Academy Awards Project: Best Actress


I’ve been wanting to put this category off for so long. This has become the hardest list of nominees to rank. All I have known this entire time is who would place fifth, which is not to say that this person is not worthy of being here, as she had a tremendous performance in her own right. I bring this up, because my ranking from fourth to first has shifted almost on a daily basis since this project started. 2019 was the year of the female performer, as is clear not only by the insane caliber found in this category, but even by those who unfortunately couldn’t be here as well. All five of these nominees commanded the films they starred in, to the point of making these works almost entirely theirs (this includes films with strong supporting performances as well). This was unfairly tough. Here are the nominees for Best Actress, ranked from worst to best.


Biggest Snub: Toni Collette-Hereditary
Despite the fierce competition, we can only dream that there was at least one more spot open for such a risky performance. Collette does not just take a hold of the scream queen archetype found in horror films. She ties cinematic horror to the true nightmares of a grieving mother. Her cries are real. Her pain is excruciating. Her search for answers dives into the more fantastical side of things, but that plays into her hysteria. The Academy has always slept on Toni Collette too heavily (her only nomination is for The 6th Sense? Really?). Sadly, this was yet again not her year. Sigh.


5. Melissa McCarthy-Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Don’t read too deeply into this ranking. This is the best Melissa McCarthy has ever been. In fact, this performance truly bothers me, because it is strong confirmation that she could be delivering this caliber of magnetism more often, as opposed to her usual lazy comedies. Is McCarthy funny here? Yes, in a very dry and snarky way. She exudes a whole spectrum of emotions here. She turned Lee Isreal’s self interpretation (through her memoir) into Isreal’s own living caricature: a cynical author who views herself cynically. This is a fierce performance that has a few laughs, a few gasps, and a whole valley of depth I wish McCarthy would explore frequently.


4. Olivia Coleman-The Favourite
This list is only getting more difficult. Coleman is here, only because a good portion of The Favourite is still held up high by the other two vicious female actors (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz). Coleman as Queen Anne is a crisis personified. Her shrieks are manic. Her tantrums are lightning fast. Her heart is strong, but her mind is weakening. Coleman is probably the best balance between the satire and the beauty found in The Favourite. We feel saddened for her downward spiral, but we also cannot help but find her antics hilarious.


3. Glenn Close-The Wife
Okay, let me explain. The best moments Close provides us in The Wife are of a much higher caliber than what any actor (female or male) has provided this year. That is without a doubt. She is this low, only because I personally feel like much of the film is reliant on her, even when she is set to neutral. As the wife of a Nobel Prize winner with many skeletons in his closet, Close remains tight lipped and reserved. That’s exactly what the role calls for, of course. Her few scenes of vulnerability are shockingly visceral, and you can believe that Joan Castleman has been dying to speak her mind for decades. There’s no doubt that the film rests squarely on Close’s shoulders its entire time.


2. Yalitza Aparicio-Roma
This is one of my favourite examples of magic that can be found in cinema: the talent of a non-actor. Common in Italian neorealism, and employed in a number of works since. In Roma, Aparicio brings an outsider perspective to a role that could have been over done. She isn’t acing that she is listening during conversations; she’s literally listening. There is no art in this performance. It’s all Aparicio living the life of Cleo. As none of her performance feels forced throughout the film, we feel her hurt tenfold when her times of turmoil hit. It’s all too candid. This isn’t acting. This is being.


1. Lady Gaga-A Star is Born
Anyone that says this is Lady Gaga being herself is missing the point entirely. If anything, the pop star Ally turns into is a much more conventional, streamlined idol than Gaga ever tried to be with her shock value. To understand how good Lady Gaga is here, is to see how she once was on film. Must we recall La Chameleon from Machete Kills? Lady Gaga has acted her entire career in a very theatrical sense; this translated to over the top performances. In A Star is Born, however, we get a complete revitalization of what she is capable of. You even get a wide sense of how she transforms on stage as a musician; her first performance that turned her into a viral sensation is full of nervousness and self doubt. Another key element here is how reserved Gaga is for the duration of the film. There is breathing space for Ally to assess situations, and respond naturally. Even when things get rough, it never feels like Gaga is putting on a show (who would have thought?), but instead reacting reasonably. By the final performance, where confidence allows a song to fight through heartbreak, we can see that Lady Gaga may actually have a handle on this whole acting thing after all, with the best female performance of the year.

Our Predicted Winner: Well, it’s no secret that Glenn Close will finally be crowned an Academy Award winner this year after many rejections, and I don’t think that will change within the next few weeks.

Our Academy Awards Project is an ongoing series that will continue until all the categories have been ranked and reviewed. Tune in Monday to Saturday for a new category each day.

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Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.