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Dear Academy: Please Keep These Oscar Contenders in Mind

Nomination ballots for the 89th annual Oscars have been mailed, or beamed out, to the nearly 7,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Voting is scheduled to run Thursday through Friday, Jan. 13, with nominations to be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

The group-think of awards season can be overwhelming and sometimes it can be all too easy to just fall in line. But we’d like to offer a few humble, off-the-beaten-path suggestions for voters to keep in mind as they sit down to make their decisions this week and next. Spare a thought for these contenders?

BEST COSTUME and PRODUCTION DESIGN

“Kubo and the Two Strings”
It’s time for the Academy’s craft branches to take below-the-line work on animated films seriously. Laika has been deserving in both of these categories virtually every step of the way, and “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the glorious culmination of the company’s aesthetic. This is painstaking, detailed, character-specific design work, telling the story at every turn. Stop being so elitist about this stuff. Find me craftsmanship as rich as this. Be the least bit bold! (Kristopher Tapley)

BEST FILM EDITING

“Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day”
Peter Berg’s dual efforts this year were meticulous procedurals that detailed a pair of American tragedies with precision and care. Much of that boiled down to the way the films were pieced together, whether conveying the chaos of an oil rig explosion or the trenchant investigation of a terrorist attack. Both films are peripheral contenders at best throughout the various races, but hopefully members of the editors branch of the Academy can finally stick up for them. (Kristopher Tapley)

BEST SCREENPLAY

“Sausage Party”
Somehow, some way, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have become our foremost cinematic theologians. Between “This Is the End,” “Preacher,” and the animated “Sausage Party,” they’ve found a way to explore ideas of religion, tolerance, and faith in their own colorful way. “Sausage Party” deserves to be in the animated feature conversation, but I’ll go a step further and say it deserves some love from the writers, too. (Kristopher Tapley)

“The Lobster”
Writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou definitely know how to put the “original” in original screenplays, having previously collaborated on “Dogtooth” and “Alps.” But their third work is also their best: the weird, wonderful tale of a dystopian society where people are given 45 days to find a mate or be turned into an animal of their choosing. From that seemingly ridiculous premise comes a lot of dark comedy and biting social commentary, but also a lot of humanity as it raises questions about the very nature and need of love. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Greta Gerwig, “20th Century Women”
Gerwig started out as a pretty strong possibility when Mike Mills’ love letter to the women in his life first dropped, but she’s slowly slid down the scale along with other aspects of the movie. Pity, because it might just be her best performance yet, illuminating an incredible inner life for a very complex character. She’s also in three other films this year: “Maggie’s Plan,” “Weiner-Dog,” and “Jackie.” (Kristopher Tapley)

Kate McKinnon, “Ghostbusters”
When “Ghostbusters” hit theaters, I tweeted that the film had just won McKinnon an Emmy Award for “Saturday Night Live,” not unlike when her co-star Melissa McCarthy won the Emmy for “Mike and Molly” months after “Bridesmaids” was released. McKinnon did indeed pick up that Emmy, but an Oscar nomination seems unlikely, which is a shame. Few would argue that her role as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann was one of the star turns of the year, stealing scenes from even the most talented of co-stars. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ralph Fiennes, “A Bigger Splash”
Fiennes was mentioned in our halfway mark piece six months ago, along with another contender, John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Both bear repeating, but Fiennes in particular was a man possessed in Luca Guadagnino’s stylish remake. He’s simply found a new calling in comedy, with performances like this as well as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Hail, Caesar!,” showcasing his range — as if we needed reminding. (Kristopher Tapley)

Trevante Rhodes, “Moonlight”
There are so many standout performances in the ensemble of Barry Jenkins’ triptych, the supporting actor category could be filled with “Moonlight” actors alone. Mahershala Ali has deservedly received the lion’s share of acclaim for the role of a father figure to young Chiron, but Rhodes — who plays Chiron in his final chapter, where he has essentially morphed into his mentor — should also find himself nominated alongside Ali. He is heartbreaking as a man who is all toughness on the outside, pure vulnerability on the inside. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST ACTRESS

