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.

Best Supporting Actress 2014

Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Last year, three of the five Best Supporting Actress nominees were Academy Awards rookies. This year, two of them are (Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone), and two others are only receiving their second nomination ever (Laura Dern and Keira Knightley). The other nominee is Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Arquette1Patricia Arquette gave the most surprisingly powerful performance of 2014 in Boyhood. Arquette plays the matriarchal Olivia, essentially raising her kids Samantha and Mason, Jr., all on her own. The film may be titled Boyhood (even though the first two-thirds of the movie should be called Girlhood), but Arquette gives an influential voice to women everywhere regarding “motherhood.” For Olivia, her single-parent circumstances make for an inherently uphill life struggle, and Arquette movingly portrays her character’s anxiety and heartbreak—this is most obvious in the scenes that capture the end of various failed relationships due to her partners’ physical abuse, alcoholism, and the like. In real life, Arquette had her first child at only 20-years-old, and the life experiences that flowed from that situation allowed her to give a proficient performance regarding the priority of being a parent and the many emotions that so radically change over the years. Arquette’s portrayal of Olivia was spectacular, and the vivid life that Arquette breathed into Olivia over the 12-year filming process was amazingly coherent and matter-of-fact. Arquette has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Emma Stone (Birdman)

Stone1In Birdman, Emma Stone plays Sam, the daughter of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a struggling film actor looking to stage a comeback on Broadway. Sam, recently out of rehab for addiction issues, acts as Thompson’s assistant. Although her attitude throughout the film is nonchalant and flagrantly detached, she is the one who truly cares for Riggan emotionally—this is why she turns out to be the sole voice of reason for Keaton’s complex character. Stone has a filmography filled with some of my favorite comedies (e.g., Superbad, Zombieland, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), but I have never really considered her a preeminent “actor.” Sure, she is fantastic in these funny roles but can she really “act”? Turns out, she can! Emma Stone is one of the best parts of Birdman, and it is that distinct voice and speech pattern that we all recognize from past performances that gives her character the invigorated audacity that it deserves. Birdman was a difficult movie for actors because of the “long-take” nature of the photography, but Stone accepted the challenge and owned her role. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the filming challenge, she said, “Every day was complicated. Every day was hard, but it also is the best feeling ever whenever you get to the end of the day.” Stone has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Streep1In Into the Woods, Meryl Streep plays the Witch in the silver-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical. Desperate to reclaim her youthful appearance, the Witch tasks the Baker and his wife to find three items that are needed for a special potion that will break her horrifying curse. Streep’s character has some of the better songs from the musical (e.g., “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight”), and she ultimately gives the best performance of the film. Not only does Streep have the most superior acting quality of the entire cast (which she utilizes marvelously here), but she also has one of the finest vocal sounds. She demonstrates tenacity by embedding gravitas and trepidation into her character, and this is manifested by Streep’s spectacularly talented vocal bravado. Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record eighteen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

  1. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)

Knightley1In The Imitation Game, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the real-life cryptanalyst who joined a team, led by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), tasked with breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II. I did not find The Imitation Game to be that great of a movie, and moreover, I did not find Knightley’s performance to be particularly memorable. The history of Joan Clarke as a member of Britain’s code-breaker squad during the Second World War is monumental for multiple reasons (particularly because she broke the glass ceiling in the process as the sole woman on the project), and it was a thrill to see this storied woman receive a voice on the big screen in a film that focused mostly on Turing. Other than providing the physical screen manifestation of this true-life character, Knightley did not do much else. Her emotion seemed forced throughout and her elocution of the dialogue was merely serviceable; for me, all Knightley provided was one more reason why I believe she is an overrated actress. Knightley was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. 

  1. Laura Dern (Wild)

Dern1In the Reese Witherspoon-acted/produced film Wild, Laura Dern portrays the real-life Bobbi Grey, the late mother of the lead character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Bobbi’s death from cancer is the event that sends Strayed into a frenzy, causing her to eventually venture 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. From the commentary on Strayed’s memoir that inspired the film’s production, it seems that Bobbi was an incredibly influential and important figure in Strayed’s life, and her death truly did affect Strayed in unimaginable ways. I wish her character had gotten the screen time to account for this key role in the main character’s life. Yes, we see multiple scenes with Dern raising her children and eventually suffering from cancer, but it was something short of average for me (like the entire movie, for that matter). Dern is a talented actress (the daughter of Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern), but I do not believe she was able to make her mark on the limited time she had on screen. I found it difficult to engage with the character, and the average performance made Wild even less enjoyable than it already was. Dern was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in Rambling Rose (1991).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar)