The 92nd Oscars – Best Leading Actress

In today’s post, I will review the Best Leading Actress category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)Harriet gif

 

In Harriet, Cynthia Erivo plays the titular character, Harriet Tubman, as the film chronicles the inspirational story of the renowned abolitionist’s escape from slavery and strenuous work to help others along the Underground Railroad. I was hoping to like Harriet much more than I actually did, as I was all in on a proper film adaptation for such a heroic American figure. However, the film as a whole was a bit mechanical and lacked depth. With that said, nothing can take away from the rousing performance by Erivo, who brilliantly assumes the mantle of this legendary heroine. Her performance is adept and moving, and Erivo absolutely deserves a nomination this year. Erivo is a multi-talented performer, and both her acting and singing gifts shine on the big screen. In addition to this acting nomination, Erivo is also up for Best Original Song for “Stand Up” from the film, and if she were to win in either category, she would complete the illustrious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)ScarJo m

 

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follows a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), as they cope with a contentious coast-to-coast divorce. As I have previously said, Marriage Story is not a fun watch. I am definitely an admirer of Baumbach’s previous work (btw, The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha are far superior films to Marriage Story, and if you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and make that happen), but this movie is just so sad and depressing at its core. (With that said, it is still incredibly well made.) Regardless of my enjoyment of the movie as a whole, the acting is undoubtedly magnificent and thus, Johansson’s nomination is 100% deserved. Johansson vividly wears Nicole’s pain and suffering on her sleeves throughout the movie, and during the film’s most antagonistic moments between Nicole and Charlie, Johansson delivers a heartbreaking performance that highlights her acting superiority.

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)Ronan gif

 

In Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s critically acclaimed book Little Women, Saoirse Ronan plays the story’s protagonist Jo March, a fiery, stubborn, and self-reliant young woman attempting to make a literary career for herself, all while balancing the stresses of her family and grappling with her loneliness, a product of her stern independence. Before Ronan, Winona Ryder played Alcott’s storied heroine in a 1994 film adaptation, which garnered three Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Ryder. In such a famous role that already evokes nostalgia for a generation that grew up on Ryder’s version, Ronan proves her worth and makes the character her own. In fact, I think Ronan’s interpretation of and performance as Jo March is superior to that of Ryder’s—for me, this isn’t entirely surprising, as Ronan is objectively one of the most talented actresses in the film business. (This is Ronan’s fourth Oscar nomination, making her the second youngest actor/actress to reach four nominations, lagging behind Jennifer Lawrence by mere months.)

Charlize Theron (Bombshell)Theron gif

Bombshell tells the story of Fox News and the sexual harassment controversy surrounding its former CEO Roger Ailes. As I previously mentioned on my Best Supporting Actress post, I wanted to like Bombshell, but I just didn’t. The makeup work is phenomenal and the acting performances are great, but the film as a whole felt incredibly surface-level and sensationalist. In the film, Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News host who famously drew the deranged ire of Donald Trump (then a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination), which is depicted in the film. If you’ve seen the images of Theron as Kelly, the resemblance is unbelievably uncanny—the makeup team did a phenomenal job (they are nominated for an Oscar, too) and Theron, an expert in her craft, nailed the complete embodiment of her character, including Kelly’s distinct voice and mannerisms. Although Theron was great, her performance was simply not as moving as those of her fellow nominees, and if I had a vote, I would have given her spot to Awkwafina (discussed more in detail below), who gave a more inspired performance this year that deserved to be recognized on this level.

Renée Zellweger (Judy)Judy gif

Judy tells the story of famed actress and singer Judy Garland’s final year of life, during which she makes a professional comeback for a short residency at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London, England. With her employment prospects dwindling in the United States and her finances in disarray, Garland is convinced to make the trip across the pond to perform for a country of fans who adore her. However, despite some early success during her show’s initial run, Garland’s personal problems increasingly interfere with her professional life, as the film documents her troubles with alcoholism and drug addiction. I will admit, the only facts I really knew about Judy Garland before this movie were that she was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and that she died from a drug overdose. These two facts (and the complexities involved with each) bookend this film, and everything in between is incredibly informative and wonderfully crafted to make for a solidly entertaining movie. And if you haven’t seen Judy, I urge you to believe in the Renée Zellweger hype—she is radiantly flawless in her portrayal of the troubled star. Zellweger deftly navigates the dichotomy of Judy Garland—on the one hand, she’s an incredible talent with first-rate performance abilities, and on the other, she’s hobbled by debilitating substance abuse. Like the film’s story of comeback, Judy serves as a renaissance of sorts for Zellweger, too, who is spectacular.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to the foregoing actresses, there were a handful of other actresses that turned in performances this year that deserve some attention, including one that should have received a nomination instead of Charlize Theron. First, Lupita Nyong’o was stellar in Jordan Peele’s Us. Although I really didn’t enjoy the film (I can usually overlook a few plot holes, but goodness, that storyline just blatantly didn’t add up), it is impossible to ignore the solid work of Nyong’o as both Adelaide and her “tethered” character Red. Second, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was creative, quirky, and a lot of fun, and Ana de Armas was one of the film’s brightest stars as a caretaker suspected of killing her employer. pugh midsommar gifAdditionally, I was wildly impressed with Florence Pugh’s chilling performance in Ari Aster’s eerie horror flick Midsommar, one of my favorite movies of the year—the image of Pugh’s character donning the May Queen crown is instantly iconic! I was more than pleased to see Pugh receive some Oscar love with her nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for Little Women, but her performance in Midsommar was definitely her best this year.

