Well gang, it’s finally (almost) over! Tonight, twenty actors and actresses will be entering the Dolby Theater to see if all of their dreams will come true, whether it’s their first, second, or (theoretically) fourth. Twenty people enter, four people leave! However, while most of these actors were phenomenal this year (and others were very good in otherwise-terrible movies), what often tends to be the case is the Academy is put in a position to play catch-up, due to their inclination towards being behind the curve. With their best performances often ignored or well in our rearview, I thought I’d end this year’s Best of 2017 with the Best Performances by the 2017 Oscar Nominees.
The rules are simple: I take the twenty nominees and break down the best performance they’ve ever given. If possible, I will not include their performance they were nominated for this year. My only requirement is that if they were nominated for a previous year of this competition (hi, Meryl Streep!), I have to pick a different performance. With that all laid out, allow me to present the Best Performances by the 2017 Acting Nominees!
Timothée Chalamet: Lady Bird
I’m not sure if you realize this just by looking at him, but Timothée Chalamet is kind of new to the scene. At a mere twenty-two years of age, he has exploded onto the screen like a young James Dean or Marlon Brando, bringing down the house with his subtle acting and smoldering gazes. Because his debut consisted of three major movies this year alone, it would be justifiable for me to go with his nominated performance, the internal work of Elio in Call Me By Your Name. However, that seems too easy, especially after I rewarded him in last week’s Sacred Wall Awards. No, I want to give the acclaim to a different Best Picture-appearing performance: his work as Kyle Scheible in Lady Bird. Kyle is the film’s comedic glue: he’s a sardonic send-up of the faux-intellectual Californian, coming from money and espousing pedantic philosophical musings mostly as a way to get laid. The way Chalamet delivers the now-iconic “That’s hella tight,” sits perfectly as he reads A People’s History of the United States, and tries to turn every bad thing he does back on Lady Bird as an act of manipulation is perfectly real, perfectly honest, and perfectly hysterical. Hell, I will go to my grave saying the best image of the year isn’t the shot of Chalamet’s face at the end of Call Me By Your Name, but the shot of Chalamet’s face when he and Lady Bird first consummate their relationship here. It’s the perfect capstone to a perfect performance.
Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincoln
I mean, where do I begin? It’s Daniel Day-Lewis, nominated for his final role ever (he retired earlier this year). How do I pick a best performance ever for the only modern legend we have left? Do I pick his emotional hippie fighting for his life in In the Name of the Father? Or what about his classy, violent, timely, villainous performance as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York? And let’s not forget his iconic portrayal of Daniel “I Drink Your Milkshake” Plainview in There Will Be Blood (easily one of his best). However, if there’s one performance that I think is Day-Lewis’ finest, it’s what he does in Lincoln as the 16th president of the United States. There’s a current trend of criticizing performances that are imitation, not invention – which is to say, actors that just mimic actions and personalities without adding any sort of nuance. However, while that case does make a lot of sense, I think it overlooks how hard it is to create a nuanced imitation. What Day-Lewis is doing here is nothing short of remarkable. He disappears until the role until you forget you are watching a film and not the real Lincoln. Every mannerism, every slump, and every expertly delivered word helps to create a fully-realized character, one with thoughts, and hopes, and fears, and doubts. Few actors are capable of creating such an iconic status for such an iconic figure, and yet that’s what Day-Lewis does: he makes iconic characters.
Daniel Kaluuya: “Fifteen Million Merits” – Black Mirror
Right, so Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t have that much to base his pick on. Get Out was such a remarkable breakthrough for him, he doesn’t really have any performances that truly stand out in the same way as these other performers. However, that’s not to say he hasn’t been a star on the rise. His performance on Skns as Posh Kenneth has a strong British following, and his performance this year in Black Panther helps round out a remarkable cast. However, if there’s one performance that truly helped get him on the map, and likely got him his role in Get Out, it would have to be his man-pushed-to-the-brink performance in “Fifteen Million Merits” from the first season of Black Mirror. Set in a dystopian future where people are forced to consume pop culture at all times, and where fat people are mocked and shamed, Kaluuya plays an isolated millionaire who hates his life, hates his job, and hates most other people. When he is reinvigorated by a new coworker and his remarkable singing voice, you can see the look of hope in Kaluuya’s eyes as he sacrifices everything to make her a singing sensation. Unfortunately, when she is drugged and convinced by the judges to change careers and become a porn star, and Kaluuya doesn’t have enough money to skip her first show, we see him at his breaking point. And when he works his way back to deliver a rant on the state of society at the end, holding a glass shard to his next, it’s the work of a talented actor. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that it’s the best work he’s likely to ever do, and I’m including Get Out. Kaluuya seems to be a pro at carrying bleak satiric takedowns, and I hope he gets many more chances to shine sticking it to the man.
