12 Underdog Film Performances That Deserve Golden Globe Nominations

Golden Globes
Golden Globe nominations will be announced Monday, Dec. 9.
Photos, trophy; Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images; hands: White Packert—Getty Images

Some movies are natural fodder for the Golden Globes, and this season boasts a slew of sure-things: Dramas with iconic stars, like Netflix’s The Irishman and Lionsgate’s Bombshell, and musicals like Roadside Attractions’s Judy and Paramount’s Rocketman, are all but locks to earn kudos for their onscreen talent when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announces its nominations on Monday.

But there are also performers who may be less obvious to voters—perhaps to due their movie’s release date, lack of campaign opportunities or an actor’s young age—who are equally deserving of HFPA acknowledgement, which for many is a critical stop on the road to Oscar. Below are 12 such underdogs whose collective artistry more than warrant Golden Globe nominations, the ceremony for which airs Sunday, Jan. 5 on NBC and will be hosted by Ricky Gervais.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, ‘Booksmart’ (Annapurna)

Beanie Feldstein (left) and Kaitlyn Dever in “Booksmart.”
Francois Duhamel—Annapurna Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Lady Bird’s Globe win in 2017 for Best Musical or Comedy offers the ideal precedent for director Olivia Wilde’s feature debut about a pair of nerdy friends’ last-hurrah to party before high school graduation. No offense to Wilde, but the movie is all about Dever and Feldstein: As Amy and Molly respectively, the young actors simultaneously decimate conventional portrayals of teen girls (Amy is gay; Molly isn’t a size 6) while offering up one of the most clever buddy comedies maybe ever. It’s reductive to label Booksmart “a female Superbad” (as many have) because that implies the movie isn’t wholly original. But it is. It’s also one of few actual haha-funny comedies contending for awards this year, making it a perfect fit for Globes love, which wisely gives comedies a chance to compete on their own terms.

Cynthia Erivo, ‘Harriet’ (Focus Features)

Cynthia Erivo stars as American slave abolitionist Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.”
Glen Wilson—Focus Features

In any other year, a performance as powerful as Erivo’s—and a subject as worthy as Harriet Tubman—would land her at the top of pundits’ Oscar-pick lists. Yet the Tony-winner (The Color Purple) isn’t yet ranked alongside all-but-sure-things Scarlett Johannsen (Marriage Story), Charlize Theron (Bombshell), and Renee Zellweger (Judy) for Lead Actress nominations this season. Perhaps it’s because writer-director Kasi Lemmons’s biopic has been a quieter, mixed-review entrant to the race, or that the British-born Erivo is still an emerging talent in Hollywood. (Harriet is her first starring role.) Whatever the reason, a Globes nomination would helped to propel her more seriously into the Oscar conversation for this long-overdue examination of an American icon. (Also, what other actress this season can say she also sang her movie’s theme song?)

Jamie Foxx, ‘Just Mercy’ (Warner Brothers)

Just Mercy
Michael B. Jordan (left) as activist-attorney Bryan Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian in “Just Mercy.”
Jake Giles Netter—Warner Bros.

Foxx, an Oscar-and Globe-winner for 2004’s Ray, hasn’t been a serious awards contender since 2012’s Django Unchained. But his turn as wrongly accursed death-row inmate in Destin Daniel Cretton’s wrenching true story—opening Christmas Day, making it a later contender in a crowded field—is an audacious return to the race. While a big-studio spin on such a story might lean preachy and platitudinous, Cretton (Short-Term 12) has given Foxx (and his also-excellent costar/producer Michael B. Jordan, as real-life activist-lawyer Bryan Stevenson) a quieter space to inhabit and truly humanize these characters. What’s left is an arthouse-style examination of race, class, masculinity, and our near-irreparably broken justice system, punctuated by Foxx’s vulnerable performance.

Noah Jupe, ‘Honey Boy’ (Amazon)

Honey Boy
Noah Jupe in director Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy.”
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Aside from Ricky Shroder’s historic Globes win at age 9 in 1980 for the tear-jerker The Champ, the HFPA doesn’t have much of a record for lauding young film talent. The British-born Jupe, who is 14, not only delivers a preternaturally mature performance as the child-star alter ego of writer/costar Shia LaBeouf, he manages to recreate the latter’s childhood trauma with a uniquely subtle blend of innocence and fantasy, thanks largely to a nurturing touch by first-time feature-director Alma Har’el. (Alongside LaBeouf, Har’el has emerged one of the season’s breakout auteurs.) Here’s hoping the HFPA doesn’t overlook Jupe’s work just because he makes it look so easy.

