Unsung Movie MVPs: From ‘A Star Is Born’ to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ most valuable pets elevate potential 2019 Best Picture bait

Remember Uggie, the super-talented Jack Russell  Terrier from “The Artist,” a silent film that would claim 2011’s Best Picture Oscar?  The pup sadly went to that big dog park in the sky at age 13 in 2015. But he left his mark by making his on-screen human owner, French star Jean Dujardin, look so good that the guy won a lead actor Academy Award. DuJardin then appeared in two Uggie-free Hollywood films – “The Wolf of Wall Street“ and “The Monuments Men”  — before high-tailing it back to his homeland. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Now, I’m not going to say the heroic terrier is responsible for what is turning out to be quite a menagerie of animals popping up in potential awards titles this year, starting with Wes Anderson‘s  animated “Isle of Dogs.” But acting opposite an animal is a surefire way to stir emotional  reactions in moviegoers while inspiring “oohs” and “awws.” Think where Dorothy would be if Toto hadn’t revealed the Wizard for the sham he was? Let’s look at current awards contenders featuring unsung MVPs (most valuable pets).

The dog in “A Star Is Born

Pick almost any detail of this third remake of a Hollywood classic and you will take a deep dive into a pool of emotions. By now, you probably know that Bradley Cooper cast his own furry labradoodle, Charlie, as Ally and Jackson’s baby-substitute pooch. But there is a secondary reason why he kept this casting in the family – Charlie was named in honor of his father, who died in 2011 after fighting lung cancer. Cooper channeled those feelings into his directorial debut and the payoff is there for all to see. As a dog owner myself, that heaping mound of steak that Jackson leaves for his canine was far too much for one medium-sized dog to chow down on. Of course (spoiler alert), the troubled musician had other pressing matters on his mind.

The cat in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

Funny lady Melissa McCarthy is very good at being unpleasant and cantankerous as Lee Israel, an alcoholic, down-on-her-luck author who turns to forging letters supposedly written by dead celebrities and selling them to collectors to make a living. Her lone saving grace is her devotion to her cat. In fact, the puss is the reason she first took to crime – so she could pay off  its vet bills. That the feline also gives a terrific performance all on its own is a bonus. Exhibit A: The perfect stink eye it casts upon Richard E. Grant as Israel’s deeply unreliable drinking companion and partner in larceny.

The coven of cats in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Before the world loved Queen singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, who is pretty feline-like in his onstage moves himself), his collection of seven or more kitties were his most avid groupies. I believe three of them were referred to by name – Tom, Jerry and Romeo. Like many narcissistic artists, Mercury regularly puts his needs and desires first and foremost while indulging in self-harming behavior. But you have to love a guy who buys a big mansion and brags that each cat has its own room.

The rabbits in ‘The Favourite’

Olivia Colman enjoyed her time with her co-stars in this wickedly warped  yet touching portrayal of the 18th-century reign of England’s gout-ridden Queen Anne. Not so much her competing courtside ladies, Rachel Weisz‘s Sarah and Emma Stone‘s Abigail. But her bunny-eared companions that offer some compensation for her lack of children. As the royal explains, she has no successor to her throne after becoming pregnant 17 times and losing each child. Consider that the audience I was in groaned more when a rabbit was endangered than when Weisz is cruelly mistreated. Colman, speaking at the New York Film Festival, confessed the creatures were a joy on set. “Emma and I are both mad animal lovers, so we had a lovely time. We could barely remember our lines when it was a rabbit day.”

That loyal little white dog in ‘Widows’

In “Widows,” there is a fluff-ball supreme in the form of a snowy white female West Highland Terrier, just about the only living thing Viola Davis’ Veronica can count on now that her adored criminal husband Liam Neeson has died during a heist gone terribly wrong. Olivia, as the Westie is called, doesn’t just offer comfort to her grieving owner. She – that gender is important in this movie – has her owner’s back as she sniffs out clues that reveal important plot details and even puts herself in danger when a bad guy gets rough.

The canines inRoma

There is the family dog owned by the Mexican middle-class family in “Roma.” I am assuming it is a “he” since it poops all over the terrace floor that also serves as a garage. That habit riles the man of the house and helps propel what unfolds next. That is just the start of such doggy business, since stray canines seem to be a constant in the city streets. Then there is a Christmas party at a house whose décor features the Fellini-esque touch of  mounted heads of the dogs that the family has owned.

A end-credit bonus worth crowing about

“Green Book” has a dedication credit to “Larry the Crow,” a bird that hung out around the shooting location, and was cared for by star Viggo Mortenson after being hit by a car.

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