Friday, August 28, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2016

The Contenders:

Isabelle Huppert: Elle
Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman: Jackie
Emma Stone: La La Land (winner)
Ruth Negga: Loving

What’s Missing

Sometimes (rarely), I look at a year and think that Oscar had few choices other than the ones they picked. And sometimes I look at a year like 2016 and see an embarrassment of riches compared with the nominations we actually got. We can start with Oscar’s clear bias against horror movies (and in some cases Oscar’s race problem) by mentioning the movies that Oscar clearly overlooked because of genre. This can start with Ruth Wilson in slow burn that is I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House. This continues with both Sennia Nanua and Gemma Arterton in the under-seen The Girl with All the Gifts and continues with Kate Siegel in Hush and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both horror and race issues are at play with Narges Rashidi in Under the Shadow. Thanks to the Twilight films, Kristen Stewart will probably never get the respect she deserves, and the horror elements of Personal Shopper kept her out of contention. Since we already have a foreign language nominee in the mix, this will leave out Sandra Huller for Toni Erdmann. This also leaves out both Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri for The Handmaiden. Oscar likes Anne Hathaway well enough, but Colossal was probably too weird. “Oscar so white” is going to leave out the entire cast of Hidden Figures, most especially Taraji P. Henson as well as Madina Nalwanga in Queen of Katwe. It’s also going to leave out Sasha Lane in American Honey. I will always stand up for Florence Pugh, especially in a role like Lady Macbeth. Finally, Amy Adams was straight up robbed by not getting nominated for Arrival.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m over feeling guilty putting Meryl Streep in last place in these nomination lists, and that’s exactly where Florence Foster Jenkins belongs. This is not entirely because I didn’t love the movie or because I don’t think that Jenkins was worth a biopic. The biggest reason for this is that the most interesting person on the screen at all times is Hugh Grant. Streep may be the title character, but this is Grant’s movie through and through. It’s evidently not Oscar without Meryl on the docket, though, and that’s a shame because she took the spot of someone more deserving in 2016.

4. My general dislike of La La Land is well-documented on this blog, so it’s probably not much of a shock that I’m putting eventual winner Emma Stone in fourth place. Stone is at least not embarrassing in this role, but I’ve said this before and it bears repeating here: If you’re going to make a musical, hire singers and dancers. It’s admirable that the cast worked on their singing and dancing skills to make this. I don’t care. Hire people who are already trained rather than shoehorning in star power for the movie. Likable as she is, that wasn’t Stone.

3. I’m torn on the nomination of Isabelle Huppert in Elle. This is a difficult movie to sit through, and Huppert, true to form, plays a character who is at best unpleasant and would be difficult to know in real life. Huppert excels in this kind of role, and I am always interested to watch her films…once. That might be the biggest issue I have against putting her higher than third place. The character she plays so well is just so unpleasant that spending time around her is difficult. That’s not a killer in all cases (see Charlize Theron in Monster, for instance), but it is a hurdle to overcome, and Huppert can’t in this year.

2. I’m putting Ruth Negga in second for her work in Loving for a very significant reason. On the surface, Negga’s Mildred appears to be compliant and passive. The truth is, though, that much of the strength of the film and of the central couple comes from the quiet power of Mildred Loving, and all of that comes from the performance of Ruth Negga. It is her strength that drives the film and drives the fight that happens within it. It’s difficult to portray well on film, and she does it so beautifully because she does it so transparently.

1. My choice of the nominees is the polarizing work of Natalie Portman in Jackie. Portman’s work earned her derision in some quarters, but I think it’s masterful and layered performance. She’s not doing Jackie Kennedy, but the role that Jackie Kennedy tried to play for the country in the days and months after her husband’s assassination. She is, in a sense, the grieving widow for the entire country, and Portman pulls this off nearly perfectly. Limited to the five nominations, she’s my choice, and she’s nominated (but not the winner) in an open field.

