The bumpy road to the Academy Awards has been full of hosting controversies, an unpopular “popular film” award, and key categories getting moved (then unmoved) to ad breaks. But against all odds, the show will go on and Hollywood’s biggest players will convene in the Dolby Theatre to celebrate the best work in film over the past year. The Academy will honor actors, directors, cinematographers, costume designers, and many other contributors to the collaborative art form that is film. But why stop at honoring only humans?
In several of this year’s nominated films, animals played a big role in advancing the plot and impacting the humans around them. From household pets to unlikely furry friends, these talented companions gave affecting performances that deserve some recognition.
So, what should we do to honor the creative critters who helped bring these acclaimed films to the big screen? I propose that the Oscars establish a new category: Best Performance by an Animal in a Motion Picture. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing the Academy has thought up. And, in keeping with their behavior as of late, they can always announce the new category and then just un-announce it if it gets enough backlash on Twitter.
As with the acting categories, there would be five nominees for the Best Animal Oscar. To help strengthen my proposal, I’ve compiled a shortlist of five possible nominees for animal performances in films nominated at this year’s ceremony.
1. Charlie, Bradley Cooper’s dog in A Star Is Born (2018)
In the cinematic musical masterpiece that is A Star Is Born, Ally (Lady Gaga) gifts her husband, fading country rocker Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a fluffy golden puppy named Charlie. Cooper, who also directed and produced the film, cast his real-life dog Charlie, not for any nepotistic reasons but because he wanted that bond with the pet to translate on screen. Jackson and Ally don’t have any kids, but the addition of Charlie makes their house feel like a home away from their inescapable fame.
Charlie truly is the star who was born. He is always in the spotlight, even when his fluffy cuteness isn’t on screen. One of the most touching things Ally says when she visits Jackson in rehab is that Charlie waits by the door every day, hoping his daddy will come home soon. A heart-wrenching theme in A Star Is Born is the relationship between fathers and sons, and Cooper fittingly revealed that he named his pet after his late father Charlie, so casting his own dog put a piece of his dad into the film. Charlie’s goodness knows no bounds.
2. Horatio, the “Fastest Duck in the City” in The Favourite (2018)
The Favourite is not your grandmother’s costume drama. The black comedy from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos takes a nontraditional look at England’s Queen Anne, with a focus on how the women in her court cunningly outsmart the men. The male politicians are meant to look trivial, but no performer emphasizes their ridiculousness more than Horatio, the duck who wins a duck race that the men put on in the palace while they should presumably be doing their jobs counseling the queen.
The Favourite stars Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Britain’s national treasure, Olivia Colman. With a cast as stacked as this, it’s hard to stand out as a supporting actor—but Horatio is an absolute scene-stealer. He earns the title “fastest duck in the city” and becomes a symbol for the petulance of these politicians who wish their own duck had such an esteemed moniker. Horatio is the best of many senseless elements in The Favourite that underscore the film’s unsettling and absurdist humor (and shoutout to Queen Anne’s 17 house-trained rabbits).
3. Borras, the dog in Roma (2018)
Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful drama Roma is based on his own childhood and opens with a shot his family nanny, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), cleaning up some dog poop in the garage. Now, I don’t mean a few droppings here and there; we’re talking ridiculous amounts of poop from the family’s beloved pet dog, Borras. No matter how hard Cleo, the film’s compassionate protagonist, washes away the poop, Borras always leaves another smelly surprise for the hardworking nanny.
The copious amounts of animal excrement are not for comedic relief—in fact, they have the opposite effect. The endless fountain of poop in the garage triggers angry reactions from the family’s emotionally vacant father whenever he returns from work. He directs that anger towards Cleo, blaming her for the disarray in his own home. Despite the frequency with which he relieves himself, Borras is no doubt a good boy. His pooping has a purpose: his feces force Cleo to complete another dehumanizing chore for a family that doesn’t always appreciate her. That kind of bowel overactivity builds the audience’s sympathy for Cleo and showcases Borras’s digestive dedication to his craft that only method actors like Christian Bale or Daniel Day-Lewis would dare to attempt.
4. The Math Chicken from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
The Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs got three Oscar nominations, which was surprising given its quiet Netflix release and nonstandard anthology structure of six distinct episodes that deconstruct the American Old West genre. Each chapter of Buster Scruggs asks profound, unanswerable questions. Is there an order to the universe? What happens to humans after they die? Can chickens really do math?
In “Meal Ticket,” Liam Neeson stars as a traveling showman whose current act is an armless and legless man who recites Shakespearean monologues. Neeson struggles with dwindling ticket sales out west until he stumbles upon a new act: “The Genius of the Barnyard,” a chicken who can correctly peck the number that corresponds to the answer of a basic math problem that an audience member shouts out. I don’t understand what sort of deceptive filmmaking trickery is going on here, but what I do know is that Math Chicken deserves all the Oscars. And Math Chicken isn’t just there to flex his arithmetic skills—the money-making potential of his talents puts Neeson’s character in a tempting position to kick his limbless performer to the curb and capitalize on this egg-laying crowd pleaser.
5. Towne, the cat in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Enough praise cannot be given for Melissa McCarthy’s fantastic dramatic work in Can You Ever Forgive Me? McCarthy plays Lee Israel, an unorthodox real-life criminal mastermind who forged and sold hundreds of literary letters. Lee, a lonely author who struggled in her professional and personal life, formed a tight bond with her cat, Jersey. The feline sidekick is brought to life by Towne, the cat actor that director Marielle Heller called the “Marlon Brando of cats.” Towne is a male cat but convincingly played the female Jersey, an impressive exhibition of the range of his acting chops alongside the likes of McCarthy and the excellent supporting performance by Richard E. Grant.
For the record, I am not a cat person by any means. They’re lazy. They’re boring. They make me sneeze. And yet, this particular cat made me cry like a banshee. Lee gets progressively disillusioned with life, but Jersey gives her something to care about. If Lee were living alone, she wouldn’t worry about paying rent on time. But she needs a home for Jersey. She needs to be able to pay for trips to the vet when Jersey gets sick. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a fascinating character study of a person struggling to find meaning in her life, and Towne fosters that validation Lee needs with just a few affectionate meows.
And thus concludes my shortlist for five possible Best Animal nominees. I would also include some honorable mentions for other notable non-human performances from 2018. One would certainly be for Ben Whishaw’s Paddington in the absolutely delightful Paddington 2 (2018). Though not a real bear, the wholesome CGI Paddington conveyed more emotional gravitas than most human performers are capable of. Another honorable mention would go to a group of CGI animals: the badass armored battle rhinos in Black Panther (2018). The mention would come with a special shout out to the one rhino who licks Okoye in the middle of a giant battle. Such a good boy.
Finally, I would finish my proposal with a possible candidate for an animal I believe is on track to receive an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in animal performances: Olivia the dog. In 2018 alone, the 15-pound white terrier starred in Game Night and Widows, two incredible movies that the Academy criminally ignored. Olivia stood her own against Viola Davis and Rachel McAdams, and she even had her own trailer. I spot a doggie diva in the making.
If the Oscars truly care about boosting their ratings and producing a more watchable show, they should look no further than recognizing these furry friends in film.