Gary Oldman: Léon: The Professional
Gary Oldman is single-handedly the most underrated actor of the modern era. He’s so adept at subtlety and so extreme in bombasticity, it’s easy to write off how great he can truly be. I mean, look at how many of his finger prints are all over pop culture – he stole the show in Harry Potter as Sirius Black, he made Bram Stoker’s Dracula almost a watchable movie (I said almost), he brought Beethoven to life in Immortal Beloved, and he became an icon with his performance as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. However, if there’s one film that truly embodies Oldman’s acting persona, it would have to be his performance as Norman Stansfield in Léon: The Professional. Oldman’s performance as Stansfield is so iconic, most action villains in the last twenty-five years are inspired by it – and that includes Heath Ledger as The Joker. Unsatisfied with the opportunity to play the role of a corrupt DEA agent straight, Oldman chooses to go big every time a normal actor would go small. He screams most of his lines, he fires his gun wildly, and he acts truly, insanely coked out. Each decision feels less like the calculations of a genius and the wild whims of a madman, giving the entire circus a more frightening undercurrent. However, more importantly than his menace, the wicked wildness of Oldman’s performance is funny. He swaggers like a villainous Mick Jagger, he embraces the campiness of the schlockfest, and he gives us the immortal line (improvised the day of as a joke): “Bring me EVERYONE!” Oldman is a fascinating, interesting actor, and his work in The Professional shows how iconic he truly is.
Denzel Washington: Philadelphia
Hey, welcome back, Denzel Washington! Fresh off a nomination last year, Denzel is still one of our greatest living actors. I mean, you don’t need to look further than last year’s choice: Malcolm X (ineligible this year). Denzel is pretty much incredible every time he steps up to the plate: his revelatory work in Glory, half of Flight, and last year’s iconic performance in Fences. Hell, even his performance this year in the kind-of bad Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a demonstration of how great an actor he is even if the film sucks. However, if there’s a performance that stands out to me the most is his role as Joe Miller in Philadelphia. Sure, Tom Hanks took home the bulk of the awards and the acclaim for the film for his portrayal of a lawyer dying of AIDS, but anyone who’s seen the movie knows the real stand-out is Washington, whose character starts out as an egotistical, homophobic ambulance chaser who refuses to take the case into a great lawyer who befriends and fights for a gay man unjustly fired from his position at a law firm. Washington fills the portrayal with charisma, nuance, and charm, and watching him bond with Beckett over their outcast status is a true joy to watch. Miller could have been fairly unlikable, or even hatable character, but thanks to Washington’s abilities as an actor, he casually takes a backseat and quietly carries the film.
Sally Hawkins: Happy-Go-Lucky
Sally Hawkins has been around since 2000, but it really only feels like a few years, thanks to her 2008 breakout (more on that in a minute). That being said, ever since 20108, she has felt like an essential part of any ensemble she’s a part of. She makes the most of her role in Jane Eyre, she plays the straight man perfectly to Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Blue Jasmine, she provides large amounts of support in Paddington and Paddington 2, and despite only having a few moments of screentime, she is a pivotal part of An Education. However, if we’re going to reward Hawkins for her best performance, we have to give the edge to her incredible performance in Happy-Go-Lucky. Hawkins is a warm ray of sunshine in the story of Poppy, a ditzy-but-not-dumb optimist who sees the good in people no matter what. She sees the goodness in having her bicycle stolen, she finds joy in learning to drive with a sociopathic conspiracy theorist. And when she is confronted with an incident of bullying at the school she teaches at, she manages to dig deeper to save the bully from an abusive home. The film throws everything at her, which Hawkins responds to with her wicked charm and warm personality, and while by the end she sees the worst of humanity, she still chooses her cheerful demeanor, because that’s the life she’d rather live. It’s a remarkable, warm performance that shows what an expressive, talented performer Hawkins is, time and time again.
