It’s been a pretty weird Oscar season. If you asked me a couple of months ago if The Wife would be on-lock for an Oscar, I would have said, “What the hell is The Wife?” If you asked me if a foreign language film released on Netflix would be a serious contender for Best Picture, I would have said, “Maybe in ten years?” And that’s not even getting into all the crazy announcements and immediate backtracks: Best Popular Film, not performing all the Original Song nominees, presenting awards for such unimportant cinematic arts as cinematography and editing during the ad breaks.
Still, lots of great films came out this year – even though that can be awkward to define if you don’t live in America. We’ve decided it means “films that came out in 2018 in Ireland unless they were eligible for the Oscars last year as well as films that came out in 2019 in Ireland if they were eligible for this year’s Oscars.”
We can’t really claim that these are what we think should have been nominated at the Oscars, or should win, since we can’t even be sure if any film that wasn’t nominated was eligible. But if we were the only two members of the Academy, and we only cared about the eight major awards – we care about most of the others (except for the fake awards like Best Original Song) but this post would be absurdly long if we picked those too – this is what you’d get: the Sundae Film Awards 2019.
We each did out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only come from films that both of us have seen and nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We also each picked a Special Achievement Award for something not covered in the major categories. You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of this post, which we encourage you to check out if you’re looking for recommendations.
BEST PICTURE – American Animals
Dean: “American Animals is an extraordinary film that blends and blurs fictional and documentary to create an experience unlikely anything I’ve ever seen. It is, among other things, an incredible exploration of coming of age in the Bush years, and how a generation that was taught to express themselves and follow their dreams grew up to discover they were in fact expected to conform rigidly to the social order imposed on them by previous generations. It is also a thrilling reflection on the relationship between reality and the representation of reality: it’s a fictionalised version of a real event starring both the real participants to that event and the actors portraying them, sometimes together in one scene, participants who were themselves inspired by fiction. Such weighty themes and meta devices might make it sound dense, but American Animals is, above all else, a fantastic, tense heist film that is sincerely fascinated both by the process of the heist and its moral stakes.
Particularly brilliant is the way that director Bart Layton plays with genre, using the style of a classic heist film when the characters are at the height of their delusion and deconstructing it into horror as they’re forced to confront reality. All the performances are top-notch, though I take my hat off to Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan in particular as the two leads.
Also, this doesn’t matter at all, but I think all the time about the real Eric Borsuk saying Reservoir Dogs was probably his least-favourite Quentin Tarantino movie. What the hell kind of opinion is that?”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Vice – “Vice, the Dick Cheney biopic, is one of the most divisive best picture nominees in recent years, but the debate misses one important fact: Adam McKay made Vice just for me, and I couldn’t care less if you don’t like it. Vice wields voiceover and archive footage like Michael Moore in his prime, and, like McKay’s The Big Short, shakes with rage even as it mines black comedy from its horrors. It’s the ultimate deconstruction of the myth of the good, reasonable Republican, asserting without hesitation that those are the clothes that cover up the most unimaginable evil.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: The Favourite – “There’s nothing quite like the deadpan absurdism of a Yorgos Lanthimos movie, and though filmed from a script he didn’t write, The Favourite is nonetheless a brilliant continuation of the tone of his filmography. It’s a dry, witty, silly film that transforms period dramas into something alien and absurd, just as The Lobster did rom-coms and The Killing of a Sacred Deer did horror movies. It was one of the funniest films of the year, and I hope Yorgos Lanthimos spends the rest of his career just cycling through classic movie genres and remaking each with his trademark dark screwball energy.”
BEST DIRECTOR – Panos Cosmatos for Mandy
Ciara: “My immediate impression of Mandy was how loud it is. It reminded me of getting to see The Shining in the cinema: how loudness can be deployed purposefully and effectively, leaving me feeling almost like I was drowning in it. It’s a film that feels huge in a way that supposedly huge blockbusters never do. It’s a film that meets Nicolas Cage at his level when normally he’s over the top of everything else.
Mandy is such a director’s movie, driven by atmosphere, colours and sounds more than story. It’s hard to talk about because it’s a film that plays on your senses, not your intellect: when I think about Mandy it’s all pictures, never words. That’s a testament to Cosmatos’s direction – the end result feels like pure cinema, impossible to translate to any other medium.
But here’s my best shot: Mandy is both incredibly trashy and incredibly arty, and never stops being one to be the other. It doesn’t use its style to elevate itself out its genre – revenge horror – so much as it feels like it’s trying to be the best revenge horror it can be. It’s a love letter to horror movies and psychedelia, and is maybe the most metal thing ever. It’s a film with chainsaw fight where one guy has a really gigantic chainsaw, and also it made me cry. It’s sad and beautiful and also a total blast.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Barton Layton for American Animals – “American Animals is such a stylish movie. It weaves its narrative and documentary elements together in a way that makes productive use of the tension between them, which seems like it would be hard enough to pull off without throwing in fantasy sequences in radically different styles. And I love that stylish stuff – the Ocean’s Eleven one-shot especially, as well as the delightful New York montage – but most impressive is the tonal shift in the third act. Layton takes us from having a total blast to recoiling in horror at stuff that, in the average heist movie, would seem no big deal, sold through the camera, editing and sound.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here – “Lynne Ramsay is one of my favourite directors and it’s a tragedy that her latest masterpiece wasn’t seen by more people. There are so many incredible scenes I could point to as proof of her directorial prowess: when Joe wades into the Hudson River and he finds himself floating in an infinite blue void, or pretty much any time the film does an extreme close-up. But I think what stands out most to me is her use of security camera footage to emphasise the brutality of Joe’s actions during his assault on the hotel, creating a visual and emotional distance from our protagonist that makes blatant the horror of what he does, regardless of our sympathy for him.”
BEST ACTOR – Nicolas Cage as Red Miller in Mandy
Ciara: “‘Nicolas Cage is one of the few people in the history of acting that has really changed [the form],’ Ethan Hawke once said, ‘I mean, he’s a true original—one of the greatest actors ever. His confidence and madness and dedication—you take his top 10 performances and I’d put ‘em up against anybody.’
He’s right, he’s 100% absolutely right, but it’s easy to forget when Cage has spent most of the last few years starring in absolute shit, and the internet has tragically turned him into a meme to laugh at. But Cage is one of the best actors ever, preciously for the reasons people like to mock him: he’s always huge, crazy and fearless, and I am fully sure there is no bad movie he’s in that he’s not the best part of.
And in 2018, somebody out there remembered how huge and crazy and fearless Nic Cage is and realised he was the only person who could star in a movie as huge and crazy and fearless as Mandy, the only person alive who could work at Mandy’s level instead of being drowned by it. There’s a scene where Red cries in a bathroom – the scene that should have been Cage’s b-roll at the Oscars, if there was justice in the world – and it’s exactly the kind of thing people put in their ‘haha, Nicolas Cage’ supercuts. It’s so big, so mad, so far beyond what a lesser actor could stand to do in their art. It broke my fucking heart.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man – “Gosling plays Neil Armstrong as the most emotionally inexpressive man imaginable. When he’s about to leave for the moon mission, he’s amazingly reserved when he’s saying goodbye to his kids, even when they ask if he’ll ever come back. So it blows my mind that Gosling managed to make me feel everything happening inside Neil the whole film. First Man is about Neil’s grief, begging the question: how do you make a film about a man’s feelings if he never expresses them? With a lesser performance at the centre, it wouldn’t land, but Gosling – somehow – threads that needle.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Evan Peters as Warren Lipka in American Animals – “Evan Peters has played a version of this character before – young, disillusioned, angry, given over to grandiose speeches about the disgusting, empty decadence of consumerism – most notably as Tate Langdon and Kai Anderson in American Horror Story. But this is by far the best iteration, eschewing the almost-mythical stereotypes embodied by Tate and Kai in favour of a grippingly, upsettingly human portrayal that underscores, rather than excuses, the monstrosity of what Warren is willing to do for his own gratification. His rage is always specific, never generic, even as he turns it against the world at large.”
BEST ACTRESS – Toni Collette as Annie Graham in Hereditary
Dean: “Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of her career in Hereditary and it makes me so mad that she was locked out of the awards race this year, in part because of Hereditary’s summer release, in part because of classic anti-horror bias, and in part because of dumb awards show politics. But I suppose it’s extremely important we give Glenn Close an Oscar for being Glenn Close or whatever.
Her performance is by no means restrained, but her character is, all her emotions so bottled up that the tiniest pinprick unleashes a torrent, like the amazing long take from the grief support group where she starts off trying to just give the basics of her mother’s recent passing and ends up vomiting out her whole life story, the natural conclusion to each section left to hang in the air for just a beat before she keeps going. There’s something comic to the line readings, even as she’s describing a lifetime of abuse and neglect and the suicide of sibling. But the best parts are those tiny beats where you see the gears turn in Annie’s head, where she goes ‘fuck it, I’ve said that much, why not say it all’.
Collette’s role is pretty flashy in places, taking her to physical extremes in the final act in particular. But what really makes it great are the tiny details. Hereditary is obviously influenced by The Shining and Toni Collette manages to take something of both Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson’s performances in that film to create this brilliant, tightly-wound character who could explode at any second into hysterical weeping or cruel, impulsive violence.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Lady Gaga as Ally Maine in A Star Is Born – “Lady Gaga knocked it so completely out of the park in A Star Is Born that I have to consciously remind myself that it was her film debut. The naturalism of her performance is in obvious contrast with her larger-than-life music persona, and it’s such a broken-in, inside-out naturalism, full of tiny character-building detail. But underdiscussed is what a great physical performance it is, at such a granular level: I think about how during ‘Shallow’, she goes from covering her face with her hands to grabbing hold of the microphone all the time.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? – “There’s a scene in Can You Ever Forgive Me? where Lee is on a date with a bookshop owner named Anna, played sweetly by Dolly Wells. Lee makes a comment about being lonely, Anna responds that she has her, and Lee says ‘Well, I always need a drinking buddy’ to crush the emotional intimacy, lest she be made vulnerable. Melissa McCarthy does something extraordinary in the moments that follow, showing in just a few seconds how Lee is aware of and disgusted by her own cruelty, so much so that she tears well in her eyes, before swallowing the regret and resigning herself to her own shitty behaviour. It’s one of the purest expressions of utter defeat I’ve seen in film, and just one small moment in a performance made up of hundreds just as good.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sam Elliott as Bobby Maine in A Star Is Born
Dean: “Sam Elliott is just about the best part of A Star Is Born and in a just world, we’d all be talking about how thoroughly he overshadowed Bradley Cooper in Cooper’s own movie instead of also nominating Cooper for an Oscar for some reason. That’s in part because he plays Bobby as if he’s the lead, like the love story between Jackson and Ally is just a subplot in the epic family drama of the Maines. He does a lot with a little in this movie, and whenever he gets a moment of focus – when he’s chewing Jackson out for being an asshole or trying to open up to him – he imbues every syllable with so much portent and heartache. It’s like he’s been thinking about everything he says for a long time, but he’s never said it before, because he already knows it won’t work.
Elliott is wonderful at portraying this kind of older, defeated character – he does a more comedic version in Netflix’s The Ranch – and while ‘stoic older man is secretly all mushy inside’ is hardly a novel character type, my breath still caught in my throat every time Bobby Maine started crying. In one of my favourite scenes, Jackson tells Bobby he was the one he idolised growing up, not their father, and Bobby doesn’t respond. He just turns away to back up his truck, tears pooling in his eyes. It’s one of the most gutwrenching moments in the film and it was also, delightfully, an unscripted moment. It really speaks to Sam Elliott’s investment in his character that he was able to dig up such an affecting emotional reaction on a dime. Also, honestly, Sam Elliott just has one of those voices that works no matter what. I could listen to him read Dianetics and have a good time.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in Creed II – “When Dolph Lundgren first played Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, he, like everything in that movie, was a cartoon. How extraordinary, then, for Lundgren to reprise the role with such extraordinary pathos, retroactively imbuing Rocky IV with unexpected emotional weight. In Creed II, instead of a broad Cold War villain, Drago is a tragic figure, abandoned by his country and his people and pressuring his son to compensate for the deficits in himself. His conversation with Rocky in the restaurant and his throwing in the towel both made for one of the best pieces of acting on-screen this year.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace – “What makes Ben Foster’s performance in Leave No Trace so amazing is how much storytelling he does entirely with his expressions and body language. Will, a voluntarily homeless veteran raising his daughter in a park, doesn’t have much dialogue and the film isn’t told from his point-of-view, so you never really find out why he’s so uncomfortable living in mainstream society. But thanks to Foster, you feel his visceral discomfort in every frame, how being stuck between four walls leaves him riddled with anxiety. It’s a lovely, heartbreaking performance and I hope more people will see it.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Emma Stone as Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham in The Favourite
Ciara: “Is Emma Stone really a supporting actress in The Favourite? I don’t know, but that’s what she got Oscar-nominated for, and if there was justice in the world she’d probably win too. Stone is always really good, but she is so, so good in The Favourite. She plays Abigail’s single-mindedness note-perfect: the scene where she gives her husband a handjob on their wedding night while still being completely focused on how to beat the Duchess of Marlborough in the race for Queen Anne’s affections is amazing.
Even as Abigail straight-up tells us her backstory, repeatedly, Stone always keeps us at a distance emotionally. She turns what on the page could seem like clunky exposition into a kind of defense mechanism for Abigail: that if she glibly tells everyone the trauma she’s been through, no-one can ask her to open up about it. Information is a precious resource, and Abigail is always soaking it up and careful with how she deploys it: you can see the workings behind Stone’s eyes, always thinking three steps ahead.
But mostly, it’s a great great great comic performance. She lands every joke with a pitch-perfect deadpan wit: she asks if a man has come to seduce her or rape her, and when he says ‘I’m a gentleman,’ she says ‘Rape, then,’ and flops lifelessly on the bed, and it’s perfect. It’s a really committed physical performance, too: Stone whacking herself in the face with a book over and over is one of the best pieces of slapstick I’ve seen in a film since… Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar? That can’t be right.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in Vice – “Amy Adams is such a great actress that pointing out how great she is feels redundant, but I mean, she is so good in Vice. She’s a great Lady Macbeth figure – including that one great Shakespearean scene – and bounces wonderfully off Christian Bale’s Dick Cheney where many actors would struggle to hold their own. But more than anything, she is so funny in this movie. There’s a scene early on where Lynne’s mother asks if Dick wants some coffee. Lynne just screams “Does Dick want some coffee!” at her, pure venom, and her delivery is so hilarious that I just giggle to myself about it an embarrassing amount.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Mackenzie Davis as Tully in Tully – “Both Tully and Tully hinge on Mackenzie Davis’s restrained but affecting performance. Tully is literally a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it would be so easy for such a character to come across a didactic explosion of inspiring nonsense. But Davis plays Tully with a pure, sincere humanity that ensures she’s never reduced to caricature. She engages with the camera on a level few other actors can reach, understanding how she can use her position as a camera object to enrich her character, leaning into the light just the right way at just the right moment, or holding an expression still in a long take, so that the rising anticipation for how she will behave in the next moment becomes a source of narrative tension. I truly believe she’s a once-in-a-generation talent. I’m pretty sure I’d watch her in anything.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Boots Riley for Sorry to Bother You
Ciara: “Sorry to Bother You is such a confident production, with such a clear, well-developed voice, that it’s pretty crazy that Boots Riley had never made a film before. It folds a surrealist edge into its portrayal of late capitalist America to make the mundane absurd, then builds and builds until it becomes horrific instead of silly. Riley takes so many big swings, and every one of them hits.
Sorry to Bother You is a worthy successor to the anti-capitalist genre movies it builds on. There’s Robocop, with Sorry’s TV news cutaways and I Get the Shit Kicked Out of Me! as its own version of ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’. They Live, but with its revelation reversed: it’s not what the rich secretly are, but what they are turning the rest of us into so we can be better, more obedient workers. Right in its bones, there’s The Apartment, what you have to do to climb the corporate ladder, and what it does to you to climb it.
Riley takes all of those influences into the present, creating something new and urgent. His writing is very funny and sharp: I think all the time about Salvador asking since when Italians are white, and Squeeze saying ‘Since about the last sixty years.’ I laughed so hard at the absurdly long key code for the lift to the fancy upstairs floor that I choked. But mostly, it has a great eye for the peculiarities of contemporary capitalism, and it uses that skill to confront what is usually made invisible.
Of course people would sell themselves into slavery if it was branded as WorryFree, a guaranteed job and housing for life. Of fucking course.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Cory Finley for Thoroughbreds – “Thoroughbreds is wickedly delightful, in large part thanks to its tight, clever screenplay. Its dialogue is razor-sharp, particularly from Amanda, self-confessed psychopath. The meld of genres – crime thriller, anti-capitalist satire, teen movie – could easily seem uneven or messy, but it’s seamless. It’s one part Yorgos Lanthimos deadpan satire, one part Sofia Coppola teen-girl art-film, and one part David Fincher thriller. But more than anything, it’s the emergence of a fresh and exciting new voice. I loved it.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Paul Schrader for First Reformed – “Paul Schrader is an all-time great screenwriter – I highly encourage anyone to read his beautiful original screenplay for Taxi Driver – and it’s great to see him still turning out stuff as good as First Reformed so late in his storied career. A lot of the dialogue is, superficially, quite dry, but it only serves to underline the film’s themes: how mad it is that everyone is being so calm and reasonable as an imminent ecological apocalypse bears down on us all.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Dean: “A lot of what makes much political fiction weak and lame is that its characters often feel like mere mouthpieces for their political positions instead of feeling like a natural and organic outgrowth of their character. Sometimes they just don’t have a character beyond their politics, but more often their character and their politics seem totally unrelated, like the writer just needed someone to say ‘democracy is bullshit’ or whatever at this point in the script, so they assigned it to the first character that came to mind.
BlacKkKlansman does not have this problem. Though much of the script features lengthy political debates between its characters, they feel like the kind of conversations that real people have, albeit stylised, and the characters feel like the kind of real people who would have the beliefs they have. It feels like how politics actually happens in everyday life, which I can’t often say, even about films I loved, like Ike Barinholtz’s The Oath or, to a lesser extent, Sorry to Bother You.
But most importantly, BlacKkKlansman manages to carry all these heavy, urgent political themes while being funny as hell. The whole premise is so silly, it would be easy to just lean on that for the comedy, but it’s got lots of great jokes. From the opening recreation of a white supremacist recruitment video complete with outtakes of Alec Baldwin doing vocal warmup exercises to the way Ron intentionally fucks with David Duke while providing police protection at a KKK meeting, I was laughing most of the way through BlacKkKlansman. It does have that one bad scene, when the precinct does a sting on a racist cop, which comes off so much like a sitcom moment that I was certain it would be a dream sequence.
But to punish a script as good as BlacKkKlansman for that one scene would be a huge mistake when everything else is so perfect. I think all the time about the scene when one of the KKK guys and his wife talk fondly in bed about their upcoming plan to blow up a house full of black people, as if they were planning a vacation. It’s just pitch-perfect absurdity. I could only laugh, even as I was horrified.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Jeff Pope for Stan & Ollie – “Stan & Ollie, a warm hug of a movie, eschews traditional Walk The Line-style biopic structure to tell a much smaller story. It’s two has-beens living in their own shadows, with the wistful tragedy of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. This tightened focus makes the relationship between Stan and Ollie much stronger, because you feel the weight of history between them without having to see it on-screen: underneath their interactions is always a pulse of I love you I hate you I need you please don’t leave me. But the screenplay has two genius moves that put it over the top: allowing the film to every so often become a Laurel and Hardy movie – their suitcases falling down the stairs! – and turning Stan and Ollie’s wives into a double act of their own.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen for Widows – “Gillian Flynn is so good at screenplays that I’m not quite sure why she was ever a novelist and Steve McQueen is at least as talented. This is the first screenplay they wrote together, and the first Flynn wrote that wasn’t based on her novels, and it’s just marvellous stuff, well-plotted, well-paced, with lots of great characters, weaving together lots of storylines that seem like they should be hard to gel together into a riveting, if occasionally overambitious, whole. Above all, it’s a real tight, entertaining script that gives its actors lots to work with.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – The Other Side of the Wind
Ciara: “At the first Oscars, the Academy took Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus out of the running for all the categories it was nominated in and gave it a honourary award instead. I always thought this was pretty weird, but very occasionally, a film comes along that’s not really fair to put in competition, that doesn’t even make sense to compare with the rest of the year. In that spirit, I would like to do something towards giving The Other Side of the Wind its due as a small miracle of a film.
The Other Side of the Wind was a film that Orson Welles started work on in the 1970s that never got finished in his lifetime. I thought it would seem half-formed: a mild curiosity robbed from the grave of a great artist. But it’s not like that at all. Partially this is due to how close it obviously was to completion when Welles died (there is no later additional footage); partially that’s due to the obvious love and attention to detail that Peter Bogdanovich and others involved had in finishing it; partially it’s because – like David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King – it is thematically about its own incompleteness, following a director whose big new project is full of ‘SCENE MISSING’ title cards.
I was worried it wouldn’t seem like a real film. It turned out to be, honestly, one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s brave and experimental and funny and heartbreaking, somehow both a love letter and a fuck you to the entire world of cinema. It’s such a 1970s movie that it’s impossible to compare it with anything else that came out this year – an effect compounded by its Netflix release, which made me feel like I was visiting an established classic for the first time. I admire its 1970s-ness all the more because it was directed by Orson Welles, who turns out to be one of the only classic Hollywood directors to have adapted to the New Hollywood landscape, even if we’ve only found out about it nearly fifty years later. Maybe it’s because that’s when the rest of Hollywood finally caught up with him.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town for the “axemen” scene
Dean: “Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town is a strange, wonderful little gem of a film that I’ve been waiting on for like two years because it stars Mackenzie Davis and there’s pretty much nothing I wouldn’t watch her in. It is, as the title suggest, about Izzy (Davis) figuring out how to get from one side of LA to the other so she can break up her ex-boyfriend’s engagement. Along the way, she meets loads of wacky side characters who would theoretically make Izzy rethink her life and change as a person if she wasn’t so impatient to get the fuck across town. The film is, in large part, just a bunch of highly stylised conversation scenes, and while lots of them are great (Izzy’s bathroom confrontation with her ex is burned into my brain), the best is the scene where Izzy and her sister Virginia (Carrie Coon) performed an acoustic version of ‘axemen’ by Heavens to Betsy.
The thing is, this is probably the least stylised scene in the whole movie, just three minutes of shot-reverse shot on Coon and Davis playing ‘axemen’, but it does so much storytelling within that basic structure. Izzy and Virginia are on the outs since their band broke up, but are coerced into performing together by guests at a house party. They start off staring into space, ignoring each other and just trying to play well, but after a couple of furtive glances in each other’s direction, they spend the second half of the song looking right at each other, as smiles gradually build on their faces. It’s a tremendous bit of acting from Davis and Coon, who sound great, but I adore the scene because of how it takes a break from the madcap, almost surreal energy of the rest of the film to dig into these characters’ relationship without a single word of dialogue.”