Awk gifDespite these wonderful performances, the biggest “snub” in this category is Awkwafina for her emotionally beautiful performance in the critically acclaimed film, The Farewell. If you recall, I already discussed Zhao Shuzhen from The Farewell being the biggest snub in the Best Supporting Actress category, but it is an even bigger travesty that Awkwafina missed out on a nomination. Awkwafina has already made her mark in the industry thanks to her comedic chops (see, e.g., Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Crazy Rich Asians), but in The Farewell, the 31-year-old proved that she is an absolute force to be reckoned with from a dramatic perspective. Although the Golden Globes don’t historically predict the Academy Awards, insiders were confident that Awkwafina’s win would vault her to an Oscar nomination. Charlize Theron was solid as Megyn Kelly, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Awkwafina should have been nominated in her place.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Scarlett Johansson

Like every single other acting category this year, the winner here, according to the betting lines, seems like a guarantee already. However, Scarlett Johansson is currently getting the next best odds, albeit they are +1400.

Who Should Win: Renée Zellweger

Renée Zellweger is perfect in her portrayal of Judy Garland. I believe in the hype that she is getting, and if I had a vote, I would gladly cast it for Zellweger!

Who Will Win: Renée Zellweger

Every favorite in an acting category this year has swept the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, and BAFTAs. So, for the first time in a long while, I don’t anticipate a single upset in any of these four categories. Zellweger is getting -2000 odds as the favorite, and I look for her to definitely lock in her second career Oscar win on Sunday.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actress

Welcome to this year’s edition of my annual pre-Oscars film blog. Since I started this blog seven years ago, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to talk about my favorite movies and performances of year. However, this year is going to take a slightly different shape, due in part to both the Oscars’ abbreviated schedule (the ceremony airs on February 9th this year, far earlier than usual) and my new role of dad to a (nearly) ten-month old!

This year, in terms of breaking down numerous categories of Oscar nominees, I will be examining the four acting categories, as well as the Best Picture category. Per usual, I will also reveal the list of my 10 favorite films from 2019! Then on the day of the ceremony, I will include posts that show my entire ballot for every category this year in which I have seen each film/performance and a full ranking from top to bottom of every movie I viewed from 2019.

So let’s get started with my first post—an examination of the Best Supporting Actress category. The format for this post (and all of my other reviews of the acting categories) will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

The Nominees

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)Bates 2

Richard Jewell tells the story of the titular security guard who discovers a bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, saves a crowd of people from its blast, and is transformed from overnight hero to villain by an unfair media smear. In the film, Kathy Bates plays Richard’s mother, Bobi Jewell. Most of Bates’s time on screen is in a background capacity, and it is not really until the very end of the film where she has her “Oscar moment.” In this scene—a press conference—Bobi pleads for the FBI to discontinue its investigation of her son as a suspect and passionately lambasts the media for its role in the debacle. Although this moment is meant to be the emotional hook of the film, the entire thing felt forced in an effort to perpetuate director Clint Eastwood’s political and societal message about the press. Don’t get me wrong, Bates nails the scene. But for me, this performance was the most expendable in this category and should have gone to a more deserving candidate this year.

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)Dern Gif

Marriage Story should really be called Divorce Story. The film is wonderfully made, which I would fully expect with Noah Baumbach at the wheel. But it definitely isn’t a happy movie. The subject matter is sad and depressing and illuminates a painful slice of life for its lead characters. Despite that, the acting in the movie is marvelous, including the supporting performance by Laura Dern, who plays Nora Fanshaw, the divorce attorney representing Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) in her divorce from Charlie (Adam Driver). I’ve seen Dern’s character described as a “shark” and “intense,” as Nora is a ruthless advocate for her client. Nora wants to help Nicole value her worth at every turn—and she also wants to win at all costs. Baumbach’s movies are always funny in a very particular way, and here, Dern steals the comedic moments in every scene she’s in. Her highlight reel at the Academy Awards will likely be from her monologue on fathers in her initial consultation with Nicole, which is amazing throughout.

Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)ScarJo JoJo Gif

Writer/director Taika Waititi’s film Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy set during the height of World War II in Nazi Germany. The titular character is an aspiring member of the Hitler Youth who idolizes the ideological venom spewed by the Third Reich. (For God’s sake, his imaginary friend is Hitler himself, played hilariously by Waititi.) Although the film is meant to be funny, its subject matter and underlying message are absolutely serious and touching. And the moral core is Rosie Betzler, played by Scarlett Johansson. Rosie is Jojo’s mother, and her views about life differ significantly from her son’s. While Jojo believes all of the evil propaganda about Jewish people, Rosie is simultaneously hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic, shielding her from the Nazis. And although the film is definitely hilarious, Rosie is at the center of the film’s most emotionally affecting scene, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Johansson is a vision as Rosie, and it’s her keen ability to tap into her character’s most funny and tragic moments with ease that makes her the highlight of the movie.

Florence Pugh (Little Women)Pugh LW gif

This film is the latest in a long line of film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s critically acclaimed book Little Women. Florence Pugh plays the youngest sister Amy March, and she is magnificent. Pugh is one of my very favorite young actresses, and in Little Women, she brings a refreshing perspective to this famed character. Amy is a character with many emotional highs and lows throughout the film, and Pugh deftly navigates Amy’s complex nature. A couple of notable highlights for Pugh are her spirited conversation with Laurie (played by Timothée Chalamet) about the transactional nature of marriage and her vengeful spat with her sister Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan) wherein she burns Jo’s writings in a fit of rage and jealousy. Pugh has been building to this acclaim for a few years now (she burst onto the scene with a clever performance in Lady Macbeth and hauntingly dazzled this year in Midsommar), and I am more than pleased to see her finally receive this kind of adulation.

Margot Robbie (Bombshell)Robbie gif

Bombshell tells the story of Fox News and the sexual harassment controversy surrounding its former CEO Roger Ailes. As much as I wanted to love this movie, I just didn’t. The makeup work is phenomenal and the acting performances are great. But for me, the entire thing failed to hit any depth with respect to its examination of a very worthy storyline. The movie felt more sensationalist than anything, which was a drag, because when I first saw the trailer, I really thought Bombshell was going to be an instant classic. Despite this general feeling about the movie, Margot Robbie is wonderful as the fictional Kayla Pospisil, an aspiring young employee starting a new career at Fox News. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and others are certainly talented in their keen imitation of real-life characters, but Robbie’s fictional character is the point through which the audience connects to this story. Robbie has carved out a place for herself among the heavyweight actresses of our time with amazing performances in The Wolf of Wall Street and I, Tonya, but I am just as impressed with her ability to make the audience feel emotionally connected in an impactful way to the gravity of the storyline in this otherwise very disjointed film.

Snubs and Other PerformancesLopez gif

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, film newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph (who was previously nominated for a Tony Award for her Broadway role in Ghost the Musical) was a hilarious presence as Lady Reed in Dolemite Is My Name. Second, Jennifer Lopez was truly spectacular as Ramona in Hustlers. When Oscar nominations first dropped, the Twitterverse was quite upset at Lopez’s failure to garner a nomination in this category. I tweeted that I could not yet weigh in on that debate because I had not yet seen Hustlers. However, now that I have, I completely understand people feeling miffed by her “snub,” as Lopez was at her best since Selena. It was a wonderful film, which thrived upon Lopez’s standout performance. Additionally, numerous performers from Parasite were worthy of Oscar praise, especially Cho Yeo-jeong and Park So-dam.

zhao gifHowever, for me, I think the biggest snub in this category was Zhao Shuzhen for her divine performance as Nai Nai in Lulu Wang’s breakout film The Farewell. This was one of my favorite movies from all of 2019, and it flourishes due to the superlative performances of both Awkwafina (I’ll get to her later this week as the biggest snub in the Leading Actress category) and Zhao. In the film, Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but she has no idea, as her family decides to keep the news from her. The film is a touching examination of family and culture, and Zhao’s funny, but emotionally tender, performance deserved an Oscar nomination.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Margot Robbie

Although she is still very much an underdog in this category, Robbie is getting the best odds (+1000) of any of the category’s other underdogs to pull off an upset.

Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson

Although nearly all of the Academy Awards hype for Scarlett Johansson is for her performance in Marriage Story, I am partial to her role as Rosie in Jojo Rabbit. Even though the movie is comedic in its satirical mocking of the Nazis, it very much has a more serious, dramatic core. Johansson’s Rosie represents the moral ground upon which the film’s unflinching message is securely fastened.

Who Will Win: Laura Dern

With her third Oscar nomination, Laura Dern will finally be taking home her first Academy Award. With a clean sweep of the year’s major award shows in this category (i.e., the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes), Dern is getting an astounding -2500 odds to win the Oscar. With odds like that and in light of the hardware she’s already taken home this season, I fully expect the result here to be a foregone conclusion.