Oscars: 17 Deserving Contenders From 2018 So Far

We always seem to get through the first half of the year a lot quicker than the second half, so here we are. Six months of cinema are behind us with another six months (and an annually unrelenting awards season) on the horizon. With that in mind, we’ve put our heads together to shout-out a number of films, performances, and achievements since January that deserve consideration at year’s end, lest they be forgotten by the upcoming onslaught.

Check out Tim Gray’s accompanying story summarizing the awards player so far and looking ahead at what’s to come this Oscar season.

(Note: This list only takes into account films that have been or will be released theatrically in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and June 30. Anything that has debuted at a film festival but not seen its commercial release yet is not eligible.)

Best Picture: “You Were Never Really Here”
Director Lynne Ramsay has crafted the leanest, meanest film of the year, bar none. It’s an exercise in storytelling economy, finely tuned in the editing (see below), anchored by a stand-out performance from Joaquin Phoenix that could be part of a one-two punch for him this awards season (along with Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”). (Kris Tapley)
Other Standouts: “Black Panther,” “First Reformed,” “Hereditary,” “The Rider”

Best Director: Chloé Zhao, “The Rider”
There isn’t a false note to be found in this tale of a rodeo rider recovering from an accident and wondering where his life will go next. Zhao draws out remarkable performances, working with many who have never acted before, including lead Brady Jandreau. Every stunning frame is imbued with love and longing. (Jenelle Riley)
Other Standouts: Ari Aster, “Hereditary”; Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther”; Lynne Ramsay, “You Were Never Really Here”; Paul Schrader, “First Reformed”

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, “First Reformed”
Director Paul Schrader may have drawn out Hawke’s career-best work in a film that amounts to a full-blown cinematic existential crisis. The four-time Oscar nominee wrangles with Schrader’s questions, searching in vain for their answers, internalizing brimming panic with aplomb. It’s a tour de force. (KT)
Other Standouts: Jason Clarke, “Chappaquiddick”; Ben Foster, “Leave No Trace”; Brady Jandreau, “The Rider”; Joaquin Phoenix, “You Were Never Really Here”

Best Actress: Toni Collette, “Hereditary”
Speaking of tours de force, look no further than Collette’s shattering performance in Aster’s unsettling Sundance horror entry. It’s a powerhouse portrayal full of pain, terror, regret, compulsion — just a fireworks display of raw commitment. (KT)
Other Standouts: Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place”; Olivia Cooke, “Thoroughbreds”; Vera Farmiga, “Boundaries”; Leslie Mann, “Blockers”

Best Supporting Actor: Michael B. Jordan, “Black Panther”
It’s not uncommon for the villain to steal the show in a superhero movie, but Jordan almost makes you root for Erik Killmonger. Not only does he make a strong case to justify his ruthless actions, but he can effortlessly alternate between terrifying power and breaking your heart — sometimes within the same scene. (JR)
Other Standouts: Josh Brolin, “Avengers: Infinity War”; Benicio del Toro, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”; Hugh Grant, “Paddington 2”; Alex Wolff, “Hereditary”

Best Supporting Actress: Kathryn Newton, “Blockers”
In the last year, Newton has held her own playing the daughters of Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies”). Here she shines as the strong-willed daughter of Mann’s overprotective mother. Their scenes together ring all too true and tender, while Newton also gets to show a blazing comedic side. Great things lie ahead for this actress. (JR)
Other Standouts: Gideon Adlon, “Blockers”; Thomasin McKenzie, “Leave No Trace”; Amanda Seyfried, “First Reformed”; Letitia Wright, “Black Panther”

Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Death of Stalin”
Truth is stranger than fiction, and Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of the French graphic novel detailing the insanity and scheming around the Soviet dictator will leave your mind reeling. You expect big laughs from the creator of “In the Loop” and “Veep,” but the script also never lets up on the very real tension that permeates each scene. (JR)
Other Standouts: “Black Panther,” “Deadpool 2,” “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” “You Were Never Really Here”

Best Original Screenplay: “Game Night”
Don’t be deceived by how much fun you’re having: Mark Perez’s script is full of clever turns, sharp dialogue, and smart characters that only impress more upon repeat viewings. A fantastic ensemble gets to have the time of their lives, as does the audience, trying to navigate the twists. (JR)
Other Standouts: “American Animals,” “Blockers,” “First Reformed”; “Tully”

Best Cinematography: “The Rider”
It’s not just the sweeping vistas of South Dakota that cinematographer Joshua James Richards captures so gloriously with his camera. It’s the intimate, human moments that he’s not afraid to linger on, getting too close to his subjects while never feeling intrusive or calling awareness to his presence. It’s the mark of a truly remarkable artist. (JR)
Other Standouts: “Hereditary,” “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” “You Were Never Really Here”

Best Costume Design: “Black Panther”
The legendary Ruth E. Carter probably etched her nomination in stone with Marvel’s massive cultural event film, but let’s speak up for her here anyway. She’s been recognized for films like “Amistad” and “Malcolm X” in the past, but here her imagination was given free reign, pulling from comic book pulp and Afrofuturism with dazzling results. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Ocean’s 8,” “The Seagull,” “A Wrinkle in Time”

Best Film Editing: “You Were Never Really Here”
The philosophy going into post-production on Lynne Ramsay’s latest was stripping things down nearly to an essence. The effect is one that allows the viewer to linger in the headspace of the film’s antihero, shards of memory fleeting, precious few images telling the story at every step. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Black Panther,” “Ready Player One,” “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “A Wrinkle in Time”
Speaking earlier of Afrofuturism, director Ava DuVernay employed the aesthetic through her own lens in the crafting of her ambitious Disney adaptation. The hair and makeup work in particular struck celestial looks that gave the film its own instant iconography. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” “Deadpool 2”

Best Original Score: “Gemini”
Composer Keegan DeWitt has been cranking out expert work in the independent sphere for a while now, but his latest collaboration with director Aaron Katz is their most accomplished to date. The jazzy, breathy scope of the music gives this neo-noir a singular identity, the perfect soundscape for the alluring Los Angeles Katz captures with his camera. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Annihilation,” “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2”

Best Original Song: “Hearts Beat Loud” from “Hearts Beat Loud”
DeWitt’s work as a songwriter deserves commendation this year as well, for the title track from Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud.” To say it’s a banger is an understatement, but moreover, it’s exactly what this category ought to recognize: Songwriting organic to the storytelling.
Other Standouts: “All the Stars” from “Black Panther”; “Ashes” from “Deadpool 2,” “Pray for Me” from “Black Panther”

Best Production Design: “Isle of Dogs”
The artisan efforts on animated films are often passed over in these categories, and that’s a shame. Paul Harrod and Adam Stockhausen’s designs are as meticulous as you’d expect for a Wes Anderson stop-motion experience. They build out the world in vibrant ways and Academy members should take notice of that kind of thing more often than they do. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Black Panther,” “A Quiet Place,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: “A Quiet Place”
John Krasinski’s successful thriller became a box office story this spring, and it was well-deserved. He crafted an incredible experience, and his sound team in particular deserves much of the acclaim. This is a film that lives or dies on its aural atmosphere. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Annihilation,” “Incredibles 2,” “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”

Best Visual Effects: “Ready Player One”
Steven Spielberg’s latest wasn’t quite the pop-cultural box office explosion some might have been expecting, but the effort that went into building out a virtual world on screen can’t be mistaken. From dense environments to detailed avatars, it was a feast for the eyes, if nothing else. (KT)
Other Standouts: “Annihilation,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

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