The 93rd Oscars – Best Actor

In today’s post, I will review the Best Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)

Filmmaker Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band with his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke), who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Ruben’s hearing loss is set up in the first act of Sound of Metal, and thus, the bulk of the film is substantively focused on Ruben’s experience learning to live with his new circumstances. As I will get to in greater detail when I reveal my Top 10 Films of the Year this Saturday, Sound of Metalis an incredible cinematic experience, and Riz Ahmed is stunning as the movie’s protagonist. Ruben quickly becomes overwhelmed by the sudden and incessant silence associated with his deafness, which ultimately causes him to engage in addictive behaviors that Joe feels threaten Ruben’s sobriety—Ahmed skillfully plunges deep into this portrayal of Ruben’s complex journey to realizing deafness is not a handicap. It is a moving performance that at times will bring you to tears, and although the film as a whole is superb, Ahmed’s depiction of Ruben is the most vital ingredient—a truly impressive display of acting bravura.

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

In his final film role before his death just 8 months ago, Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play of the same name. In the movie, which tells the story of a turbulent studio recording session with Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) and her band in 1920s Chicago, Levee is an ambitious, yet cocky and erratic, trumpet player who ultimately experiences an emotional collapse—Boseman is utterly exceptional, depicting this hot-tempered character with mesmerizing style and fiery flair. This is just the ninth time a performer has received an Academy Award nomination posthumously in an acting category, and only Peter Finch and Heath Ledger have previously won in those circumstances—based on the results at the other major film awards this season, Boseman is sure to become the third such winner.

Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

In Florian Zeller’s film The Father, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father (whose name is actually Anthony in the movie), an elderly man battling against the degeneration of his own mind at the hands of dementia. It goes without question that Anthony Hopkins is one the greatest actors of all time. This year’s Oscar nomination is the sixth of his career (and second consecutive nomination following his inclusion in the Best Supporting Actor category last year for The Two Popes), and in The Father, Hopkins delivers what is arguably his greatest acting performance, behind only his Academy Award-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins’s character in the film is snappy and petulant throughout, clearly struggling to come to grips with his condition. He quickly oscillates between moods, engages in unkind outbursts, and hurls a number of cutting comments at his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), and yet, he’s also such a sympathetic character. It’s understandable why Anthony is who he is, and Hopkins embodies this character masterfully, giving us a peek into the man’s heartbreaking circumstances. I got choked up a number of times during this movie, but never more so than when Hopkins brought the performance home with a crushing final scene. Anthony Hopkins epitomizes dramatic acting, and even in his early 80s, he’s still showing the industry how it’s done.

Gary Oldman (Mank)

David Fincher’s black-and-white biopic Mank (written by Fincher’s late father Jack, who passed away in 2003) tells the story of famed Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and his role in developing the screenplay for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, often credited as the greatest film in cinematic history. Mank is definitely a love letter to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and I had incredibly high hopes for it since Fincher directed it. Unfortunately, for me, the film underwhelmed altogether. Gary Oldman, a master of his craft, was obviously great in his role of the titular Mank, but I never felt while watching it like this was worthy of a surefire Oscar nod—certainly, I expected it to get a nomination, as the film is the prototypical Oscar bait, but I never felt blown away by his performance. Oldman’s spot among the nominees should have gone to more deserving actors this year.

Steven Yeun (Minari)

Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica Yi (played by Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. South-Korean born Steven Yeun, who is best known to audiences as Glenn from the AMC television series The Walking Dead, is stellar as the Yi family’s patriarch in this film, and I was incredibly excited to see him become the first Asian-American of Korean descent nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars. Despite Jacob’s painstaking commitment to achieving his piece of the “American dream,” the bullheaded character is also marred by stubborn imprudence. Yeun’s portrait of this complex character is first-rate and exquisitely captures the enduring spirit of an immigrant’s inspirational journey to achieve success for his family in America.

Snubs and Other Performances

Despite the year’s many wonderful acting performances from male leads, it was always going to be difficult snagging an Oscar nomination, as the field was certainly crowded. Other than the nominees, here are a few other performances that caught my eye during the past year in film. First, one of the surprise hits of the film season was The White Tiger, a film set in India that examines the country’s caste system from the perspective of its lead character Balram (played by Adarsh Gourav), who cleverly escapes poverty. Gourav was remarkable in his breakout starring role, and I hope to see much more of him in the future, as he’s proven to the world just how capable of a performer he is. Second, in addition to his blockbuster role as Vision in Marvel’s Disney+ television series Wandavision, Paul Bettany was equally extraordinary in Uncle Frank, a film set in the 1970s, which tells the story of the titular Frank, played by Bettany, a gay man living in New York City who, following the death of his father, must grapple with his past and his South Carolina-based family. Bettany turned in a beautiful performance as Uncle Frank, and although he hasn’t been nominated for too many major acting awards in his career, it’s hard to think he didn’t deserve more attention for this fantastic role. Additionally, Ben Affleck was superb in The Way Back as a former high school basketball star and alcoholic seeking redemption as the coach of his former team. In light of Affleck’s real-life issues with alcoholism, it’s clear this perspective for the role allowed him to uniquely portray the heartbreaking struggles of the addiction—Affleck delivered a great performance.