Frances McDormand: Fargo
One of our greatest character actors, Frances McDormand is a national treasure. Capable of bringing strong, complicated women to life in an unusual, wonderful way, McDormand has wowed us since the very beginning, in the wonderful Blood Simple. Since then she has leaned more towards character and supporting roles, be they as important as her stunning work in Almost Famous (“Rock stars have kidnapped my son!”), Burn After Reading, and Mississippi Burning to the minor, scene-stealing turns in Moonrise Kingdom, Hail Caesar!, and especially Raising Arizona (it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that McDormand is married to Joel Coen). However, from the minute you saw McDormand’s name, you knew there was only one role I could choose here: Marge Gunderson in Fargo. I mean, how can I not? Marge Gunderson is one of the most iconic characters in all of cinema, and that’s largely thanks to McDormand’s performance. Fiery, good-hearted, and good at her job, McDormand gives Gunderson a fire to do what’s right, yet shows her compassionate side. She’s kind to a creep that hits on her, she loves her husband, and she doesn’t scold her deputy for bad theories – she just kindly informs him “I’m not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou.” And she does all this while eight months pregnant. She’s a cultural icon, a good-hearted avenger, and one of the screen’s greatest heroes, and that’s all because of McDormand’s fabulous, legendary work.
Margot Robbie: The Wolf of Wall Street
Margot Robbie is already turning into an icon. Unnaturally pretty, highly intelligent, a gifted actress and a talented film producer, she is literal proof that Nietzsche’s Übermensch was always about a woman. She doesn’t have many credits to her name, but all of them could, quite honestly, qualify for this list on their own. She stands out in About Time, anchored two television shows in Neighbours and Pan Am, and even made Suicide Squad watchable (God, I could watch her Harley Quinn for hours). However, there is only one film in her relatively short career (at the moment, at least) is far and away her role as Naomi Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. Robbie is a firecracker in the role, playing the Jersey housewife to perfection. She matches wits with DiCaprio’s Jordan at all angles, both fighting him for his cheating, abusive ways while simultaneously egging him on in his financially criminal pursuits. Every line is pure gold, and every mannerism is legendary, creating a cross between Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. She feels like she’s spent her entire life in Jersey, never once feeling like an Aussie. She’s funny, smart, blunt, and tragic, all at the same time, and as the only likable “villain” in the film, it proved to be Robbie’s triumphant coming-out party as the next generation of icon.
Saoirse Ronan: Atonement
It’s kind of unfair that the 23-year-old Saoirse Ronan is already this good. In the business since she was 13, Ronan already has an oeuvre that would make most actresses jealous. Her work in Lady Bird is no fluke, people: she already has enough to qualify for a “Greatest Hits” list. She single-handedly made The Lovely Bones work, and Hanna is a triumphant action film. She almost steals The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I’m sure I’ll be using her heartbreaking turn in Brooklyn on next year’s list, when she inevitably gets nominated (and hopefully wins) for her turn in Mary, Queen of Scots. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t name her best performance as Atonement, her breakthrough role that proved that she could go toe-to-toe with Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett at age 13. Her performance as Briony Tallis is remarkable – both quiet and outgoing, both honest and infuriating, she brings life and understanding to a young girl who commits an unspeakable act out of jealousy and confusion. Ronan flaunts and preens across the screen, letting her dramatic flair fly while revealing her emotions through looks and posturing. However, what’s most incredible about her performance of Briony is how much she brings us to care about the girl. I’ve read Atonement, and the character in the book is so loathsome, it can be difficult to finish. The fact she emerges from the film as one of the most sympathetic characters, emotional in her tragedy and utterly memorable in her performance, is wholly because of Ronan’s abilities. Ronan has been one our greatest actresses since she was barely a teenager, and I can’t wait to see what she does as she becomes an adult.
Meryl Streep: The Devil Wears Prada
The good news about another Meryl Streep performance is that it means that when she gets inevitably nominated every damn year, I have a different film to choose from. I mean, despite being one of the greatest performances in history, I can’t choose Sophie’s Choice every year. Luckily, Streep is indeed one of the greatest actresses of her generation, giving us great performances in a variety of works, be they comedies like Julie and Julia, Into the Woods, and Adaptation, or bleak dramas like Kramer vs. Kramer, Doubt, or the iconic Bridges of Madison County. However, in terms of widespread appeal and acting prowess, few performances can match The Devil Wears Prada. Streep flaunts across the screen with fire and poise, letting insults roll off her tongue with an eerie calm. Her put-together demeanor alternates between chic and fake, allowing the honest, makeup-free confessions near the end feel all the more vulnerable and touching. Watching Streep emotionally destroy everyone in her path and backstab to keep her position is a sadistic joy to watch, and every delivery of “That’s all” feels like a finishing blow in hand-to-hand combat. Regardless of how you feel about her personally, Streep is one of the greatest actresses of all time, and her performance here is an excellent reason why.
