By Matt Neglia
Oscar voting has officially started as of today and will run until April 20th. It’s been the longest Oscar season in recent memory and we at Next Best Picture fully understand that voters might be confused as to which films to watch and vote for. There are a number of films, performances, screenplays and technical aspects that we’ve appreciated from this crazy year, so we put together a few final FYC pleas down below just in case if any Academy members happen to read this with their ballots in hand.
Best Actress: Carey Mulligan – “Promising Young Woman”
Before finalizing their selection for Best Actress, voters should take a second look and consider Carey Mulligan’s turn as Cassandra Thomas in “Promising Young Woman.” It is perhaps the single-most beloved performance of the year by critics and pundits. The work Mulligan does in Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut redefines innovation and attention to detail in cinematic acting. She melds Cassie’s damaged past with her current-day trauma, which allows Mulligan the opportunity to tease out the most obscure of emotional beats in the character. Similar to Best Actress-winning performances like Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” or Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Mulligan erects a monument of a character who is entirely her own and unlike any other, we have seen in cinema before. She will become an iconic, cinematic legend down the road – from her mission statement to her deadpan sense of humor to her sense of style, intense intelligence and interrogations of the rotten men who exist in this universe, and the almost Greek tragedy level character arc – it will live on. Fennell’s epic screenplay can take much of this credit, but what accelerates Cassie to the next level is Mulligan’s performance. Voting for Mulligan is not just a vote for her brilliant acting but also for a character that is completely unique and dynamic. It would mean something for the Academy to reward this performance and character.
Best Supporting Actor: Paul Raci – “Sound Of Metal”
Paul Raci powers one of the year’s most affecting scenes. It arrives at a crucial moment in “Sound of Metal,” when Raci’s character, Joe, waxes poetic about moments of stillness. “For me, THAT PLACE is the kingdom of God,” he mutters. Raci is the veteran of the Best Supporting Actor nominees, and he uses every ounce of personal experience to inform his tender, resigned delivery. Factor in the context regarding Raci’s parents, who were both deaf, and you have a performance that was indeed a lifetime in the making. Riz Ahmed may be the drummer of “Sound of Metal,” but Raci is its beating heart.
Best Supporting Actress: Glenn Close – “Hillbilly Elegy”
What once looked like an unpredictable race for Best Supporting Actress now seems to be narrowing in on the wonderful Youn Yuh-jung for her soulful work in “Minari.” For as lovely as it would be to see the Korean veteran win an Academy Award, I can’t help but also want to see another veteran finally take her place in the sun. On her eighth career nomination, Glenn Close shows no signs of slowing down. Her performance as Mamaw in “Hillbilly Elegy” is the heart and soul of Ron Howard’s film. Her tough loving grandmother has the ability to strike a chord with any viewer with memories of a special familial bond. But even putting Close’s tremendous work aside, a win here would be bigger than one performance. It would be recognition of an unparalleled career that dates back 40 years. Glenn Close has created some of the most memorable and beloved characters of all time. She has paved the way for future generations of talent and has even gone the extra step to welcoming them into the club. Why is it that the industry’s top honor has alluded a top talent? As you consider the exemplary choices in this year’s Supporting Actress lineup, remember the one who has turned in decades of iconic work.
Best Adapted Screenplay: “One Night In Miami”
The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are diverse in their source material: a newspaper article illuminating a rarely represented group of Americans, a debut novel, a sequel of a film that made its mark on American pop culture, and two plays. But “One Night in Miami’s” script (written by Kemp Powers) stands out from the others in its category in the way that it both expertly makes use of film as a medium and for its excellent story and dialogue. Powers’s play, first performed in 2013, imagines a night in which four pivotal Black American figures come together to celebrate and discuss their ideas. Crafting Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay, as he was still known then), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown into characters in a film is no easy task. Still, Powers manages to show the audience each man’s ideals and beliefs without it ever feeling like a history lesson. In adapting the show from the stage to the screen, he found opportunities to show things that couldn’t be done on stage, like Clay’s boxing match, while maintaining the intimate feel of four friends spending time together that makes the piece so powerful. The film’s power is mainly in its script. The powerful performances enhance the conversations outlined in the dialogue between these four men that may alter the way the audience views these American icons. The screenplay expertly and compellingly reveals much about their early lives and gives us a full glimpse into who these men were. “One Night in Miami” deserves recognition for the lingering power of its screenplay that is the key to its success, much more than any of the other nominees.
Best Animated Feature: “Wolfwalkers”
I’m so happy that the Best Animated Feature category exists. It’s a way to honor an art form that rarely got serious respect from awards bodies until this category was established. And since its inception, the Academy has honored a wide range of stunning films made with the utmost care from their creators. This year, the Oscars have a chance to bestow an award upon a film that epitomizes beauty and ingenuity – “Wolfwalkers.” Made by the small Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, this breathtaking film stretches the abilities of animated storytelling. It uses every tool in the toolbox to paint its moving portrait of family and living in harmony with nature. In fact, it makes it clear that this was the perfect medium in which to tell its story by doing some things with animation that I’ve never seen a film do before. If “Wolfwalkers” were to win, it would be only the second hand-drawn animated film to win Best Animated Feature (the first was “Spirited Away” all the way back in 2002). And not to speak ill of its competitors, but a certain mega-studio has won an almost comical amount of these awards. Wouldn’t it be nice to honor something new that represents a significant step forward, not just for animated films but for all films? “Wolfwalkers” would be a worthy winner of Best Animated Feature and would shine a favorable light on the Academy’s taste.
