It’s the end of December and awards season is approaching its fever pitch, what with Golden Globes night (January 5) and Oscars Night (February 9) looming on the New Year’s horizon. While a certain group of actors are all but guaranteed statue consideration, we’re coming to terms with the fact that our favorite scene-stealers of 2019 will not be recognized during the upcoming ceremonies. Adam Driver might be able to nail a Sondheim performance, but has he driven Robert Pattinson to the brink of madness with only his incessant squawking? Joaquin Phoenix shimmied down those steps with panache, but where was he when Brad and Leo were fending off the Manson Family? It’s time to pay tribute to the unsung heroes of Hollywood and celebrate the year’s best animals featured across the cinematic landscape:
10. Goose, Captain Marvel Star
As the first female-fronted Marvel film, Captain Marvel broke new ground for Disney. But pulling focus from Brie Larson was an adorable ginger cat named Goose. If you want to get technical, Goose isn’t a cat; he’s a Flerken (an alien species that looks suspiciously like cats). But since there is no “Vulture’s Best Aliens in Film 2019” list, he will be recognized here. Along with supplying integral fodder for the film’s plot, the role of Goose provided four cats with employment: Reggie, Archie, Rizzo, and Gonzo all played the character at various points in the film. It’s tough not to stan a cat acting cooperative. (Larson, however, was less keen, given that she’s allergic to cats, and had to avoid them between takes.)
9. The Horses of John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
Animals — namely dogs— have played an essential role in the John Wick universe ever since the first installment (RIP Daisy). Chad Stahelski upped the stakes in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, adding two Belgian Malinois shepherds to the mix alongside Wick’s extremely cute grey pit bull. But the film’s first act makes heroes out of a different sort of animal: a barnful of extremely elegant horses. Not only do they provide assistance to Wick by doing that Classic Horsey Thing of kicking some bad guys who get too close to their hindquarters, they also somehow manage to up Keanu Reeves’s cool factor when he flees a scene on horseback — an incredible achievement, considering the man is already ice cold.
8. The Alligators of Crawl
You know what sucks? Hurricanes. You know what sucks even more? Hurricanes that result in unusually large and vicious alligators terrorizing your local neighborhood. From the man that brought us Piranha 3D, Alexandre Aja’s pulpy creature feature is some distant cousin of the Sharknado franchise, starring Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper as a daughter-father pair who are trapped in their Florida home by a ravenous horde of hungry gators, and must outsmart them using only their wits and various household appliances. Understandably, no actual alligators were used in the making of Crawl (they don’t make for particularly receptive scene partners), so we have animatronics and CGI to thank for the illusion of the bite-y bad guys instead.
7. Detective Pikachu, Detective Pikachu Star
Are Pokémon animals? Does it count if the Pokémon is voiced by a beloved Hollywood A-lister? Listen, your eligibility concerns are duly considered and ignored, because LOOK AT HOW CUTE HE IS. LOOK AT HIS BIG EYES! LOOK AT HIS FUR! LOOK AT HIS LITTLE HAT! AHHH. Regardless of whether or not you fell for Rob Letterman’s live-action take on the Pokémon franchise, there is absolutely no denying that Detective Pikachu is completely adorable, and that choosing Ryan Reynolds’s distinctive motormouth to voice him was an inspired choice. Although many fans petitioned for Danny DeVito to voice the most famous Pokémon of all time, this is the version we got, and you know what? It’s very fun. And cute. God, it’s so cute.
6. Zoonie the Poodle Mix, Berry the Beagle, and Foofoo the Pomeranian; Parasite Stars
Bong Joon Ho’s darkly comedic drama about a family of South Korean scammers has been a global phenomenon since it won the Palme d’Or back in Cannes, but the movie’s unsung heroes are the trio of pampered pooches who live with the Park family. Remember when matriarch Chung-sook Kim kicks Berry the beagle out of the way? These little sweeties are totally innocent and deserve the world, despite the horrific scenes that unfold around them.
5. Unnamed Space Baboon, Ad Astra Star
In space, no one can hear you fight off evil baboons. Sure, HAL 9000 was villainous, but at least he didn’t eat Dr. David Bowman’s face. In one of the most disturbing scenes in James Gray’s sci-fi drama Ad Astra, in which Brad Pitt is Sad Astra about his Dad Astra, a rescue mission goes awry when an escaped baboon test subject attacks — and literally eats the face of — Roy McBride’s unfortunate colleague Captain Lawrence Tanner. The Unnamed Space Baboon is the most evil cinema monkey since the ones that kick-start the virus in 28 Days Later. Still, Gray does earn points for creativity in staging a Pitt-versus-baboon space-fight scene. (In a similar vein, Claire Denis’s High Life featured a spaceship full of dogs — but they seemed more bewildered by Robert Pattinson turning up than interested in attacking him.)
4. Mr. Bruce the Chihuahua, Hustlers Star
It’s rare that I see a dog with better fashion sense than me, but it absolutely makes sense that if a film was going to feature an exceptionally stylish pooch, it would be Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers. Weighing in at three and a half pounds, Mr. Bruce is the pet of aspiring con woman Angel (Stormi Maya) and seems completely at home anywhere he goes, be it lunch with the gals or hustling at the club. He cuddles with J.Lo, he dresses to impress. A living legend. Plot twist, though: Mr. Bruce is played by Manhattan, who is a girl, and also starred in 2019’s Someone Great, alongside her doggy brothers, Mojito and Amaretto. Still hustling!
3. Every Single Cat in Cats
Although Cats is easily the most disturbing event of the holiday season, there’s something high camp about its extremely specific awfulness. Is it the perplexing scale? Is it the nuzzling? Is it the digital-fur technology that is now frantically being corrected by poor visual-effects workers who definitely don’t have anything they’d rather be doing this holiday season? Is it the feet? It’s probably some sick combination of it all. I thought I might never know peace after having seen Cats, and yet rather than feeling haunted, I now feel freed, as if I’ve bore witness to some forbidden knowledge. Not human, not animal. Something dark and horrifying in between. Thank you, Tom Hooper. Thank you so much.
2. Brandy the Pit Bull, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Star
While some directors delight in adding animal sidekicks to their films, Quentin Tarantino isn’t usually that big on pets. Brandy, Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) loyal tan pit-bull terrier, bucks that trend by being completely essential to the plot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A well-trained pupper who loves chowing down on raccoon-flavored dog food and watching television with her best bud, she provides a crucial assist during the film’s climactic sequence, and — most important of all — survives all the carnage. The canine actress behind Brandy is Sayuri, who received the Palme Dog at Cannes this year for her efforts. Tarantino accepted the award on Sayuri’s behalf, praising her acting chops.
1. The Seagull in The Lighthouse
Not since Chekhov’s eponymous play has the humble Larus canus received such a starring role. Our top honor goes to the seagull in Robert Eggers’s atmospheric yarn about a couple of salty sea dogs driven to extremes while inhabiting a remote New England lighthouse. “Best leave him be,” warns Willem Dafoe of the one-eyed squawking nightmare, relaying the auld seafaring myth that gulls are the reincarnations of deceased sailors. But Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow has a burning hatred for his winged tormentor, and in one gloriously deranged scene, he exacts brutal, unrelenting revenge upon his foe. Things only get worse from there. However, the birds behind the role (Johnny, Lady, and the Tramp) didn’t even get to meet Pattinson — their performances were recorded in London and then green-screened into the final film.