Recently, in talking about the Original Song category with a friend, I discussed Diane Warren and how she’s been nominated for an Oscar a dozen times without a win. Well, welcome to a related version of that, with the inclusion of Glenn Close in the Supporting Actress category.
I was actually dead certain that Glenn was going to win this award two years ago, for her work in The Wife. I found her work, in a movie I otherwise loathed, to be transcendent. Literally the only reason to watch. This, after spending nearly forty years on screen with one fantastic performance after another. To talk about how great Meryl Streep is, and not mention Glenn Close in the same breath, is to display a blind spot for one of the great actresses to ever grace the silver screen.
Had I been offered a chance to bet on Close’s victory, I’d have taken it. There was no way, no chance!, that she could possibly lose, even though it was a remarkable gathering of actresses that year. I even remember writing an essay for the Best Actress category, in which I laid out a clear, straightforward case why each of the nominees should win, and in any other year, certainly would. For those who don’t remember, Glenn’s competition that year included Yalitza Aparicio, making her cinematic debut in Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical Roma, Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born, Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and of course Olivia Colman, for The Favourite. Any of the five women could have won, each of them had a solid case for why they should have, and yet, Glenn just owned every second of that lousy little movie she made, which so few people ended up seeing.
Which, in the end, was something I should have considered when I put all my chips on her to win the whole thing. The Favourite had been nominated for 10 Oscars that year, and aside from the fact that it actually did pretty well at the box office, it was also a movie that everyone was going to watch, because of all the various categories in which it was honored. Glenn Close might have given the best filmed performance of any actress in 2018, but if no one saw it, did it really exist? Apparently not, because when the envelope was opened and the winner announced, it wasn’t her name that was called, it was Olivia Colman’s.
It was the seventh loss for the actress in seven nominations. With that level of futility, she joined other also-rans Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton as the most nominated actors ever without wins. Burton also had seven nominations without a win, with O’Toole holding the record at eight. Coming in behind them, with six, are Amy Adams, Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr, while Irene Dunne, Albert Finney and Arthur Kennedy all died with five nominations sans win. What a motley crew, am I right?
Paul Newman and Al Pacino, to name two, had run similar gauntlets, and when they did win, it was for movies and performances that were, I would argue, far below their peak roles. Yes, Newman won for playing Fast Eddie Felson, but it was in a sequel, 1986’s The Color of Money, not the original, The Hustler, a quarter-century earlier. Pacino won for shouting his way through Scent of a Woman, though he did play a blind man, so… I guess that was enough. When they finally won, they each did it in their eighth try. (Newman would be nominated twice more, and Pacino has earned one other nod, just last year for The Irishman.) That was another reason why, two years ago, I thought Close was a shoo-in. The work she had done over the preceding four decades was enough for the Academy, which would then reward her for her entire career, as they did for Newman and Pacino.
The first three times she was nominated, it was in this category, for The World According to Garp (1983), The Big Chill (1984) and The Natural (1985). Three years in a row, bam-bam-bam. She moved to the Lead Actress category three years later with Fatal Attraction, as well as the following year with Dangerous Liaisons. Then Lead Actress again in 2012 for Albert Nobbs, before number seven last year.
All three times, incidentally, that she has been nominated in the Lead Actress category, Meryl Streep was also nominated the same year. In 1988, it was for Ironweed, 1989 was A Cry in the Dark and 2012 was The Iron Lady, for which Streep actually won. The other two times, Close lost to Cher (for Moonstruck), and Jodie Foster (for The Accused). Tough to argue either of those, though it’s also helpful to look at the other nominees. In 1988, it was Holly Hunter for Broadcast News, and Sally Kirkland for Anna, while in 1989, the competition also included Melanie Griffith doing the best work of her entire life in Working Girl and Sigourney Weaver for Gorillas in the Mist. For the sake of completion, the other three nominees in 2012 were Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn, Rooney Mara for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Viola Davis for The Help.
Kirkland aside, that’s a lot of heavy hitters, so it’s not like she’s been hosed out of victories. It just so happens that her best work came at the same time as the best work other actresses turned in.
That, I imagine, is small consolation, though. It’s pretty clear that she very badly wants to win one of these trophies. O’Toole did, too. In an interview he gave about a year before his 2013 death, he said as much, insisting to TCM’s Robert Osbourne that he still had good work ahead of him. This, from the man who gave one of the finest performances in the history of film, as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and yet lost the Oscar that year to Gregory Peck for his work in To Kill a Mockingbird. Talk about bad timing (perhaps it’s my own bias, but I’d have given it to O’Toole).
For the record, there is nothing wrong with wanting to win an Oscar. I certainly want to win one, and I imagine many others reading this do, too. An ex-girlfriend of mine didn’t understand why something like that would be a big deal to me, but at least acknowledged that, if it did mean something to me, then it must be important. In return, I didn’t understand why someone would not want to be recognized for their work by their peers. Who cares if it’s often political? Or a popularity contest? Or someone wins because of circumstances entirely out of their control? We give out awards to recognize greatness, sure, but we also do it because it makes us feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. And I don’t care what argument you might come up to oppose that sentiment, you’re never going to change my mind about it.
I think the issue people have with Glenn Close and the Oscars is that she is so unabashedly public about how badly she wants to win one. Some people find that off-putting, which is one opinion. I find it honest and think that anyone who is offended by this or finds it obnoxious, is being hypocritical. She’s a great actress. Why shouldn’t she get an award for it?
