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7 Dark Horse Oscar Contenders Not To Ignore

7 Dark Horse Oscar Contenders Not To Ignore

Oscar voters got their ballots yesterday, and should be rummaging through screeners right about now as they race to get their acts together before the January 8 deadline. We already seem to have a fairly clear picture as to how their choices might pan out, but let’s be honest: We hope we’re wrong. Awards season has become increasingly predictable in the past few years, with groups like the Golden Globes and SAGs and Critics’ Choice getting better and better at giving us a major heads up as to what Oscar voters might end up picking (or worse, telling Oscar voters what to pick). So we’re offering seven suggestions for outside contenders that deserve to shake things up. They’ve all received a few mentions here and there, but none are among consensus predictions. Start 2015 off right by giving them a solid chance, Oscar voters:

Josh Brolin for “Inherent Vice

Category: Best Supporting Actor
Recognition So Far: A win from the Chicago, Detroit, Online and St. Louis critics’ groups, and a nomination from the Critics’ Choice Awards.
Why Him: Josh Brolin is definitely the most likely to succeed among the folks on this list — we’re even currently predicting him. But he’s no sure thing, and most pundits reasonably have placed Robert Duvall ahead of him for the fifth slot. No disrespect to the legendary Mr. Duvall, but if that happens it would be kind of tragic. His work in “The Judge” is fine and all, but seriously — Oscar nominated “The Judge”? We understand Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” isn’t the easiest pill to swallow (whereas “The Judge” is too easy a pill to swallow), but even its naysayers should find it hard to deny how brilliant Brolin is as Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. It’s a role he was born to play, and he kills it. Honestly, we dare Oscar voters to watch (or re-watch) “Vice” with a little Colorado green and not come out of the experience placing Brolin #1 on their ballots. Voting under the influence? Maybe. But think of it more like what 3-D glasses are to most summer blockbusters.

Anne Dorval for “Mommy

Category: Best Actress
Recognition So Far: Nominations from the Online Film Critics Society, the Satellite Awards and the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
Why Her: Alright, calling Anne Dorval “on the cusp” of an Oscar nomination for “Mommy” is definitely pushing it. Julianne Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Rosamund Pike, Felicity Jones and Reese Witherspoon seem like a pretty locked in quintet at this point, and if anyone’s aiming to take one of them out, it’s probably Amy Adams or Emily Blunt or Marion Cotillard (the latter a deserving “on-the-cusp” choice in her own right). But all this represents what has been a troubling Best Actress race so far. Not for lack of options, but — as Mark Harris so perfectly discusses in this article — for “the default nature of the selections.” Let’s get a little creative, Oscar voters. This was not a weak year for female leads, and while we could just as passionately argue that in regard to Mia Wasikowska (“Tracks”), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Beyond the Lights”), Scarlett Johannson (“Under The Skin”), we’ll instead point you in the direction of Quebecois actress Dorval, in part because the Academy has already shamefully snubbed the film she’s a part of in the Foreign Language Film category. Xavier Dolan’s film definitely deserves recognition, and its centerpiece is Dorval’s mind-blowing work as its title character.

Ralph Fiennes for “The Grand Budapest Hotel

Category: Best Actor
Recognition So Far: Golden Globe and Critics Choice nods, as well as mentions from the Indiana Film Journalists Association, Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society.
Why Him: First of all, let’s get this travesty out of the way: Ralph Fiennes hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar in nearly 19 years (the last time being “The English Patient” in 1996), and has never won. One would think it would be a sure thing that he’d return to Oscar’s good graces for his rapid-fire, ridiculously charming turn as Monsieur Gustave in Wes Anderson’s biggest hit yet, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — but he’s simply got too much competition. Most assume (including us) that the six men battling it out for Oscars’ Best Actor category are Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Keaton, David Oyelowo and Eddie Redmayne. Fiennes seems like the next man looking in, but it’s going to be tough to crack that list. But voters really need to think about how nuanced and meticulous Fiennes is as he moves the film along so beautifully. No one else could have played this role. Can you really say the same of Benedict Cumberbatch?

Ryszard Lenczewski and Łukasz Żal for “Ida

Category: Best Cinematography
Recognition So Far: Wins from the European Film Awards and San Francisco Film Critics Circle, nominations from the Online Film Critics Society and Chicago Film Critics’ Association, and a Spotlight Award from the American Society of Cinematographers.
Why Them: The cinematographers’ branch has been pretty good at recognizing foreign language work as of late. See last year’s nod for “The Grandmaster,” or mentions for “The White Ribbon,” “City of God,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “A Very Long Engagement” all in the past decade. Hopefully they continue the trend for the absolutely gorgeous black and white composition Ryszard Lenczewski and Łukasz Żal offer in Polish import “Ida.” Given “Ida” is more-or-less the front runner in the Best Foreign Language Film category, it’s less of a long shot than it might seem. But taking down the likes of “Birdman,” “Mr. Turner,” “Selma,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Unbroken” (our current predictions, and admittedly all very deserving) won’t be easy.

Mica Levi for “Under The Skin”

Category: Best Original Score
Recognition So Far:
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the European Film Awards, the
Indiana Film Journalists Association, the Chicago Film Critics
Association and the Florida Film Critics Circle all gave Levi their
prize for music, and she also topped our own critics’ poll her at
Why Her: The Academy has already disqualified one of the year’s greatest scores in Antonio Sanchez’s “Birdman,” but it has a major chance to make up for it by reaching out of voters’ comfort zone and voting for experimental English musician Mica Levi’s gorgeous, haunting score for Jonathan Glazer’s “Under The Skin.” It’s a definite long shot, but as much as we love Alexandre Desplat, why don’t you hand of the whopping three nominations we’re predicting for him off to Levi? It would also simply be nice to see “Skin” recognized in some fashion, even if its not the six or seven nominations we’d personally hand its way.

Gillian Robespierre for “Obvious Child

Category: Best Adapted Screenplay
Recognition So Far:
For the screenplay specifically, Robespierre won the Kansas City Film
Critics Circle’s award, but she’s also received honors from the National
Board of Review (Best Directorial Debut) and the Independent Spirit
Awards (a nomination for Best First Feature).
Why Her: The Adapted Screenplay category is shaping up to a pretty sorry state, save Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” adaptation. The script from “Unbroken” seems like it could very well end up being nominated, despite no one seeming to have anything nice to say about it (even if they liked they film). If there’s any category where voters should try and look to contenders that aren’t being heavily predicted to make the cut, it’s here. And they should look no further than Gillian Robespierre’s script for “Obvious Child,” which qualifies here since she adapted it from her own short film of the same name. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking in a way almost every studio romantic comedy fails to be, and heralds a major new talent in Robespierre (and star Jenny Slate for that matter). Also: It’d be kind of nice if more than one of the ten plus nominees for screenplay weren’t male (and if more than one of them were named Gillian in the process).

Tilda Swinton for “Snowpiercer

Category: Best Supporting Actress
Recognition So Far: The Boston Online Film Critics Association and Las Vegas Film Critics Society both gave Swinton their top prize, on top of loads of nominations or runner-up prizes (including from the Critics Choice Awards, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards and Toronto Film Critics Association).
Why Her: How does one even answer that question when it’s posed regarding Tilda Swinton? How about because she’s had a incredible year, shape-shifting through performances in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Zero Theorem,” “Only Lovers Left Alive” and perhaps most especially as the terrifying Mason in “Snowpiercer” (which Swinton has called a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi). Or how about because none of her remarkable roles in the mommy trilogy that was “Julia,” “I Am Love” and “We Need To Talk About Kevin” got the recognition they deserved from the Academy? Yes, Swinton has an Oscar. But her career since has been so delicious ever since that it’s definitely about time they went for round two. A few major groups have spoken up in that regard (most notably the Critics’ Choice) but she’s still definitely a dark horse in the Best Supporting Actress category. We highly suggest you surprise us, Oscar voters.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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