The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out awards every single year, and like any other group, over time it’s clear that they have their favorites. Serious dramas reign at the Oscars, so much so that it’s a genuine shock when genre films get any serious attention outside of the technical categories. In particular, horror films like “The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Exorcist,” and “Get Out” win Oscars so very rarely that they’re easily written off as exceptions to the rule, instead of evidence that the horror genre is as rich and nuanced as any other and takes just as much award-worthy talent to craft.
Every year it seems as if there are a handful of horror movies and performances that receive the much-coveted Oscar buzz, only to emerge from the season empty-handed. If Academy voters can convince themselves not to nominate Toni Collette for “Hereditary” or Lupita Nyong’o for “Us,” it’s quite possible that they could overlook even more of the best work the horror genre has to offer.
With that in mind, and with the sincere hope that some Academy voters are paying attention, let’s take a look at just some of the Oscar-worthy horror movies that deserve consideration this year.
Best Original Screenplay: Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian, “Bodies Bodies Bodies”
It’s been an excellent year for the whodunnit genre, and while Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” is soaking up most of the late year praise, Halina Reijn’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is just as smart and decidedly more vicious. The screenplay by Sarah DeLappe from a story by Kristen Roupenian is a witty and biting send-up of the murder mystery and slasher genres, in which a bunch of rich, entitled Millennials try to figure out who’s killing them off one by one in the middle of a hurricane, only to discover that their worst enemy is their own shallowness.
Best Actress: Anna Diop, “Nanny”
Nikyatu Jusu’s “Nanny” was the first horror movie to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And while it’s mostly a subtle, suspenseful drama about a Senegalese immigrant working for a wealthy couple who take insidious advantage of her, it does indeed feature haunting imagery that pays off — overwhelmingly — by the end of the film. While it would be nice to think that Rina Yang’s stunning cinematography would also get some much-deserved Oscars attention, the camera lingers almost exclusively on Anna Diop, who gives an impressive and nuanced performance as a mother who stifles her despair and her rage for the sake of her son. In a year with fantastic lead performances (and we’ll get to a few more of them), Diop is still a standout.
Best Actress: Mia Goth, “Pearl”
Mia Goth turned heads with her performance in Ti West’s retro-slasher “X,” but she twisted them all the way around with the follow-up, “Pearl.” A dynamic showcase for Goth’s range and talents, “Pearl” finds her living in the 1910s in an oppressive household, struggling to hold back her sexual urges and violent temper in the hopes of heading out into the great big world and making something of herself. We already know she fails — that’s what “X,” which takes place decades later, was all about — and although she kills many people in “Pearl,” that sense of inevitability gives her performance a powerful sense of tragedy. Goth walks a thin line between raw emotion and camp and never makes a false step, and her climactic single-take monologue is one of the most impressive moments for any actor in years.
Best Actress: Rebecca Hall, “Resurrection”
Rebecca Hall is routinely overlooked by the Academy, but she has nevertheless emerged as one of the most interesting and exciting actors of her generation. It seems likely that, if the Oscars could somehow overlook her mesmerizing work in Antonio Campos’s “Christine” and David Bruckner’s “The Night House” (let alone her exceptional directorial debut, “Passing”), then Andrew Seman’s profoundly disturbing psychological thriller will meet the same fate. But that would be a crime. Hall’s performance as a confident, successful single mother who falls back into terrifying patterns when her abuser comes back into her life is both delicate and shocking. She too gets an absolutely riveting single-take monologue this year, with a speech so unthinkably strange that her ability to get away with it, let alone make it ring true, is a testament to her abilities.
Best Adapted Screenplay: David Kajganich, “Bones and All”
Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal road movie romance “Bones and All” is being positioned as a major Oscars contender, and maybe it’s got the juice, but there’s a good chance it’s just too weird to get any Academy traction. (See also: Guadagnino’s bold and challenging “Suspiria” remake.) The film has already failed to make the short lists for Best Cinematography and Best Original Score, which is a crime, but hopefully the film’s bizarrely sincere screenplay has a shot. The writing categories haven’t been afraid to honor, or at least nominate, outliers that are too edgy for the rest of the ceremony, and David Kajganich’s surreal yet intimate approach to the coming-of-age drama deserves the nod.