Willem Dafoe: The Last Temptation of Christ
Willem Dafoe is one of our weirdest actors. He doesn’t look like a movie star, he doesn’t flaunt like a movie star, and he rarely accepts lead roles. However, that’s why he’s one of the film industry’s lead character actors: because he has an emotional range and an eccentric personality that allow him to command a screen no matter how large the role. It’s why he can carry heavy drams, like Platoon and Mississippi Burning, comic-book films and comedies like Spider-Man and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or animated films, like Finding Nemo and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I was quite tempted to select his performance in Wild at Heart, a manic, vicious portrayal that is just an absolute joy. However, if there’s one performance that shows how kind, how emotional, and how expressive he is, then I have to say that his best performance is as none other than Jesus Christ himself in The Last Temptation of Christ. Controversial amongst those who haven’t seen it, Last Temptation is a religious film unlike any other in history. Designed to get to the heart of Catholicism’s belief that Jesus was both God and Man (as opposed to being just God amongst other Christians or just man amongst other religions), the film explores the side of Jesus who was human, trying to release the spirit inside himself while keeping his human soul as faithful as his Godliness. It allows his speeches to feel more human and more real than they’ve ever felt on film before, showing that Jesus used his parables to help spread the message that he both wanted and needed to spread. And when the time came for him to sacrifice himself for the fate of the world, Dafoe makes you feel that decision, making you watch a man who realizes that he needs to die, but is scared nonetheless. Sure, the film kind of goes off the rails in the final act (as is necessary in order to drive home the film’s message, even if Scorsese goes just a tad too far), but in the end, what you are left with is a warm, memorable performance by one of the screen’s modern legends, and watching that legend bring to life one of history’s most iconic figures is a blessing and a treat.
Woody Harrelson: Zombieland
Woody Harrelson is a gifted actor, both comically and dramatically. He can get to the heart of a character with relative ease, find the humanity, and milk it for laughs or tears, whatever the case may be. This could be seen from the very beginning, when he made us laugh on Cheers as the kindly, dim-witted Woody Boyd. Since he left the sitcom world, he has taken roles in comedies such as Friends With Benefits, A Prairie Home Companion, and The Edge of Seventeen, both of which see him providing sage wisdom through his eccentricity (the latter is a real favorite of mine), as well as dramas like The Messenger and The People vs. Larry Flynt. I was sorely tempted to pick The Messenger, due to his uncontrollable emotions throughout, and especially because I haven’t seen Natural Born Killers or White Men Can’t Jump, but if there’s one film that shows Harrelson’s range, it has to be Zombieland. Harrelson is a force of nature in the film, playing the crazed zombie killer Tallahassee, who takes great pleasure in torturing and killing the zombie hordes. We take great joy in his quest for a Twinkie, and we laugh at his gleeful introduction to Bill Murray. However, when he reveals the reason for his anger – the death of his child – it shows his range as an actor, bringing tears to your eyes as well as his; he then undercuts these fears in the very next line when he declares, “I haven’t cried like that since Titanic!” It’s a role that makes us laugh at his one-liners, cry at his pain, and cheer as he locks himself in a booth and eliminate a horde of zombies single-handedly. It’s a masterful turn by a niche artist.
Richard Jenkins: The Visitor
The supporting category is a breeding ground for character actors, none more so than Richard Jenkins. Jenkins is probably the second biggest That Guy in Hollywood (we’ll be discussing the first in a minute), appearing in a variety of works. He can do drama, like Liberal Arts and a small but pivotal turn in Spotlight, as well as comedy, like Step Brothers, Friends With Benefits, and his hilarious turn in the horror-comedy The Cabin In The Woods. However, my favorite turn by Jenkins is his Oscar-nominated breakthrough in The Visitor. Jenkins portrays a professor whose wife has passed away, and he is left to realize that his life has amounted to nothing. When fate intervenes and he finds himself befriending a Syrian illegal immigrant, he finds himself awakened for the first time through the power of music. When the young man is arrested, he finds himself bonding with his mother, finding a domesticity with her that both have longed for. Jenkins is revelatory in the film, allowing the emotion to come straight from his eyes and the quiet, introverted depression to shine from his face. However, when he does allow his emotions to show, from an emotional plea to Mouna (the mother he connects with) to a meltdown inside the detention center. Jenkins’ distinct, subtle style helps make The Visitor a true gift, and helps make him one of the best character actors around.
