As tradition mandates around these digital parts, the completion of the top ten films countdown is followed promptly by a celebration of the same year’s finest acting achievements, following the same model employed by the Academy. Had I been gifted with a nominating ballot, asking me to rank the best five performances in four delineated categories, this is the group of names I would have mailed back.
Let’s begin with the acting category that is the strongest this year, by far.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Regina Hall, Support the Girls
2. Olivia Colman, The Favourite
3. Joanna Kulig, Cold War
4. Emma Stone, The Favourite
5. Charlize Theron, Tully
By now, I have devoted a ridiculous amount of mental energy (and a couple pleasantly boozy conversations) to the question of where the three principal actresses of The Favourite should be placed: lead or supporting. A strong case can be made for every last combination, but, with assistance, I’ve landed on the idea that Colman is a lead (the film unquestionably revolves around her), as is Stone (as the clearest protagonist). I’ll get to our third performer in a couple paragraphs. Other than those two, I include three actresses who likely got some voter support, but not enough to elbow their way in to a category that can be used as proper definition of the term “abundance of riches.” Glenn Close will likely win on Sunday night, and it is overdue, making complaints about the quality of the honored work churlish. I’ve already done my best to address the specialness of Hall’s work. It’s reminiscent of the sort of performance of beautiful, understated humanity Jonathan Demme regularly coaxed from actors. I have few higher compliments to pay.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Brady Jandreau, The Rider
2. Stephan James, If Beale Street Could Talk
3. Alex Wolff, Hereditary
4. John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman
5. Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You
The field for leading actors is dire in comparison. I like all these performances a great deal, but none would crack the top ten if I threw out the gender split. It feels a little odd to assert that Jandreau should be the winner since he’s essentially playing himself in The Rider, but it would be more wrongheaded to deny the power and delicacy of his acting. That he’ll likely never replicate the feat in a different role doesn’t diminish that it is indeed a feat. James is remarkable in Beale Street, showing amazing range and burying himself in the role in an an entirely unshowy way, and Wolff might have my single favorite acting moment of the year. Washington and Stanfield make magic happen in high-risk roles. Not only are none of the Oscar nominees represented here, I’m actually baffled by the appreciation for many of those performances, especially likely winner Rami Malek.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
1. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
2. Jeon Jong-seo, Burning
3. Haley Lu Richardson, Support the Girls
4. Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
5. Shayna McHale, Support the Girls
And Weisz is placed in supporting, for reasons that I could detail if I had a TED Talk worth of time in which to do it. She’s marvelous in The Favourite, demonstrating how ingeniously flinty line readings can inform a character rather than, as is often the case, stand in for one. Jeon arguably deserves to be among the contenders for the tangerine pantomime alone. I love the other performances, too (if the entirety of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs had been as good as the sequence with Kazan, it would have been high on my list of the year’s best), but I feel compelled to note this is the second straight year Richardson has been flat-out great in a movie. She is one Room away from a major breakthrough, and she deserves to get it. I suspect Regina Hall is going to win in this category on Sunday, and that’s fine by me. She’s my sixth choice, and leaving her off thise listing caused me some pain.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
1. Steven Yuen, Burning
2. Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite
3. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
4. Hugh Grant, Paddington 2
5. Josh Hamilton, Eighth Grade
I know a Korean film with a fairly dark sensibility was always going to be a hard sell with the Academy, but it’s a shame that Yuen’s Walking Dead credentials didn’t make him an established enough figure in the community to celebrate some truly intricate work. He does more with a yawn and a smirk than any of the actually nominated performers does with every tool at their disposal. I get why the ladies have dominated discussion around The Favourite, but Hoult is terrific in his supporting role. The two British Grants are grand, but I Hamilton might have my favorite single line reading of the year with his one word response to his daughter’s request for help in staging a quick backyard ritual burning. I know where all the precursors point, but I still don’t quite believe Mahershala Ali will become a two-time Oscar winner quite so quickly. My tentative bet is on Grant winning for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, in part due to his absolutely charming joy at merely being nominated.