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Oscars 2018: The Most Criminally Overlooked Performances of the Year

Our Marlow Stern (senior entertainment editor) and Kevin Fallon (senior entertainment writer) debate the big issues ahead of the Academy Awards, airing March 4 on ABC.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Marlow: Well, it’s finally the week of the 90th Academy Awards, and, given all the insanity in this country, this glitzy diversion couldn’t have come at a better time. But unlike years past, I don’t feel too invested in many of these categories/performances. A big reason for that, I think, is the uninspired job the Academy did in recognizing this year’s standout performances, and the incredibly high number of shoo-in winners, e.g. Gary Oldman in Best Actor (for a prestige historical biopic) and Frances McDormand (for a partially tone-deaf, outsider’s view of America) in Best Actress, draining the ceremony of any suspense.

Kevin: None of the actors I would choose to win the four performance categories are even nominated, which happens nearly every year. So the more frustrating thing is that, while it at one point looked like these were going to be thrilling two-horse races, with Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, and Laurie Metcalf pegged to trade off wins with current frontrunners McDormand, Oldman, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney, the final leg of the race to Oscar Sunday has been a big ol’ predictable snooze. So let’s wake ourselves up by remembering our favorite performances that were overlooked this year. Who do you got?

Marlow: There are so many. Where do I start? Well, one of my absolute favorite performances of the year came courtesy of Haley Lu Richardson, who delivered what should have been a star-making (and Oscar-nominated) effort in the little-seen Columbus. Its premise sounds a bit dreary—a two-hander between a college student (Richardson) and a thirty-something (John Cho) exploring the architecture of Columbus, Indiana—yet as Richardson slowly peels back the layers of her character, we’re presented with something profound: an evocative portrait of a promising young woman paralyzed by her circumstances. I was also surprised that Rooney Mara received little to no awards buzz for her work in A Ghost Story. That pie-devouring scene alone is worthy of plaudits.

Kevin: That pie scene was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on film—and that’s high praise.

Marlow: Oh! And while it’s only a voice role, I found Emma Thompson to be just delightful as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast—to the point where I wished I were a kid again so I could own a talking Mrs. Potts.

Kevin: Ha! While I did not necessarily find anything particularly Oscar-worthy about Beauty and the Beastly Cash-Grab, you are correct: Emma Thompson is a delight, and her version of the title song was a cup of hot tea for the soul.

Marlow: That cockney accent! Tale as old as time…I want a spinoff.

Kevin: My favorite performance of the year came from seven-year-old Brooklynn Prince, who does astonishing work in The Florida Project as a joy-hunting street urchin making the suburban decay in the shadow of Disney World her dilapidated playground. It was one of the greatest child-star performances I’ve ever seen, and there’s no doubt that it wasn’t a director’s edited performance, but an actual acting triumph. I’m thrilled to see where she goes next, and wish she had gotten more recognition. Another unsung standout for me came from a film that was released almost a year ago, before last year’s Oscars ceremony even aired. James McAvoy is transfixing in Split, playing a kidnapper with 23 distinct personalities and a horrifying 24th on the verge of presenting itself. It’s hardly the genre fare Oscars tend to reward, but that was some phenomenal acting McAvoy was doing in that film.

Marlow: Split—also starring Haley Lu Richardson! I enjoyed McAvoy in that film, though it did recall his problematic split-personality character(s) in Filth. As far as genre fare that the Academy will never recognize in a million years goes, Michael Keaton’s feral, grizzled CIA spook in the enjoyably farcical American Assassin was a sight to behold. There is a torture sequence where, after his fingernail is ripped off, Keaton roars, “I got nine more! I like this! I like it, motherfucker!” that had me in stitches. Vince Vaughn, too, has never been more compelling than as an ex-boxer battling his way up to the boss in the skull-crushing Brawl in Cell Block 99, one of the most criminally overlooked movies of the year. And I wish more people took in the Safdie brothers’ nightmarish Good Time, if only for Robert Pattinson’s twitchy turn that, believe it or not, calls to mind a young Pacino.

Kevin: Pattinson would have definitely made my Best Actor shortlist. He was unrecognizably good in Good Time. I wonder if it’s fair to call this next grouping of performances overlooked, per se, given how much they were in the awards conversation all season. Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name and Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip likely came very close to earning nominations, and I’m still not over the fact that they didn’t. In some ways, Hammer had the toughest role in CMBYN, playing an aloof Adonis who eventually gives way to the throes of passion and unexpected romance. And Stuhlbarg delivered the monologue of the year in the last act of that film with such grace and compassion that we tear up each time we think about it.

Marlow: That Stuhlbarg monologue is stunning. Haven’t stopped thinking about it. And I also still haven’t gotten over the way distributor Sony Pictures Classics screwed up the release of Call Me by Your Name, effectively costing it that pair of acting nominations (and Luca Guadagnino in Best Director). I mean, the film opened in limited release on Nov. 24 and didn’t really begin expanding until late January! Totally nuts, and the reason why it’s only made around $16 million so far and didn’t travel beyond the coasts. But alas, I digress.

Kevin: Then there’s Haddish, a breakout star who spun through Girls Trip like an unfiltered, relentlessly positive tornado, laying waste to societal expectations not only about how a black woman of a certain age could behave on film, but also as a sexual, unapologetic, joy-filled part of culture as well. Not rewarding her was this year’s biggest bozo move in our mind.

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Marlow: I have seen Girls Trip no less than three times on airplanes—cup(s) of wine in hand—because of Tiffany Haddish. She is a comedic force of nature in that film, and it’s a damn shame she wasn’t rewarded with an Oscar nod for it (especially considering she had to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to announce the nominations this year—and even managed to make that thankless task hilarious).

Kevin: I really am dying to know how close she was to a nomination. Could you imagine how amazing watching her react to that live would have been?

Marlow: Ugh, don’t remind me! Anyway, a few other standout performances this year worth noting: Nahuel Perez Bascayart is the beating heart of BPM (Beats Per Minute), and takes you on perhaps the most heartbreaking journey of any one character this year; though it was released back in February of 2017, and won the Best Foreign Film Oscar at that year’s ceremony, Shahab Hosseini deserves kudos for the graceful way he negotiates Iran’s past and future in The Salesman; and, last but not least, the dynamite Algee Smith’s (that voice!) swaggering singer whose Motown dreams are shattered by police batons in Detroit.

Kevin: BPM was, in every element of its production, a triumph of filmmaking that should be mandatory viewing. I’m still annoyed that it missed out in Best Foreign Language Film. Honestly, I could list favorite performances that I wish were recognized for days: Bridget Everett and Danielle MacDonald in Patti Cake$, Harris Dickinson in Beach Rats, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany in Stronger, Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, Tilda Swinton in Okja. Complaining is our favorite pastime. And the Oscars? They’re, well, the Oscars of complaining.