Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Be Nominated
5. Mindy Kaling in “Late Night” …People always talk about how comedy is routinely snubbed, and yet never do anything about it. Why not change that by honoring Mindy’s best performance to date? [Especially in the less competitive supporting category.]
4. Lee Jung-eun in “Parasite” …Opinions vary wildly as to the best performance in this ensemble film, but I always go back to Jung-eun’s ambiguous, put-upon housekeeper who alternates from surreally comedic to heartbreaking–sometimes in the same scene, sometimes at the same time. She may be unstable, but she still receives the rawest deal in the whole movie.
3. Julia Fox in “Uncut Gems” …Adam Sandler is a revelation, but he’s not the only breakout in “Gems.” Does Fox’s mysterious siren actually love Howard or is she using him? Sandler appears to be genuinely tortured by not knowing, and you have to wonder if his paranoia would keep him from sabotaging it even if she is the only one that truly cares about him.
2. Taylor Russell in “Waves” …Although she barely talks in the first half, the second half is centered squarely on her shoulders and it changes the entire tone of the movie. The introspective Emily slows down the pace of the movie, which allows us to see just how differently she experiences the world (and the world reacts to her) than her brother. Russell does fine, nuanced work, and I’m hoping against hope she gets a surprise nomination.
Best Supporting Actress of the Year: Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” …Although “Hustlers” is a mediocre movie, Lopez grabs your attention from the moment she appears and never lets it go. [I’m not surprised at all that it was her idea to introduce her character in a stripping routine, the sexiest scene in this surprisingly prudish movie.] I wish they had let her explore the more villainous aspects of Ramona a little bit more, but Lopez shows you that Ramono knows the sun is setting for her, and even idle, inane chatter with her “girls” is really just grooming them for larger scores.
Who Will Be Nominated: Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”), Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”), and Laura Dern (“A Marriage Story”) appear to be the only locks here. After that, it seems likely Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”) and Nicole Kidman (“Bombshell”) will fill out this category now that “Richard Jewell” has flopped (Kathy Bates was a strong contender), but who knows? There’s usually one left-field surprise in this category.
Best Supporting Actor
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Ups: Joe Pesci and Al Pacino in “The Irishman” …Technically, Pesci gives the better performance as scary-silent mafiaso Russel Bufalino (he can just give DeNiro a displeased look that tells him all he needs to know about who’s next) but Pacino’s haunted Hoffa is the real soul of the movie, and the most decent man on screen. Your heart breaks for him in a way that it doesn’t for the rest of the characters.
5. Jonathan Majors in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” …Subtle, affectionate work as a character whose goodness often baffles those around him.
4. Kelvin Harrison in “Waves” …The first half of the movie has him in nearly every frame in the humanization of a shattered teenager who’ll eventually be villainized into a black male “monster.” The end of his wrestling career is devastating (as is the lack of compassion from his stern father). [Harrison is also the only good thing in “Luce,” in a performance and character that’s really the opposite of this one, fully showing his range.]
3. Shia LaBeouf in “Honeyboy” …Although some may find his raving father one-note, I think that’s only to showcase the exhaustion of mental illness. Surely, he doesn’t want to look this way to the world, but he can’t do anything but react in full-force to even the smallest of stimuli. When LeBeouf finally has a heart-to-heart with his son (an equally strong Noah Jupe), you can feel his pain at his young son’s declaration “If I didn’t pay you, you wouldn’t be here.”
2. Tommy Lee Jones in “Ad Astra” …This one might be baffling as it is nowhere in the critical conversation, but Jones is excellent as the ambiguous, layered-monster that is Brad Pitt’s father. He’s a Colonel Kurtz for the new century (and beyond) as an adventurer who may have lost his mind, but is still weirdly sympathetic. When he reunites with his son Roy, he goes from spooky and menacing to heartbreaking in his desire to prove humanity is not “all we’ve got.”
Best Supporting Actor of the Year: Willem Dafoe in “The Lighthouse” …Probably my favorite performance from an actor in 2019. Dafoe is absolutely bonkers in a role that requires him to be ambiguous at every turn, alternating between scared and scary, menacing and pitiful. You’re never sure who’s more dangerous between him and Pattinson or if his veteran lighthouse keeper is a homosexual or a sea creature sexual or fantastical in some other way. Is Pattinson losing his mind or is Dafoe only too eager to help him? Several thrillingly over-the-top speeches (and only Dafoe could make them laugh out loud funny) pepper a performance that has malice and tenderness dancing in the margins of a very shadowy lighthouse.