Christopher Plummer: The Sound of Music
Oh, Christopher Plummer, you sly old dog. Plummer is the last of the old guard, the actors with royal statures, mature acting styles, and ability to act even when drunk (that generation was almost always inebriated). He’s phenomenal in The Man Who Would Be King, An American Tail, and Malcolm X. It was really challenging not to choose his fiery performance in The Insider, or he’s so touchingly beautiful and funny in Beginners. However, in terms of its iconic status, and how well Plummer was able to perform despite his misgivings with the production, it has to be The Sound of Music. Famously, Plummer hated the film, thinking that his performance and the film itself were too sentimental to have any weight. However, what he couldn’t see at the time was how much his own performance (most of which he did while drunk) would elevate the material. Plummer plays Captain Von Trapp as a gruff, cold man turned off from emotion after the death of his wife. Plummer provides a dry, sardonic sense of humor to the fairly touchy-feely story, allowing a more jaded sensitivity before the film takes a hard left turn into Naziville. However, he’s not without his emotions – the gazebo dance with Julie Andrews is one of the greatest sequences of love onscreen. Plummer may have tried to sabotage his own film, but he is incapable of giving a bad performance despite his best efforts, thanks to his own talents.
Sam Rockwell: The Way, Way Back
Remember when I mentioned that there was one actor who is the greatest That Guy in film history? That would be Sam Rockwell, the actor who makes everything better. A brief look over his resume shows that he has appeared in several films that you like, and even if you don’t know his name, you know that you love him. Some of his best performances include Moon, his remarkable turn as Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and his balls-out performance in Seven Psychopaths. However, if I had to pick a favorite performance of his, and one that truly embodies who Rockwell is, it’s his role as Owen in The Way, Way Back. Rockwell is a force of nature in the film, a jester with a heart of gold. Listening to Owen consistently undercut the system evokes famous anti-establishment types like Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray, and his dialogue is legitimately funny and quotable. However, more importantly, he is a good-hearted soul, taking care of the young man who comes to him in fear and exclusion. Owen legitimately cares about Duncan, and one of the best scenes in the film comes when Rockwell quietly and subtly puts himself between Duncan and his mother’s emotionally abusive boyfriend Trent. It’s a quiet act of protection from a fairly unquiet being, and it helps solidify the love of the audience for him. It’s one of Rockwell’s best performances, and a sign of the great character actor he is and remains.
Mary J. Blige: The Wiz Live
It’s a bit difficult to write about the superstar Mary J. Blige. Her nomination in Mudbound is, in many ways, her breakthrough performance. I mean, her biggest performances to date are in the truly terrible Rock of Ages and the mostly unwatched Betty & Coretta as Dr. Betty Shabazz. However, there is one performance that shows her talent as a performer and as a singer (as if we needed any more proof on the latter): her performance in The Wiz Live as Eveline, The Wicked Witch Of The West. Evillene is not a big role in The Wiz – like the books, the Wicked Witch only has one main scene, when Dorothy and the gang come to kill her. In The Wiz, however, Evillene is an Aretha-esque dictator, who desires to rule over Oz and won’t take no for an answer. This is represented in the show-stopping hit “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” And as you can expect, Blige nails it, flaunting across the stage with a diva-esque charm and belting out her big solo. It’s a stand-out from the most underrated Live Performance, and it was an early indicator that Blige is capable of more than just singing.
Allison Janney: The West Wing
It’s shocking that this is Allison Janney’s first Oscar nomination. She’s just been such a star for so many years. I mean, even at the beginning when she was just an ensemble filler who got some great lines, like American Beauty or as the erotic principal in 10 Things I Hate About You, she was shining far behind the film’s biggest stars. Since then, Janney has wowed us time and time again in supporting roles, including Hairspray, Juno, Finding Nemo, and, once again, The Way, Way Back (what a wonderful, underrated film). However, if you are to talk about the best role of Allison Janney’s career, then you are going to have to turn towards television, because nothing will ever top her turn as C.J. Cregg, the Press Secretary for the Bartlet Administration on The West Wing. Loosely based on Dee Dee Myers, C.J. was the show’s breakout star, simultaneously the audience surrogate and talented speaker, she maintains a positive relationship with the press while occasionally providing feedback on national and international affairs. Janney portrays C.J. as a passionate, assertive presence, one who consistently stands up for what is right, and who, in the end, is rewarded with the position of Chief of Staff. C.J. was, to many people, the heart of The West Wing, and that’s largely thanks to the way Janney could command a room, deliver a line, and evoke our sympathies, all at the same time. Bravo, Janney. Here’s hoping you do the Jackal should you win tonight.
