Movies

Ty Burr

12 overlooked Oscar contenders

Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.”
Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP
Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.”

You say the acting Oscars are lily-white this year because there were no deserving performances by African-Americans? Here are a dozen arguments that say otherwise. Whether or not these actors should have been nominated, they at least should have been a bigger part of the conversation — or a part of it at all.

BEST ACTOR

Michael B. Jordan. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler did something no one thought possible: made a “Rocky” movie we could take seriously again. The star’s fierce, internalized performance drives “Creed.”

Will Smith. How good is Smith as the Nigerian-born forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu in “Concussion”? For maybe the first time in his career, you forget you’re watching Will Smith.

Will Smith in “Concussion.”
Columbia Pictures via AP
Will Smith in “Concussion.”

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Samuel L. Jackson. His Major Marquis Warren, badass bounty hunter, is the canny linchpin of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” Is this the most joyously confident actor alive?

Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hateful Eight.”
Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company via AP
Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hateful Eight.”

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O’Shea Jackson Jr. and/or Jason Mitchell. Mitchell, as Eazy-E, provides the sparks to “Straight Outta Compton,” and Jackson, playing his own dad (the rapper Ice Cube), brings the gravitas. Lead performances, supporting performances, either or both? Who cares — just nominate somebody.

(From left:) MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) in the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton,” directed by F. Gary Gray.
Jaimie Trueblood (c) Universal Pictures
From left: MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) in the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton.”

BEST ACTRESS

Teyonah Parris. “Chi-Raq,” Spike Lee’s incendiary update on “Lysistrata,” is hardly Oscar bait — it lives to provoke — but Parris rules over the movie like a powerful young queen.

Teyonah Parris in “Chi-Raq.”
Parrish Lewis/Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios via AP
Teyonah Parris in “Chi-Raq.”

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. Could the trans actress’s electric performance as a trans hooker in the no-budget comedy-drama “Tangerine” really be nominated for an Oscar? On another planet, maybe. A better one.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the 2015 film TANGERINE, directed by Sean Baker. 17TANGERINE
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
From left: Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the film “Tangerine.”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Idris Elba. His performance as a vicious African warlord in “Beasts of No Nation” has been nominated by just about everyone but the Academy.

Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation.”
Netflix via AP
Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation.”

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Donald Glover. Admit it: The most loopily wonderful scene in “The Martian” is when Glover’s deep-math wonk shows the NASA brass how to bring Matt Damon home — demonstrating his theory with a stapler and a pen.

Donald Glover participated in the "Atlanta" panel at the FX Networks Winter TCA on Jan. 16 in Pasadena, Calif.
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Donald Glover participated in the "Atlanta" panel at the FX Networks Winter TCA on Jan. 16 in Pasadena, Calif.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jada Pinkett Smith. Why didn’t Smith get any Oscar love for her rich, regal playing of a male-strip-club impresario in “Magic Mike XXL”? Oh, right, because she was playing a male-strip-club impresario.

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith at the European premiere of "Magic Mike XXL" in London on June 30.
REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith at the European premiere of "Magic Mike XXL" in London in June.

Mya Taylor. The extra-long-suffering best friend in “Tangerine.” See Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, above.

Mya Taylor.
Magnolia Pictures
Mya Taylor in “Tangerine.”

Tessa Thompson. How many actresses would have turned Bianca in “Creed” into just another adoring-girlfriend role? Thompson doesn’t just make the character her own woman — she convinces you Bianca should star in her own movie.

Actress Tessa Thompson at the LA Premiere of "Creed" on Nov. 19.
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Tessa Thompson at the LA Premiere of "Creed" in November.