Movie Review - Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations (Part 1)

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Published Friday, January 24, 2020
by Bob Garver

The Super Bowl may be this coming weekend, but the weekend after is the Super Bowl for movie critics: the 92nd Academy Awards. Here are my thoughts on the ever-popular acting categories, though you'll notice that I'm consistently underwhelmed by the nominees. Feel free to have passionate opinions where I don't. 

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Antonio Banderas for "Pain and Glory"
  • Leonardo DiCaprio for "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood"
  • Adam Driver for "Marriage Story"
  • Joaquin Phoenix for "Joker"
  • Jonathan Pryce for "The Two Popes"

This could have been an interesting race if voters had decided that DiCaprio doesn't need yet another nomination and instead gone with Adam Sandler ("Uncut Gems"), Taron Egerton ("Rocketman"), Eddie Murphy ("Dolemite is My Name"), or my personal favorite, Paul Walter Hauser ("Richard Jewell"). Admittedly they did make a nice outside-the-box choice with Banderas, but I don't see him as a serious contender for his little-seen film. Driver could play spoiler, but I think voters are looking for more of a powerhouse as opposed to realism. As much as I'd love to see the too-long-unrecognized Pryce win the award, this race belongs to Phoenix. Even the people who hated the movie (and there were many) lauded his performance, and it's funny to think that a character as unconventional as The Joker has led not one, but two actors to Oscar glory. 

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Cynthia Erivo for "Harriet"*
  • Scarlett Johansson for "Marriage Story"
  • Saoirse Ronan for "Little Women"
  • Charlize Theron for "Bombshell"
  • Renee Zellweger for "Judy"

*I did not see this film or performance

I'm a little upset that Awkwafina didn't get nominated for "The Farewell," but it's not like she wouldn't be eaten alive if she had. Zellweger as Judy Garland is a lock. Like Rami Malek winning for playing Freddie Mercury last year, this race could be called based entirely on the actor's courage to take on the role of a larger-than-life showbiz personality. But unlike with Malek as Mercury, I'm actually in agreement that the resulting performance is Oscar worthy. 

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Tom Hanks for "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
  • Anthony Hopkins for "The Two Popes"
  • Al Pacino for "The Irishman"
  • Joe Pesci for "The Irishman"
  • Brad Pitt for "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood"

This is such a boring category, with four actors that have already won an Oscar vying for a second (or third) that they don't need. Pitt is the outlier, and fortunately he's also the frontrunner. I didn't care for his movie (I think it's Tarantino's worst), but he's such a Hollywood darling that he's bound to win eventually, it might as well be here. 

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Kathy Bates for "Richard Jewell"
  • Laura Dern for "Marriage Story"
  • Scarlett Johansson for "Jojo Rabbit"
  • Florence Pugh for "Little Women"
  • Margot Robbie for "Bombshell"

Dern is the frontrunner for playing cutthroat divorce lawyer, but I think that has more to do with people wanting to recognize her career than the performance itself. Bates is my favorite, but she's such an awards show mainstay that it's hard to get excited about her winning again. Pugh's performance got swallowed up by Saoirse Ronan, Robbie's by Charlize Theron. Johansson is overshadowed by... Johansson for her lead performance in "Marriage Story" that got much more attention than this noticeably brief appearance. Dern didn't blow me away, but her manipulative performance (in that she's good at manipulating other characters, not that she's unfairly trying to garner sympathy) seems to have voters' attention. 

Come back next week for my thoughts on the Screenplay and Director categories, as well as Best Picture. 

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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