Oscar Voters: Consider These Contenders Before Filling Out Your Ballot

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences currently sit with ballots at the ready, a stack of screener stragglers waiting to be watched and plenty of choices to make regarding the 2018 film year. Voting concludes on Monday, Jan. 14. Here are a few personal pleas for consideration as phase one enters the home stretch this weekend.

Don’t sleep on Brian Tyree Henry in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Somewhere along the way, Barry Jenkins’ soulful portrait of black love got a little lost. Where is the urgency around a best picture-winning filmmaker’s sublime follow-up? There are so many elements to consider here, from Regina King’s critically acclaimed performance (she popped on the Golden Globes just in time) to rich costume and production design to lush photography that easily ranks among the best of the year (the ASC dropped the ball here) to a score that settles in your bones. Personally, I’d love to see Brian Tyree Henry singled out for a 10-minute performance that ranks among the year’s best in any category, of any duration. “We live in a society, as black men, where we’re told we can’t have feelings, we can’t cry or be angry or be passionate about a lot of things,” Henry told me on an upcoming episode of Variety’s “Playback” podcast. “But the first thing you see from [this character] is joy. I feel like this scene in particular was important for me to showcase the fact that he has all of these things inside of him.”

Lynne Ramsay directed the hell out of “You Were Never Really Here.”
The Directors Guild took its licks this week for failing to nominate a single female director, despite there being numerous qualified contenders. So to the Academy’s directors branch, take note. This isn’t a plea for quota, it’s a plea to recognize genius in your ranks. Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”), Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and Chloe Zhao (National Society of Film Critics champ “The Rider”) would make perfectly reasonable choices for movies many would rate far above some of the shoo-ins in the category. But Lynne Ramsay’s splintered, expressionistic direction of “You Were Never Really Here,” in particular, stands out from the fray and ought to be in the thick of it. Please watch this movie!

Toni Collette is a revelation in “Hereditary” so don’t be scared!
Collette is a critical darling, this year just a notch below “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman for kudos on the precursor circuit, but even from the moment she began making waves at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, it was clear this would be a tall order. But have some spirit! (So to speak.) This is the performance of the year, a lacerating display of terror, anguish and familial discord. It’s a bustling category. You have so many options. If you haven’t watched this one yet because ew, gross horror, be bold and give it a whirl. She’s worth the price of admission.

Track down “Blindspotting” ASAP.
This Sundance gem was mostly ignored all season outside of a lead actor nomination at the Spirit Awards for Daveed Diggs and a first-time feature Directors Guild nod for Carlos Lopez Estrada. What a shame. Diggs and co-star Rafael Casal should be in the conversation for their work in front of the camera. The screenplay, equal parts indictment and mash note to the city of Oakland, has no business being forgotten. It’s one of the year’s best films. Just now hearing about it? Please seek it out.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is more than just animated feature fodder.
Yes, the shorts and feature animation branch is likely to single this film out (though don’t be so sure; they already have a history of dismissing Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s productions). But the movie is so deserving beyond that. The sound branch in particular really ought to give it a look (and listen), because it boasts a truly dazzling sonic identity. One day the design branches will snap out of the tactile world and recognize animated films, but the production design in particular is stunning and intricate here. Screenplay recognition would be warranted, and if you want to include it as one of your five best picture selections on the ballot, I won’t stop you.

“Blaze” star Ben Dickey gives the best 2018 performance you probably haven’t seen.
Dickey started the year off with a bang, winning a Sundance prize for his performance as singer-songwriter Blaze Foley in Ethan Hawke’s freewheelin’ biopic. That’s pretty much where the victory lap ended because even upon release in August, it felt like this was nary a blip. Dickey burrows into Foley with the same gusto as Christian Bale does with Dick Cheney in “Vice,” you’ve just never heard of him. It’s still one of the year’s finest turns, a spirited embodiment that — assuming the first-timer is interested in continuing down this road — announces the arrival of a fascinating new star.

So Academy members, do of that what you will. I’m just on the sidelines making suggestions. You have the power to shake things up. Here’s hoping you will.

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

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