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.

My Review of the 86th Academy Awards

Oscars Selfie

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  The Academy Awards has been known in the past to be utterly long and boring.  Although the show was still long (about 3 ½ hours), it was far from boring.  Ellen DeGeneres was an absolutely, hysterically entertaining host, and I would have zero problem if she was asked to host the show from here on out—her monologue this year was uproarious!  With the exception of only a couple, each of her jokes throughout the show were quite humorous and suitable for the Oscars, and even when she did toe the line of appropriateness, it still worked because it was done with Ellen’s trademark repartee.

This year’s Oscars had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (12 Years A Slave wins Best Picture)

McQueen JumpingAs you all probably already know from my blog, 12 Years A Slave was by far my favorite film from 2013.  I have been hoping and praying that it would win Best Picture, and last night, it did!  In a night where Gravity took home seven Oscars, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón, it was gratifying that the Academy awarded its most prestigious honor to a film that I believe is one of the greatest of all time.  Both Brad Pitt and director Steve McQueen were graciously humble in accepting the award, and after the Academy flubbed last year by giving Argo the award, it was great to see them getting it right this time around. The best part of the acceptance speech, though, was when Steve McQueen began jumping around on stage in celebration of the victory.  Well deserved, Mr. McQueen.

Worst Moment: (John Travolta’s mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name)

Adele DazeemEvery presenter at the Oscars is presented with a guide to help them master the names of anyone they must introduce.  Despite this, Idina Menzel’s name is not all that hard to pronounce in the first place—it sounds just like it looks.  However, John Travolta found some way possible to dastardly butcher the Let It Go-singer’s name as she was introduced to perform.  His pronunciation for “Idina Menzel” was as follows: Adele Dah-zeem.  HUH????

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life)

Clarke OscarsThe subject matter of this Short Documentary winner is Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, and how music had given her optimism in life.  Ms. Herz-Sommer passed away at 110 years old, just one week ago.  While accepting the award, director Malcolm Clarke gave an undeniably endearing acceptance speech about this strong-willed, positive-minded woman and the impact she had on the entire filmmaking crew.  It was definitely a special moment last night.

Most Boring Moment (Bette Midler’s performance)

86th Annual Academy Awards - ShowLast year, my “Most Boring Moment” went to Barbara Streisand for her musical performance following the “In Memoriam” presentation.  Once again, this musical slot takes the cake for the most absolutely boring moment of the entire Academy Awards.  Bette Midler performed “Wind Beneath My Wings” following the “In Memoriam” slideshow, and it nearly put me to sleep.  For starters, Bette Midler simply does not have it anymore as a singer, at least not last night.  She was flat, unengaged, and dreadful, and the best part of her performance was when the music ended and she walked off of the stage.

WTF Moment: (Kim Novak presenting with Matthew McConaughey)

Kim NovakKim Novak is one of the most well known actresses of her generation, starring in incredible films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Joshua Logan’s Picnic.  Now, I understand Novak is in her early eighties, but her appearance last night was simply awkward in every sense of the word.  She rambled on and on in an extraordinarily incoherent manner, and she clearly was not on the same page with McConaughey; he had to continually pull her closer to the microphone, as well.  Also, when they attempted to announce the category for “Best Animated Short Film” in sync, it was a disaster—McConaughey said, “Best Animated Short Film,” while Novak said, “Best Short Animated Feature.”

Best Monologue Joke: (Poking fun at Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar “fall” last year)

J-Law TripsAs everyone may know, last year, while walking to the stage to accept the “Best Actress” award, Jennifer Lawrence tripped and fell (pictured on the right).  This year, while exiting her car for the Red Carpet, Lawrence again tripped and fell.  Ellen started the joke off by saying that she was not going to bring up either fall or poke fun because it is embarrassing when people bring those sorts of things up in public—she then went on to bring each of them up in greater detail, and it was hilarious.  The best part was when Ellen followed up by saying, “if you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.”  Jennifer Lawrence seemed to get a good kick out of it, and it was most definitely the funniest of Ellen’s many entertaining monologue jokes.

Worst Monologue Joke (the Liza Minnelli diss)

lizaLiza Minnelli was in attendance with her siblings to honor the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, a film their mother, Judy Garland, starred in.  Ellen’s worst joke came when she pointed out that one of the best Liza Minnelli impersonators she had ever seen was in attendance (referring to Minnelli herself).  Then Ellen said, “good job, sir.”  Liza Minnelli did NOT look impressed.

Best Ellen Moment of the Night: (Tie: Celebrity Selfie and Pizza Delivery)

Ellen definitely brought a hip new aspect to the Oscars, and the show’s entertainment value benefited significantly from this.  At one point in the show, Ellen rounded up some of Hollywood’s most famous movie stars (and Lupita Nyong’o’s brother) to tweet a selfie in an attempt to break the record for most retweets, which the picture did indeed accomplish.  Ellen PizzaLater in the show, Ellen had a few boxes of pizza delivered to the Dolby Theater, and she spent a few minutes passing out slices to everyone.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, Kerry Washington, Martin Scorsese, and many others indulged in the Italian treat—Brad Pitt was actually extremely stoked for the occasion, loudly voicing to the pizza guy that he wanted pepperoni!  It was a hilarious interlude during the ceremony, and it was one that has never been seen before.

Best Acceptance Speech: (Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress)

Lupita SpeechIn her film debut, Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Patsey in 12 Years A Slave.  She gracefully thanked the real-life Patsey and Solomon Northup for his amazing story.  She then, tearfully, thanked director Steve McQueen for the role, saying that being cast in this film was “the joy of [her] life.”  With every appreciative comment about the many people that helped her reach this milestone, she spoke kindly and eloquently, and her heartfelt acceptance speech was truly remarkable.

Best Musical Performance: (Pink singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”)

Pink OscarsDuring the Oscars, the Academy paid tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” and Pink performed a beautiful rendition of the infamous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Pink is by far one of the most talented singers in the music industry today, and her vocals were incredible during this cover of Judy Garland’s signature song.  If it were not for Pink’s amazing performance, this award would go to Pharrell Williams for his “Happy” routine earlier in the broadcast, but Pink’s breathtaking command of the stage during this earnest performance is absolutely undeniable.