Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:
Today, Patricia Collins of Three Sentence Movie Reviews is here to look at the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Actress in a Leading Role
The best actress nominees this year include one actress portraying a fictional character, one actress playing a fictional actress, and three depictions of real people.
But first, a moment of mourning for the missing. Lupita Nyong’o was the thing that made Jordan Peele’s Us work. Nyong’o’s Adelaide Wilson was intriguing and steadfast in the face of doom. And when the story turned, she was terrifying. I’m not a fan of horror myself, but I think the Academy needs to stop thinking of the genre as bloody kids stuff and give quality horror films the attention they deserve.
The Academy’s lack of interest in The Farewell is puzzling. I’m chalking it up to some combination of aversion to subtitles (ATS) and Fear of Female Stories (FoFS). It’s too bad Awkwafina wasn’t nominated. Her perceptible pain and uncertainty which she intermittently masked with deceptive happiness was another great turn. This woman has range.
Turning to the actual nominees, let’s travel from least likely to win to most likely to win.
Saoirse Ronan as Jo March in Little Women
Saoirse Ronan is 25 years old and has 33 acting credits listed on IMDB. She, like Scarlett Johansson, has made a successful transition from great roles as a child actress (Briony Tallis in Atonement, Hanna in Hanna) to great roles as an adult actress. (Eilis in Brooklyn, Lady Bird in Lady Bird). (Apparently the key is to play the character whose name is also the movie’s title.)
Her performance as Jo March in little women was by turns fierce and roly-poly. I’m betting the clip we will see during the ceremony is her tearful declaration to Marmee:
“Women have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. They’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. I am so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it! But—I am so lonely.”
But she won’t win. Despite Little Women being a great film, it’s about women—right there in the title, even—and thus, won’t be seen by all. Plus, Ronan is the kind of quality actress that will be nominated a lot and will never quite win. Maybe she will get a late-in-life statue, or an honorary award, but I will be surprised if a gold statue comes her way this year.
Scarlett Johansson as Nicole in Marriage Story
At 35, Johansson has 66 acting credits. Her first role was in 1994’s North (famously hated by Roger Ebert) and she’s navigated her way into a career that includes big-tent blockbusters and well-reviewed smaller films. This has been a great year for her, with Avengers: Endgame as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, another nomination for supporting actress in Jojo Rabbit, and the best actress nomination for Nicole in Marriage Story.
As Nicole, Johansson is the one pushing for what she wants and needs after years of making things work. Through her, we can see what love can transform into as a marriage is ending.
However, while being nominated twice in the same year is a double honor, it pretty much means she’s not going to win either supporting actress or actress. Her nominations will split the vote. Like Saoirse Ronan, we’re going to get good stuff from her for decades. But the win this year? Nope.
Cynthia Erivo as Harriet in Harriet
My first exposure to Cynthia Erivo came in Widows. Her hustle—personified in her running everywhere—had me wondering who she was. As Harriet, Erivo was steadfast in her plans standing up to white men, black men, and anyone else who wasn’t on board with her program. Her Harriet was complex, and the role let her show off her singing. I loved this film.
I would love to see her win, but slavery often loses to Hollywood razzle dazzle. I don’t think this is her year.
Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell
Not one to shy away from transforming herself, Charlize Theron has a varied career. She’s done her time as the girlfriend/wife, but also has gotten to stretch into a range of roles. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornose in Monster because of her acting (and because the academy loves a beautiful woman who makes herself ugly for a role).
As Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, Theron disappears into the former Fox News host. Her eyes and smile get tighter and her cheekbones more pronounced. As she wrestles with whether to go public with her experience, we can see the calculation of the emotional and professional fallout.
If enough people get behind the message of this movie, Theron might win, but the Academy is still full of more white men than anything else and I suspect that particular audience is uncomfortable with this particular subject matter and Theron won’t get the votes.
Renée Zellweger as Judy in Judy
While she was a screen staple of the 90s and early 2000s—she won a best supporting actress trophy in 2004 for Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain—we haven’t seen much of Renée Zellweger in this decade. But she’s come roaring back as Judy Garland in a performance that will probably net her a best actress statue.
Zellweger captures the frailties of a waning Judy Garland and she also packs a wallop for the performances. There are big scenes like when she dazzles London audiences, many who have come to see her fail on stage live and in person. But there are small scenes of vulnerability where her loneliness and uncertainty come trampling across the screen. Her quest for a late dinner with some fans was one of my favorites of the year. Amid her own pain, you could see her empathy for a gay couple who have lived their own hard times.
Hollywood likes movies about Hollywood. And with a performance this good Zellweger is likely to win and should win.
So that’s my rundown.
I’m curious what you think. Who do you think will win? Who do you want to win? Comment below or find me via any of my platforms.
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