Oscar Gold 2021 – Supporting Actress

I have to say, there was a slight chance I wasn’t going to be able to do tonight’s post. I had to take my computer into the shop for a battery issue, and while I knew nothing truly terrible was going to happen, there was always the chance at a 1-2 day delay depending on how much work they had in the queue. Me being a “Last Minute Larry” on some things, I absolutely had to get this sorted today, as I’m starting my next job on Monday, and I couldn’t risk having the machine crap out on me while I’m on set. Thankfully, the repairs only took about an hour, and we’re back in business!

Anyway, I’m about to say something that I never thought I’d say, but for once, I’m actually glad for the Golden Globes. I know, I was shocked, too. The reason I’m happy for their input is because they fucked up so severely that for once, at least two of the Acting categories this year are competitive. Of the three awards the HFPA handed out to actresses, only one – Andra Day – is up for the Oscar. The Screen Actors Guild Awards are this weekend, and that should give us some clarity as to who’s going to hear their named called on April 25, but because of the HFPA’s colossal punt on the ladies, we really have no clarity on at least two, if not three, of the Academy’s Acting categories.

And thankfully, this year we have a pretty stacked group. You have to go back to Lupita Nyong’o’s win for 12 Years a Slave for the last time that Best Supporting Actress wasn’t a pre-ordained result. Ever since then, for better or worse, this category has been well sewn up largely before the Oscar nominations were even announced. In some cases, there was an obvious front-runner who left the competition in the dust. Others, like Alicia Vikander and Viola Davis, had their Lead roles relegated to Supporting to ensure victory. Last year was arguably the most depressing of all, as all four Acting categories were determined well in advance. Nothing against Laura Dern, but when a win goes without saying, it removes a lot of the excitement from the ceremony and retroactively makes audiences more openly critical and hostile, because it feels like we did the work to figure out who was best while the Academy voters just listened to the marketers.

This year, though, we have a legitimate race. The suspense may be completely eliminated once SAG has their say on Sunday, but until they do, we can fantasize. This year’s list contains two newcomers (at least to American audiences), a growing talent that is only now getting proper recognition, and two titans who battled it out a couple years ago, only to have their rematch under eerily similar circumstances. So enjoy this rare thank you and backhanded compliment, Golden Globes. Because you sucked out so badly, you’ve inadvertently created some actual stakes.

This year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actress are:

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen deserves a goddamn Nobel Prize for the discovery of this untapped talent. Making her Western debut, this Bulgarian actress did what might be the hardest thing any young actress has ever had to do: keep up with Sacha Baron Cohen.

As Borat’s heretofore unknown daughter, Tutar, Bakalova is amazingly up to the task of the ramped up pranks and skits put on in this sequel that we never knew we needed. From a feral introduction inside a cage to a gorgeous bit of shock comedy with the Kazak “fertility dance,” Bakalova proves she is game for just about anything, and is able to keep pace with her bombastic co-star in what is essentially her first major role.

But more than that, when she’s on her own, she’s even better. When she gets solo pranks, like discovering masturbation, she is able to further the comedy strictly on her own merits. People are wise to Borat now, and we needed a second character that was unknown. She could have just taken these moments as throwaways, but instead she rises to the occasion every chance she gets, even outperforming Cohen on the occasional bit. And then of course, she rules the entire climax of the film, transforming herself into a blonde, hyper right wing “news bunny” a la Tomi Lahren to pull off the ultimate ruse against Rudy Giuliani. In the age of misinformation, she does her job perfectly in part because these nutjobs are so dumb and stuck in their echo chambers, but she doesn’t phone it in for a single second, and it’s a joy to see her get one over on these people with expertise far beyond her years.

Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy

Glenn Close may pull off something historic if she wins on Oscar Night. Back in 2010, Sandra Bullock became the first person ever to show up to accept their Razzie Award (Worst Actress for All About Steve) and then show up to accept an Oscar the very next night (Best Actress for The Blind Side). It’s very possible that Close could top that feat by winning a Razzie and an Oscar on back-to-back nights, for the EXACT SAME ROLE!

Because let’s be honest here, anyone who saw Hillbilly Elegy knows that she did not give a good performance. As J.D. Vance’s “Mamaw” (I still cringe hearing that pronunciation), she has exactly three notes to her character: cussing, casual racism, and hokum “life lessons” about hill folk. The biggest contribution to her entire performance is the makeup job. The “Grandma Who Tells You To Go Fuck Yourself” bit has been done before, and much better, particularly by June Squibb in Nebraska. She was nominated for that performance, and deservedly so, because there was a point to her attitude, mostly a loving – if vulgar – attempt to get her husband, played by Bruce Dern, to disabuse himself of his idiotic belief that he’d won a million dollars and stop his humiliating trek to collect.

There is no such depth to Close’s performance, or “Mamaw” as a character. She’s just there to dribble a cigarette out of her mouth and call people stupid. That’s not an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s not even a pretentious student film-worthy performance.

