If our film critic picked the Oscar nominees ...

Film Critic

Filling out an Oscar nomination ballot — even a hypothetical one — can be an exercise in purest agony. That turned out to be especially true this year. I remain startled by the sheer quantity and range of great movies and performances I saw in 2017, which made it even harder than usual to settle on a short list of favorites.

In narrowing down my picks in the eight main Oscar categories, plus a few others, I tried my best to go with my gut and, as much as possible, to set aside the bandwagon mentality that tends to calcify into groupthink this time of year. Awards season always seeks consensus, but happily, this exercise requires a consensus of only one.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially closed its nominations voting on Jan. 12 — nominations will be announced Jan. 23 — which means this faux ballot has no practical application for anyone except myself. All things considered, that’s probably for the best.

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
“The Florida Project”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“A Quiet Passion”
“Phantom Thread”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”

The academy’s balloting system theoretically allows for 10 best picture nominees, though in recent years it’s tended to stop at eight or nine. Still, in a year this good, I had no choice but to use all 10 slots and could easily have filled an additional five. In the interests of nipping a few reader emails in the bud: Yes, I did see “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Twice!


Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
Sean Baker, “The Florida Project”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me by Your Name”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”

The word “immersive” got thrown around a lot with regard to Nolan’s visceral direction on “Dunkirk,” and rightly so. But the same adjective could apply no less to “Phantom Thread,” “The Florida Project,” “Lady Bird” and “Call Me by Your Name”: Every one of them is an intensely personal piece of filmmaking that pulls you into a world utterly of its own making.

Véro Tshanda Beya, “Félicité”
Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread”
Cynthia Nixon, “A Quiet Passion”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Kristen Stewart, “Personal Shopper”

It’s strange that even in a year roundly hailed as a strong one for actresses, some of the best female lead performances keep getting ignored. If movies released during the first half of the year got as much attention as those released during the second half, I imagine that Nixon and Stewart would be drawing more recognition.

For that matter, if academy voters took international cinema seriously, they might have spared a thought for Beya, a Congolese woman who had never acted on-screen before giving her mesmerizing performance in “Félicité” (shortlisted as Senegal’s entry for the foreign-language film Oscar). Alas, in an awards race that tends to favor the most popular and/or the most overdue, even acting this revelatory doesn’t stand a chance.

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”
Vince Vaughn, “Brawl in Cell Block 99”

It pains me to omit the great Jean-Pierre Léaud for his magisterial, slow-motion death trip in “The Death of Louis XIV,” but in the end, these five were, for me, unassailable.

Tiffany Haddish, “Girls Trip”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “mother!”

Five minutes ago, my short list might have also included Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”), Beanie Feldstein (“Lady Bird”), Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”) and Maria Dragus (“Graduation”), but it was an awfully competitive year.

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Armie Hammer, “Call Me by Your Name”
Adam Sandler, “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”
Algee Smith, “Detroit”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me by Your Name”

Dafoe’s performance as a put-upon motel manager in “The Florida Project” offers the academy an all-too-rare opportunity: Voting members could bestow a career achievement prize that would just so happen to recognize an actor’s very best work.

Kogonada, “Columbus”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
Terence Davies, “A Quiet Passion”

James Ivory, “Call Me by Your Name”
James Gray, “The Lost City of Z”
Aaron Sorkin, “Molly’s Game”
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees, “Mudbound”
Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, “War for the Planet of the Apes”

An atypical year for the writing categories: I could have rattled off at least a half-dozen more original screenplay choices (“Graduation,” “The Big Sick,” “Dunkirk”), but found myself rather stumped for more adaptations. Perhaps originality isn’t dead after all.

Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, “Call Me by Your Name”
Hoyte van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”
Alexis Zabe, “The Florida Project”
“Phantom Thread”

And maybe film isn’t dead, either: Four of these five pictures were shot, magnificently, on 35-millimeter celluloid. One of them is “Phantom Thread,” which doesn’t have a director of photography credit; Anderson has described the cinematography as a “collaborative effort.”

“After the Storm” (Japan)
“BPM (Beats per Minute)” (France)
“Graduation” (Romania)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“Nocturama” (France)

Two French-language films might seem a bit excessive — unless, that is, you’ve actually seen these two. In any event, this being a hypothetical ballot, I feel no obligation to abide by the academy’s list of official submissions or its long-standing one-film-per-country rule, which is almost as outmoded as the electoral college.

“Dawson City: Frozen Time”
“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
“Faces Places”
“The Work”

Frederick Wiseman received an honorary Oscar last year, which doesn’t begin to compensate for the ludicrous fact that he has never once been nominated in this category. His “Ex Libris” is just the sort of career-summarizing masterwork with which the academy could finally begin to make amends.