We come to another tradition of mine. The last day before the Oscars that isn’t claimed by other recurring business, I offer the names that I would have scratched out on an Actors Branch nominating ballot had I the privilege of filling one out. As the nominators are called on to do, I rank the performances in each category, doing my level best to be resolutely honest in ordering my preferences and distinguishing between lead and supporting, regardless of campaign positioning. Without further needless exposition, here are the twenty people I would have declared deserving of an invite to the Dolby Theatre this Sunday night:
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
2. Rachel Sennott, Shiva Baby
3. Emilia Jones, CODA
4. Taylor Paige, Zola
5. Rachel Zegler, West Side Story
Let’s begin with the category that has my pick for the best overall performance of the year. Olivia Colman is wondrous in The Lost Daughter, flinty and inventive while staying very real. So much of the performance is contained and deliberately inscrutable while simultaneously signaling everything about the character’s unsettled state. For that reason, I think she’ll prevail at the Oscars, in part because its a category where support hasn’t seemed to coalesce around one person. In a split race, a powerhouse performance by a new Academy favorite can pick up a slight edge. I don’t have a single other nominee in common with the Academy in this category, which is unfortunately understandable in the case of Rachel Sennott and Taylor Paige, who give star turns in the sort of scrappy indies that aren’t likely to cut through the studio-funded din of awards season. Emilia Jones and Rachel Zegler, on the other hand, are in Best Picture contenders and will be cheering on castmates. They deserved nominee certificates, too.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
1. Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom!
2. Joaquin Phoenix, C’mon C’mon
3. Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
4. Simon Rex, Red Rocket
5. Will Smith, King Richard
The Academy and I align better in the lead actor category, which I think is more reflective of slimmer pickings here than anything else. I’m comfortable putting my chips on the square that says Will Smith wins the Oscar, and that will be a perfectly fine choice. For me, Andrew Garfield was downright dazzling in Tick, Tick… Boom! He’s a showstopper who carries the show, too. I never really thought Simon Rex would make the Oscar list, but the absence of Joaquin Phoenix stings more. He’s a four-time nominee with a win to his credit, but the Academy is evidently determined to mostly laud him for his roles with angry-crazy baked into them, bypassing more subtle work that is far better.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
1. Gaby Hoffmann, C’mon C’mon
2. Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
3. Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
4. Ruth Negga, Passing
5. Kathryn Hunter, The Tragedy of Macbeth
I can’t say enough about how good Gaby Hoffman is in C’mon C’mon. It is one of those performances where the actor manages to somehow convey the what feels like the entirety of a person in just a handful of scenes, many of them performed alone on one end of a telephone call. I think C’mon C’mon should have got more love than it did (obviously I do), but it’s a particular condemnation of the whole process that acting work this detailed and deep can’t get noticed. It’s similarly frustrating that Ruth Negga and Kathryn Hunter never got much traction for performances that are, in distinctly different ways, highly inventive. Ariana DeBose will likely become the second Anita to snag an Oscar, and I think that’s just fine.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
1. Mike Faist, West Side Story
2. Troy Kotsur, CODA
3. Ben Affleck, The Last Duel
4. Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
5. Jason Momoa, Dune
I’ll also cheer mightily when the expected Troy Kotsur win takes place. He really is marvelous in a film that earns its sentimentality. I have Mike Faist just ahead of him for a turn as Riff that deserves to be star-making. I’m less enamored with The Power of the Dog than most critics, but Kodi Smith-McPhee deserves his accolades for painfully price, stealthy work. I fill out the category with a couple wild cards, big-swing performances that cut through the clamor of the films they’re in.