Ranking the 89th Academy Award Nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

In order to judge them fairly, I have taken it upon myself to watch all the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director and the acting categories, and I have to say that this year has some incredible nominees, most of which are deserving of their nominations. I will be ranking them category by category in different posts, from the nominee I feel is the least deserving to the nominee who I found to be superior to all the others. I’ve tried to remain as objective as I can, and taken as much into consideration as I can, in order to judge them fairly and honestly.

Best Supporting Actress is an interesting category, mainly because some truly powerful performances have won here in the past, along with some weaker ones. There have been some utterly amazing performances crowned here, and some very mediocre ones as well. This year, the category is strong, but for the first time ever, there is a performance here so powerful, so incredible, so indelible, it boggles my mind that they even bothered to nominate four other performances. Not to say they’re undeserving, but there is one performance here so utterly spell-binding and incredible, it casts an incredibly long shadow over all the other performances.

#5 – Michelle Williams as Randi in Manchester by the Sea


Michelle Williams is certainly a very talented actress. The problem is she is great when she wants to be, but can be bland as hell when she doesn’t try. The role of Randi in Manchester by the Sea is an important one, but it needed an actress with a little bit more acting charisma to play the role, because it is slightly underwritten and it depends on two big moments – Williams manages to sell one, but the biggest moment is ruined by Williams’ indie sensibilities – there was something sadly missing from her performance, which bothered me because this is the kind of role that is an absolute knock-out in the right hands, and Williams is far from a mediocre actress – she just sometimes tends to be forgettable, and she was just that here.

#4 – Naomie Harris as Paula in Moonlight


I was expecting a lot out of Moonlight, and one such aspect I had high hopes for was the performance from Naomie Harris, somewhat of a veteran of the cast. I have to say, a role that was supposed to be a lot more powerful just came off as underwritten – it seems like the character is made out to be this utterly important, very present character, and then suddenly just disappears. The problem isn’t that Harris was bad – there was just not enough of her. She was very good, but as in the case of Mahershala Ali, I needed two or three more scenes to really be effective. Otherwise, it is great that Harris is getting this exposure, because she certainly deserves it after years of hard work, and as with her co-star Ali, hopefully Moonlight will offer her bigger and more exciting opportunities in film, because she actually is pretty great at what she does, which is clear here.

#3 – Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierly in Lion


Lion was a very good film, and the heart and soul of that film was Nicole Kidman – and proving that she is as flexible and fascinating as a character actress as she is as a leading lady star, her role as Sue, the adoptive mother of Saroo, she manages to be wonderful, sometimes funny and very moving. Kidman does a lot with a character that could have been one-dimensional and bland, and she elevates it. The role may not be as big as one would expect from someone like Kidman, but she is certainly very good and does amazing things with what she is given.

#2 – Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures


Some can argue that Octavia Spencer didn’t deserve to win this award for The Help, and while I do agree that she was entertaining in a wonderful film, she isn’t the best of the nominees (and call me a shameless fan, but what Melissa McCarthy did in Bridesmaids, with a role that could’ve been so incredibly annoying and one-dimensional, makes me wish she actually had won – don’t judge me, McCarthy was great). In Hidden Figures, Spencer is as good as I’ve ever seen her – hilarious, touching and assertive, her performance is the reason why I liked Hidden Figures. She doesn’t go too far with the character, and gives an entertaining, but also very subtle and sweet performance. I really liked her here, and the fact that she was the best part of a very important film says a lot.

#1 – Viola Davis as Rose Lee Maxson in Fences


This is it. Is there any point in justifying this? As with Affleck, if I need to explain why Davis is at the top of this list, then you clearly haven’t seen Fences. It is the rare case of a mediocre film containing an utterly incredible performance. I have never seen Viola Davis this good – she runs the full gamut of emotions, and she takes a complex character and makes her even more complicated and layered. Davis is also the only performer in the film that realizes that they are making a film, not a play, and she manages to handle the dialogue and limited cinematic direction in such a way that it didn’t feel like a stage play (which literally every other actor in this film, including Denzel Washington), are guilty of. Davis is just an absolute powerhouse here, and she is the very definition of incredible. To me, all the other nominees might as well stay home, but they better not – they must be there to give the hardworking, brilliant and amazingly talented Viola Davis her standing ovation – she deserves it more than most people.

There we have it – not the best year for this category, but it wasn’t a great year for Supporting Actresses either. However, all the performances here are good (with the exception of Michelle Williams, who was mediocre), and one performance in particular is just incredible. They might as well engrave Viola Davis’ name onto the trophy now, because there’s no point in even pretending like there’s a chance of anyone else winning.


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