Who Will Be Nominated: Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”), Al Pacino (“The Irishman”), and Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) all seem like locks (in that order), but Hanks has seemed like a lock before and come up short (he hasn’t been nominated since 2001’s “Cast Away” despite at least a half dozen near nominations since then). People are saying Jamie Foxx and Anthony Hopkins will duke it out for that coveted 5th slot, but I’m hoping against hope Dafoe can sneak in with a surprise nomination for the second year in a row (after last year’s Van Gogh biopic scored him a surprise, deserved Best Actor nomination).
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner Up: Sienna Miller in “American Woman” …A career-best performance as a single mother grieving her missing daughter and trying to survive more “ordinary” traumas too (like abusive relationships).
5. Zhao Tao in “Ash is the Purest White” …A woman is romantically devoted to a man who isn’t worth it may be a very old story, but a fierce and tender Tao makes it feel fresh as the best thing in an otherwise so-so movie.
4. Elizabeth Moss in “Her Smell” …Although I didn’t care for the movie that much (it’s so divisive, probably half the people who try to watch it may not finish it), Moss proves she’s one of the best actors alive. She’s really giving two great performances here–one during her character’s drug-fueled, anarchy-heavy days as a rock star, and the second as that character years later and sober, where her house is so quiet you can almost hear a pin drop.
3. Meryl Streep in “The Laundromat” …Streep also delivers a double-role that is a total departure from what we might be expecting. It’s her loosest, most experimental character in years, and I think brings out a new side to her acting.
2. Tessa Thompson in “Little Woods” …It would shock me if Thompson were nominated, and that’s a real shame. She’s been delivering great work for years (“Sorry to Bother You”) without recognition from the academy. This story of a rural drug runner trying to get out of North Dakota, fund her sister’s abortion, and get off probation wouldn’t work with a less capable, subtle actress. Thompson can convey excitement at getting back into the drug running game (life in Dakota is pretty boring after all) and the utter dread of getting busted before her probation expires at the same time.
Best Actress of 2019: Jesse Buckley in “Wild Rose” …The breakout performance of the year, as I actually hadn’t seen Buckley in much besides a small role in “Chernobyl” only a few months prior to “Rose.” She’s just so good I felt the same sense of discovery I did watching Lady Gaga become a great actress in “A Star is Born” last year. Whether Buckley is trying to convince her discouraging mother that her dreams are worth fighting for or performing her heart out at the Grand Ole Opry, you can’t take your eyes off her. [And I think it’s a crime that this wasn’t nominated in the Golden Globes “Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical” category, this is the type of performance that category was created for.]
Who Will Be Nominated: Renee Zelleweger (“Judy”), Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”), Scarlett Johansson (“A Marriage Story”), Saiorse Ronan (“Little Women”), and Awkwafina (“The Farewell”)…yawn…
Who Should Be Nominated
Runner-Ups: Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” …I don’t know why Pitt has been listed as a supporting actor for this movie (maybe because he’ll win in that category and wouldn’t in lead actor?), but to me these are both lead performances, and both great performances.
5. Matthias Schoenaerts in “The Mustand” …This was a good year for strong, silent European actors (“A Hidden Life,” “The Arctic”), and Schoenaerts delivers a career-best performance as a reprehensible criminal who just might find salvation through horses. You almost can’t believe how affecting his role becomes compared to how little we feel for his character in the beginning. Hang in there until the end and you’ll be rewarded.
4. Eddie Murphy in “My Name is Dolemite” …Murphy’s best role since at least the 90’s, and he plays the hell out of it in the best comedic performance of the year. His character is propelled by a sense of time running out–and his quest to get famous (to really exist) never feels like just straight vanity. Ultimately, the joy Eddie is clearly taking in being back becomes infectious.
3. Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” …Between this and Murphy’s “Dolemite” work, this is clearly a great year for SNL alums who had lost their way in junk roles. [Although I think Sandler’s brush with creative respectability will be short-lived, since he’s been excellent before in “Punch Drunk Love” and especially “Reign Over Me” only to then make terrible movies right after that.] But some of the same sentiments as Murphy’s work drive his character here–primarily that he’s running out of time to be a success. Sandler brings everything he’s done for decades (the sexual paranoia, the goofball charm, the desperation to get you to like him, the barely suppressed rage and fear even when he’s at his most confident) to the Safdie Brothers so they can make something new out of it. It’s something special–by turns pitiful, sympathetic, and always moving, his Howard Ratner is the most tragic (and memorable) character Sandler will likely ever play.
2. Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” …There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. If Driver doesn’t beat him out, Phoenix will win his second Best Actor Oscar and deserves to. There’s not many actors who can look pathetic, deranged, romantic, whimsical, and terrifying in the same scene. Not unlike Murphy and Sandler’s characters, this is a man trying to “exist” (thrive) in a world that is determined to remain indifferent to him. Unlike those characters, Phoenix is too far gone to even know what real human connection is.
Best Actor of the Year: Brad Pitt in “Ad Astra” …I know Pitt will likely win Best Supporting Actor for “Once,” but it was his other 2019 work that moved me to tears. In “Astra,” Pitt gives the best performance of his career, as the stoic calm of his emotionally withdrawn career astronaut dissolves into genuine emotion in the intergalactic search for his mysterious father. Too often, actors play repression as robotic and charmless (Ryan Gosling in “First Man” as a key example), and it’s actually much harder to do right than gonzo insanity like Phoenix in “Joker.” Pitt gives a master class in how to do “shutdown” while still showing the longing for human connection that’s right beneath the surface.
Who Will Be Nominated: Adam Driver (“A Marriage Story”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) seem like the safest bets. It looks most like Christian Bale (“Ford vs. Ferrari”) and Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”) will take the final two slots (rather than Antonio Banders in “Pain and Glory”), but this category seems ripe for an upset. Could Sandler sneak in for an 11th-hour surprise after being snubbed by the Globes and SAG?
Who Should Be Nominated
5. Gurinder Chadha (“Blinded By the Light”) …It barely seems possible that the year’s most dazzling, infectious, emotional musical was not an Elton John biopic or an adaptation of a long-running Broadway show (“Cats”), but about the music of Bruce Springsteen speaking to something deep within the blue collar soul of a Pakistani kid growing up in England–and chafing under traditional expectations. I attribute most of what makes this movie work to Chadha’s direction.
4. Sam Mendes (“1917”) …It only took 20 years for Mendes to make another great movie and live up to the promise of “American Beauty,” but it’s hard to deny that “1917” is that movie, and most of what makes it work is the technically flawless direction.
3. Trey Edward Shults (“Waves”) …This is a director’s showcase if there ever was, and Shults pulls off two very different movies that just so happen to be the same. At about the halfway point, Shults changes the tone, pace, music, and camera movements to let us know we’ve entered the headspace of a different character–a perfect representation of how it feels to be different people and how they experience the world (or the world treats them).
2. James Gray (“Ad Astra”) …Gray does something singular here, layering in a thoughtful space adventure like “2001” with a deeply personal, complicated family drama. It’s both Greek tragedy and the most realistic of science-fiction. And a handful of sequences (a lunar chase, a fight during a launch, the opening free fall, and emotional climax outside the planet Neptune) are the best I saw in a theater this year.
Best Director of the Year: Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse”) …There’s no way to watch this movie and not know why I’m picking him. This feels like it’s pulled from the director’s own nightmares: the shadowy, gorgeous photography (the darkness feels like a physical presence); the audacious performances that are exactly right; the sense of suffocating dread that goes beyond horror–staying with you for days; and a tone that you can never get a handle on, only amplifying the mystery. There are so many ways this movie could’ve gone wrong (from being boring to flat-out absurd) and it’s a miracle that it never does. That is solely due to Eggers’s direction.
Who Will Be Nominated: Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”), and Sam Mendes (“1917”) seem like locks. On the surface, the final nomination would appear to be heading in Todd Phillips (“Joker”) favor, but it could go to either half of Hollywood power couple Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) or Noah Baumbach (“A Marriage Story”) instead. The DGA nominations are announced in a week, and that fifth slot will probably be the same one the Academy eventually picks.
Who Will Be Nominated: “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “A Marriage Story,” “Parasite,” “1917,” “Knives Out,” “Ford vs. Ferrari,” “Joker,” “Little Women,” and “The Farewell” (in that order)
Who Should Be Nominated…For a better idea of that, check out my Ranking/Grading of ALL 2019 movies to know what my favorite movies of the year were.