AJ’s Personal Ballot (If I Had an Oscar Vote) for 2018 Part 3: Acting and Directors

Alright! It’s time for the big guns. Let’s cover some great directors and great actors today! If you want to go back read Part 1 (the crafts) or Part 2 (Foreign, Documentary, Animated, Screenplays), they’re both available for you at any time. Let’s check in on AJ’s nomination counts!

AJ’s Nomination Count

7- Black Panther (2 Wins)

6 – First Man (2 Wins) 

4- If Beale Street Could Talk (3 Wins), Roma

3 – Burning (1 Win), The Favourite, Hereditary (1 Win), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (1 Win),

2 – A Quiet Place, Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians, Cold War, Eighth Grade (1 Win)Free Solo (1 Win), Hearts Beat Loud (1 Win), Mary Queen of Scots, Minding the Gap (1 win), Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Teen Titans GO! to the Movies,

1 – A Star Is Born, Avengers: Infinity War (1 Win), American Animals, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blindspotting, The Death of Stalin, The Guilty, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ruben Brandt Collector, Shirkers, Shoplifters, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stan & Ollie, Suspiria, Three Identical Strangers, Uncle Drew, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Director

  • Barry Jenkins – If Beale Street Could Talk* WINNER
  • Bo Burnham – Eighth Grade
  • Lynne Ramsey – You Were Never Really Here
  • Ryan Coogler – Black Panther
  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman* RUNNER UP

Barry Jenkins once again delivers one of the most complete films of the decade. While it is not as good as Moonlight, he could very easily have crafted two of the top ten to fifteen films of the decade. It seems likely that the Jenkins style has been set, but that’s because no one has ever been better at composing portrait shots. With his visual flair tying in score and production design, somehow this movie looks even better than Moonlight. For anyone who watches If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins proves his talent as an auteur like no other.

Three other directors broke ground this year. Spike Lee delivered an integral story for 2019. He reminded us what a talented filmmaker he is, and why he should be regarded as one of the greats. His film speaks to a moment but reminds us that hate groups are part of the DNA of America. While many of us have been awakened to the danger that the KKK and other hateful groups pose to the greater culture, those bullied, beaten, and killed can never forget.

Lee’s narrative juxtaposes nicely with the work of Ryan Coogler, who wishes to tell a fairytale about being black in 2019 while searching for your identity. It is a stunning piece of work, showcasing Coogler as an auteur. That label gets thrown about, often forgetting that those who were first assigned the label had to create their visual styles within a standardized studio system. Yet Marvel and Disney might be the only traditional studio systems left. Coogler proved that those who are creative and special can craft a unique visual language. Combined with an excellent story that speaks to the isolationist movements within America, as well as the dangers of miseducation, Black Panther transcends the superhero genre.

Perhaps no director took a darker route to their storytelling than Lynne Ramsey. “You Were Never Really Here” follows a mercenary/assassin who finds himself drawn to help a young girl that was kidnapped. At the same time, it showcases PTSD and trauma in extraordinary detail. Her visuals are stunning, and an excellent performance from Joaquin Phoenix helps to sell the overall film. Yet without Ramsey’s control of visual storytelling, or willing to take big chances in the way information is presented, this film could have been a slog. She has proven herself to be one of the most interesting filmmakers working around trauma in film today.

Last but not least, Bo Burnham seemed to take conch and speak to the questions about what it means to grow up in the age of social media. Yet his compassion and love for his characters make him stand out. The way he shoots his leading lady Elsie Fisher showcases an empathy that few directors bring to the camera. This movie is a complete work, and with Burnham only turning 28 in the past six months, he’s got an amazing career ahead of him.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Brian Tyree Henry – If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
  • Josh Hamilton – Eighth Grade
  • Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther* RUNNER UP
  • Steven Yeun – Burning* WINNER

For most people, Steven Yeun grew to prominence for his role as Glenn on The Walking Dead. However, the actor always had higher aspirations and seemed to really dive into his potential over the past couple of years. Yet Burning gets to showcase his pure charm in charisma in ways that are frankly intoxicating. Yeun plays Ben, a young Gastby-esque man who seems to charm everyone around him. Yeun plays him like a Venus Fly Trap, creating a dangerous and disarming character in the process. You will never be able to look at Yeun the same after this, at least not without wondering how dangerous he could become. Keep in mind, he gave another brilliant performance in Sorry to Bother You this year, making 2018 a breakout year for the former TV star.

In a category full of villains this year, one will hold a place in the pantheon of comic book villains. Killmonger reigned supreme, at least for a little while, but it was Michael B. Jordan‘s emotional turn that turned him into something special. From his first seconds on screen, he proved he could be dangerous, even when speaking in a whisper. Mad with purpose, Jordan turned his character into someone who could be endlessly charismatic, and extremely vile at each turn. He was physically unparalleled, but it is when he spoke that he catches your attention. Other actors could have made Killmonger evil, but it was Jordan’s emotional vulnerability and rawness that sells the role. His line reading of “Imagine that, a kid from Oakland running around believing in fairytales,” was the best line of the year.

Josh Hamilton may not have been a known commodity by many heading into 2018. He leaves the year as one of the very best dads in recent film history. You have never believed someone so emphatically loves their daughter. His fear and his worry are genuine in every frame. He just wants her to be happy. Yet, when asked if he would be embarrassed to have her (Elsie Fisher) as a daughter, you can see his heartbreak. It was the most genuinely beautiful performance by a parent of the year, and Hamilton melted our hearts.

Meanwhile, Brian Tyree Henry showed in under 15 minutes of screentime that he might be one of the very best actors living today. When you meet him, he is a happy guy, excited to see his friend. After all, his time in prison left him without many friends. As we spend time with Henry, you dive deeper and deeper into his story. The effects of incarceration are very evident with each word, each stare, and each line delivery. He sucks up the energy of the film, and when the movie lets him take off he delivers one of the greatest single scene performances in film history. Watch out, Henry is going places.

One of the most exciting and fun performances of the year came from none other than Hugh Grant. Grant rides into Paddington 2 with all the baggage of his career and comes out the other side better for doing so. He showcases his movie star charm that made him a household name in the ’90s but also showcases his grimy side. As disgraced movie star Phoenix Buchanan (baller name by the way) he wrestles with his career in a fun and interesting fashion. He’s having a ball here, and elevates the material as the perfect kind of loveable bad guy.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Elizabeth Debicki – Widows* RUNNER UP
  • Gina Rodriguez – Annihilation
  • Margot Robbie – Mary Queen of Scots
  • Michelle Yeoh – Crazy Rich Asians* WINNER
  • Milly Shapiro – Hereditary

One actress showed that she should be given bigger opportunities moving forward. Frankly, it is incredibly sad that Michelle Yeoh has not already had those opportunities. In Crazy Rich Asians, she gets a chance to show a steely side, but it’s her clear love for her son that makes her relatable. The role bears a lot of similarities to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada but Yeoh feels far more human and fragile. It is clear that she was never enough for those in her position, and that rub has turned her into someone destined to repeat those mistakes.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Debicki looks to change her path in Widows. She becomes a chameleon in the film, adapting and surviving to each environment she’s thrown into. Debicki has long given strong performances, but none has required the versatility of her role here. She leaves it all on the table, both physically and emotionally. It does not feel like anyone could have given more to this role or left themselves more emotionally vulnerable on the way.

Milly Shapiro will own a corner in the Creepy Kid’s Hall of Fame, and with good reason. When you watch Hereditary, it will be impossible to leave the film without feeling unsettled by her mere presence. The clicks, the far-off gaze, and the fear combine to create a small girl that is far more grotesque and evil than you would ever imagine. It is that fear that makes Charlie an especially creepy child, one who just wants to find her way in the world. Were it not for the evil that surrounds this family, she might have.

For a role that has been played so many times on screen, it was still surprising to see Margot Robbie bring new layers to Queen Elizabeth I. Her pain and suffering are both physical and emotional this time, and Robbie continues to show off as one of the very best actresses in the world right now. Even under layers of makeup and prosthetics, her eyes tell the complicated journey Elizabeth takes and the immense pain that Mary causes her. Robbie nails each moment she is on screen and makes the most of relatively short screentime.

There were few performers who were given the ability to let go emotionally. One of those actresses was Gina Rodriguez who offsets the cold calculation of Annihilation with a brilliant performance. The shimmer shakes her character to her core, and the transition from happy-go-lucky medic to the broken women she becomes before the bear attack is crushing. Yet Rodriguez navigates the turn with grace, making it a believable and necessary turn for the film.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here
  • John C. Reilly – The Sisters Brothers* WINNER
  • John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman* RUNNER UP
  • Ryan Gosling – First Man
  • Stephan James – If Beale Street Could Talk

There were few actors who can play both comedic and dramatic in any given film. Yet John C. Reilly never seems to get his due, even when he’s at the top of his game. Yet The Sisters Brothers allowed Reilly to play to his strengths. He brings out the best of the remorseful cowboy driven by the duty to protect his brother. Yet along the way, he is given moments of comedy, anger, and sorrow for the life he’s lived. Most of his performance is in the eyes, and Reilly brings his most internal performance of his career. But even one look into his eyes reveals his soul. It is the soul of someone who lived a life unfulfilled, but mostly a man who wants to save his brother from the death that awaits him. His purposeful mission gives Reilly a complex role and allows him to shine like the talented actor we’ve always known.

Perhaps the most underrated performance of the year comes from John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman. While his role may appear to some as if Washington has an easy part, no one was asked to balance that level of comedy and seriousness in his role. Washington jumps into the story headfirst, creating a complete character with simple line readings and frustration. In small moments, Washington shows his real talent, often pouring his heart in moments. It is subtle, but there are subtle character shifts that occur throughout the movie, but Washington sells them with the perfect mix of frustration and hope. It is his character that makes the film click into place, and with a lesser actor, the movie might not have worked at all.

Once again, Ryan Gosling adds to his ever-expanding list of simply phenomenal performances. In jumping into the role of Neil Armstrong, he might have embraced some of his overused tendencies, such as his quiet resolve. After all, there might not be an actor alive who can spill out emotion in complete silence like Gosling can. However, the reason that Gosling gets so good in First Man is his ability to articulate purpose in a performance. He becomes a man possessed after the death of his daughter. Driven by a single mission, Gosling appears cold and calculating. Below it all, you can see how broken he has become, and how the world has left him so shattered, he can only reach toward the stars. Yet when its all over, he reaches for his wife, and for the first time in years, genuine connection. That moment sealed his place on the list.

Yet Gosling was far from the only actor this year to turn grief into something special before our eyes. Joaquin Phoenix combined grief, trauma, and PTSD to craft a riveting mercenary and assassin. The man, known simply to us as Joe, has seen the worst sides of humanity throughout his life. Yet it is his mission to save a young girl that offers him a shot at redemption. A combination of Man on Fire and Drive, Phoenix brings out an intensely fractured man. Once again proving himself to be a performative chameleon, Phoenix displays pure affection for someone who reaches into his heart, and when she’s put in danger, his fire rages endlessly.

While the category mostly features veterans, Washington was not the only breakthrough in the lead circles this year. Stephan James will be someone to watch in the years to come. His performance in If Beale Street Could Talk shines bright. Often hindered because his character is shot behind glass, James creates empathy through his struggle for freedom. His love for Tish can never be doubted, and he shines bright like a sun when he’s happiest. One of the best scenes in the film involves his commitment to moving invisible appliances into his future home with Tish. His pantomime may not be accurate, but the emotion and positivity he puts into the action shows the two have something special. Yet it is the disparity between his emotional highs, his deepest fears, and his eventual breaking in prison that showcase his versatility and range. Watch out, he’s going to be a star.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Emma Stone – The Favourite
  • Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
  • Olivia Colman – The Favourite* RUNNER UP
  • Sakura Ando – Shoplifters
  • Toni Collette – Hereditary* WINNER

There were two all-timer performances this year, but it was Toni Collette who rules the day. Resentment burns deep in Collette’s role from Hereditary, and she uses her incredible facial expression to heighten every moment. There is fear behind her eyes, not just because of the hell she dives into, but the hell of knowing the evils she is capable of committing. She fears her own children and the violence they can manifest. She questions her sanity at every turn, losing time without realizing what has occurred. She fears her past, and the ways that her family history are inescapable.