Krisha Fairchild, “Krisha”
Happily, Trey Edward Shults’ feature debut has been well-remembered on the critics’ awards circuit, but no one ever went the extra step of handing Krisha Fairchild an award as the eponymous family black sheep. Peeling back personal layer after personal layer, Fairchild’s is one of the bravest performances of the year. (Kristopher Tapley)

Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen”
One of the sharpest films of the year, “The Edge of Seventeen” seemed to get lost wherever it went, be it overshadowed in its Toronto premiere or upon theatrical release. But those who sought out Kelly Fremon Craig’s feature debut were charmed by its smart script and honest performances. Anchoring the film is Steinfeld, playing a role we’ve seen a million times before — a disaffected youth wise beyond her years — and yet finding new depths and nuances in the process. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST ACTOR

Anton Yelchin, “Green Room”
Honestly, “Green Room” is probably too queasy a prospect for Academy voters; many may not make it through its horrific visuals. But its expert filmmaking from director Jeremy Saulnier (“Blue Ruin”) and the film’s lifeblood is late actor Anton Yelchin’s performance. He conveys an understated level of in-the-moment terror and human emotion that makes the story all the more unsettling as a result. That kind of work so often goes unrecognized. (Kristopher Tapley)

Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nocturnal Animals”
Woefully overlooked for his riveting turn in “Nightcrawler,” Gyllenhaal seems to be being taken for granted again, considering he plays not one but two complex characters in Tom Ford’s riveting thriller. He plays Edward Sheffield, the ex-husband of Amy Adams’ character who writes a novel to express how she made him feel in ending their marriage. As we see the novel play out, Gyllenhaal portrays Tony Hastings, a husband and father bent on revenge. Both performances are perfectly calibrated and complementary of each other, a high-wire act pulled off flawlessly. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST DIRECTOR

Jon Favreau, “The Jungle Book”
What Favreau did in translating a Disney classic to a new audience and new filmmaking era was pretty staggering. Filmed in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, gorgeously rendered with state-of-the-art effects technology, the vision he maintained throughout was a significant high-wire act. And yet he pulled it off so (seemingly) effortlessly. He certainly turned this skeptic around, so much so that I’m eager to see what he does with “The Lion King” next. (Kristopher Tapley)

Ava DuVernay, “13th”
It’s not just the best documentary of the year but one of the best movies of the year, and Ava DuVernay should break all kinds of Oscar records for her work on the film. Not only would she be the first African-American woman to be nominated for best director (an honor she should have received for “Selma”), but it would mark the first time a documentary filmmaker was nominated in the category. DuVernay has made one of the most vital pieces of filmmaking of the year, detailing America’s sorry history of racial inequality in its prison system. (Jenelle Riley)

BEST PICTURE

“The Birth of a Nation”
The awards prospects for Nate Parker’s Sundance stand-out completely fell apart along the way. External circumstances hobbled it and critics who weren’t fans to begin with felt emboldened to take even bigger swipes. Separating the art from the artist has seemingly become impossible in this instance (not that there aren’t valid criticisms), but to me, “The Birth of a Nation” was a thunderbolt from an artist’s soul that said so much about the here and now. It’ll be interesting to see how history treats it. For now, make up your own mind, Academy members. At the very least, it deserves to be seen. (Kristopher Tapley)

“Captain Fantastic”
Though star Viggo Mortensen is looking more and more likely to land a best actor nom, the film in which he stars deserves attention across the board. Writer-director Matt Ross has crafted an original, smart, and often very funny tale, and though it’s only his second feature as director, he handles the material with the assured hand of a master, keeping the story from ever feeling preachy or treacly. There are no easy answers in this story, which only makes its existence all the more impressive. (Jenelle Riley)

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