My Choice

In that open field, I keep Portman and probably Ruth Negga. Amy Adams is the obvious choice for me, of course, since my love of Arrival is heavily documented on this blog. Strong cases can be made for Taraji P. Henson and Sasha Lane as well, and I’d absolutely want to see the strong performance of Florence Pugh in the mix. But for all of this, I think I would very likely go with the nuanced and strong performance of Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper. But, honestly, I could easily be swayed by anyone I’ve mentioned here.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen Personal Shopper, though I'm definitely in the large group of people that are starting to come around to K-Stew now that Twilight is far in her rear-view mirror; same with Pattinson, for the record. Still, that Amy Adams' only nomination for Lead Actress thus far is for American Hustle is a stain the Academy isn't living down, and won't the longer time goes on without a statuette in that woman's hands. She should have won this without a second thought.

    1. I agree on Pattinson--he's done some really interesting work post-Twilight. Adams absolutely should have been nominated, and I would consider her a strong contender.

  2. Couldn't agree more about Isabelle Huppert movies. She's always excellent but her specialty seems to be playing unlikable to hateful women in films that you work your way through and are happy to see end.

    Despite liking her as an actress Emma Stone would be dead last for me. I didn't like La La Land much at all but like you my least favorite part was that NO ONE could actually sing or dance! A Oscar for the old college try is ridiculous. Even though I'm less of an admirer of hers than of Stone Anne Hathaway belonged in the part.

    Other than that my lineup would be exactly the same. I wasn't quite sure about Natalie Portman in the first few minutes of Jackie but once I saw what she was doing I was very impressed. Even in an open field I think she'd be my winner but I haven't seen Personal Shopper. Haven't seen Arrival either but I doubt that would change my mind, I find Adams barely tolerable at the best of times.

    I would have liked to see Taraji P. Henson in the mix for Hidden Figures. Otherwise and I know I'm always putting her name out there but Rachel Weisz was extraordinarily great in the underseen Denial. I know Viola Davis won in support but that was clear category fraud, she was completely the female lead of Fences and should have competed in lead.

    1. I honestly don't have a strong opinion on Adams in general. I think she's often very good when given good material. She's genuinely good in Arrival.

      I thought about putting Viola Davis here for the reason you mention. I like her having an Oscar, though, so I decided not to put her in this mix even if she probably does belong here rather than as supporting.

  3. With the exception of Florence Foster Jenkins (which I haven't seen), PO'TMAN MOTHAFUCKA should've won. She took everyone to school with that performance as I was ravaged by what she did. Yes, Amy Adams should've been nominated for either Arrival or Nocturnal Animals. I would've made the case for Kristen Stewart, Taraji P. Henson, Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri for The Handmaiden, Emma Suarez for Julieta, Florence Pugh, Garance Marillier for Raw, Queen Anne, Kate Beckinsale for Love & Friendship, Hailee Steinfeld for Edge of Seventeen, and Diane Lane for Paris Can Wait as those were some damn good performances that year. I have no problem with Stone, Negga, and Huppert nominated (Huppert would've been my 2nd choice) but it wasn't wild enough. I also considered Stewart again with Lily Gladstone, Laura Dern, and Michelle Williams for Certain Women but it would've been confusing on who is the lead. I thought about Elle Fanning for The Neon Demon as well but she was more overshadowed by Jena Malone aka THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!! who I felt gave a career-defining performance in that film as she should've been considered for Best Supporting Actress.

    1. I really need to catch up on Raw and a few others you mention here. I'll say off the top that I've never really warmed to Diane Lane for whatever reason.

      I should pull the trigger on Neon Demon as well.

      Seriously, you need to be clear on the actors you genuinely enjoy, like Jena Malone. I'm not sure based on this how much you actually like watching her films.

    2. But she is the best in the world though I will admit, she has been in some seriously horrendous films like 10 Cent Pistol and Life as a House.

  4. Amy Adams was robbed, but I digress. If I had to stick with the nominees, Natalie Portman was the clear winner for me. She was astounding in Jackie. I'm also very happy with Ruth Negga's nomination as that was a nice surprise.

    1. When I thought back about this, Negga's performance was in many ways the most surprising. It's very subtle but powerful--it's subtle because it seems passive on the surface, but it runs very deep.

      I'm pleased as well at how many people agree with me on Natalie Portman. I really thought that might be a controversial choice.