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Before the Gold: Best Supporting Actress

This month, we’re taking a look at this year’s Oscar nominees and digging into their past work to find hidden gems that you may have overlooked, or specific credits that may have influenced their Oscar-nominated work this year. 

This year’s Best Supporting Actress category looked to be in a constant state of flux for most of the season. First Maria Bakalova was dominating the critics’ wins, then Youn Yuh-jung started picking up a lot of heat. Neither seemed like the obvious choice for an Oscar win, though, so many prognosticators had Amanda Seyfried as the default choice for the safe pick. Glenn Close was always lurking in the background, waiting to get that long-deserved win after so many years of misses. Meanwhile, recent Lead Actress winner Olivia Colman had reviews so strong that her buzz continued even with her film being seen far less than any other nominated women. Jodie Foster threw everything into disarray momentarily with a Golden Globe win, Helena Zengel picked up plenty of precursor prizes, and names like Dominique Fishback built up some buzz with a film that was surging at the right time. 

Ultimately, the category ended up being one of the most unusually safe, with the five most obvious choices being the nominees, and Youn seeming pretty secure for the win. Anything can happen, however, and each of these ladies should be getting a speech ready just in case their name is called on April 25th. 

Maria Bakalova 

Nominated for: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: N/A 

Bakalova presents one of the wrinkles of doing a series like this, which is that sometimes the Academy loves to coronate a performer on of their first performances (or even their very first, as we’ll see soon in the Lead Actress category). Bakalova isn’t completely new, as the Bulgarian actress has appeared in a handful of films in her home country, including a well-regarded leading role in the film Trangression. However, the availability of those films is scarce, meaning that for most audiences Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was their first time seeing Bakalova on screen. This could have proven a detriment to her awards campaign, as often people can get so fooled by a performer they don’t have familiarity with because they don’t see how “different” their character is from their off-screen personalities. Particularly with a film like Borat, it would have been easy for Bakalova to miss, but she ended up being one of the very rare comedic performances to earn an Oscar nomination, and in most places she is ranked as the #2 in likelihood to win. Even for those who didn’t quite take to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the love for her performance has been practically unanimous, and the star has certainly seen the boost in her career already, signing on to Judd Apatow’s new pandemic Netflix comedy The Bubble, along with an A24 “secret slasher” project from director Halina Reijn

Glenn Close

Nominated for: Hillbilly Elegy

Previous nominations: The World According to Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983), The Natural (1984), Fatal Attraction (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Albert Nobbs (2011), The Wife (2018) 

Hidden gem: The Big Chill (1983) 

Another year, another hope for Glenn Close to get the Oscar her fans have been waiting for. At this point, the actress is the most nominated living performer without an Oscar win, with Hillbilly Elegy marking her 8th nomination. For a moment, it seemed as though this was her time, but like 2018’s run for The Wife, it looks like she’s just narrowly going to miss. It’s been a long time coming for Close to earn that win, having earned her first Oscar nomination for what was literally her first film performance in 1982’s The World According to Garp. She was nominated twice more in the next consecutive years, one for The Big Chill and another for The Natural. Lawrence Kasdan’s Big Chill might be a movie that hasn’t aged particularly well, but her performance shines through even despite the film’s many faults. Despite its somewhat glib sarcastic comedy approach to the story of a friend’s suicide, Close’s performance is the one among the ensemble that brings genuine heart and pathos to the film, almost making her feel at odds with the rest of what’s on screen. For Close, that’s a good thing, and many who find her recent work cold or harsh should see her early performances in all three of those nominated films to see just how much warmth and compassion she is capable of as well. 

Olivia Colman 

Nominated for: The Father 

Previous nominations: The Favourite (2018, winner) 

Hidden gem: Tyrannosaur (2011) 

Going into Oscar night in 2019, Glenn Close was the expected winner for her performance in The Wife, and one of the surprises of the night was the upset victory from Olivia Colman, winning for The Favourite. With a delightfully un-Hollywood, totally herself speech, it was one of the best moments in recent Oscar memory, and the Colman/Close duo is up again this year, although this time it looks like neither will be the victor. Colman has taken an interesting trajectory to get to a place where she is a beloved, highly respected dramatic actress. An English actress, many in her country knew her initially as a comedian on series like Peep Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look. Her dramatic skills are well-known across the world now, but they were a bit of a shock when people first saw her wrenching, incredible performance in 2011’s Tyrannosaur. The feature directing debut of actor Paddy Considine, the film sees Colman playing an alcoholic woman in a violently abusive marriage who drowns her pain with the bottle. It’s an unbelievably difficult film to watch, with Colman and co-star Peter Mullan holding nothing back in going to the dark places that Considine asks them to go. Looking back now, it was perhaps just the first sign of the depths that Colman was capable of plunging as an actress. Many actors are able to excel in comedy and drama, but none are able to hit those genres as drastically, and successfully as Colman has demonstrated she can. 

Amanda Seyfried (interview here)

Nominated for: Mank

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: Lovelace (2013)

This may not be Seyfried’s year to win an Oscar, but one imagines that her time is coming, and this “welcome to the club” nomination is merely the first of many. Starting her career on daytime soaps, Seyfried has evolved into an immensely exciting actress who can jump between comedy and drama without missing a beat, belting ABBA tunes with Meryl Streep one second, and breaking hearts as Cosette in Les Misérables the next. As real-life Deep Throat actress Linda Lovelace in the 2013 film Lovelace, Seyfried was able to take on the biopic formula and breathe new life into a woman who has too often been relegated to a footnote, known for the movie that she long regretted being a part of. Lovelace might not be a perfect movie, but the performance at its center absolutely shines, leaving you at the end of the film with a new appreciation for Seyfried as a performer, and an understanding of a woman you thought that you knew. Her onscreen chemistry with Peter Sarsgaard, portraying Lovelace’s abusive husband Chuck Traynor, allowed us to see how strong of a scene partner she can be with an actor, something she again demonstrated in her nominated performance as another real-life actress, Marion Davies, in this year’s Mank

Youn Yuh-jung 

Nominated for: Minari

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: The Housemaid (2011) 

As is the case with Bakalova, this year might have been the first time that some viewers were seeing Youn Yuh-jung on their screens. Unlike Bakalova, however, many are also aware of the fact that Youn is a living legend who has been working in film and television for over five decades. Minari may be the crossover success that got her this kind of major recognition for the first time, but it’s recognition she has long deserved. A collaborator in recent years for acclaimed directors like Hong Sang-soo and Im Sang-soo, Youn’s film career began with acclaimed Korean director Kim Ki-young in 1971’s Woman on Fire. This was the second film in Kim’s Housemaid trilogy, which Youn paid her own sort of homage to 40 years later by starring in Im Sang-soo’s remake of the first film in that trilogy, The Housemaid. Youn plays a respected career housemaid in that film, the live-in worker for a rich family who are taking in a new housemaid to help with the impending birth of the matriarch’s twins. When an affair breaks out between the family’s patriarch and the new maid, we see how Youn is able to match her stern, stoic servitude with a genuine heart and concern for the new maid. It’s a delicate performance that has to convincingly trace an arc from intimidating to supportive, while also allowing the audience to see how the ingrained nature of servitude in her character is something that she struggles to ever be able to shake. For those who haven’t seen Youn’s work outside of Minari and been able to appreciate her marvelous acting the way many others have been for years, The Housemaid is certainly a good place to start. 

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Written by Mitchell Beaupre

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