This year, I believe the biggest snub in any category was Delroy Lindo missing out on a nomination for his stellar performance in Da 5 Bloods. Spike Lee’s latest film tells the story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War who reunite to travel back to the Southeast-Asian country to both locate the remains of “Stormin’” Norman (their former squad leader, played by Chadwick Boseman, who died during the war) and to find a massive treasure the group hid during their time in Vietnam. Like most Spike Lee films, Da 5 Bloods explores a number of important themes, including the horrors of war, race relations, and redemption. At the center of the story is Lindo’s emotionally complex character Paul, a cynical Trump supporter whose hostile demeanor is shaped by tragedy and oppression. Lindo, who previously collaborated with Spike Lee on three films in the 1990s, is spectacular in his depiction of Paul. The character is tragic in every sense of the word, and Lindo delivers his performance with heart, passion, and above all, masterful skill. My tweet on the day the Oscar nominations were announced says it all.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Anthony Hopkins

Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Father is clearly one of the best of his storied film career, and for that, if anyone is going to overcome Chadwick Boseman’s incredible frontrunner status to pull off an upset on Sunday night, it’ll like be Hopkins. Presently, Hopkins is getting +700 odds, the best of any challenger in the category.

Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed

My personal pick for Best Actor is probably the toughest call in any category, and despite my love for Anthony Hopkins in The Father, if I had a vote, it would go to Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed committed to his role in stunning fashion, spending a great deal of time learning American Sign Language and how to play the drums. His many hours of preparation were well worth it, as Ahmed turned in a perfect performance in a film that highlights a community not often depicted with regularity in film. Although Ahmed won’t win this year, he’d have my vote.

Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman

I simply cannot see anyone beating the late Chadwick Boseman at this year’s Oscars. The only major award Boseman hasn’t received for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the British Academy Film Award, which went to Anthony Hopkins, although it’s likely due to the fact The Father is a British film and Hopkins is one of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished performers. Currently getting frontrunner odds of -1600, Boseman is set to become just the third performer to posthumously win an Academy Award in an acting category.

The 93rd Oscars – Best Supporting Actress

In today’s post, I will review the Best Supporting Actress category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)

Following his 2006 critically acclaimed political mockumentary Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen reunited with his famous Kazakh character for an equally admired sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The sequel centers on Borat Sagdiyev’s return to the United States for the purpose of offering up his daughter Tutar (played by Maria Bakalova) to then-Vice President Mike Pence as a bribe. This movie is everything I could have expected for a new installment about the crazed happenings of Borat, but what did surprise me was just how amazing Bakalova is as Tutar—she truly is the film’s breakout star. A young Bulgarian actress with few credits to her name and no previous exposure to American audiences, Bakalova skillfully matches Baron Cohen’s wit and humor in every single scene. She deftly (and hilariously) navigates some absurdly funny scenes, such as the “bloody” debutante ball and the pregnancy clinic debacle, but the hype surrounding her encounter with Rudy Giuliani is well worth it—she handled a tricky and potentially dangerous situation like a pro. Bakalova is definitely a star in the making.

Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)

Ron Howard’s Netflix drama Hillbilly Elegy, which is based on the memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance, follows a Yale law school student who must return to his hometown in rural Ohio to care for his mother (Amy Adams), who is battling a drug addiction—the film also prominently features flashbacks to the lead character’s childhood, which includes the narrative about his relationship with his grandmother (“Mamaw”), played by Glenn Close. This movie isn’t good. In fact, it’s consistently cringey throughout. The only bright spots at all are the acting performances by Amy Adams and Glenn Close. They were great, as usual, and Close is excellent in portraying the tough, resolute Mamaw. Despite Close’s incredibly physical transformation for the role, I didn’t feel the Academy should dignify the one decent aspect of an otherwise terrible film—therefore, I was a bit surprised to see Close snag nominations at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, in addition to the Oscars. Then again, I unfortunately feel like the Academy is desperate to keep giving Close opportunities to win an Oscar (I am truthfully stunned she has gone winless in her previous seven nominations). Regardless of their intentions, it’s difficult for me to get excited about Close’s nomination.

Olivia Colman (The Father)

In Florian Zeller’s film The Father, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father (whose name is actually Anthony), an elderly man progressively struggling with dementia. Although Hopkins is undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film, Olivia Colman (who portrays his daughter Anne) is striking in her own right. It is clear the role of Anthony is the movie’s most heartbreaking, but truthfully, I felt a greater sense of empathy and pain for Anne, as she is the character with which the audience can most relate. Anne, a devoted daughter who takes her father into her home, ensures care is provided for Anthony in order to make him as comfortable as possible. She adores her father. And yet, she is on the receiving end of Anthony’s mood swings, harsh outbursts, and stinging comments. It’s crushing to see Anne struggling emotionally with the state of her father’s health, but Colman is truly remarkable. Above all, this performance demonstrates the impeccable range Colman has—from her comedic turns in Fleabag and The Favourite (the latter of which earned her an Oscar two years ago) to her immensely dramatic roles in The Crown and The Father, Olivia Colman is unmistakably one of the most talented performers in the business.