So when she appeared on my TV screen in a new Netflix film a couple of months ago, I went into it with high hopes because of how much I enjoy her and her work (and the one time I met her, at the premiere of the 101 Dalmatians movie in 1996, in which she played Cruella De Vil, she couldn’t have been lovelier). I came out of it thinking, “Oh, please, God, don’t let her win for this. Let her win for something else. She’s got a lot of time left. More opportunities. Something far better than this will come along, right? Right? RIGHT?”
One would hope because she sure as heck isn’t winning this year.
Before I pursue that, though, let’s name all five of the nominees. They are Amanda Seyfried, Mank, Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy, Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Olivia Colman, The Father, Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari.
First up, a recognition of the work Amanda Seyfried did in Mank. Playing Marion Davies, Seyfried’s performance is top-notch. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, I’ve always admired her work, starting in Mean Girls, and then in Veronica Mars and on from there, but somehow it still snuck up on me. It was also somehow surprising to me to learn that she is now 35 years old. Again, I should have seen that coming, her getting older like the rest of us, but I was still sort of stunned.
All that said, and as great as she is, she’s not winning.
Before we get into who will, though, let’s finish the Glenn Close conversation, and bring Olivia Colman back into it, while we’re doing so. It’s sort of coincidental that the next time Close is up for an award after losing the one two years ago, Colman is also nominated. Olivia Colman does fantastic work every single time, just like Close, so it makes sense, but still, it’s weird.
Not weird is her performance as a put-upon and frustrated daughter, working opposite the spectacular Anthony Hopkins in The Father. Whereas her work in The Favourite was much bigger and flashier, what she does in The Father is quieter, more restrained, and downright pained. She so desperately wants to help her ailing father, even as he’s being unimaginably cruel to her, and every single emotion plays out beautifully on her face. It’s beautiful and affecting, but unlike two years ago, she is not going to be the one to beat Glenn in the end.
And, make no mistake, someone is going to beat Glenn this time. It’s not because of how stupendously awful Hillbilly Elegy is — and it is really, truly, epically awful — and it’s not because of all the makeup covering her face and body (which is, to be fair quite impressive), or even because of the fact that the performance itself almost screams, “I DID THIS TO GET ANOTHER OSCAR NOMINATION!” No, none of those are the reasons, especially since that last one actually worked.
It’s because even as respected as she is in the industry — you don’t get nominated for an Oscar eight different times otherwise — this is not the year she wins that career award because two other actresses in her category this year were just flat-out better. That’s not always good enough, obviously, as the wrong person wins plenty of the time. But combine that with the fact that Hillbilly Elegy is just… So. Incredibly. Bad. And that’s all there is to it.
I hope Glenn Close wins someday soon. She unquestionably deserves it. Just not this year.
Now, to the two-woman race for the crown. The performances of Maria Bakalova, in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and Yuh-Jung Youn, in Minari, couldn’t be more different, and yet, the two have something in common. Both of them take over their respective movies for long periods, almost making the film their own. Youn performs most of the movie in her native Korean, whereas the Bulgarian Bakalova speaks either English or a gibberish version of whatever Eastern European dialect she and her “father” Borat are supposed to be speaking. The two actresses are both off-the-charts incredible in their movies, and it’s hard to compare the two since both of them really deserve to win, but let’s give it a try.
Maria Bakalova isn’t just funny as Borat’s daughter Tutar. Just about anyone can be funny, especially when you’re given so much to work with. If she was just funny, that would be great, and worthy of praise, but probably nothing more than that. There are two things that really set the performance apart from everything else this year. The first is how brave she is. It’s weird to say that about a performance in a movie, especially in this day and age when real and genuine bravery means so much more, but it’s hard to deny that what she does here, especially in the movie’s climactic scene with Rudy Giuliani, is incredibly courageous. Without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen it, she is on a proverbial ledge, with no safety net, and she doesn’t falter. She nails every punchline, she plays everything to the hilt, she improvises with each situation and knocks every single one of them out of the park. It’s an immensely mature performance, and coming from someone so young (she was 23 when they shot it), it’s even more impressive.
Add to that the second aspect of it, and it gets somehow better: she does all this in another language. Think about that. It’s hard enough to improvise and be funny in your own language, imagine doing it in another one. I was repeatedly blown away by what she did on screen, and thought as soon as I saw it that people had to take her seriously as an Oscar contender. Nice to see that they did.
Yuh-Jung Youn, meanwhile, doesn’t immediately show up in Minari, but she is talked about before she does, and so her spirit is there throughout. When she does show up, she doesn’t exactly steal the movie away from star Steven Yeun and the rest of the stellar cast, but she does become such an indelible presence that she takes partial ownership of it. Trying to forge a relationship with a grandson she has not previously met, adapting to life in not just a foreign country but in 1983 Arkansas, of all places, watching as her daughter and son-in-law struggle with a marriage being tested by circumstance, it’s a role with an enormous amount of room to play, and Youn doesn’t waste the opportunity. The movie is one of my favorites of the year, and a big reason for that is the humor and added humanity she brings. The character surprises you with the way she reacts to things — she’s not exactly your typical conservative grandmother — and Youn’s committed performance makes you believe it every step of the way.
It’s hard to choose who deserves it more. In a perfect world, they would tie, but I think Youn will win. I think one thing works in her favor, and one thing works against Bakalova. The thing that works for Youn is that she just won the SAG award, which is more often than not a pretty accurate bellwether of the Oscar winner. The thing working against Bakalova is that it’s rare an actor wins an award for a comedy— although, when it does happen, it’s in one of the two Supporting categories.
My choice is for Maria Bakalova, simply because of the degree of difficulty, but you won’t hear me complaining if and when they call Yuh-Jung Youn’s name.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Maria Bakalova
WHO WILL WIN: Yuh-Jung Youn