The four Oscar acting categories are filled with controversy, contention, and well, great performances. We do our best to break it all down and predict some winners.
Arguably more anticipated than Best Director, the Best Actor awards are barometers of acting criticism in general. They are a way of determining what we seek out in actors. Do we think an actor mimicking a historical figure is more impressive than an actor who doesn’t speak throughout the entire film? And what do we value more? Skill or character? Of course, the actor’s technical ability informs the character. A performer with little skill can’t deliver a great and compelling performance. Indeed, the degree to which the actors in the following categories get caught up in their idea of character (to the detriment of their line delivery) does not seem to have an impact on the final results, sadly.
Best Supporting Actor
Sarah Foulkes: For both supporting actor categories, only one in each has won an Oscar: Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). Rockwell and Harrelson are both nominated in this category. Though Rockwell hasn’t seen a serious contender all awards season, the votes for Rockwell and Harrelson might very well split and he could go home empty-handed. Willem Dafoe hasn’t been nominated since Platoon and the award could act as reconciliation prize for Florida Project not being nominated for anything else. Harrelson is great, as always and doesn’t play the accent as much as Rockwell does. But he most likely won’t win because he dies too early on to share a character arc like Rockwell does.
Who should win: Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards
Who will win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress
Sarah Foulkes: This is one the strongest categories. Apart from Octavia Spencer, everyone in this category deserves a statue. Spencer isn’t given much to work with, but even with what she is given she doesn’t seem to do anything especially exciting. Mary J. Blige’s is great but her performance is too subtle for the Academy. Manville is so in control; she delivers a shivers-inducing performance but doesn’t have the awards season traction that Janney does.
So, it’s a toss-up between two abusive and abused mothers. One is much more extreme than the other, something which is reflected in the performance. This year, it’s more a case of best ‘opposing actress’ than best ‘supporting’. Allison Janney is fantastic as always, as is Laurie Metcalfe. In Metcalfe’s final scene, driving away and back to the airport, she shows a beautiful sequence of impulses (something which Chalamet’s crying scene at the end of Call Me By Your Name fails to do).
Who should win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Who will win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Sarah Foulkes: This is probably the most contentious category besides Best Picture. On the one hand, the Academy loves a good transformation. For them, acting is like a magic trick. It’s like watching an actor in disbelief: is that really Gary Oldman!?
But the Academy also loves a protege. Chalamet is only 22 years old and would be the youngest winner ever if he won. And…it shows…To be quite honest, the fanfare surrounding Chalamet baffles me. He was affecting, but his delivery rarely excited me in the way Oldman’s or McDormand’s did. On a technical level, I found that Chalamet didn’t develop from line to line and often dropped out at the end. Many enamored viewers point to the final scene as a proof of his talent. But to me, it felt like he was just crying for 4 minutes straight, without much change or variety to show. And yes, Daniel Day-Lewis and Timothée Chalamet’s films and characters are much less performative than Oldman. But ‘performative’ and ‘intimate’ are just adjectives that don’t necessarily reflect the actor’s ability.
And finally, the Academy has a tendency to give out Awards more as Lifetime Achievement Awards. In 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio won over the more deserving Bryan Cranston for basically not winning any of his previous awards. Since Daniel-Day Lewis has announced his retirement from acting (although, there’s a bit of boy cried wolf at play), I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave him a goodbye gift in the form of a statue. But because the role of Reynolds Woodcock doesn’t involve the same noticeable transformation as Daniel Plainview or Abraham Lincoln, he probably won’t win. Although I adored the film and liked his performance, I sensed that he was imposing a bit of campiness on his acting. If any actor should win for this film, it should be Lesley Manville.
Though there has been a certain amount of backlash towards Gary Oldman’s award season sweep, he does deliver the goods. I think some of the backlash is simply because The Darkest Hour’s portrayal of Churchill has gaping holes in it and ultimately doesn’t offer a nuanced portrait of the PM. But that’s not Gary Oldman’s fault.
Who should win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Who will win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Sarah Foulkes: It’s not unheard of for the Academy to give out the Award for a silent role (Jean Dujardin won for The Artist) but Hawkins’ performance isn’t as showy as Dujardin playing a silent film actor.
McDormand has already walked home with a lil’ golden man and Ronan has been nominated 3 times and not won once. McDormand is a safe bet, but since the Academy has diversified its members recently, my bet is on Ronan to win. She’s not as good as McDormand. Though I bought her 100% as an American teen, I thought she had a tendency to stay in the same place from line to line. I wasn’t as excited by her performance as I was by McDormand. But just as there has been backlash to Oldman (mostly from younger film fans), McDormand has not escaped it either. But again, a lot of the backlash actually has to do with the film, not with her performance. It’s hard to win an Oscar if you’re playing an unlikeable woman. But McDormand deserves it.
Who should win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
Who will win: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird