We Need an Academy Award For Best Animal Actor

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The effect movies have on our daily lives always shows up in the most peculiar places. For example, the pet-sitting website Rover revealed in its annual list of popular dog names that "Peter Parker" saw a 285% increase from last year, thanks to Spider-Man: No Way Home. (Peter Barker is right there, you crazy Marvel pet people!) Yet for all the films we loved this year that featured animals, our furry friends are never recognized as much as their less-adorable human co-stars. Just think how unbearable our lives would be without Beethoven, Toto, Babe, Lassie, Seabiscuit, and Air Bud. Especially Air Bud.

Sure, forms of dog actor awards have been around for years—notably, Cannes Film Festival’s Palm Dog. (I'll give you a minute to Google that and come back.) But it’s due time that we bring these prestigious pooches—and other screentastic animals—to the main stage. Salma Hayek quietly floated the idea of "best performance by an animal" at this year's Golden Globes, but I wasn't about to let anyone steal an idea I've percolated on for over a year. I humbly suggest to the Academy: The Oscar for Best Animal Actor.

For all the epic, human-starring blockbusters that premiered this past year, over eight million people still pushed other plans aside to tune into the The National Dog Show. Sure, movies about making movies will always get nominated for Oscars, but the National Dog Show held the attention of millions as 3,000-plus cute, prize-winning pets paraded around the Kennel Club of Philadelphia for the title of “Best in Show.” That same weekend? It was, as IndieWire described it, “The Worst Thanksgiving Weekend in Box-Office History.” Coincidence? I think not. Last month's Golden Globes couldn't even wrestle up more that 5.9 million total viewers, and I'm absolutely certain that an appearance from 2022 National Dog Show champion Winston the French bulldog could have changed that. Hell, most movies nowadays—*cough* Cocaine Bear *cough*—don't even have any real animals at all!

Some of the year’s best cinematic offerings did feature animal actors, however, and honoring them at Tinseltown's big show feels like the only respectful thing to do. If eight million people tuned it to see a little French bulldog waddle around, imagine how many people would root for him to win an Oscar. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this message is for you. Stop complaining about having the second-worst ratings in Oscars history and listen up: I'm presenting you with a golden opportunity. The Oscar for Best Animal Actor could fix everything. I’ve even assembled the perfect seven nominees (and one winner!) to get audiences barking at home.

brit war pony
War Pony / Felix Culpa Felix Culpa

7. Brittney as “Beast,” the Poodle in War Pony

Brittney enters the race for 2023's Best Animal Actor with a few titles already notched onto her collar. After premiering her film, War Pony, at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, the silver poodle scampered away with the prized 2022 Palm Dog Award. Gina Gammell, who co-directed the film about two boys living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, also almost named the film Beast after the pup’s performance. The death of co-writer Bill Reddy’s pet dog, a pit-bull also named Beast, even provided the inspiration for the entire film. What a pooch!

nope universal pictures
Nope / Universal PicturesNope / Universal Pictures - Universal

6. The Uncredited Horses who play “Ghost,” “Lucky,” “Clover,” and “Jean Jacket” in Nope

The horses from Jordan Peele’s summer blockbuster, Nope, may not have actor names behind their performances, but that’s all the more reason why animal actors should receive more recognition. After all, it’s Daniel Kaluuya’s horse, "Ghost," who first looks up into the sky and realizes that something doesn’t seem right. Without those horses, everyone in Nope would be dead! Though some equines are sacrificed to the alien invaders, the horse's history in cinema, and the mistreatment of animals on set, are all vital aspects of Nope’s backstory. It's just a shame that the chimp was (understandably) CGI.

dog mgm
Dog / MGMDog / MGM

5. Britta, Lana 5, and Zuza as “Lulu,” the Belgian Malinois in Dog

Three different dogs played “Lulu” in Dog, Channing Tatum’s directorial debut, which followed a former army ranger who transports his fallen friend’s military dog to his funeral. Britta, Lana 5, and Zuza were all training for military service at a kennel in Amsterdam when they were selected for the film. The doggos were able to train with Tatum and the crew for nine months after production shut down during the pandemic. “All three of the dogs now are fully bonded with their trainers and they’ve all been adopted out and they have these wonderful lives in different parts of country,” co-director Reid Carolin revealed to MovieMaker. “It’s a real cool, happy ending for each of the dogs.”

