Best Actress was filled with take-charge characters bursting with self-expression, growing, and changing, Best Supporting Actress was a lineup of mothers. Lesley Manville may be a sister, but she is a mother. Octavia Spencer may be a co-worker and a wife, but she is a mother. They all struggle under the burden of expectation...except for Allison Janney, which is why it perhaps shouldn't be surprising that she won. LaVonna lives a miserable life, near the end of it requiring a breathing tube...but she's going to go to the grave being exactly who she is.
Like BJ, I discovered her in 1999 with American Beauty. I never really watched The West Wing but my girlfriend is putting me through a retrospective right now (which in our currently administration is a special kind of torture). C.J. Cregg is far and away the best female character Aaron Sorkin has written. There's something very right about Allison Janney winning an Oscar. One gets the sense that Hollywood applauds itself for allowing Allison Janney to win it for all the tall girls out there, and play women (at least on television) who are desired for their attractive intelligence. So then it's something of a bummer that she must win an Oscar for playing evil. This isn't a bad win, but it would be nice if she could win for something that isn't merely favorably compared to Melissa Leo in The Fighter.
Janney was always out in front of the race with Laurie Metcalf, and behind them...a string of women that I suspect would be lagging in other years. Best Supporting Actress tends to have a "One Year On/One Year Off" quality to it. Some years are packed with worthy nominees and other years it feels as though they struggle to put a list together which results in nominating Laura Dern for a ten minute flashback.
Octavia Spencer was nominated for what we can call "The Octavia Spencer role": a woman of color, usually married, struggling against the establishment in small doses. She's very good but we've seen her do this better in The Help and Hidden Figures. I think The Shape of Water is her weakest nomination because she essentially serves the same purpose as Richard Jenkins: cameraderie, exposition, and context. Holly Hunter is perfectly fine in The Big Sick, but I've never understood her acclamation. It seems like a coup of casting, unlike Ray Romano who seemed to reveal something personal and unexpected. I haven't seen Downsizing so I can't speak to Hong Chau's performance, but that movie flopped. Nobody saw it. Would it be spoken about any other year? As for Mary J. Blige, she doesn't have much to do. Her triumph is being convincing. I found her nomination baffling.
In a race that could have included Michelle Pfeiffer for mother!, Bria Vinaite for The Florida Project, Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip, or Allison Williams or Betty Gabriel for Get Out to name a few, I found the lineup surrounding Janney and Metcalf to be uninspiring. Which is why Phantom Thread's large take on Oscar morning was so welcome, and Lesley Manville was at the center of it. I've gone back and forth about giving her my vote. She absolutely destroys every scene, and won me over in a way I didn't quite feel in Another Year.
I wasn't quite sold on Metcalf's chances of winning because it wasn't showy enough. So much of the film happens in subtle gestures because gestures and quiet dismissals are all that Marion needs with her daughter. Lady Bird isn't a film made for Oscar clips, of course her scream at the end of the opening car scene certainly qualifies (for me, it's tied with "The Sunken Place" from Get Out as scene of the year). It's as much a feat of casting as any this year. Metcalf's face is so long that her smiles feel like a struggle against years of depression. Her crying departure from the airport wouldn't make my top twenty of Metcalf moments from Lady Bird, but I suspect one of the many reasons she didn't win was it wasn't big enough.
Marion may not be as awful as LaVonna, but she's real. Every girl I've dated has described this kind of relationship: the micro-aggressions, the freezing out, the controlling. And there's a reason why the women in my life hasn't stopped talking about Laurie Metcalf's performance. Because she truthfully embodies a person they struggle with to this day. I think it's a great performance and she has my vote.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver