Oh, Academy; it is your honor just to nominate, and our obligation to armchair-quarterback every baffling, loony, willfully inscrutable choice you make.
So yes, we will complain that Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the universally acclaimed portrait of the universally beloved Mr. Rogers, is somehow shut out of the Best Documentary category, an omission that makes almost no sense, while Bohemian Rhapsody’s anodyne big-screen Behind the Music-ness gets a Best Picture nod, which does make a certain perfectly depressing Hollywood sense.
We will wait another year (or five, or whatever it takes) for Timothée C. and Michael B. to get their next deserved turn, and pour one out for poor First Man — which apparently came last on pretty much every man’s ballot.
But if we have to pick one lane this year, it’s the ladies’: specifically, the great female performances (and the merely good, but more expected) that won’t be on the roster when the unsupervised ceremony unfolds on Feb. 24.
First, the girls who will hopefully have many more chances to be on this list: 15-year-old Elsie Fisher, who already grabbed a Golden Globe nod and a Critics Choice statuette for her movie-making performance as a fantastically awkward and ordinary teenager in Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. Maybe it was the sheer unshowy naturalism of her performance that made the Academy think an award would somehow be unearned; they were wrong.
Same for Thomasin McKenzie, the 18-year-old New Zealander whose sensitive, gorgeously understated turn in Debra Granik’s stark father-daughter survivalist drama Leave No Trace should, in a better world, have brought her the same acclaim it brought Jennifer Lawrence for Granik’s last narrative film, Winter’s Bone.
At 24, Saoirse Ronan is already a three-time nominee, but her ferocious, fiercely modern turn in Mary Queen of Scots failed to bring her a fourth. (Though it could be worse luck; Mary lost her whole head.) One day, this ladybird’s turn will come.
Then there are the veterans: Nicole Kidman’s raw, gin-blossomy depiction of a wrecked LAPD detective in Destroyer failed to tempt the Academy with one of its favorite feints: the drastic makeunder. (She got no love for her conflicted Evangelical wife in Boy Erased, either, though she can still hug her sweet body pillow stuffed with the combined box office receipts of Aquaman and The Upside.)
Subtler and more immediately deserving was Julia Roberts’ devoted-to-the-point-of-madness mother in the Lucas Hedges addiction drama Ben is Back — a needle almost impossible to thread without actress-y bathos, but one she handled with immense sensitivity.
Same for Toni Collette, who’s been classing up psychological horror since 1999, and who made her disintegrating parent in Hereditary utterly, nightmarishly real, right up until that batcrap-crazy ending. (Michelle Yeoh and Emily Blunt deserve their own special prizes for high-caliber performances in mid-caliber films: Crazy Rich Asians and Mary Poppins Returns, respectively, with special bonus points accrued for Blunt’s excruciating birth scene alone in A Quiet Place.)
Which isn’t to say the names that did make the final cut in these categories aren’t deserving, by any stretch: The women of The Favourite could take everything and a bag of rabbits, and it still wouldn’t be enough; Melissa McCarthy is fantastic as that rarest of Hollywood archetypes in Can You Ever Forgive Me?: The Unlikeable Female Protagonist.
And it seems way too easy to dismiss Yalitza Aparicio’s turn in Roma as some kind of instinctual, circumstantial fluke, instead of what it was: An exquisitely conscious and calibrated performance by a first-time actress who also just happened to be one of the most naturally empathic humans onscreen this year.
It’s hard to find a bookie who would agree that the game-night fight is between anybody but Lady Gaga and Glenn Close; the winds seem like they’re leaning toward Close for her seventh nod for the restrained marital drama The Wife, in the cumulative-lifetime-achievement way that the Academy has of handing out its highest rewards. (Just ask the six-times-nominated Amy Adams; or maybe ask her again, sometime after 9 p.m.-ish on the 24th).
When Glenn did win the Globe last month, she got a standing ovation in part for speaking to all the ways women sublimate their wants and needs for the partners and children in their lives. “We have to follow our dreams,” she said. “We have to say ‘I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.'”
Of course they can’t all win — or even wear capes. But it’s a long cold winter, so at least you can watch them all, and appreciate the crazy imperfect richness of roles this year; how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.