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.

Best Actress (2015)

This year’s assembly of Best Actress nominees includes women with varying Oscar history. Both Brie Larson and Charlotte Rampling are receiving their inaugural Academy Award nomination. Between the remaining nominees, they have been nominated for a combined ten Oscars, including three wins. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Brie Larson (Room)

This year, I 100% expect Brie Larson to take home the Oscar for Best Actress. My posts are never meant to be a predictor of the winner—they are merely my own personal favorites. But this year, the best performance by a leading lady in my eyes will most definitely line up with the Academy’s vote. Larson 1Brie Larson has already blown the competition out of the water in a range of award shows this season, winning Best Actress at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice, and Screen Actors Guild. She was simply the best, and I am excited to see this up-and-coming actress get her due. In Room, Larson plays “Ma,” a kidnapped mother who goes to any length to ensure the safety of her 5-year-old son Jack, in spite of their imprisonment in a 10 ft. x. 10 ft. “room.” Jack is a curious boy who becomes evermore skeptical of his living circumstances, and as he explores these curiosities, Ma’s once-successful sheltering of him against the outside world starts to wane in terms of effectiveness. This is a pivotal moment in Ma’s life as a mother—it is utterly heartbreaking. Ma must be strong, but at times she cannot hold back the pain and the tears—we as an audience feel for her. Larson 2This is where Brie Larson takes the cake—she is unrelenting in her exposition of a nurturing mother that will do anything to protect her baby boy. As with my review of Room, I do not want to reveal too much about the film’s story. But trust me on this—Brie Larson’s gut-wrenching performance has paved the way for the 26-year-old actress to take home the gold on Sunday. Larson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Ronan 1This Oscars season, my blog has been void of any mention of Brooklyn, John Crowley’s Best Picture-nominated period piece; this is because in my opinion, it was not that memorable of a film. However, one bright spot for Brooklyn was its leading actress: Saoirse Ronan (her first name, as Ryan Gosling recently pointed out, is pronounced like the word “inertia”). In Brooklyn, Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irishwoman who immigrates to Brooklyn, NY, during the 1950s. After making the move, Eilis initially suffers from severe homesickness, crying often. However, Tony, a young Italian boy from the area, later courts her at a local dance, and this helps Eilis adjust to her new surroundings. However, due to some tragic news, she is forced to return temporarily to Ireland—she and Tony elope first, though, without anyone knowing. Once she is back in Ireland, she is repeatedly setup on dates with an eligible bachelor in town, and quickly, Eilis’s world seems more confusing than ever. This movie was sweet, and a lot of that has to do with the nimble performance by Ronan in the lead role. I was wildly impressed with her range. Upon falling for Tony, she delineated all of the expected butterflies-in-your-stomach-type feelings with beauty; additionally, she absolutely nailed every vulnerable moment of her character’s life when she is struggling to cope with her move. At just 21-years-old, Ronan already has two Oscar nominations, and Brooklyn was the perfect example of the remarkable abilities she possesses. Ronan was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Atonement (2007), which made her the seventh youngest actress to have ever been nominated in that category (13 years, 285 days).

  1. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Just like Saoirse Ronan’s Brooklyn, 45 Years is another film that has not been mentioned yet this season on my blog. To be honest, the only reason I even saw it was because Charlotte Rampling was nominated for Best Actress. I love British films (they are often my favorite), but this one came and went pretty unremarkably for me. With that said, however, I was quite impressed by Rampling’s performance. Although she is expected to finish dead last in the Oscar race, I think her talents are being starkly overlooked—it was incredibly tough for me to decide between her or Ronan for my No. 2 spot. Rampling 1In 45 Years, the 70-year-old Rampling plays Kate, a woman planning a major celebration in honor of her 45th wedding anniversary with husband Geoff. However, during the final stretch to the big day, the two receive news that authorities in Switzerland have recovered the body of Geoff’s first love who died in a hiking accident before he and Kate ever met. This is the backdrop for the film’s story, and Rampling was unbelievably honest in her role. Geoff spends the days leading up to the anniversary celebration looking at pictures of him with his long-ago love and talking about her incessantly. Kate is visibly shaken but tries her hardest to keep any emotion suppressed, which she does not succeed at most of the time. Rampling’s performance is not showy or filled with vividly emotional moments. But the subtle nuances with which she evokes her emotions paint the perfect picture of her character’s inner struggle. With every look or glance, Rampling is effective. Rampling has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Carol is getting a lot of attention, as is understandable—it is a good movie. But for me, it simply was not great. The lion’s share of Carol’s praise has been heaped upon its two female stars: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. I wrote earlier this season about how Mara’s performance really did not do much for me, but Blanchett’s was more believable—the latter was definitely the far superior performer in the film.Blanchett 1 Carol is set during the 1950s in New York City, and it tells the story of Carol, played by Blanchett, as she meets and ultimately has an affair with a woman, Therese Belivet, played by Mara. This movie really bored me, and the only thing that caught my attention at all was Blanchett’s acting. I have long believed she is one of the top three actresses currently working in Hollywood, but in Carol, my belief that she did a good job is limited—I didn’t really think it was Oscar-worthy. Yes, her character is engaging in an affair with a woman that was incredibly taboo for the time period, and yes, Blanchett’s emotions throughout as her husband fights her tooth and nail for the custody of their daughter in light of her lesbian tendencies are skillfully evoked. But for me it was nothing memorable. It was just a good, seasoned performance from a veteran actress. Ten years from now, I will have totally forgotten about this role. Blanchett has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Aviator (2004) and for Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine (2013).

  1. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

To think, just six months ago, I was talking about how much I was looking forward to seeing David O. Russell’s latest film, Joy. In fact, I ranked it No. 8 on my Fall Preview. I was deeply let down. This movie sucks. It just does. It didn’t make me care about the story. It didn’t make me care about the characters. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence did an okay job, but even she couldn’t save it. In Joy, Lawrence plays the real-life titular character, Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two struggling to find her place in the world. She eventually invents the Miracle Mop and hits it big on QVC.Lawrence 1 I love Jennifer Lawrence. She is definitely the brightest actress of my generation, and I know she is going to continue to have success for the duration of her (hopefully) long career. With that said, her nomination in this category is entirely misplaced. She did not have to do anything that spectacular in this role. She was the same Jennifer Lawrence we have seen for a few years now. And I do not mean she evoked the same acting qualities—I mean she was playing the same character. All of her roles are beginning to blend together for me, and I do not find that worthy of another nomination at this time. Lawrence won the Golden Globe this year for Best Actress in a Comedy, which I think the Hollywood Foreign Press gave to her because of her likability. I usually hold the Academy to higher standards than the HFP, but this year it appears it too threw Lawrence a bone for an average performance. I hate talking bad about Jennifer Lawrence because I loved her in Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the Hunger Games films, but in Joy, she did not pave any new lanes. It was all the same stuff. Ehh. Lawrence has previously been nominated for three Oscars, winning for Best Actress for her starring role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Carey Mulligan (Far from the Madding Crowd), and Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars).