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.
Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 Performances
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.
However, 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.
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.