Balloting is well underway for the 88th annual Oscars as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (or their assistants or sons or daughters or dogs or cats) sit down to chalk up the best in 2015 cinema. I’ve already rattled off a personal list of superlatives, but allow me a final “for your consideration” pitch for a few contenders that could really use a leg-up. All of these are on the far outside looking in, but they represent some of the finest achievements of the year. So, to the various branches of the Academy…
Directors Branch: Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen for “Inside Out”
I’ve been ringing this bell all season long but here’s one more push: Animation directors deserve some love, too, particularly when they crank out something as thematically and emotionally rich as “Inside Out.” Pete Docter and his co-director Ronnie Del Carmen created, for me, the best film of 2015, but more importantly, this is a barrier that ought to be broken sooner rather than later. When will the directors branch of the Academy finally go there?
Actors Branch: Géza Röhrig for “Son of Saul”
The lead actor race has been intriguingly thin all season, which is certainly out of character. So there’s room to maneuver, and I’d like to pitch a number of actors, honestly. I’ve already spoken up for Andrew Garfield in “99 Homes,” so let’s spread the love to “Son of Saul” star Géza Röhrig here. I’m frankly shocked that not one single critics organization handed him a trophy, because it’s a unique, stunning portrait, the kind that generally gets a boost from the critics circuit. In lieu of that, here’s a nudge.
Writers Branch: Charlie Kaufman for “Anomalisa”
“Anomalisa” should be good to go for an animated feature nomination (though don’t be too sure — last year’s “LEGO Movie” miss was another reminder that outsiders can be treated as hostile by this branch). But the film deserves recognition outside of a ghetto and Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant work on the page was in keeping with the masterful work he’s given us from “Being John Malkovich” to “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to “Synechdoche, New York.”
Cinematographers Branch: Maryse Alberti for “Creed”
There is a wonderful opportunity this year for cinematographers to make history: No woman has ever been nominated for a best cinematography Oscar. No one is asking for a handout, though, because Maryse Alberti’s lensing of “Creed” makes its own case. A striking visual rendering of a familiar tale for a new generation, it captures iconic frame after iconic frame with plenty of technical prowess to spare. (That single-take boxing match, though…)
Film Editors Branch: Chris King for “Amy”
It’s very rare for documentaries to get a fair shake outside of their own category, but when they do, the work in piecing together the narrative tends to be what’s noticed. In “Amy,” the best documentary of the year if you’re asking me, editor Chris King pulled in material from all kinds of sources to transcend the simple-minded “behind the music” shade detractors have thrown on the film and help tell a story that makes you fall in love with a victim of the modern media.
Music Branch: Jóhann Jóhannsson for “Sicario”
Straight-up, the score for “Sicario” scared the crap out of me. It’s an eerie piece of work that gets into your bones, and though Jóhann Jóhannsson was a darling on the circuit last year with “The Theory of Everything,” he hasn’t received the proper appreciation this time around. (I’ve been a fan ever since his last collaboration with filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, “Prisoners.”)
Sound Branch: “Love & Mercy”
This would be a great way to celebrate the overall aural brilliance of Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson biopic. Wilson can’t land a nomination because his original song, “One Kind of Love,” was rendered ineligible. Similarly, Atticus Ross’ score wasn’t able to make it to the starting gate, probably due to the proliferation of Beach Boys music in the film. But the overall sound design and sonic identity of the movie is quite brilliant, bringing the audience into the mind of a musical genius. A mixing nod, in particular, would be splendid.