Messi from Anatomy of a Fall deserves an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor… Not just Best Dog

The border collie delivers one of the best performances of the year in the Best Picture nominee.

Film Independent Presents Live Read Of Justine Triet's "Anatomy Of A Fall"
Film Independent Presents Live Read Of Justine Triet's "Anatomy Of A Fall" / Amanda Edwards/GettyImages

This Sunday (March 10) is Hollywood’s biggest night, the Oscars, aka the Academy Awards. And one of the big contenders is Anatomy of a Fall, which has been nominated in five categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing. But one enormous snub for the movie? Messi, the border collie who plays the pivotal role of Snoop the dog in the movie, and absolutely deserves to be up for Best Supporting Actor.

If you’ve missed the movie thus far, and spoilers past this point, it focuses on a novelist named Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) who is accused of murdering her husband after he falls from their balcony. Nobody saw it happen, and the closest person to the potential crime was their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), who went blind during an accident years earlier.

Since Daniel is blind, he has a faithful guide dog named Snoop who is with him at all times. Snoop, played by Messi, is adorable throughout the film, but also plays in three crucial emotional scenes. In the first, it’s actually Snoop who discovers the blood-spattered body of Sandra’s husband, whining to alert Daniel of his father’s body. Director Justine Triet cuts to Messi repeatedly throughout this emotionally harrowing scene, and I kid you not, you can feel the dog’s sadness oozing through the frame. He wants to care for Daniel, his other master is dead, and he does not know what to do.

The second scene is late in the movie when Daniel feeds Snoop aspirin to test a theory… Sandra has stated during her trial that her husband may have attempted death by suicide, since she saw that he had vomited up what looked like partially dissolved aspirin tablets. Daniel remembers Snoop got sick around the same time, so feeds aspirin to Snoop under the premise that maybe Snoop ate his father’s vomit, aspirin and all. Daniel wants to see if Snoop will get sick in the same way.

The horrific scene that follows finds Daniel sobbing as it looks like Snoop is about to die. And through the entire scene, which is mostly in one shot, Messi lies there still, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, glassy eyed; until Daniel and a court monitor named Marge (Jehnny Beth) give him salt water, making him throw up. Then Snoop pops up, fine, and Daniel hugs him.

Film Independent Presents Live Read Of Justine Triet's "Anatomy Of A Fall" / Amanda Edwards/GettyImages

Just to pause here for a moment, when I was watching this movie last night (sorry, I missed it in theaters!) I also, appropriately, paused the movie to google “anatomy of a fall dog puppet,” because there was no way that could be a real dog acting near death like that. Yet, in fact, that is Messi playing effectively dead the entire time. As his owner Laura Martin Contini explained it to Variety, Messi already knew how to play dead – the trick was getting him to do that while also being carried.

“This was something I added over time by working every day,” Contini recalled. “It started on the bed, and it was just how much disturbance was this dog going to be able to withstand whilst remaining limp.”

In a movie filled with harrowing, tense scenes, this is the worst of the worst. You feel everything Daniel is feeling in that moment thanks of course to Machado-Graner’s performance. But it wouldn’t work without Messi.

And then there’s the final shot of the film, where Sandra, finally home, falls asleep holding Snoop as the credits roll. Perhaps not as emotionally intense as the first two scenes noted, but this scene provides some sort of closure for the whole film, and Messi’s performance is a key aspect of that.

So would the Oscars ever give an award to a dog? Not necessarily, though there is some precedent. Specifically, at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, while Anatomy of a Fall won the highest honor, the Palme d'Or, Messi won the Palm Dog. This is not a joke, either, Messi actually won this award for playing Snoop in the movie.

Jay Ellis, Tig Notaro, Brett Goldstein, Sherry Cola, Bob Odenkirk, Riley Keough, Messi, Kate Berlant, Danny Ramirez
Film Independent Presents Live Read Of Justine Triet's "Anatomy Of A Fall" / Amanda Edwards/GettyImages

Granted, this started as a joke category, but at the same time Messi has captured the hearts of Hollywood over the course of the Academy Awards ramp-up. Stars love him, the press loves him, the camera loves him.

And frankly, look at what he did in the film. Three emotionally resonant stand-out scenes in this multiple Academy Award-nominated film would not work if it wasn’t for Messi’s stellar performance. Actors and actresses have been nominated – and won! – for so much less crucial of a role, at least timewise. Messi is present throughout the proceedings, and provides the uncomplicated heart of the movie, even more than any of the other characters. We even potentially get to see scenes imagined through the mind of Snoop! This is not just a dog thrown in for cuteness's sake! This is a fully rounded and lived-in performance that is so impressive, I would not be surprised if Bradley Cooper is already training to play a dog in his next film.

So should the Oscars pull an audible and take the Best Supporting Actor award away from the nominees? I’d say: yes. While Ryan Gosling, Mark Ruffalo, Robert De Niro, Robert Downey Jr., and Sterling K. Brown are all phenomenal in their respective roles, just imagine having Messi prancing up to accept the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor while the orchestra plays an instrumental steel band version of “P.I.M.P.” Now that’s movie magic and TV history. Forget Best Dog; Messi deserves to win Best Supporting Actor. Make it happen, Oscars.

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