And yet, because the Academy, like many awards bodies, can develop this sort of groupthink about it being someone’s “turn” to win, she may still get the gold, even though it’s much more likely she’ll win the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress (she definitely has my vote, an actual vote I will cast and have counted towards the result). This is particularly worrisome because she’s up against Olivia Colman, who beat her out for Best Actress two years ago in the upset of the ceremony. Close had won every major Best Actress award, with one exception, for her role in The Wife, which was a mediocre grievance tale that made her look good by making everyone else look bad. Meanwhile, Colman had only won the BAFTA for her work in The Favourite, a far superior film and a far superior performance. It was considered so in the bag for Close that on the night before the Oscars, she had her dog accept her Independent Spirit Award. To then see her lose the big one was something else. She looked like she could murder someone. I don’t doubt that ever since then there’s been a major push to get her the win on whatever she did next, whether it was good or not. She very much doesn’t deserve to win, but that may not stop a freight train of her friends swinging the vote to make up for the “wrong” she faced two years ago.

Olivia Colman – The Father

I’m biased on this one, as this movie hit home hard for me. But from where I sit, there was no performance more heartfelt and raw than what Colman put forth in The Father. As someone going through the same stress and emotional trauma that she did in this film, my heart more than goes out.

Colman plays Anne, the lone remaining daughter of Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins (it’s heavily implied that her sister is dead, but never explicitly stated). Anthony has dementia, and as such has multiple memory lapses. He lashes out at strangers and people he knows but forgets. He insists that he can take care of himself in his own flat, even though he may actually be living in Anne’s flat. He also cruelly snipes at her, claiming that her sister is the better child despite her never appearing in the film.

And through all this, Anne does her best to take care of him, arrange visiting nurses, and provide for his needs while still living her own life. She’s got a husband (or a lover), she has a job, she’s planning a move to Paris (or not). She’s got her own shit to deal with, her own priorities and hopes and dreams, and most importantly, she has a right to them, which she has to assert, trying as best as she can to be delicate about the reality of the situation. It’s very likely Anthony will have to go to a nursing home where he can have the 24-hour supervision he needs, and it breaks her heart that she can’t do more for him.

My sister and I have dealt with these very issues over the last year with our mother, and it takes a toll. Part of the reason this film hit me so hard was because it gave me an empathetic look at someone going through what I was, but also portrayed the paranoia and outright terror that someone in my mother’s condition must be experiencing all the time. For example, my mom has called me six times today. The first two were while I was trying to sleep this morning, so I sent them to voicemail. The next came when I got home from dropping my computer off and was just about to take my first bite of lunch. I talked to her briefly and told her everything’s fine but that I’m busy. I polished off my food in about 10 minutes, because that’s all the time I knew I had (and got the call to come pick up my computer), and while I was cleaning up she called again. I told her everything was fine, but that I had to run out the door, which was true. In the time it took me to take out the garbage and get in my car, she called again. The final call came just after I got home 20 minutes later.

This happens every day, and depending on her mood, the conversation can either be pleasant, though forgetful (part of the reason she calls is because she sees my name at the top of her call record and just touches my picture, which sends the call), or outright batshit, with her flinging accusations about the nurses, me, my sister, or my brother-in-law. She insists she’s in a hospital when she is in fact in a nursing home, and she always begs to go back to her house, where she hasn’t been in eight months, and with each day that she doesn’t improve, the likelihood that she’ll ever go back home dwindles even further. It kills me, and it causes my sister to have panic attacks when the ire gets turned to her. But she can’t help it. She literally no longer knows any better, no matter how hard we try to explain things. I’m starting my next job on Monday, and I’ll have to keep the phone on mute the entire day, because I can’t have it going off 10 times while I’m on the set.

So yeah, watching Colman go through this was heartbreaking, but also cathartic. She put to the screen the exact pain that I’ve been going through for the better part of a year, and will likely deal with for the rest of my mother’s life. It could have been maudlin and melodramatic, but she keeps the performance grounded the entire way, only getting exasperated when she’s bombarded with lies and hurtful comments from Anthony. When the new nurse arrives, she takes as much care to check on Anne’s emotional state as she does Anthony’s mental state. When her husband chastises her, it’s mean, but done in a loving way in hopes of getting her to assert her own agency and do what needs to be done. And through it all, Colman is actively processing a maelstrom of grief and self-doubt to perfection.

Amanda Seyfried – Mank

There’s a bit of movie nostalgia I have that always makes me laugh. Like many people, I love Mean Girls. It’s just one of those perfect films of its moment. But one of the things that makes me chuckle whenever I think about it is the career trajectory of the girls themselves. Lindsay Lohan was the A-list star of the film at the time, but she’s had the worst go of it since then, turning into a parody of herself and becoming a laughingstock thanks to her tabloid history. It’s not always fair the way she’s treated, but it’s hilariously ironic that she was the smart character with depth and personality rather than being shallow and stupid, and yet her life has turned out the way you’d imagine the Plastics’ lives would have. Instead, Lacey Chabert, who was already somewhat established thanks to Party of Five, continues to have a steady career in television, and Rachel McAdams is a bona fide star in her own right, earning an Oscar nomination for Spotlight.

Now, the final member of the Plastics, Amanda Seyfried, gets her due. She’s been continually growing and getting better as an actress since that 2004 debut, showing a range of talents including comedy (A Million Ways to Die in the West), drama (The Art of Racing in the Rain), and musicals (Les Misérables). She’s gone from wide-eyed goof to triple threat, and now, with her performance in Mank, she’s taken her spot among the greats of her craft.

As Marion Davies, Seyfried is the sympathetic heart of the film. Over the decades, Davies’ character has been routinely assassinated because of her life as William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, to the point that a once highly-regarded film career became utterly dismissed in an early form of slut shaming. Seyfried does the yeoman’s work to put that bullshit to bed once and for all. She doesn’t apologize for her life, nor should she, and she demonstrates time and again to be the smartest, most level-headed person in a room full of blowhards and gatekeepers. The conversations she has with Mank, where she asserts herself with poise and intelligence, are some of the best in the film. And while several characters, from Louis Mayer to Mank to Hearst himself, seek to silence or dismiss her on complex issues, she acquits herself admirably each time. She’s a professional and a human being, not an object, and it’s one of the most refreshing takes on an old Hollywood myth I’ve seen in a while.

Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

Youn has been active in South Korea for decades, but this is essentially her American debut. Dubbed the “Meryl Streep of South Korea,” Youn has been wowing audiences and racking up awards in her native land for quite some time. Now, with Minari, she gets some major international exposure, and it’s easily one of the best overall performances of the year.

As Soon-ja, Monica’s mother, she moves in with the Yi family directly from South Korea after the clan has been in their Arkansas farm for a few months. Initially brought in as a calming presence for Monica, who has serious doubts about her husband’s business and living situation, Soon-ja really shines in her relationship with the youngest family member, David, whom she hadn’t met before the events of the film.

The rapport they form is truly something to behold, because essentially Soon-ja and David are the same character. They’re both looking at an entirely new and strange phase of their lives, though they look at it through different eyes. David, being a young child, is full of wonder about everything around him. Soon-ja, being older and wiser, approaches things a bit more cautiously, but has the same enthusiasm for new experiences. For example, David likes to play in the fields and make new friends. He’s a kid entering the larger world. Soon-ja, in similar fashion, starts getting obsessed with pro wrestling, thinking it’s real, and believes Mountain Dew is actual rainwater from a mountain. There’s a childlike innocence with all these things, but coming from two characters on opposite ends of a lifespan, and it’s goddamn darling.

After initial resistance because Soon-ja doesn’t conform to David’s idea of a “real grandma,” their relationship becomes the centerpiece for the entire film. David has a bed-wetting problem, and becomes closer with Soon-ja when she does as well, though for her it’s a much deeper issue. They bond over the planting of the titular minari seeds at a nearby creek, a sign of resilience that both of them have to show due to their various medical issues.

Compare this with Glenn Close, also playing a grandmother. Soon-ja cusses, too, but it’s done in jest, and in service of her relationship to David. When David pulls a pretty high level prank against her, she swears at him and threatens to beat him senseless, but she’s laughing while doing it, because even she can admit he got her good. When Jacob and Monica try to punish him, David breaks the switch that Jacob uses to whip him, so he’s forced to go outside in the dark and find a new one. When David returns with a limp reed, all Soon-ja can do is laugh and concede that David has won this particular round.

That’s a “quirky” grandma. An old world persona looking at something new for the first time in years, forming a genuine bond with a new member of the family, and occasionally doing “adult” things like watching wrestling or teaching a kid how to “cheat” at cards. That’s how it’s done. There’s a point to it, rather than just being gratuitous and tone deaf. This is the type of stuff that Youn has been doing in South Korea since the 70s, and now Western audiences get a chance to appreciate just how great she is.

***

God, this is a tough one to vote for. The only thing I’m sure about is who ranks last. The other four all bring something new and exciting to the table, giving top level performances across the board. I’m casting my vote based on what affected me the most, but honest to God, there will only be one outcome that’ll piss me off, and even then, it might still be fun for the likely historical footnote it’d create.

My Rankings
1) Olivia Colman
2) Youn Yuh-jung
3) Maria Bakalova
4) Amanda Seyfried
5) Getting Gummed by Grandma
9,708) Glenn Close

Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!

Next up, we’re done for Week 2 of the Blitz. I’m off to go watch the Animated Shorts right now, and I’ll have reviews for new movies over the weekend. Then on Monday, get your passport ready, because it’ll be time for International Feature!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Which performance did you like best? Who do you think got snubbed? Am I being too hard on Glenn Close for doing her best with shitty material? Let me know!

One thought on “Oscar Gold 2021 – Supporting Actress

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