Amanda Seyfried (Mank)

Mank tells the story of legendary Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and the origin of his role in helping write the script for Orson Welles’s masterpiece, Citizen Kane. In the film, a black-and-white love letter to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” Amanda Seyfried plays actress Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst’s mistress and allegedly the real-life inspiration for the Citizen Kane character Susan Alexander Kane. In Mank, Fincher offers a more holistic perspective on Davies’s life compared to her Citizen Kane counterpart, and although the film underwhelmed from my perspective, Seyfried is indubitably exquisite in her portrayal. Seyfried nails Davies’s Brooklyn accent and period-specific mannerisms, and above all, she steals the show in each scene shared with Oldman’s Mank. Thus far in her career, Seyfried is more known for her roles in comedic and romantic films, like Mean Girls, the Mamma Mia! series, Dear John, and Ted 2. However, in 2012, Seyfried proved her dramatic worth via a wonderful performance in Les Misérables. And now, Seyfried has upped the ante, reaching the crowning achievement in her career up to this point with a stellar performance in Mank. Here’s to hoping we see Seyfried take on more superb dramatic roles.

Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

A semi-autobiographical film by writer/director Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica Yi (Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. At one point in the film, Monica’s mother Soon-ja (played by Youn Yuh-jung) comes to stay with the family in order to take care of the children while Jacob and Monica work. I have two important thoughts, which are relevant for this review: (1) Minari is one of the best films this year, period, and (2) Youn Yuh-jung is my single favorite part. Chung’s film spends a great deal of time exploring the development of the relationship between Soon-ja and David (played by Alan Kim), Jacob and Monica’s youngest child. David initially doesn’t enjoy his grandmother living with them (especially because he’s forced to share a room with her), but the relationship blossoms into a sweet bond. Youn, an acclaimed South Korean film star, portrays Soon-ja dazzlingly. Soon-ja is foul-mouthed, blunt, and downright funny, and Youn fits the role like a glove, delivering many of Minari’s most memorable moments. In one scene, David wets the bed, and Soon-ja asks if his penis is broken, to which David snaps back, “It’s not a ‘penis.’ It’s called a ‘ding dong.’” Later in a church scene when a boy asks David if he can spend the night, Soon-ja (commenting on Monica’s decision to say “no”) quips, “Ding dong broken.” This is the epitome of Soon-ja, and Youn is excellent in her performance.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances that easily could have earned a nomination, especially in place of Glenn Close. First, Dominique Fishback was stellar in her real-life portrayal of Fred Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah Johnson in Judas and the Black Messiah—she is pitch perfect, especially during her character’s more emotional scenes. (Fishback received a BAFTA nomination for her performance.) Additionally, Priyanka Chopra Jonas was remarkable as Pinky in The White Tiger—the Ramin Bahrani-directed film, set in India, was a surprise hit this year (and one of my personal favorites), and Chopra Jonas’s performance was wonderful.

For me, though, the biggest snub in this category was Hollywood legend Ellen Burstyn for her moving performance in Netflix’s Pieces of a Woman. The film, directed by Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó, focuses on Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha Weiss, whose baby dies shortly after a home birth. A six-time Oscar nominee (and Oscar winner for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), Burstyn plays Martha’s wealthy, domineering mother Elizabeth Weiss, a headstrong Holocaust survivor maintaining a tense relationship with Martha. Burstyn is nothing short of incredible in Pieces of a Woman. The highlight of the film is a clash between Martha and Elizabeth at a dinner table, and although it is the defining moment which helped earn Kirby her first Oscar nomination, Burstyn matches her blow for blow. It is an absolute shame Burstyn missed out on an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Maria Bakalova

Maria Bakalova started the major film awards season off with a bang, taking home a win at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. Since then, however, the Borat Subsequent Moviefilm star has played second fiddle to Youn Yuh-Jung. Currently Bakalova is the lead underdog in this category, receiving +300 odds. While I cannot completely rule out a surprise win for Bakalova this year, I don’t feel confident. Regardless, if betting lines are to be believed, she certainly stands the best chance to upset the frontrunner.

Who Should Win: Youn Yuh-jung

Minari is one of the best movies of the year, and Youn Yuh-jung’s performance is arguably its strongest. Youn’s portrayal of Soon-ja is equal parts comedic and touching, and the 73-year-old veteran actress is simply brilliant. Out of all the nominees this year, it’s crystal clear Youn’s performance most deserves the Academy’s top honor.

Who Will Win: Youn Yuh-jung

Following two huge wins within the past two weeks at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the British Academy Film Awards, Youn Yuh-jung has secured her place as the frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actress category. Currently, she’s drawing -500 odds. Bakalova is still a trendy choice, but I’m growing more and more confident this year’s Oscar is going to Youn.