Best Documentary Feature: “Collective”
In a year filled with great documentaries, “Collective” was easily the one that held me most firmly in its grip. A group of intrepid journalists from, of all places, a sports newspaper in Romania, began an investigation into a 2015 fire at the nightclub Colectiv, in which 37 people lost their lives. Filmmaker Alexander Nanau followed the reporters as they began to dig one shocking fact after another about how the people at the club died, a discovery that leads to a governmental scandal and the suspected suicide of a major player in the case. I’m particularly drawn to documentaries in which the subjects don’t know what they don’t know, and we discover that truth at the same time they do. In the process of illustrating just how government bureaucracies can cost innocent lives, “Collective” manages to tell a story that is as gripping as that of any thriller. And it all really happened!
Best Film Editing: “The Trial Of The Chicago 7”
Aaron Sorkin’s riveting courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a movie that has taken quite a beating from different corners of the internet this season. However, it still has its supporters out there, and I’m one of them. One element of the film I feel most people can agree on is that it is exceptionally well-edited by Alan Baumgarten. Having to juggle multiple characters with their unique points of view, cross-cutting timelines, and of course, Sorkin’s snappy dialogue is no easy task for any editor. Still, Baumgarten cuts the film in a manner that makes the densely plotted story cruise right on by with energy and momentum. There’s a tremendous amount of back and forth dialogue sparring matches between characters that are compelling to watch, not just because of the cast members’ performances but because Baumgarten knows precisely when to hold on a moment, when to cut to another character’s reaction to the scene and how to pace the scene rhythmically so that the audience is never bored and constantly entertained. Combining the use of archival footage (including moments borrowed from Haskell Wexler’s 1969 film “Medium Cool”) and other techniques such as connecting scenes by dialogue and performance, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is one of those rare cases where “most editing” really does equate to “best editing.”
Best Costume Design: “Emma.”
I can’t believe I’m in a world where I have to write this, but how has “Emma.” not been making a clean sweep of the Best Costume Design prizes? Just the sheer volume of costumes in Autumn de Wilde’s delicious-looking Austen adaptation would have been enough, but then there’s what costume designer Alexandra Byrne does with all of them! Much has been made of the accuracy of the period styles and shapes, and the quality of the craft speaks for itself. But watch the film and marvel at how cannily Byrne uses the costumes to say things about the characters. You can tell at first glance someone’s social status. As the scene goes on, you notice how everyone’s clothes differ, and what they say relative to each other – this person entirely at ease, that person bristling at the social convention; this person poor but trying to make do, that person a middle-class social climber. That you can pick up on this without a deep well of knowledge about the period’s clothing is entirely due to Byrne’s work. Then, there are the games she plays with color, which are even more revealing about the characters. Think of how perfectly each of the actors looks like the description of their character in Austen’s original novel, and it will likely be because of how their costumes have transformed them. In Byrne’s hands, the costumes of “Emma.” aren’t just characters in their own right – as is the case in many a costume drama – they are a character themselves. And no other costumes in 2020 achieved that feat with as much style and ease as these.
Best Production Design: “The Father”
It’s completely understandable to look at the production design of “The Father” and initially think there’s nothing especially noteworthy. Sure, the apartment these characters live in is stylish and nicely furnished, but you may think there’s nothing extraordinary on display. I certainly felt that too, at first. However, there is a moment when something magical happens—the setting changes. The audience is supposed to understand that we are now in a different apartment, yet it also feels familiar. The hallways and rooms are altered, but the layout is the same. Even doctors’ offices and care facilities echo the same designs despite being completely different locations. This film brilliantly utilizes its production design to communicate its protagonist’s perspective, and it’s an incredibly difficult task to pull off. The sets have to be unique enough to establish these are different environments, yet similar enough to emphasize poor Antony’s confused mind. While the production design may seem to lack flamboyancy, it accomplishes something even more vital. It is used to help propel the themes of the story forward and aids the filmmaking in conveying the main character’s viewpoint. As his mind fractures, so too does his perception of his surroundings. In turn, we, the audience, feel that too. It’s a subtle artistry that works in tandem with so many other superb touches throughout the film. This nomination is one of the most inspired selections the category has seen in some time, and these exceptional efforts are worthy of consideration. This work doesn’t have to be loud in order to be effective, and as a tool for storytelling, it is by far the most deserving selection.
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: “Pinocchio”
Is “Pinocchio” the best movie in the Oscar makeup & hairstyling race? No. Not even close. But is the makeup in the film the best of any film in contention each year? Yes. In fact, “Pinocchio” is one of the most extraordinary makeup showcases I have seen in recent memory. Nearly every creature in the film results from intricate practical makeup, prosthetics, and hair work. Mark Coulier has created authentic-looking wood textured skin for the living puppet Pinocchio. He made an enormous human-snail creature that is completely practical—talking apes, evil foxes, crickets, and more. Almost every character on display is covered in detailed prosthetic work. Voters often vote for their favorite film overall. But the category is Best Makeup & Hairstyling. Not the best film that happens to be nominated in the makeup category. There is, hands down, no more impressive makeup achievement this year than “Pinocchio.”
Best Original Song: Io sì (Seen) – “The Life Ahead”
For only the second time in her career, Dianne Warren won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “lo si” (Seen) from the Italian film “The Life Ahead.” For many, this win would make her the Oscar frontrunner. However, she faces tough competition in a category without a genuine frontrunner. However, after 12 Oscar nominations, the time for Dianne Warren to get her well-deserved standing ovation has finally come. The song, sung entirely in Italian by Laura Pausini, is a big, emotionally sweeping ballad with a tremendous amount of power behind it. Let’s hope Netflix’s campaign efforts pay off to get her the prize that has alluded her for over 30 years. Check out my article here for a more in-depth look at Warren’s Oscar history.
Thank you for considering these contenders in your Oscar voting. For those who are not voting, what would you like Academy voters to consider for the Oscar win? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account. Check out our latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture