Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 54: 2016’s Sci-Fi Oscar Contenders by Category, Part 2 (Acting)

mary elizabeth winstead 10 cloverfield lane

About a month ago, I discussed some of the potential genre candidates for “Best Picture” even while acknowledging the majority of them were long shots. Maybe less of a hurdle are the individual performances that exist in such films. The main ones to look out for stem from The Witch, Deadpool, Passengers, Story of Your Life, Rogue One and 10 Cloverfield Lane given their early critical acclaim or prestige coating. Let’s dive into some of these contenders, shall we?

Clearly, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt will be oozing steaminess in Passengers to get the Academy hot and heavy over their sizzling time in space. Whether or not this sci-fi romance has the emotional depth required to nab some Oscar nominations remains to be seen, but since Jennifer Lawrence seems to be nominated for just about anything these days – four acting nods in six years – look for Lawrence to once again make a play at top honors, especially considering the film’s prime December release. Pratt, meanwhile, needs to rely on more than just his hunky charms to court voters, many of whom are skeptic of his ability to produce range. Considering how competitive “Best Actor” usually gets near the end of awards season, Pratt is probably going to have to settle for a “Best Kiss” MTV Movie Award, and he most certainly isn’t Matt Damon, who can get away with Academy recognition just for flagrantly displaying his movie star persona in a popcorn blockbuster.

Deadpool single-handedly resurrected Ryan Reynolds’s career, making him the most relevant and sought after thirty-something male in Hollywood (Ryan Gosling, who?). With a pitch-perfect comedic performance that still manages to eke out empathy for Wade Wilson’s tragic plight, Reynolds would likely win the “Best Actor” Academy Award if the ceremony was held today. We have a long ways to go until 2017, but if the critics remain firmly in Reynolds’s camp throughout the duration of phase one – much like they did last year for Charlize Theorn and Alicia Vikander – there might be a major shock in store when either the Golden Globe or Academy Award nominations are announced live.

rogue 1 ben

I’m not certain Felicity Jones could snag a “Best Actress” mention given how the universal adoration of Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens didn’t shake up the category whatsoever. Sometimes things are locked into place without any hope of alteration. Though, I am curious to see how much buzz Ben Mendelsohn can generate for playing the film’s head villain – those indelible early images and Mendelsohn’s Sam Rockwell-level respect as an underrated thespian could mean he’s going to get quite the magnification should Rogue One become a bigger awards player than previously anticipated.

Although technically horror, A24 could have something truly special on their hands with The Witch. If I had my way, the film would already have a SAG ensemble reservation in place, as every member of that religiously paranoid family is so committed to their cinematic milieu that they make us forget we’re witnessing pure fiction. Newcomers Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw deliver bone-chilling performances that rival the somber maturity of adult actors who’ve been in the business for years. Character actors Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are also fantastic as two parents with conflicting ideologies about how to preserve the sanctity of their fragile domestic space.

10 cloverfield lane john goodman

Amy Adams is angling for her first Oscar win, though many pundits are looking at Nocturnal Animals when really Story of Your Life should be the focus. Adams plays a linguist attempting to communicate with alien life, and although a similar premise didn’t garner a nod for Jodie Foster in Contact, the latter actress wasn’t in need of accolades since she already had a golden trophy from her work in Silence of the Lambs a few years prior. Cast members Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker (who is also in Rogue One) might also churn out noteworthy turns in their respective roles, but it’s clear that this one-woman vehicle is the type of role Adams needs right now to certify that she is Queen Bee when it comes to actresses without Oscars.

Patrick Stewart in Green Room, Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise and Tom Hanks in The Circle are also male contenders to possibly keep your eye on, but truthfully these projects are either too obscure at the moment or too underground to get a sense of how the films will resonate with the Academy. Where I’d like to finally turn to is my favorite film of the year which I recently watched, Dan Trachtenberg’s awe-inspiring 10 Cloverfield Lane. Talk about a genre film that primarily relies on acting for two-thirds of its running time to solidify mood and character stakes. Mary Elizabeth Winstead might even deliver a better performance than last year’s Brie Larson in Room, which also dealt with isolation from the outside world and being self-sufficient enough to power through the clutches of a depraved kidnapper. What makes Winstead’s work superior is in the final moments of the film, when we see her arc come to its climax and her character, Michelle, reveals herself to be the kind of badass sci-fi heroine you’d find in something like Alien or Mad Max. I sincerely hope Damien Chazelle – who co-wrote the film’s script – can take another veteran to a “Supporting Actor” Oscar win since John Goodman delivers the type of complexly sinister role that gets so deep under your skin, you almost desperately don’t want the truth of character to be…well…true.

If I were ranking the contenders today in their respective acting categories, this is how I would list them…

Best Actor:

1. Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool
2. Chris Pratt, Passengers
3. Tom Hiddleston, High-Rise
4. Michael Shannon, Midnight Special
5. Patrick Stewart, Green Room

Best Actress:

1. Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers
2. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane
3. Amy Adams, Story of Your Life
4. Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch
5. Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Supporting Actor:

1. John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
2. Harvey Scrimshaw, The Witch
3. Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One
4. John Gallagher, Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane
5. Ralph Ineson, The Witch

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Kate Dickie, The Witch
2. Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange
3. Zoe Saldana, Star Trek Beyond
4. Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed
5. Elizabeth Moss, High-Rise

Those are my best guesses, so please feel free to share yours and, who knows, maybe a genre performance might stick like gorilla glue for some of these AMPAS voters.