Lesley Manville: Another Year
Lesley Manville has consistently been one of the most vital character actresses in Great Britain. However, quite irritably, she has only ever had one true chance to shine. That would be Mike Leigh’s Another Year, a quiet, often humorous journey through the melancholia of middle-agedom. Lesley Manville plays Mary, a woman who has begun to fall apart after her second divorce and the overwhelming burden of loneliness she feels. Manville plays Mary as both a hot mess and a sympathetic figure, helping us understand her pain while still allowing us to be consistently upset by her choices. We see her one-on-one with friends and counselors as she deals with her depression while hiding it from larger groups with the façade of a happy-go-lucky self. We watch as she drinks too much and lets her worst tendencies and emotions shine through while she struggles to reset the life she lives. Throughout the film, Manville gives us clues as to Mary’s thoughts through her looks, actions, and vocal inflections, standing out as the film’s chief star. It’s a triumphant performance filled with heart and soul, and it marks Manville as an actress who deserves bigger breaks than she’s managed to receive.
Laurie Metcalf: Roseanne
I think we’ve taken for granted how great of an actress Laurie Metcalf is. She doesn’t have the look or the personality to be a leading lady, but she has embraced this by turning herself into one of the greatest supporting players in history. I mean, look at how well she can take a guest turn on Frasier and transform it into a memorable sex-starved children’s star. Or how she can bring to life a young, single mother in the Toy Story series. And while I loathe the film, Metcalf is truly a breakout hit in JFK, standing out far greater than Kevin Costner ever does. However, if we’re talking about Laurie Metcalf’s greatest performance, we have to look at one of television’s greatest portrayals in its entire history: Jackie Harris on Roseanne. Playing Roseanne’s neurotic underachiever sister, Jackie is the show’s beating heart. While Roseanne is oftentimes to shrill and Dan is too laid-back, Jackie is the sympathetic heart that the audience roots for. Always between jobs, finding herself in a series of bad relationships, and in many ways flighty, Metcalf makes sure that her portrayal of Jackie is the heart of the family, no matter how physically, mentally, or emotionally goofy she may seem. Few episodes stand out as spectacularly as when Jackie finds herself in an abusive relationship. Metcalf captures the emotional distress someone in that situation would find herself in, and over the course of the two part episode, we watch as she struggles with her own low self-esteem. When she stands up to the jackass, the emotional release we feel as an audience is one of the purest, most ecstatic we feel in all of television. Metcalf’s performance on Roseanne is one of the greatest in TV history, and demonstrates why she is one of Hollywood’s greatest unsung heroes.
Octavia Spencer: Fruitvale Station
And finally, our third returning nominee from last year, Octavia Spencer. Spencer is quickly transforming herself into the next Tom Hanks: she always seems to be playing the same role, be it a comedy or a drama, but no one cares because we love that character. It reflects who Spencer is, and represents a kind humanism that we all aspire to. As I cannot mention The Help again (although that is a wonderful performance), I must choose from one of her other two triumphant portrayals. It’s tempting to go with last year’s nominee, Hidden Figures, as she is truly wonderful in it, but if I have to pick her next best performance, it would have to be her role in Fruitvale Station. As Wanda Johnson, Spencer portrays the put-upon mother of Oscar Grant III. Unable to watch her son throw her life away, Wanda derides his decision-making and, in the film’s most powerful image, walks away from him during a prison visit, tears in her eyes, in order to enact tough love on her only child. It’s an emotionally devastating, yet effective plan, as the film is dedicated to watching Oscar turn his life around, becoming a devoted father, boyfriend, and son. Which is why it’s all the more devastating when the film ends with Grant being shot in the back during an unnecessary arrest by a trigger-happy security guard. The scene in the hospital is tragic, as we know what the outcome will be (the real Grant dies, as we see at the beginning of the film), but we still witness Wanda’s led prayer circle in the waiting room, hoping that her only son will pull through. Spencer is the film’s emotional center, serving as the perfect foil to Michael B. Jordan’s Oscar, and they help to carry Ryan Coogler’s direction to the great heights the film manages to achieve.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the Oscars!