By Ken Stokes
Editor’s Note: Ken Stokes is an Idaho-based writer I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past few years. After we viewed the live-action shorts nominated for this year’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awards (aka the Oscars), Ken opined to me on a major player in the Fourth Estate—the filmmaking industry. What follows is Ken’s advice on how to win your Oscars pool.
We all have a lot on our minds these days, what with COVID-19 variants, domestic terrorism, mass shootings, infrastructure debates, yada, yada, yada. But for the so-called legitimate and popular press and some denizens and part-time residents of our own Valley, another hot topic of debate is emerging: On Sunday, April 25th, who will win the Academy Award for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture for 2020? Pundits swear there’s never been a tighter race in Oscars history, the principal reason being that never before have the prognosticating awards (Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA, American Society of So Who Gives a ****, etc.) been so evenly split between the contenders. As I’m assuming most of you missed their performances, and even fewer know who’s nominated in this or any category, here’s the list and how the women; I mean, how the women’s performances, will no doubt be judged (wink, wink):
- Frances McDormand in Nomadland
- Andra Day in The United States Vs. Billie Holiday
- Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
- Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman
- Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman
All pretty dazzling performances. So how’s an Academy member to choose? I can answer this as a person who, in the past, was asked by an Academy member to fill out his ballot. “You know more about this crap than I do,” my marginally-famous but presently nameless friend said. Yes, that happens—more than the Academy likes to think or admit. If you want to win this year’s Oscars pool, here’s your convoluted decision-making process:
First off, and in the wake of years of “Oscars So White” and the Academy’s desperate and Johnny-come-lately attempt to bring diversity to Old White Rapist Land, we knock out the White American Actress—McDormand—whose subtle, radiant performance is the heart and soul of the so-called shoe-in for Best Picture, “Nomadland.” Take out her screen time and all you’re left with is a commercial for the National Geographic Channel. Don’t cry for Franny just yet. She already has two Best Actress Oscars and was a producer on the film, so she’s almost assured a statue for Best Picture, which will bring her household total of Little Gold Men (remember she’s married to writer-director-producer Joel Coen; you know, “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men”) to seven. No single household needs eight Golden Doorstops.
On the other side of the spectrum, so to speak (sorry, that sounds awful), are Day and Davis, both playing seminal blues artists (Thank God they weren’t playing maids. Again.). That’ll spilt the diversity vote down the middle. Moreover, Davis won an Oscar, albeit for Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences” just four years ago. Ma Rainey’s is another Wilson adaptation. Déjà vu all over again.
Which leaves us with two white Brits. Nothing melts the heart of an Academy member quite like a Brit nailing an American accent. Kirby, who broke out as the boozy Princess Margaret in Seasons One and Two of “The Crown,” hasn’t much traction in this race, and honestly, didn’t we all really prefer Helena Bohnam-Carter’s performance of the same character in The Crown’s third season (There was a young lady from Dallas … oh, Google it).
And that brings us to a corset-free Mulligan (watch “SNL” 4/10/21 if you miss the breath-restricting device) in a Me-Too manifesto portraying an obsessed woman avenging the rape-suicide of her best friend. Her performance covers so much range and has such frequent tonal adjustments that she comes off as a chameleon doing cartwheels at Sherwin-Williams. Like McDormand, she is the movie. Cut out her screen time and you’re left with the creepiest Judd Apatow movie imaginable. She led the pack early on but now it’s neck-and-neck to the wire.
So who’ll win? That would be any person who has endured years of endless prattle by sportswriters, sportscasters, pundits, fans, Monday-morning quarterbacks, weekend warriors and wannabes debating the finer points of each and every sports playoff ever broadcast. Sportsaholics, this is just a taste of what you sound like. So be considerate next time, OK? Not everyone is quite as enthused as you.