Best Animated Feature: “Mad God”
While many brilliant films have won the Best Animated Feature Oscar since its inception in 2002, the category has been dominated by family movies for the last 20 years. Very few of the many exceptional animated films made for mature audiences have been nominated, and with the arguable exception of the complex-but-still-family-friendly “Spirited Away,” none of them has won. One would hope that visual effects legend Phil Tippett, who won Oscars for “Return of the Jedi” and “Jurassic Park,” can break the curse. Tippett produced the nightmarish and astounding “Mad God” independently over the course of 30 years, crafting a tale like no other, in vivid and creative unbridled stop-motion animation. It may not be to the Academy’s usual tastes, but it’s impossible to deny that “Mad God” is award-worthy.
Best Supporting Actor: Harry Melling, “The Pale Blue Eye”
Harry Melling turned out to be one of the most interesting young actors to emerge from the “Harry Potter” franchise, and he has appeared in a series of noteworthy, captivating roles over the last few years. But as a young Edgar Allan Poe in Scott Cooper’s classy historical murder mystery, Melling truly takes off. His meticulous balance of inexperience and ego gives the iconic poet and horror author a meaningful, recognizable humanity while still preserving their legacy as a larger-than-life figure whose imagination birthed some of the most gruesome images in the history of fiction. “The Pale Blue” eye warrants serious Oscar consideration for its stark, yet wholly elegant cinematography and production design as well.
Best Supporting Actress: Keke Palmer, “Nope”
Keke Palmer gave one of the biggest star-making performances of the year in Jordan Peele’s acclaimed, genre-defying sensation, so it’s a big surprise to find that Universal is campaigning for her in the Best Supporting Actress category. Although she’s clearly the film’s co-lead there’s not much sense in confusing the matter and costing her the much-deserved attention her captivating performance obviously deserves. Palmer pushes her way into the spotlight from her very first moments, charismatically dominating the movie while subtly revealing unexpected depths to her character, until by the end of “Nope” she emerges as one of the richest, most interesting creations of the year.
“Nope” should be up for a variety of Oscars this year — in a perfect world: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects (at least) — but the competition is stiff all around and there are no guarantees. Heck, it’s already off the short list in one of those categories. Here’s hoping the Academy gets this one right, at least.
Best Original Screenplay: Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, “The Menu”
Mark Mylod’s twisted horror satire “The Menu” speaks directly to everyone who has ever had to work in the service industry, as well as to anyone who makes or even writes about art. Seth Reiss and Willy Tracy’s screenplay, about a world-renowned chef who uses his culinary skills to exact righteous vengeance against people who have lost track of art’s true value — or who fail to respect the people who produce it, or even serve it up on the platter — is genuinely funny and incredibly pointed. It’s possible that some members of the Academy might see themselves on the screen, more-or-less literally skewered, and not appreciate the joke. But “The Menu” makes a meaningful connection about the way we process and appreciate art, and how class defines that appreciation, and it’s got at least one plot point that’s so clever it makes you want to stand up and applaud.
Best Director: Jane Schoenbrun, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair”
While there have been many incredibly directed films this year, Jane Schoenbrun accomplished something wholly distinct with their low-budget mind-blower. “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” borrows familiar elements from the body horror genre but fuses them with modern cinematic techniques that are evolving online to tell a story about a queer coming-of-age experience through the language of YouTubers and CreepyPasta creatives. For some it might be easy, as one of the characters does in the film, to overlook the complexity of what Schoenbrun is accomplishing with “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” and that makes their Oscar chances seem slim. But Schoenbrun’s uncanny understanding of how the newest moving picture techniques can be used to tell deeply meaningful, personal, cinematic stories makes their work a standout in an already great year for movies.