With every freshly delivered batch of Oscar nominations comes, inevitably, equal and opposite waves of joy and despair. Joy – for those lucky enough to be honoured. Despair – for all those cult favourite, indie surprises and underappreciated performances that didn’t get a look-in in the lead or supporting categories. This year is no exception, and everyone and anyone has an idea of who deserved an Academy nod the most. This list isn’t extensive (impossible) nor is it objectively right (that would be at odds with whatever personal, emotional thing comprises a performance that strikes a nerve with audiences). Nevertheless, here are six people we think deserve a consolatory pat on the back after they were brought up short this award season. For whatever reason – be it a lack of campaigning for their film in general, smaller box-office presences, or just the sheer controversy of their film’s subject matter – they’re not on the list. But, hey, they are on this one.

Lakeith Stanfield

Category: Best Actor

Film: Sorry To Bother You – Dir. Boots Riley

It’s hard for performances in comedy to get their due. It’s even harder to play the everyman in a comedy as bonkers, satirically rich and politically scathing as Boots Riley’s feature film. In Sorry to Bother you, Riley lets rip with a riff on capitalism (represented here as a telemarketing company) and it’s transformative effect on the lives of the marginalised in America that plays like a bit of long-form slam poetry – pin-balling here and there between ideas, tones, genres and even sets (production designer Jason Kisvarday literally lifts the furniture and structures around Stanfield to place him in the homes of the people he has to call to become super seller). Stanfield, therefore, is a miracle for just how much he manages to ground things. He pitches himself on the premise of a wacky, chiller dude of the likes he has become iconic for post-Atlanta, but what he is really selling us by the end is the wide-eyed panic of a creative soul who can feel himself suffocating in a corporate world. Through the actor’s wounded, slouchy progress Riley’s poignant themes come across, but he still manages to soar as one of the funniest characters cinema had to offer last year.

Saoirse Ronan

Category: Best Actress

Film: Mary Queen of Scots – Dir. Josie Rourke

In the five years that unfolded between the moment Saoirse Ronan signed on to play the young Scottish queen and the day she first stepped on set, she has proved herself one of the most exciting actresses of her generation – breaking hearts with her old fashioned romanticism in Brooklyn and capturing a long-awaited coming of age experience for young women everywhere with her spiteful, aching Lady Bird. Although every film she does seems to be more exciting than the last, as she finally took her place (for a while at least) on the throne in Rourke’s visually arresting period drama there came a sense of finality. At last Ronan has graduated from YA movies and indie scene excellence into the prestige of lead actress royalty. Her Mary lights up the screen, showing off for the first time each of the very best of Ronan’s qualities in one: a sageness beyond her years, luminous empathy, and deep-rooted strength. Long may she reign.

Ethan Hawke

Category: Best Actor

Film: First Reformed – Dir. Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader’s (of Taxi Driver fame) return to the theme of toxic masculinity went down a storm. His parable about a priest struggling to come to terms with the corruption present in his community and his faith was a critical favourite and, although it received the best screenplay nod from the Academy, much respect has to be given to Ethan Hawke. Against type in a way, Hawke had to contend with his own natural docile energy that has served him so well in Richard Linklater projects like Boyhood. Here he plays a man learning to accept deep-seated rage and frustration as part of his identity in a flawed world. It’s a master-class of long game acting; for the most part, Hawke avoids showy delivery of his misery and instead builds intensity with his lid just about on. Visibly he strains at the seams until he erupts in a stunning last-minute horror-show.

Toni Collette

Category: Best Actress

Film: Hereditary – Dir. Ari Aster

Up there with comedy in terms of under-acclaim is the most tragic of them all – a great horror performance. Collette has done it before in The Sixth Sense and she reaches new heights, or perhaps more unspeakable depths, here. Maybe voters didn’t catch her – too busy blocking their ears and clamping their eyes shut to block out the grizzly, throat-closing atmosphere of Aster’s look in at the worst year of a cursed family’s life. Too bad, because you would have missed Toni Collette pulling off the jagged hurt of an estranged daughter, the hysteria of a grieving mother, and something supernaturally other all at once. It’s an admirable dramatic feat that she somehow sneaks all these human sorrows into the most monstrous set pieces, playing possession like it is – a cold hard loss upon the senses. Fear has never looked so real.

Viola Davis

Category: Best Actress

Film: Widows – Dir. Steve McQueen

Widows might be the most baffling non-nominee at all, for it is superlative in every sense – style, cinematography, social commentary, action sequences, with a pithy and well-paced plot, and most of all, a powerhouse cast. Updating the old TV series about the widows of a murdered heist-group forming their own team, McQueen solidified himself as a master of big-brained blockbusters and his chorus of strong female leads as charismatic silver screen frontrunners. Viola Davis deserves the respect and plaudits of her peer Meryl Streep but has worked twice as hard to get it and receives her due still a little less. In Widows, a brutally timely depiction of female survival, she is as extraordinary as ever, accommodating the talent of the ensemble cast and lifting them to greater heights but sitting firmly in the centre as an imperial matriarch. Comfortable for a minute with her husband’s unlawfully attained bougie lifestyle, she shatters in the opening sequence, and her white-knuckled resurgence into someone harsher but kinder in a prey-to-predator glow-up is mesmerising. It may even put the capital thrill in this thriller, more vital than the set-up and execution of the women’s heist. Fingers crossed she is waiting behind the wings of the televised Oscars, ready to roll in and take her rightful share.