• Zach Youngs

Academy of One: Best Actress in a Leading Role 2017

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

This may be one of the only categories this year where I loved all of the performances. Yes, even in the movies I have been quite tepid about in the posts so far, are anchored by some spectacular performances.

We shouldn't separate art from artist at all times, but we can certainly separate performance from film. It's easy to get enthralled by a great performance in a just good or fine movie. A great performance can transcend as that performer is using their own craft and interpretation to elevate it beyond the written material.

Have I padded this enough? Can I write about Meryl Streep now? If you're a long time reader (who am I kidding I only started this two years ago) you know of my reverence for Streep. There will be plenty to say about her nomination when I get to that point, but for now, here are the nominees as they stand.

  • Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water

  • Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

  • Margot Robbie - I, Tonya

  • Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird

  • Meryl Streep - The Post

I will spoil this one a little bit and write that I don't have a performance to remove from this list, so I will break format a little and give you five other performances to watch from 2017 that you may not have seen or heard of, but should definitely seek out.

  • Garance Marillier - Raw

  • Aubrey Plaza - Ingrid Goes West

  • Florence Pugh - Lady MacBeth

  • Haley Lu Richardson - Columbus

  • Kristen Stewart - Personal Shopper

Now, as I am keeping all five nominees I will do like I have done in the past and rank the performances in order of impact on my decision, but I do have a clear winner.

So, the question is, if I'm keeping Frances McDormand on the list when I have callously cast her costars and the overall film off the master list entirely, it has to be that I will uphold her win, right? Short answer, no.

I feel I've been a little harsh when it comes to Sally Hawkins in the past. She's an actress I feel is an easy cast off so I can get a different performance I want onto the list. This performance is different, though. In The Shape of Water, Hawkins is able to find a good balance of pathos and comedy. It's just not enough as the film favors other characters and I feel doesn't give Eliza, Hawkins character, enough motivation beyond a basic drive to do what's right, so while Hawkins gives all she's got, the story doesn't support her in it.

Frances McDormand is a force of nature both on and off screen. She's a chameleonic actress and she disappears into Mildred and her dogged quest for justice. Yet, like Sally Hawkins above, she is given many vir ex machinas (apologies to any Latin speakers if I totally blew that), a male savior figure who comes through and saves her from her circumstance at just the right moment. I can count four such instances, one with each of the major supporting and supportive players and one with a marginalized character. I feel that removes much of the power of who Mildred is and takes away from the fire of the performance for me.

It's very difficult to play a person whom history has vilified. It maybe even more difficult when no one is telling the full and whole truth of the story. Then there may be the added challenge of mimicking an athlete's athleticism. Yet, Margot Robbie is able to pull off an incredibly sympathetic, fantastically nuanced and skillful performance as America's bad girl Tonya Harding. She only grabs the number three spot because the other two are just that much better.

The number two spot here goes to Meryl Streep for The Post. Raise your hand if you thought I was moving toward Streep as my pick based on my introduction. I too (metaphorically) have my hand raised. I love the subtler Streep performances that command our attention not with bluster and ferocity, but with the power of a steadfast resolve when she's able to create the tension with her movements and her mannerisms. I love how Streep plays Katharine Graham's evolution from woman unable to speak up to a powerful figure of resistance to the suppression of the First Amendment. I just wish the movie was all about her and only her, but it's not and that is only a detriment to the performance in that we get too little of it while the movie turns its attention elsewhere.

Based on the process of elimination, I'm sure you know that my pick is Saoirse Ronan. If you have seen my other posts you know I majorly snubbed Ronan only a few posts back when I removed her completely from this category for pure selfishness and saying she would be back. Well, I was right.

Am I making up for that by elevating her performance now? Not in the slightest. Ronan's performance in Lady Bird is so assured and full of life. It's like she has shed every role she's played before this one and has been renewed into an incredible force of will.

I love how deeply she understands Lady Bird and it shows with every choice she makes and every carefully uncouth sentence she utters. There are supporting characters with her along the way as I have mentioned with the other women on this list, but through her own determination she charges headlong into destiny without their forces holding her throughout.

There are so many great scenes to choose from, so I will just point out one of my favorite scenes in which Lady Bird and her best friend Julie lay on the hood of a car listening to Dave Matthews after Lady Brid's first heartbreak.

It's an incredibly affecting scene even if you were never a teen girl because we have all experienced the horror that hormones plague our bodies with at that age and have felt that the world is coming crashing down around us when our paramours let us down. Ronan is able to capture all of these highs and lows so perfectly and genuinely.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next time you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit the links on this site to where you can buy my self-published works.

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