Hey, Oscar Voters: Here Are Some Dark Horses You Might Want to Consider

From Tilda Swinton to Jeremy Pope to Zar Amir Ebrahimi, we offer longshots who are worthy of attention

Tilda Swinton - Jeremy Pope - Zar Amir Ebrahimi
"The Eternal Daughter" (A24), "The Inspection" (A24), "Holy Spider" (Utopia)

With Oscar nomination voting beginning on Jan. 12, it’s not hard to figure out who the favorites are in most categories. (Here’s one rundown.) But for voters who want to look beyond the obvious picks — which should really mean all voters — TheWrap’s awards team would like to suggest a handful of our favorites that deserve a look before casting your ballots.

There are plenty of other deserving candidates out there, too, but here are 14 of our picks.

Emma Thompson, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”

Good Luck to You Leo Grande
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Searchlight Pictures)

As a widowed teacher seeking fulfillment of a different sort in her retirement years, Thompson deflects any possibility of cliché with her inimitable dexterity as she gives a performance for the ages—supple and moving, easily stacked up next to her many acclaimed roles of the last 30 years. Just because she’s one of the world’s greatest actors shouldn’t stop a movie-loving soul from jotting her name down on a ballot for one minute. – Jason Clark

Zar Amir Ebrahimi, “Holy Spider” 

“Holy Spider” (Utopia)

In Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider,” it only takes a moment to understand what the character of Rahimi is made of. Played with steely defiance by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, the Iranian journalist stands in front of a disapproving hotel clerk who’s told her to cover her hair and snaps, “That’s none of your business.” Rahimi, who is investigating the murders of prostitutes in the holy Iranian city of Mashhad, confronts this ingrained misogyny over and over throughout the film — from the police, colleagues, clerics, the killer himself — and never lets it impede her, even when she is literally trembling with fear. It’s an unshowy, powerful performance that won Ebrahimi Best Actress at Cannes and has become even more meaningful as women across Iran continue to fearlessly fight for their rights. – Missy Schwartz

Jennifer Lawrence, “Causeway”

“Causeway” (A24)

“Causeway” co-star Brian Tyree Henry has gotten most of the awards attention, probably because Best Actress is a brutally crowded category this year, but let’s take a moment to salute Jennifer Lawrence for the least movie-starry performance she’s given since “Winter’s Bone”—which is to say, since she became a movie star. Playing a soldier who’s recovering from physical injuries but still wracked with PTSD, she strips away all her natural charisma and gives us a wrenching performance that is all understatement. – Steve Pond

Jeremy Pope, “The Inspection”

The Inspection
“The Inspection” (A24)

“The Inspection” is about writer-director Elegance Bratton’s boot camp experience as a gay Marines recruit – not a subject lacking in dramatic conflict – but so much of the movie’s power comes from the quiet, internal, molecular-level-changes in actor Jeremy Pope’s face. In his first major film role, Pope doesn’t make the mistake of going too big. Framed in closeup, he avoids emotional clichés at every turn, using his eyes and his voice to convey small details of his character. – Joe McGovern

Keke Palmer, “Nope”

“Nope” (Universal Pictures)

In Jordan Peele’s teasing, mysterious horror opus, the effortlessly funny and thrillingly alive Palmer delivers a fully realized yet refreshingly contradictory millennial creation, a role that in lesser hands could’ve just been a scary-movie version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This is a leading role, though, so don’t fall for the category fraud. – JC

Dale Dickey and Wes Studi, “A Love Song”

“A Love Song” (Bleecker Street)

Max Walker-Silverman’s directorial debut is the masterfully subtle story of a pair of widowed childhood friends forging a tentative connection in the aftermath of loss, but above all it is a graceful showcase for the gifted character actors Dickey and Studi. Dickey received Gotham and Spirit Award nominations for her work, but it’s the interaction between her and Studi that can both warm your heart and break it. – SP

Samantha Morton, “She Said”

She Said
“She Said” (Universal)

In “She Said,” Samantha Morton appears in a single scene that lasts just eight minutes—every last second of which she fills with devastating pain. Playing former Miramax employee Zelda Perkins, Morton has decades of anguish simmering beneath an outward calm as she explains to New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) how Harvey Weinstein assaulted her colleague and how, in trying to bring him to justice, she unintentionally became a part of a system that silenced his victims. “I felt completely broken,” she says. We believe every word. – MS

Eden Dambrine, “Close”

Eden Dambrine (center) in “Close” (A24)

As the 13-year-old Léo, a student who loses his best friend, Eden Dambrine expresses the sense of being alone in the world exactly at the age when we learn to mask how we feel. That’s an incredibly tricky thing to communicate without overdoing the emotional cues. And even if a lot of the credit belongs to his director, Lukas Dhont, Dambrine’s performance is the year’s most profound, naturalistic movie debut. – JM

Felix Kammerer, “All Quiet on the Western Front”

All Quiet on the Western Front
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix)

There are plenty of standout performances in non-English films this year, but few are as haunting and as bruising as Austrian theater actor Kammerer’s film debut as Paul Bäumer in Edward Berger’s German-language version of the classic anti-war novel. In one particularly brutal and unbearably lengthy scene in a bomb crater with a dying French soldier, Kammerer drives home the point of the entire movie while barely saying a word.  — SP

Ben Whishaw, “Women Talking”

Women Talking
“Women Talking” (United Artists Releasing)

As August, the lone man in a meeting of Mennonite women, Ben Whishaw had to take up just the right amount of space. While the women deliberate over how to respond to the repeated sexual assaults they and their children suffered from the men in their community, August listens respectfully and quietly takes notes. He conveys several monologues’ worth of emotion on his gentle face: compassion, sorrow, alienation and an aching, unrequited love. It is a beautifully delicate portrayal of a heartbreakingly human soul. — MS

Tang Wei, “Decision to Leave”

“Decision to Leave”

Alfred Hitchcock may have had his blondes, but Park Chan-wook has his brunettes. And Tang Wei’s nervy, beguiling object of desire in Park’s haunting thriller might be the filmmaker’s grandest creation yet. The elusive, one-step-above-everyone Song Seo-rae would just be another femme fatale in most films, but Tang creates an aura that spellbinds the audience just as much as the heartsick, insomniac detective (Park Hae-il) hot on Song’s trail. And all without ever sacrificing any of the character’s inherent sadness or perception, leading to a shivery climax that would never have the impact it does without Tang’s carefully calibrated work. — JC

Tilda Swinton, “The Eternal Daughter”

The Eternal Daughter
“The Eternal Daughter” (A24)

On paper, the premise could be a gimmick: Tilda Swinton in a dual role as a woman and her elderly mother, vacationing at a gothic manor. But part of what makes Swinton so adventurous as a performer is that she intuitively understands how to dial down, and this quiet, soft-edged, unshowy performance stands as one of her most touching.  — JM

Daniel Craig, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.” (John Wilson/Netflix)

Yeah, it’s a comedic role, and if he didn’t get nominated for killing off James Bond he’s not gonna get it for calling out a mansion full of rich nincompoops. But was there a more delicious scene this year than the one where Craig’s Benoit Blanc effortlessly demolishes a rich tech billionaire’s elaborate murder-mystery weekend in about 40 seconds? Hell, no. — SP

Tom Hanks, “Elvis”

elvis tom hanks
“Elvis” (Warner Bros.)

Tom Hanks didn’t just get COVID while working on “Elvis”; he also got some of the worst reviews of his career. Hokum. As Colonel Tom Parker, the often too-noble actor delivered a gnarly, fabulous, Penguin-like creepshow of a performance. And one with a great ironic twist, as Hanks’ famous earnestness is teased out and flamboyantly perverted to depict the Colonel’s malevolence. An imaginative, grotesque work of pop art. — JM

A version of this story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Claire Foy Wrap magazine cover
Photo by Corina Marie for TheWrap