There were many notable Oscar snubs this year- it was certainly disappointing that performances such as Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, Lupita Nyong’o in Us, Song Kang-ho in Parasite, and Zhao Shuzen in The Farewell were not nominated. There will be snubs and surprises every year, but overall this year’s nominations did a decent job at representing this year in film. The twenty performances nominated represent a great variety of performances given by many phenomenal actors.
It is challenging to rank Oscar nominated performances, as often the quality of the films they are in and the writing of the characters can determine how strong the performance is. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the performances and films that were nominated this year, the ranking tends to have more male performances towards the top. This is particularly disappointing considering the many great female performances that were snubbed at the Oscars this year.
While it is hard to compare what are very different performances given in many different films, there is a hierarchy to which performances are the best. Here are all twenty Oscar nominated performances from this year’s Academy Award nominations, ranked worst to best.
20. Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Marriage Story is definitely one of the best films of 2019, but the power of the film comes from the lead performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Laura Dern is certainly memorable as the divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw, but it’s not a huge role and is quite similar to many other performances that Dern has given, particularly her character on HBO’s Big Little Lies. The character exists mostly to chew the scenery, and while Dern has one very effective monologue, it’s not a performance that evokes the audience’s sympathies. Dern is predicted to win Best Supporting Actress, but it would definitely be a win that honors her entire career, and not this specific performance.
19. Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Harriet was easily one of the most disappointing movies of 2019; the story of one of the most famous heroes in American history had the potential to be a future classic, but the film mostly simplifies the events and feels closer to a made for television movie than a cinematic event. Cynthia Erivo does her best to bring life to the role, and while she certainly gives many inspiring speeches and is believable as a brave freedom fighter, the weak writing limits what she is able to do. Erivo is certainly a very talented actress, but she gave much better performances in last year’s films Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale.
18. Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Easily one of the greatest actresses of her generation, Kathy Bates does an admirable job bringing to life a character with relatively little screen time. The film tells the true story of Richard Jewell, a security guard who saved many lives during a bombing at the 1996 Olympics, but was wrongfully accused of initiating the attack. Bates has a key role as Jewell’s mother, who maintains his innocence throughout and is forced to see her beloved son have his dreams of being in law enforcement shattered. In fact, the strongest scene in the film is when Bates delivers a speech at a press conference calling out the media and FBI for their misleading investigation. While very emotional, it is not as complex of a performance as the ones ranked higher on the list.
17. Renne Zellweger, Judy
Judy is another generic biographical film that is elevated by the strong performance at its center. While Zellweger’s performance can often become campy and overwrought, she does a phenomenal job with all of the musical numbers, particularly with the amazing final rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” There are also many more subtle moments, including a great scene in which Judy Garland encounters a couple of fans who have been moved by her work over the years. However, many of the film’s best moments are the flashbacks to a younger Garland, played by breakout star Darci Shaw. This doesn’t take anything away from the strong work that Zellweger does, but it’s a performance that is limited by the generic biopic tropes in the film.
16. Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
One of the greatest actors of all-time, Sir Anthony Hopkins gives a very charming performance as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes. Hopkins is a veteran actor who can convincingly play figures of authority, and he does a great job at capturing the internal turmoil that Benedict faces as he begins to consider giving up the papacy in the wake of scandal. While Hopkins is able to bring a surprising amount of humor to the role, the film is ultimately told from the perspective of Pope Francis, and Jonathan Pryce gets more screen time and has more layers to his performance. While it’s a very pleasant and touching two hander, The Two Popes is more interested in telling Francis’s story.
15. Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Bombshell is a fairly uneven film that tells the true story of the Fox News anchors that stood up to Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) after he sexually harassed them. While the film’s fourth wall breaking and inclusion of real news footage can be distracting, the performances are all quite strong, particularly Margot Robbie as the character Kayla; the most unsettling scene in the film revolves around an encounter that Kayla has with Ailes. While Robbie does a great job at getting the audience to empathize with her after that traumatic moment, she doesn’t get a whole lot to do in the rest of the film, which mostly focuses on Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). Part of this is due to the fact that Kayla isn’t based on one specific person, and is rather an amalgamation of several different real people.
14. Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
While most of the humor in Jojo Rabbit comes from the relationship that young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has with his imaginary friend version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), the heart of the film is Jojo’s love for his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson. Johansson does a great job at capturing the essence of maternal love, and her pureness of heart helps to empower Jojo as he grows as a person. While the shocking end to her story arc is quite emotional, Johansson has a somewhat shaky German accent that can sometimes take the audience out of the story. Johansson received her first two Academy Award nominations this year, but her stronger work was her lead role in Marriage Story.
13. Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Similar to Christian Bale’s transformative performance as Dick Cheney in last year’s Vice, Charlize Theron is downright unrecognizable as Megyn Kelly. What’s interesting is that Theron is able to show what Kelly is like on camera versus what she’s like off camera, and is able to make her a sympathetic character that also has many flaws. Many of the film’s best moments involve Kelly doing an independent investigation into the women at Fox News that were harassed, which causes her to reflect on her own experience with Roger Ailes. Theron does an impressive impersonation that is aided by the great makeup work, but it ultimately does feel more like a great imitation rather than a great performance.
12. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
The fact that a performance as great as Jonathan Pryce’s in The Two Popes ranks so low on this list should prove just how many excellent performances there were last year. Pryce is a veteran actor who received his first nomination for playing the future Pope Francis; while it is challenging to portray a real figure this well known, Pryce does a phenomenal job at capturing the spirit of a humble man who doesn’t expect to be thrust into the highest office in the Catholic Church. While Pryce has a great tenderness to him, he also adds a surprising amount of humor to the role through his interactions with Pope Benedict XVI. It is great to see an actor as experienced as Pryce receive his long overdue recognition.
11. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
The role of the Joker has been passed between many great actors, and after the amazing performances by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, the pressure was on Joaquin Phoenix to do something new with the character. Phoenix was able to reinvent the role by playing the character as a troubled and mentally ill man who becomes a monster after being ignored by society as a whole. Not only does Phoenix give a tragic performance that invokes both sympathy and caution, but he was able to make Arthur Curry’s downfall a believable escalation of events. As a film overall, Joker has some issues, but all of the problems stem from the writing and directing, and not from Phoenix’s excellent performance.