John Lithgow, ‘Bombshell’ (Lionsgate)

John Lithgow stars as disgraced Fox News founder and CEO Roger Ailes in “Bombshell.”
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle—Lionsgate

Maybe it’s Lithgow’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s nicest guys, but seeing the acting legend morph into the season’s most monstrous character—the late Fox News founder and CEO Roger Ailes—is a disgusting thrill-ride. The HFPA is clearly game to acknowledge controversial, newsy figures; after all it awarded Christian Bale Best Actor just last year for his eerie turn as Dick Cheney in Vice. But Lithgow’s Supporting Actor role as Ailes in Jay Roach’s Bombshell isn’t just about bringing the nefarious Wizard of Oz of the media to the screen. Lithow is transformed—thanks to a lot of prosthetics—into an affable Jabba the Hut who oozes as much menace as charm, making him the ultimate villain for the #MeToo era. And seeing him fall, and at the hands of the women he abused no less, is the year’s most satisfying finale.

Lupita Nyong’o, ‘Us’ (Universal)

Lupita Nyong’o as the murderous doppelganger Red in “Us.”
Claudette Barius— Universal Courtesy Everett Collection

Oscar-winner and Globe nominee Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) has equal pros and cons as a contender this season for playing a woman who’s terrorized by her murderous doppelganger. On the one hand, her director Jordan Peele’s breakout 2017 film Get Out earned a landslide of kudos, including the Best Screenplay Oscar; and Lead Actor and Best Pictures Oscar and Globes noms, which bodes well for Us. But this time around Universal is primarily campaigning for Best Screenplay and Nyong’o—not Best Picture—and the film opened in March, months before awards campaigning kicked off, making it less fresh on Academy voters’ minds. This is why HFPA recognition for Nyong’o’s stunning work would be such a boon, especially considering she’d likely be the first actress of color ever nominated for a horror movie.

Mark Ruffalo, ‘Dark Waters’ (Focus Features)

Dark Waters
Mark Ruffalo (left) and director Todd Haynes on the set of “Dark Waters.”
Mary Cybulski —Focus Features

It’d be easy to think of Ruffalo’s work in Todd Haynes’ true story—about attorney Rob Bilott who exposed DuPont’s years of egregious exposure of its employees and communities to dangerous pollutants—as an extension of the impassioned journalist he played in Spotlight. And in some ways it is. But it’s also a deeper look at the toll that activism can take on one’s health and personal life (Ruffalo himself is an outspoken environmental and civil rights activist) and the still deep, gaping chasm between public safety and the bottom line. Three-time Globe and Oscar nominee Ruffalo proves himself again to be just the kind of onscreen ambassador of the little guy we need right now.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis, ‘JoJo Rabbit’ (Fox Searchlight)

Jojo Rabbit
Director/writer Taika Waititi as an imaginary Hitler and Roman Griffin Davis as the title character in “Jojo Rabbit.”
Kimberley French—Twentieth Century Fox

A comedy about a young Nazi during World War II whose invisible friend is Adolf Hitler isn’t necessarily for everyone (reviews have been mixed-to-mostly-good) but that’s exactly what makes JoJo so special. Writer/director Waititi (Thor Ragnarok) has created something so timely and heartbreaking, it’s almost hard to believe he pulled it off. He’s also delivered the most hilarious Supporting Actor performance of the year as the film’s imaginary pathetic “führer who engages his young friend to “heil me!” and offer counsel on such pressing issues as the fit of his SS uniform. As the lead character Jojo, British actor Davis, who was just 11 when they made the movie, bears the impressive burden of blending wry, mature humor with moments of deep tragedy and also, somehow, hope. He is another performer this season whose youth belies an incredible talent.

Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge, ‘Clemency’ (Neon)

Alfre Woodard in “Clemency.”
Paul Sarkis

The second film this year to examine life on death row, Clemency embraces its bleakness with such a resigned calm that in the hands of other actors it might not have worked. But its co-lead performers Woodard, as a stoic prison warden, and Hodge, a doomed inmate, marinate so convincingly in the setting’s purgatory-like environment that the movie feels more like a documentary. There’s also a refreshing novelty to writer-director Chinonye Chukwu having written her protagonist as a black woman. It allows Globe-winner Woodard and Hodge to invent a more interesting dynamic between captor and captee; one not defined by race as we so often see in these stories, but by class and circumstance. It’s easy to see why Chukwu won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for the film (which is another late opener, on Dec. 27) as Woodard and Hodge each fully embrace the maddening concept of killing-as-justice and the humanity that can somehow still exist on each side.

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