Friday, January 27, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2021

The Contenders:

Nicole Kidman: Being the Ricardos
Jessica Chastain: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (winner)
Olivia Colman: The Lost Daughter
Penelope Cruz: Parallel Mothers
Kristen Stewart: Spencer

What’s Missing

There are a bunch of 2021 movies I haven’t seen yet, but as it stands right now, I’m relatively unenthusiastic about the Best Actress category from films of this year. To be fair, that’s true of most of the categories, but Best Actress really feels like a bit of a yawn. I think some other cases can be made here, either good performances in good films or very good performances in lackluster films, so this is still a category that can be improved. Lady Gaga was the best part of the sadly average House of Gucci, and Rachel Zegler probably deserved some consideration for West Side Story. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Rooney Mara were good in Don’t Look Up and Nightmare Alley respectively, but neither are what I think of when I think of those movies. Titane is not the sort of film that draws nominations, no matter how good Agathe Rousselle was in it. I liked The Dig and Carey Mulligan more than most people did. Renate Reinsve would have never won, but she carried The Worst Person in the World, and should really be in the running. For me, though, the clearest miss for a nomination was Anna Taylor-Joy in Last Night in Soho.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. One of the biggest knocks against Being the Ricardos was the casting. Having Nicole Kidman play Lucille Ball feels like a stunt cast in a world where Debra Messing exists, and that’s going to absolutely color everything about this film from that point forward. Kidman is fine in the role, but she’s also an actress that I tend to be ambivalent toward at best. I have nothing against her, but in many cases, I think there are better choices for most of the roles she’s had. That’s definitely the case here.

4. I like Olivia Colman, and have enjoyed her work since her appearances in That Mitchell and Webb Look and Hot Fuzz. She has real talent for drama, though, and while I love what her career is doing, I don’t understand why she is the flavor of the month right now. This performance is a good one but feels like it’s a popular choice. The Academy needed a nomination for the person who is suddenly popular and earned a few nominations in the past, and look! There’s a movie in The Lost Daughter that can be used for that nomination.

3. I like Jessica Chastain as an actress, and I think her work in The Eyes of Tammy Faye is right on the edge of deserving a nomination. Because it’s right on the edge, though, I’m naturally of the opinion that it didn’t deserve the win. I’ll be fair to Chastain, though, whose work here really is good: my main objection is that Tammy Faye Bakker is incredibly annoying as a character to spend time with. Perhaps that means her performance was actually better than I’m giving her credit, because I think that probably hit close to reality.

2. Parallel Mothers is a case where I think the central performance is much better than the movie that surrounds it. It feels like a step down for Almodovar in general, but Penelope Cruz, as always, is lovely in the role and takes up all of the focus. I say this as someone who is very much a Penelope Cruz fan, though, which means that you’ll have to take my opinion with a grain of salt. That said, I think she’s the only reason to watch a movie that is otherwise a step or two above average and not much more than that.

My Choice

If you had asked me 15 years ago what I would think of Kristen Stewart, I probably wouldn’t have had much nice to say. That has absolutely changed, and while Stewart has done some lovely work in the past, nothing prepared me for Spencer. This is a fully-formed performance, one that picks up the entire movie and puts it on her back and then doesn’t merely carry it, but dances with it. Stewart is in a position to take roles and projects that interest her, and if Spencer is the result, the film world is better for it. She’s my winner, and it’s not even close.

Final Analysis


  1. I go back and forth on this. Kristen Stewart was great, but I liked The Eyes of Tammy Faye so much more than I expected to, so I'm good with Chastain's win.

    1. I don't hate it. My objection to it is what I said--I don't like the character, and that's something I often have trouble dealing with in determining a winner. For me to want a character I genuinely dislike to be a winning performance, it has to be one for the ages, and while good, this one isn't.

      Still, I think Jessica Chastain has been on the bubble of winning an Oscar for some time, and I like that she has one.

  2. I only saw 2 of the five nominees in that category in Jessica Chastin and Oliva Colman as I would've gone with the latter. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy were robbed of nods and props to you for mentioning Agathe Rousselle for Titane as that movie was FUCKED UP and I loved it.

    1. I think Titane was the weirdest movie ride I took last year, and that's saying something. But, weird or no, Rousselle committed to the bit, and she deserved that being acknowledged.