It wouldn’t be Oscar season without a dash of nomination controversy, but this year’s debate has been fairly subdued. Yes, the Best Picture and Director categories are still dominated by (mainly white) men and some critics have questioned Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s seven noms in light of its prickly racial politics, but there’s been nothing as contentious as last year’s Best Picture snubs for Jackie and Silence, or Jacob Tremblay’s absence from the Best Supporting Actor list in 2016. That being said, the Academy never gets it completely right, and an extra-strong field of candidates this year has left a wealth of excellent films and actors shut out from the major categories. In an ideal world, this alternative selection would have made the cut.
Best Picture: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is certainly an acquired taste, which may explain the glaring absence of The Killing of a Sacred Deer from this year’s Oscar slate. Everything about his work is tailored to unsettle, from his repetitive, artificial dialogue to the extreme wide shots that make his actors seem more like miniature marionettes in a puppet theatre than humans on location. But while 2015’s The Lobster (nominated for Best Screenplay at last year’s Awards) placed Lanthimos’ apparent muse, Colin Farrell, in a dystopian world of human hunts and animal transformations, Killing takes place in a world that, barring one potent detail, is entirely naturalistic, thus ramping up the tension and relatability of its horrific scenario. While strong performances are par for the course for Farrell and Nicole Kidman, both embracing their late-career renaissances with gusto, Lanthimos’ supporting cast is equally scene-stealing. Barry Keoghan, fresh from Best Picture-nominated Dunkirk, is engrossingly psychopathic as vengeful teen Martin, while, as Farrell and Kidman’s children, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic reckon with the prospect of approaching death with a delicate and tragic sensitivity. Perhaps this bleak, postmodern take on fairy-tale horror was simply too scary for the Academy.