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.

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 1 – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is an action adventure film directed and produced by critically acclaimed Australian filmmaker by George Miller, with a script written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris. Set in the near future in a desert wasteland where gasoline and water are scarce commodities, the film follows Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a hard-hitting solider under the control of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), as she is tasked with driving a fuel truck (known as “War Rig”) across the desert to an oil-producing station. MMFR8However, Furiosa has other plans, as she reroutes her journey in order to accomplish her true objective: She has rescued Immortan Joe’s sex slaves (known as “The Five Wives”) and intends to speed across the desert in order to free them from their concubinage. When Joe realizes what Furiosa has done, he sends out his “War Boys” to track her down and return what is his. During the chase, Furiosa eventually teams up with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a mercenary who, at the beginning of the film, was captured by Immortan Joe, and the two go to extreme lengths to ensure their survival.

MMFR10“Oh, what a day. What a lovely day.” That quote from Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe’s War Boys, is one of the best quotes from Mad Max: Fury Road; but better yet, it will go down as one of the greatest quotes in film history. Not only does the quote sum up the intense action of the film’s story perfectly, but it also brilliantly describes my experience in an IMAX theater watching the movie for the first time—what a lovely day it was. In the past, deciding which movie would be ranked No. 1 on my year-end countdown was pretty easy—most of the time one sticks out above the rest. But this year, my process was incredibly difficult. MMFR3After watching The Revenant, I spent weeks constantly moving it and Mad Max interchangeably between the Nos. 1 and 2 spots. But when I decided to finalize my list, I simply could not ignore the genius of Mad Max: Fury Road. Even though the film was released in May, it has stuck with me, day in and day out. Rarely have I ever had such an engrossing experience in a theater watching a movie. I was mesmerized by everything director George Miller threw at me—with every passing minute, I knew I was witnessing pure greatness. So when it came time to decide which movie would come in at No. 1 on my list, one thing became immeasurably clear: Although The Revenant was a visionary masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road would go down as one of my absolute favorite films of all time!

MMFR16The genius of Fury Road starts with its imaginative creator, George Miller. For those that do not know, Fury Road is the fourth installment in Miller’s acclaimed Mad Max franchise (Mel Gibson played the original Max in the previous three films). Miller’s original Mad Max film and its sequel The Road Warrior are considered by many film scholars to be some of the best movies of all time. In fact, Spike Lee created a list years ago of essential films for all aspiring filmmakers to see, and both Mad Max and The Road Warrior were listed. The original films were so powerful because Miller created some of the most memorable characters, scenes, and stories to ever hit the silver screen with an incredibly small budget. The original film’s budget was just an estimated $280,000. MMFR15The third film, which boasted the most expensive budget in the franchise’s history at the time, was a meager $10 million. This is why I was so pumped for Fury Road: It would feature the same creative filmmaker making another Mad Max film, but this time he would be doing it with seemingly unlimited resources (his budget for Fury Road was $150 million). Although The Road Warrior is considered the greatest in the franchise, Fury Road beats it hands down. Rarely does a franchise’s fourth film trump the rest in terms of cinematic quality—but Fury Road has done just that.

MMFR12George Miller’s classic innovation is radiantly on display in Fury Road. The film, for all intents and purposes, is a 120-minute-long chase scene—2 hours of violent, action-packed, dusty, intense, thrilling, and downright amazing chase scenes. The visual effects are stunning, yet Miller uses mostly practical effects to execute his action sequences—the film features very little CGI. One of my favorite aspects of the film, though, is the music. Junkie XL has crafted one of the greatest scores, for me, in film history—it is a shame it was not nominated for an Oscar. MMFR5The way the music is interpolated into the plot is outstanding. Throughout the chase, Immortan Joe’s convoy features a variety of War Boys who play music during the chase—they are essentially a war band, featured smack dab on the frontline. The music the War Boys band plays is the film’s score—it is a brilliant juxtaposition of score and story. The best part of the band: The Doof Warrior (Australian entertainer iOTA), a heavy-metal musician who hangs from the front of a truck, blasting his twin-necked electric guitar, which itself doubles as a flamethrower. Only someone as groundbreaking as George Miller could think this stuff up.

As everyone knows, I am a devoted fan of Tom Hardy. In Fury Road, he takes on the iconic role of Max brilliantly. However, his speaking parts are limited and his worth is merely conveyed through subtle “looks.” Despite not speaking much, Hardy portrays Max with soulful air of mystery, and this nuanced performance is effective. MMFR6The real story of the film, however, is Imperator Furiosa and Miller’s feminist ambitions. In a film where Tom Hardy’s character leads in the titular role, Charlize Theron steals the show (for which she really should have received an Oscar nod). Fury Road is truly an exposition of female domination, and I bought in 100%. Max is merely a placeholder at times, while Theron’s Furiosa is the real protagonist—she is the heroine modern film so desperately needed. Although Furiosa only has one arm (the other is a prosthetic), she never pities herself. She is a strong, independent woman who is tougher than nails. MMFR4Her goal: to rescue Immortan Joe’s “Five Wives” from their sex slavery. Can it get any more “girl power” than that? I read this week that George Miller actually brought in Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” to prepare the “Five Wives” (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee Kershaw, and Courtney Eaton) for their roles in the film—this only adds to the obviousness of Miller’s intentions. In a franchise where Max and a variety of other “he-man” characters have pervaded the storyline, Fury Road ushers in an unsurpassed era of female gallantry. Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout and for disturbing images.

Mad Max: Fury Road trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEJnMQG9ev8

Academy Award nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road:

Best Picture (Doug Mitchell and George Miller, producers)

Best Director (George Miller)

Best Cinematography (John Seale)

Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan)

Best Sound Editing (Mark A. Mangini and David White)

Best Sound Mixing (Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin)

Best Visual Effects (Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams)

Best Film Editing (Margaret Sixel)

Best Production Design (Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. The Revenant
  2. The Big Short
  3. Sicario
  4. Ex Machina
  5. Spotlight
  6. Straight Outta Compton
  7. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  8. Steve Jobs
  9. Creed
  10. ’71
  11. Room
  12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  13. Beasts of No Nation
  14. The Martian