I will cop to the fact that what I’m about to say is probably not going to be the most popular opinion, but since I’ve done this a couple times during this process, I think I’m on reasonably safe ground here. The best performance this year by an actress in a supporting role is not actually going to be listed among the nominees mentioned below. Nor, for that matter, is the second best, but, such is the way of the Academy, which so often ignores actors whose movies are primarily in foreign languages. True, one of the nominees to be discussed tomorrow was nominated without speaking any English, but he’s the exception, rather than the rule.
I don’t know how many of you saw The Farewell, but those who did probably had the same reaction to Shuzhen Zhao’s performance as the dying grandmother, Nai Nai. I know some people felt Awkwafina got hosed in the Best Actress race, and I sort of agree, but the heart and soul of a movie that was all heart and soul was Shuzhen, who owned every scene she was in. At the end of the movie, when she says goodbye to the granddaughter who is about to return home to America, it’s heartbreaking, but also incredibly emotionally rewarding. It made me want to call my mom afterward (spoiler alert: I did), because it reminded me yet again, in the best way possible, just how fleeting life really is. When a performance gets that kind of reaction, it should be recognized, and shame on the Academy for not doing so here. The Golden Globes got it right, and that’s a ridiculous outing that uses an awards show an excuse for a bunch of foreign pseudojournalists to throw a party which they know will attract a lot of stars. The fact that The Hollywood Foreign Press Association could recognize Shuzhen’s work, but the Academy missed it? Big fail.
Less heralded is Park So-dam, who almost literally shines in Parasite, as the brilliant daughter of the poor, down-on-their-luck Kim family. She’s the funniest part of a movie that is as darkly funny as any movie made this year, while also bringing some of the sinister, as well. There was never any kind of talk for her when it came to awards, and that’s also a shame, because she deserved it. It was also surprising, especially when you ponder the notion that the movie actually won the SAG award for Best Ensemble, the Actors’ Guild’s version of Best Picture. Interestingly, there was never a time when I even considered that she would be nominated, but nevertheless, I find it absolutely worth mentioning before we get to the five women who actually were. In a world of increasingly global cinema, this is a blind spot the Academy needs to address as it moves forward.
And so, the nominees: Kathy Bates for Richard Jewell, Laura Dern for Marriage Story, Scarlett Johansson for Jojo Rabbit, Florence Pugh for Little Women, and Margot Robbie for Bombshell.
Now, my dear friend Tom is going to strenuously disagree with me about this (almost certainly in the comments section below), but I simply don’t get Florence Pugh. I think she’s a fine actress, in that she’s technically sound, but she’s just … blah. I don’t find her interesting in the slightest, so the hullaballoo about her is completely lost on me. Therefore, when I saw she was nominated for this award, my first reaction was, “Really? Florence Pugh? REALLY?” Yes, really. Clearly, I am in the minority, which is fine (wouldn’t be the first time), but still, that doesn’t mean she’s winning this award.
Truthfully, this one is actually a shoo-in, because Laura Dern has won just about every single award available to her on the run-up to these awards (including the SAG and the Golden Globe), so there’s little doubt she’ll take it here, but does she deserve it? That’s really the question.
So, dismissing Pugh, running through the others is almost as simple. Robbie was also a surprise to me, because while I like her very much as an actress, I honestly didn’t think there was much to her role. She absolutely has an Oscar in her future, but this one isn’t it. Kathy Bates already has an Oscar (which she won in 1991, for Misery), and was also a big surprise here. Honestly, the only person on this list besides Dern who wasn’t a surprise announcement was ScarJo, who was rather good in Jojo Rabbit, and was also a pretty obvious nominee. Poor ScarJo, though. She is also nominated for Best Actress, but she’s not going to win that one, either. Dern, for her part, brings an interesting humanity to the proceedings of Marriage Story. The movie spends so much time with Johansson’s Nicole and Adam Driver’s Charlie that it needs to have another voice enter the proceedings, and that voice, even if it’s out for blood, has to be cool, calm, calculating, and comforting, all at the same time. Give Dern credit, she pulls all of this off, and has earned each and every one of the kudos she’s been given since the movie first came out.
There’s also the fact that she is a Hollywood lifer, the daughter of two actors (Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd). She’s also been nominated two other times and never won, and she’s beloved within the industry. Of course, this is her time to win. As it happens, she also really does deserve it.
One final thought: as noted above, I am clearly in the minority in the thinking about Florence Pugh, so if anyone is going to upset Dern, it’ll probably be her, but I don’t see it. Dern’s to lose.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Laura Dern
WHO WILL WIN: Laura Dern
Neil Turitz is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and the creator of Six Word Reviews. He has been working in and writing about Hollywood for over two decades, even though he lives in New York.