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Introducing the Best Baby Oscar

For too long, outstanding baby performances in film have gone unrewarded. That changes now.

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

Toward the end of Bridget Jones’s Baby, there is a scene I’ll never forget. And I’ll never forget it because it’s the first scene — after three movies, and five hours, and four Hugh Grant haircuts, and 20 dollars lost in a bet that Renée Zellweger is British IRL — where Bridget looks truly happy. She is walking outside, in a great dress, in an embrace with the man that she is going to spend the rest of her life with. She seems happy, finally and without complication. For a protagonist whose franchise has never given her the easiest go of things, it’s a well-earned moment.

And while Zellweger — warm and subtle as ever — plays the scene beautifully, much of the credit for this moment should go to her male costar as well. He’s pitch-perfect: stoic, but affectionate. Physical, but fluid. (And yeah, sure: He really knows how to pull off a blazer.) Her eyes tell the story of what’s led us here, but his tell the story of what’s to come. They are in this together now.

Sounds like an Oscar-worthy performance, right? And I’d say it is, without question. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year.

But there’s one small problem.

The male costar I’m talking about plays William —

‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ (Universal)
‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ (Universal)

— who is a baby.

And now you see the problem we’re faced with. And now you also see, I hope, that there is only one possible solution.

We need a Best Baby Oscar.

I’m so glad you agree. Babies, for far too long, have been the black sheep of the acting community. We praise them, and we fawn over them … but when it comes time to award them? We ostracize them. Here is a statistic that will blow your mind, but I swear it’s true: NO BABY IN HISTORY HAS EVER WON AN OSCAR.

With the Best Baby Oscar, all of that will change. Now, I know that major acting categories don’t just get added to the Oscars willy-nilly, and I can respect the academy’s judiciousness. And I’m sure that you, as a reader, have some questions of your own. So I’ve prepared a Best Baby Oscar primer to answer those questions as best I can.

Thanks for your open mind. And remember: We can’t all be actors. But we’ve all been babies.

Is this a joke?

No.

OK, not a joke, got it. So what is this new award?

It’s not a new award — it’s an Oscar, also commonly known as an Academy Award. The Oscars have been around since 1929. All I’m proposing is that we add a new category to the Oscars. This new category would be “performances by babies.” It would be called the Best Baby Oscar.

Who would this Oscar go to?

The baby who’s the best.

Interesting. But how would we even measure who the “Best Baby” is?

It would be no different from any other Oscar. It’s best to think of “baby” as a type of performance — not unlike “lead” or “supporting.” Voters would select a Best Baby from the eligible pool of performances.

But are there different categories, like Best Supporting Baby and Best Lead Baby?

No. All baby performances will be entered for consideration into the same Best Baby category, and eligible for the same Best Baby Oscar.

What are some qualities that voters look for in a great baby performance?

Well, you’d have to ask them. But for me personally: I look for a performance that … tells me something new about the world. That isn’t afraid to take chances, or go to unexpected places, or ironically be able to talk like an adult and that’s the whole joke, that’s literally the entire thing, like, honestly, that’s it. I look for a performance that says, “Look, I’m a baby right now, I cry a lot, it’s fine.” I look for something that’s real. That’s raw. That’s true.

What makes a performance eligible for Best Baby Oscar consideration?

Glad you asked. The actor giving the performance must be shy of their third birthday on the day of the film’s theatrical release.

That makes sense. Still, “baby” is a little amorphous. For example: Do animated babies — say, Jack Jack in The Incredibles — count as babies?

No.

Do animals who are babies — say, Simba in The Lion King — count as babies?

No.

Do animals who are named Baby — say, Baby in Bringing Up Baby — count as babies?

No.

Do animals who are babies AND are named Baby — say, Babe in Babe — count as babies?

No.

Do adult humans who are named Baby — say, Baby in Dirty Dancing — count as babies?

Definitely not.

Is the Oscar statue given to the Best Baby winner a baby-size version of the normal Oscar statue?

No. It’s the same size.

Is the Oscar statue given to the Best Baby winner a normal-size version of the Oscar statue, but made to look like a baby?

No. Wait, what? No. It’s the same exact statue.

Got it. This all sounds great — but it’s also a little abstract. Can you give me any examples of who some past Best Baby winners would have been, had the award been around from the start?

Yep. Here is a retroactive selection of some Best Baby winners, sorted by decade:

1930s: Bachelor Mother (1939)
1940s: 3 Godfathers (1948)

‘3 Godfathers’ (MGM)
‘3 Godfathers’ (MGM)

1950s: Pretty Baby (1950)
1960s: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
1970s: The Godfather (1972), It’s Alive (1974), Eraserhead (1977)

‘The Godfather’ (Paramount)
‘The Godfather’ (Paramount)

1980s: Popeye (1980), Labyrinth (1986), She’s Having a Baby (1988), Look Who’s Talking (1989)
1990s: Trainspotting (1996), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

‘Trainspotting’ (Miramax)
‘Trainspotting’ (Miramax)

2000s: Where the Heart Is (2000), My Baby’s Daddy (2004), Children of Men (2006)
2010s: Twilight: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 (2011), What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012), Hell Baby (2013)

‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ (Lionsgate)
‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ (Lionsgate)

Seeing past winners is helpful, thanks. But the real fun of Oscar season is the campaigns. Will there be enough Best Baby contenders each year to have exciting Oscar races?

