Today, I present to you perhaps the greatest thing I will ever write. Inspired by a Tweet that changed my life, I have been thinking about this on and off for nearly four months, and I finally decided to give it to you because there’s no time like the present.
Thus, I present to you …
The Oscars Isaac.
Based on the real Academy Awards’ categories. Using only Oscar Isaac movies. Because I can. Because you need a list of Oscar Isaac’s best movies, with a few words on why I chose each winner.
And the Oscar goes to …
Best picture: Ex Machina. About the nature of consciousness (and what we do with it), Ex Machina is one of my absolute favorite sci-fi movies. It’s smart and slick, with a focus on character development that lends itself well to the small cast and claustrophobic setting. One of the film’s strengths is how surprisingly easily the intimacy between Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson of Bill Weasley from Harry Potter fame) and Ava (Alicia Vikander of A Royal Affair notoriety) grows. It’s well worth a watch, if not for that tenderness then for the questions it asks about the relationship between creators and their creations. Runners-up: Inside Llewyn Davis; Drive.
Best director: J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year. Chandor (Margin Call) transforms this slow film about a couple dealing with some business problems into a weighty movie that shows the dark underside of the American Dream. He leans into the atmospheric tension that makes the stakes feel that much higher, helping imbue each scene with a sense that, even if the protagonists aren’t doing the right thing, you can’t help but root for them. Runners-up: Alex Garland, Annihilation; Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis.
Best actor: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis. His titular down-on-his-luck folk singer is morose, melancholy and moody. The film hinges on Isaac’s ability to keep you hooked despite how depressing it is to watch Llewyn go from disaster to disaster, just trying to keep his soul and artistic talent in tact. Playing sad and getting sympathy is easy to do, but playing sad well enough to make me feel for Llewyn while also profoundly disliking him? Hard, but Isaac accomplishes it. Runners-up: Ryan Gosling, Drive; Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina.
Best actress: Natalie Portman, Annihilation. I love this one for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most is how, in the most confusing environment possible, Portman’s character Lena is grounded and dogged in her pursuit of something — is it a transformed life, a new one entirely or not life at all, but death? The balance between the certainty in herself that Portman (Black Swan) exudes and the confusion that is the Shimmer (an alien relic of a meteor that’s sucked up everyone who’s entered it mysteriously, except Lena’s husband Kane, played by our very own Oscar Isaac) rests on Portman’s shoulders, and she carries it like no one else can. Runners-up: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina; Kirsten Dunst, The Two Faces of January.
Best supporting actor: Oscar Isaac, Star Wars sequels (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker). I know this is technically three different movies, but you’ll live! Oscar Isaac shines as the consistently roguish (an oxymoron, I know) Poe Dameron, bringing much-needed charm to the trilogy. Runners-up: Nick Kroll, Operation Finale; Mahershala Ali, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Best supporting actress: Tessa Thompson, Annihilation. She plays a shy astrophysicist named Josie with a warmth and gentleness that’s rare for Thompson (Westworld). Everyone on the journey into the Shimmer seems to be coping with everything in their own way, giving their teammates the impression that they’ll be fine, Josie is a sweetheart and a worrywart, and you can’t help but be scared for her. Runners-up: Carey Mulligan, Drive; Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis (what can I say, Carey Mulligan is good).
Best animated feature film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Yes, I know that Oscar Isaac has the teensiest post-credits voice cameo in this, but it counts. It takes the medium of animation to new heights with dynamic, vivid design and earnest vocal performances from Shameik Moore (Dope) as Miles Morales and Jake Johnson (New Girl) as Peter Parker. Up there in my list of favorite Spider-Man and favorite Marvel movies for its sharp choice to use humor without sacrificing heart (and a lot of it, at that). Runner-up: The Addams Family (which should have been live-action).
Best cinematography: Drive. You can’t watch this movie without noting the aesthetic of it, the crisp warmth between the Driver and Irene contrasted with the dark moodiness of the more shadowy, crime-filled scenes. It’s stylish, careful and expressive, managing to toe the line between romance and grit. Gorgeous. Runners-up: Star Wars sequels trilogy; Sucker Punch.
Best costume design, makeup and hairstyling: Suburbicon. I can’t, in good faith, recommend this movie for anything but the bright and punchy 1950s aesthetic. Runners-up: The Two Faces of January; The Promise. Honorable mention for the jacket in Drive.
Best production design, visual effects: Annihilation, hands-down. Entrancing, heady, confusing and slippery, all at the same time. The Shimmer and its effects come to life in the most bizarre and jarring ways possible. Runners-up: Drive; Star Wars sequels trilogy; X-Men: Apocalypse.
Best adapted screenplay: Drive. “This little crime story” takes the enigmatic Driver from fairly aimless (he doesn’t seem to particularly enjoy his work at the garage or as a stunt driver) in the first act to extremely motivated in the second, with a thoughtful turn in the third. It asks an age-old question (what does true fulfillment look like?) in a new, redeeming light, focused on characters rather than action (which there is! but it’s not what tugs at your heart-strings). Runners-up: The Two Faces of January; At Eternity’s Gate.
Best original screenplay: Ex Machina. I love this screenplay so much. It’s tightly-woven, asking some of the better questions of sci-fi, about who defines intelligence and all of its pitfalls when it comes without independence. For all its highbrow themes, it’s still grounded, with realistic dialogue from Caleb and Nathan and some truly disconcerting turns from Ava (and no dialogue from poor Kyoko, who features in my all-time favorite Oscar Isaac scene, which you’ll know when you see it). My favorite lines that help the film take a turn into the eerie, which stays with you long after the movie’s over: “Do you like Mozart?” / “I like Depeche Mode.” / “Do you like Nathan?” Runner-up: Inside Llewyn Davis.
That’s all, folks; thanks for reading. Enjoy a weekend of Oscar Isaac films!