eo janus films
EO / Janus FilmsEO / Janus Films

4. Tako, Ettore, Hola, Marietta, Mela, and Rocco, the Six Polish Donkeys Who Collectively Play "EO" in EO

In EO, the latest film from Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, audiences follow a donkey on his somber journey from owner to owner—crossing perilous bridges, pulling various carts, and generally just having an awful time. If you’re imaging Robert Bresson’s famous 1966 donkey flick, Au Hasard Balthazar, you’re not too far off. But EO, nominated for Best International Feature at the upcoming Academy Awards, is its own beast. Naturally, getting a donkey to be your main character for 86 minutes of film is a tall task. That’s why EO utilized the collective talents of six donkeys. Some, like Tako, were more adventurous types, though each donkey had its own skillset. “The animal character can move you stronger than any human performance,” Skolimowski told Vanity Fair, adding that he could tell you which of the six donkeys used in the film were on screen at any given time. If that’s not good animal acting, then I don’t know what is!

prey 20th century studios
Prey / 20th Century StudiosPrey / 20th Century Studios - 20th Century Studios

3. Coco as “Sarii,” the Carolina Dog in Prey

When 20th Century Studios premiered test footage for its Predator prequel, Prey, audiences were reportedly enamored by Sarii, the main character’s four-legged companion. Sarii, which translates to "dog" in Comanche, is even a pivotal ally in the final fight against the alien hunter. Played by Coco—a rescue from Fulton County Animal Services in Atlanta—the dog was originally “meant to have a small role,” the rescue shelter revealed in a Facebook post, “however her popularity among test audiences encouraged director Dan Trachtenberg to include more of Coco in the film.” And we thank them for it! Are you listening, Academy? This dog fought Predator.

the eternal daughter a24
The Eternal Daughter / A24The Eternal Daughter / A24

2. Louie as "Louie," the Springer Spaniel in The Eternal Daughter

Louie is not only the third-most important actor in The Eternal Daughter, but since Tilda Swinton plays dual roles as the lead and her mother, Louie is more like the second-most important actor. That's enough prominent placement for Louie to be up for Best Supporting Actor in my book. The springer spaniel, which is one of Swinton’s actual pets, sets the tone for many scenes of the gothic ghost story—whimpering, cuddling, and even directly influencing the plot of the film. It’s some top-notch dog acting, and it's no wonder Louie has the chops, since he comes from a family of Swinton pooches who all won the Palm Dog last year for The Souvenir Part II. “He’s the best actor. Let’s be honest about this,” Swinton told RogerEbert.com. “He’s quite extraordinary… I had a friend who sent me a message after the screening in London that just said, ‘Lassie who?'” Director Joanna Hogg also praised Louie’s innate acting talent, adding, “Louis really felt the story. He’s my ideal actor, because he really embraced it.”

the banshees of inisherin searchlight picutres
The Banshees of Inisherin / Searchlight PicutresThe Banshees of Inisherin / Searchlight Picutres

1. Jenny as "Jenny," the Miniature Donkey in The Banshees of Inisherin

Jenny, the miniature donkey, may have the most heartbreaking performance by an actor animal or human this year. Starring in Martin McDonagh’s excellent drama, The Banshees of Inisherin, Jenny is owned by Irish Isle resident Padraic (Colin Farrell), a simple man who falls into a depression after his drinking buddy, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), decides that he doesn’t want to be friends with him anymore. Possibly the line read of the year—when Padraic’s sister reminds him that the animals are not allowed inside the house—comes when he somberly responds: “I'm not putting my donkey outside when I'm sad.”

Throughout the rest of the film, the two become an inseparable pair. “She was amazing,” Farrell told Vulture about Jenny. “There’s a scene where she comes in and starts nudging the box on the table with her nose—and there was nothing in the box to entice her. That was pure instinct. I was a big fan of some of her acting choices.” So was I, Colin. Hell, McDonagh even wished that Jenny could have been nominated for a Golden Globe in his acceptance speech for Best Screenplay. If Hollywood listens to me, this dream can become a reality. Farrell also mentioned at the Globes that Jenny is entering an early retirement from acting, which means that she leaves the biz as an undefeated champ.

Congrats, Jenny, for receiving Esquire's inaugural award for Best Animal Actor. Give the gal some love!

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