed entirely of perfect performances, Newcomb stood out.
Hye-jin Jang in Parasite. You could choose any actor in Parasite and not be wrong, but I thought the Kim family matriarch was the standout. I can only imagine she was left out to keep some star from having to pronounce her name.
Zachary Levi in Shazam! Before this movie, I would’ve told you I didn’t know who this guy was and that his face kind of annoyed me. But Levi did an incredible job playing a 14-year-old in a man’s body.
Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell. Nothing against Kathy Bates (who was great, as Kathy Bates always is) but I really thought this was Paul Walter Hauser’s year. Fun fact: back in the 90s, Jay Leno joked that Richard Jewell looked like “the guy who whacked Nancy Kerrigan.” Paul Walter Hauser has now played them both.
Stephen Graham in The Irishman. Nothing against Pacino and Pesci, but I thought Stephen Graham was the clear standout as “Tony Pro” in The Irishman. I would’ve never guessed Tommy from Snatch would go on to play some of our finest tough guy heavies.
Anthony Carrigan as Noho Hank in Barry. I don’t care that Barry is a TV show, figure out how to give this guy an award. One of the best characters of all time.
Margaret Qualley in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Leo was great and Brad Pitt was fine, but the Manson girls were truly sublime. Qualley managed to be that combination of alluring, filthy, taboo, stinky, and possibly insane I always imagined members the Manson family to be.
In general I hate the idea of child actors and believe that we’d be better off as a society if all roles for characters under 15 were played by adults in child clothes. That being said there were some incredible child acting performances in 2019, including…
Julia Butters in Once Upon A Time.. In Hollywood. Actors playing actors is one of my favorite kinds of acting and Julia Butters managed it better than most adults.
Archie Yates in Jojo Rabbit. I didn’t even really like this movie (a costume nomination? the guy who put Scarlett Johansson in that awful hat should be in handcuffs) but this kid stole every scene he was in.
Every kid in Shazam! Every kid brought their A-game in Shazam!, a film that simply had far too many children in it on paper but in practice worked beautifully. I think the Mini Artie Lange kid was my favorite. I hate the “precocious child” character but I can’t get enough “sullen and withdrawn child.” It speaks to me.
Noah Jupe in Honey Boy. It’s hard to stand out in an ensemble that includes Lucas Hedges devastating Shia Labeouf impression and Shia Labeouf’s disconcerting take on his own father, but Jupe more than held his own.
Okay, that’s all for now. Whatever happens at the Oscars this year, take heart that it probably won’t be worse than Jared Leto winning an Oscar for playing a trans woman who dies of AIDS dedicating his award to the brave people of the Ukraine.