All of it is on screen, and Collette will send chills down your spine in the process. What elevates her above my runner-up, despite both giving some of the best work of the decade, boils down to what Collette’s performance means for horror. To put it frankly, no performance has been as stunning as this one since Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. That is the company she’ll keep.

Let’s be clear, I’ve been an Olivia Colman stan since Tyrannosaur. Even so, she has never been as good as she was in The Favourite. She gets to play to the rafters at times, delivering mania and insanity that comes with years of syphilis driven rage. Yet there were genuine, showstopping emotional beats in this film. She will draw you into her spell and then cut you down with heartbreaking monologues. She shows a mastery of tone as she switches between sadness, mania, joy, depression, and all the way back around the spectrum. The fluidity of the performance proves her talent, and she gives one of the best performances in cinema this decade.

Meanwhile, Colman’s counterpart Emma Stone showcases why she has quickly become one of the best actresses of her generation. With Stone, it is more than just the non-verbals, which she delivers to perfection time and time again throughout The Favourite. It is a strangely physically exerting film in her catalog. She’s asked to alter her physicality as she rises through the court, often playing into the hands of her tormentors. She’s ultimately very funny, and she gets plenty of pithy remarks to deliver. She excels in small, unwritten moments that sell Stone as an actress. Even an unwritten grunt or eye roll does wonders.

Sakura Ando was not an actress on my radar even three months ago. However, her stunning portrayal as the matriarch of the crime family from Shoplifters will melt your heart. Ando shines from her first seconds on screen, but as the film evolves, it is clear she is the heartbeat. She contains love in multitudes, willing to go the extra mile for those she loves. Her willingness to sacrifice everything for those she loves is never in question. In small moments, she showcases emotion in a brutally honest, and saddening display. It should become a legendary performance, and with any luck, we will see Ando again in the near future.

Last but not least, Elsie Fisher took the world by storm in Eighth Grade. She was the heart and soul of the film, and it is her complicated reactions to her world that makes the film succeed. Perhaps most importantly, she shows authentic behavior, and never looks like she is trying to act. The sincere portrait of her life as she finishes up Middle School is both inspiring and awkward to watch. But Fisher has so much charm and likability, you will root for her the whole way. She soars because of this. It was this charm that makes her vulnerable, and when her heart breaks, yours will too. It is a stunning performance from the young actress.

AJ’s Nomination Count

9 – Black Panther (2 Wins)

7-  First Man (2 Wins), If Beale Street Could Talk (4 Wins)

5 – Hereditary (2 Win), Eighth Grade (1 Win), The Favourite

4- Burning (2 Win), Roma

3 – Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians (1 Win), Mary Queen of Scots, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (1 Win),

2 – A Quiet Place, BlacKkKlanman, Cold War, Free Solo (1 Win), Hearts Beat Loud (1 Win), Minding the Gap (1 Win), Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Teen Shoplifters, Titans GO! to the Movies, You Were Never Really Here

1 – A Star Is Born, Avengers: Infinity War (1 Win), American Animals, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blindspotting, The Death of Stalin, The Guilty, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Paddington 2, Ruben Brandt Collector, Shirkers, The Sisters Brothers, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Stan & Ollie, Suspiria, Three Identical Strangers, Uncle Drew, Widows, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Check back tomorrow for more winners and nominees, including the actors and directors! If you haven’t already read over Part 1 – The Crafts! you can read it here! If you want to read over my picks in animated feature, documentary, or the screenplays, check here