It shouldn’t feel like a crazy idea to suggest that “Paddington 2” should be a serious player in this year’s awards race. Yes, a sequel hasn’t been nominated for Best Picture since “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, and a “kids’ movie” hasn’t made the cut since “Toy Story 3” in 2010 (or “Hugo” in 2011, depending on your definition).
True, “Paddington 2” came out in January — a month that belongs to the previous year, so far as the Oscar season is concerned — and yes, the story of a computer-generated bear trying to retrieve a pop-up book for his aunt (also a computer-generated bear) might look a little silly next to a sweeping historical epic like “Roma” or a zeitgeist-destroying love story like “A Star Is Born.” While there’s no denying that Hugh Grant brilliantly reinterprets the music of Stephen Sondheim, it’s hard to compete with Lady Gaga forever transforming the soul of Jackson Maine. Hard, but not impossible.
Consider its pedigree: “Paddington 2” is the “best-reviewed film ever.” (Okay, technically it just has the most reviews of any 100% Fresh movie on Rotten Tomatoes, but The Guardian’s dramatic headline speaks for itself.) When it was released in Britain late last year, it garnered a trio of prestigious BAFTA nominations, including Best British Film. It was edged out by “Call Me by Your Name” for Best Screenplay, while Grant competed for Best Actor in a Supporting Role alongside the likes of Willem Dafoe and Sam Rockwell; Grant even won that same category at the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards.
While it’s too early to know if American voting bodies will have the same decency as their colleagues across the Atlantic, it’s safe to assume that “Paddington 2” will at least pop up on some top 10 lists over the next few weeks — in fact, this critic can guarantee it. As the saying goes: “Paddington looks for the good in all of us, and somehow he finds it.” Lucky for us, looking for the good in “Paddington 2” is a pleasure, and finding it is a breeze. A witty, heartfelt, and visually inspired tale of love and belonging (that also functions as a politely scathing rebuke to Brexit and the xenophobia that made it possible), the film has already been minted as a bonafide classic.
And yet, Warner Bros — which distributed the film in the U.S. after the collapse of The Weinstein Company — doesn’t even have a For Your Consideration page for it. The studio even made one for “Ready Player One,” a movie that would barely merit consideration on a gas station’s DVD rack. This shall not stand. Justice must be served. And court is now in session. Here are seven Oscar nominations for which “Paddington 2” deserves to be in the running, if not at the head of the pack.
1. Best Picture
Here’s the thing: The “prestige” films of 2018 provide the Academy with a golden opportunity to shake things up and forever redefine what it means to be an “Oscar movie.” While relatively conservative fare like “First Man” (and ultra-conservative fare like “Green Book”) is still chumming the water, the conversation is dominated by left-field contenders; not only will this be the first time that a superhero movie has ever been nominated for Best Picture (“Black Panther”), it will also be the first time since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that a foreign-language film (“Roma”) has a legitimate shot at winning (“Amour” is a masterpiece, but it was never much of a contender). “The Favourite” is a very different kind of period drama, while “A Star Is Born” — however crowd-pleasing it might be — is still a musical directed by the star of “Limitless.” Bradley Cooper crushes painkillers with a cowboy boot! Andrew Dice Clay watches YouTube! Alec Baldwin hosting “SNL” might honestly be the most normal thing that happens in this entire movie.
So the question isn’t “Why ‘Paddington 2’” so much as it’s “Why not ‘Paddington 2?’” For one thing, it’s hilarious, full of brilliant physical gags that bridge the gap between CGI and the silent era. The chase sequence in the first act nods to Harold Lloyd, the prison bits in the second pay homage to Charlie Chaplin, while the locomotive grand finale is a wonderful tribute to Buster Keaton; “The Artist” won Best Picture for much less. For another, “Paddington 2” is an inclusive and beautifully moving parable that has something to offer to people of all ages, and ends with a moment that can reduce grown men to tears. And it’s not as if Americans didn’t see it. While the film’s $40 million domestic haul represents less than 18 percent of its $227 million worldwide gross, that’s still considerably more than recent nominees like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Phantom Thread,” and “Moonlight.”
2. Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Grant)
Hugh Grant would be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor, provided that anyone bothered to fund a campaign for his performance. (There’s still time!). As washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan — an aging legend of the West End reduced to hosting carnivals and starring in dog-food commercials — Grant not only gets the best role of his career, he also gets several of them. When Phoenix discovers that Paddington has found a pop-up book that doubles as a treasure map, he busts out his old costumes, dons a number of ridiculous disguises (a knight, a hobo, a very attractive nun), and puts on the performance of a lifetime in order to steal the book and frame Paddington for the crime; it’s like watching all six of his characters from “Cloud Atlas” squeezed into a single preening narcissist with a dastardly plan.
The villainous part does a brilliant job of playing up Grant’s slightly misanthropic reputation, and the former rom-com star (himself a few years removed from his heyday) seems to be having the time of his life. He relishes in every ridiculous moment, radiating the self-obsessed desperation of a faded star who’s desperate to return to the limelight. Of course, all Phoenix really wants is a captive audience, and the mid-credits scene in which he finally gets one makes for the year’s greatest showstopper; in the world of “Paddington 2,” even the most selfish of people can redeem themselves by spreading the love.
3. Best Visual Effects
These days, photorealistic computer-generated characters are easy to take for granted. Contemporary viewers might be as unimpressed by the sight of a talking bear as any of the characters in this movie. And yet, it takes tremendous craft and artistry to make us ignore such tremendous craft and artistry. Paddington is a marvel of digital animation — the rare 3D cartoon that feels as expressive as the hand-drawn characters you’d find in a Disney or Studio Ghibli classic.
The trick is in how the special-effects team allows Paddington to walk the line between a wild animal and a hyper-polite Londoner; he might be the only bear in the world with a side hustle as a window washer, but he still cleans the glass by rubbing his butt against it. Even when he’s an incarcerated little cub fixing marmalade sandwiches with Brendan Gleeson in the kitchen of a maximum security prison, he’s still an ursine creature with four paws and a hard stare that could shake a serial killer to their core. The seamless effects work maintains that balance at all times: As much as this is a bear-out-of-Darkest-Peru tale, Paddington’s wide eyes, his fixed resolve, and his marvelously animated fur always leaves you feeling like he belongs wherever he goes.
4. Best Score (Dario Marianelli)
Dario Marianelli — who won an Oscar for “Atonement,” and is long overdue for another — delivers some of the best (and most deceptively challenging) work of his career in “Paddington 2,” composing a score that manages to be colorful but never cloying, sensitive but never saccharine, and always as buoyant and bright-eyed as Paddington himself. The glockenspiel in the score’s main theme endows the movie with an appropriately fanciful attitude, and Marianelli’s ability to expand that energy to a number of different sounds (samba, military, even religious church choir) does a marvelous job of expressing Paddington’s resourcefulness and/or resiliency. It’s all there on the soundtrack’s opening song, a fluid medley of all the fun music to come. Most impressively, Marianelli’s score for “Paddington 2” is entirely different from the one Nick Urata wrote for the previous installment; it’s deeper, richer, and more vibrant in every way.
5. Best Costumes (Lindy Hemming)
Lindy Hemming deserves a Best Costume Design nomination for Hugh Grant’s amazing selection of cravats alone. Phoenix Buchanan’s various disguises are brilliant for how they reflect his character, prioritizing form over function no matter how urgent the circumstances. Phoenix doesn’t simply dress up as a knight in order to hide out in the Tower of London, he dons a radiant suit of armor flecked with rich blues and reds so that he can stand out from the other piles of scrap metal. Phoenix doesn’t throw on a dour habit to slip into the nunnery; he wears a form-fitting frock that allows him to move with a holy grace; it’s even reversible, allowing him to transform into Pope chic at a moment’s notice. Phoenix’s best outfit might be his own checkered suits, bringing a certain Dickensian aplomb to his brief performance as a bearded homeless man.
It’s tough to compete with Paddington’s signature jacket and hat combo, but Hemming’s work gives the rest of the cast a fighting chance. Sally Hawkins’ outfits radiate a strong maternal warmth (she wears that thick red cardigan like it’s a superhero cape), while Hugh Bonneville often feels as though he’s silently screaming about the blandness of his white-collar work attire, as Mr. Brown is desperate to shake off the tedium of his corporate job and return to his free-spirited “Daddy Cool” days. And let’s not forget the most fashion-forward prison outfits in film history, which combine the precious charm of Wes Anderson with the oppressiveness of a penal system. Even Paddington’s dear Aunt Lucy is runway-ready in this one, sporting a comfortable winter coat that accents the color of her fur, and looks as comfortable as a sip of Sleepytime tea.