For sure. Here are a few of history’s most exciting Best Baby Oscar races:

1988

An incredible race. In fact, the 1988 Best Baby field might be the strongest ever. You have the Coen brothers classic Raising Arizona. It was the critical darling of the ’88 Best Baby contenders: winning the Palme d’Or at Baby Cannes (Cannes but for babies) and scoring 99 percent fresh on Rotten Baby Tomatoes (Rotten Tomatoes but for babies). You have the Nancy Meyers–penned, Diane Keaton–starring rom-com Baby Boom, which introduced and then perfected the zeitgeist-y cinematic formula of “unexpected baby high jinx melt late-’80s yuppie’s heart.” You have Brian De Palma’s period mob saga The Untouchables, which featured arguably the single greatest baby scene of all time. And you have 3 Men and a Baby, which — THERE ARE THREE MEN, AND ALSO, ADDITIONALLY, THIS IS IN ADDITION TO THE THREE MEN, I MEAN, A BABY.

Raising Arizona was the odds-on favorite throughout the campaign, until it started to lose momentum down the stretch after news — some might say a hit piece — emerged that the Coen brothers had actually used 15 different babies during production. By Oscar night, most baby pundits considered the race a baby pick’em. Ultimately — and I think rightfully — Baby Boom emerged with the statue.

‘Baby Boom’ (United Artists)
‘Baby Boom’ (United Artists)

2008

It was the year of the pregnancy rom-com: Knocked Up, starring Katherine Heigl; Waitress, starring Keri Russell; and Juno, starring Ellen Page. The sheer similarity of these movies resulted in an impossibly close — and, yes, cutthroat — Best Baby race. After months of jockeying and campaigning, Katherine Heigl delivered the final death blow: accusing the Waitress and Juno babies of employing artificial cuteness enhancers in postproduction. The rumors turned out to be false, but it didn’t matter. The damage was done. Heigl was not to be fucked with — and the Knocked Up baby came away with the gold.

‘Knocked Up’ (Universal)
‘Knocked Up’ (Universal)

2015

If the 2008 Best Baby race was defined by its similarities, then the 2015 Best Baby race was defined by its differences. There was American Sniper, a true-story military drama, with a baby that was more or less (OK: more) a prop. There was Neighbors, an R-rated comedy, with a baby that watched Seth Rogen have sex and (separate scene) tasted a condom. And there was Devil’s Due, a found-footage horror film, with a baby that — you know how this one ends. Traditionally, “real or fake?” baby controversies have been negative factors in Best Baby Oscar campaigns. But American Sniper managed to buck that trend: The more synthetic the baby was proved to be, the more authentically its performance touched people. The race was fierce, but on Oscar night there were no surprises: The American Sniper baby won.

‘American Sniper’ (Warner Bros.)
‘American Sniper’ (Warner Bros.)

You’re right, those races do sound exciting. But what about this year’s race? Is it Bridget Jones’s Baby’s baby in a walk?

Hardly. While Bridget Jones’s Baby is a legitimate contender for 2017’s Best Baby Oscar, a few other babies enter the fall stretch of this awards season with serious buzz.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: After its narrow loss in 2015, the Neighbors franchise is back two years later with another baby tour de baby force. In one Sorority Rising scene, 2-year-old Stella dresses a dildo up like a princess and uses it as a baby toy — exactly the sort of Big Idea performance that the Baby Academy goes crazy for. Another thing that the academy goes crazy for: giving snubbed contenders their due. For these reasons, I see Neighbors 2 as a prohibitive lock for a Best Baby nomination right now — with a good shot at a win. It might just be the right baby performance at the right baby time.

‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ (Universal)
‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’ (Universal)

Bad Moms: The Bad Moms “grocery store stroller baby” baby is a classic one-scene movie-stealer, in the lineage of The Untouchables “train station carriage baby” baby. That’s a prestigious lineage, and the academy loves its movie history. However, my guess is that, as with The Untouchables in ’87, the One Perfect Scene strategy will again secure a nomination — but fall short of winning it all.

‘Bad Moms’ (STX)
‘Bad Moms’ (STX)

The Light Between Oceans: Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans is the classic film that struggles with audiences and critics, only to be saved — and have its place in movie history secured — by the awards-season dominance of a single, titanic performance. To my mind, Baby Lucy in Oceans practices the sort of baby-acting that comes around only once in a generation. The crying; the laughing; the cooing; the knitwear-wearing; the baby-food eating; the hair-growing; the staying super-chill about getting pretty unromantically and brutally and, the more I think about it, definitely straight-up kidnapped — it’s all there. Oh, and one more thing:

‘The Light Between Oceans’ (Walt Disney)
‘The Light Between Oceans’ (Walt Disney)

It’s cute as shit.

Congratulations to all of the other films on their standout work — and on the beautiful performances by their adorable babies. Their adorable, loser babies.

The Light Between Oceans is our official front-runner for 2017’s Best Baby Oscar.