Song of the Day #3,853: ‘Mamma Mia’ – Lily James

I always spend about the first two months of a new year processing the previous year in music and movies, so if you’re already sick of 2018, please bear with me.

Tomorrow, the Motion Picture Academy will announce nominations for this year’s Oscars. It’s been a tumultuous year for that outfit, from the ill-advised and quickly withdrawn ‘Best Popular Film’ Oscar to the Kevin Hart hosting fiasco. But it always makes for good sport to guess who the Academy will honor and snub — for good and bad reasons — each February.

This week, however, I will not concern myself with the actual nominations but instead will offer up my own choices in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, plus some bonus categories on Friday.

I’m sure some of my choices will mirror the Academy’s picks. I’m more sure many of them won’t.

First up is Best Actress.

It has been am extremely strong year for performances by women. Perhaps in the ‘Time’s up’ era, we’re finally getting enough women behind the camera to ensure a bounty of good roles in front of it.

I came up with a short list of 14 leading performances by women that I considered for my top five. I’ll list them all below. I also listed five performances I haven’t (yet) seen that by all accounts are award-worthy. I could easily imagine an Oscar night Best Actress category that included five of these women:

Glenn Close – The Wife
Viola Davis – Widows
Laura Dern – The Tale
Nicole Kidman – Destroyer
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Carey Mulligan – Wildlife
Charlize Theron – Tully

In reality, I expect only two of them (Close and McCarthy) to make the final cut (and at this point Close is the front-runner to win).

Of the films I saw, I strongly considered the following performances for my personal list of nominees:

Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place
Blunt is such a good actress that she can play the traumatized mother in this high-brow sci-fi film and also delight as Mary Poppins, a performance that should probably be listed above among those I haven’t yet seen.

Toni Collette – Hereditary
Collette could certainly win the award for most acting in this gonzo horror tale, but she nails the subtler moments as well.

Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Gaga and this film have entered backlash territory, but it would be wrong to dismiss how effective she is anchoring a solid film in her first big-screen role.

Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Kindergarten Teacher
Gyllenhaal is always an electric presence, and she is never afraid to breathe complex life into unsympathetic characters.

Helena Howard – Madeline’s Madeline
I found this film thoroughly unpleasant but there’s no denying the raw talent of newcomer Howard.

Camila Morrone – Never Goin’ Back
This female spin on a teen stoner comedy is lightweight, but Morrone (a model who is stepdaughter to Al Pacino and girlfriend to Leonardo DiCaprio) has serious acting chops.

Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade
Fisher is so natural in this role it’s tempting to assume she isn’t acting at all. Wrong. She anchors every funny, sad, uncomfortable and hopeful moment in the film.

Amandla Stenberg – The Hate U Give
It’s such a shame that this film was largely ignored by audiences and awards outfits alike, despite its near-perfect Tomato ranking. Stenberg brings powerful life to the conflicted teen at the center of this timely tale.

Constance Wu – Crazy Rich Asians
A terrific ensemble populates the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in many years, but Wu is the gentle beating heart at the center of every scene.

But after much (ok, a little) deliberation, I arrived at these five lead actresses for my personal list of nominees:

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
Aparicio is a first-time actress — a non-professional actress, in fact — who appears in every scene of the most ambitious, emotionally powerful film of the year. Her Cleo, a domestic worker for a middle class Mexican family, is a passive character with no big “Oscar moments” so the performance isn’t in-your-face, but every glance, every smile, every hesitant word, feels entirely authentic. Watching Cleo nervously tell her boss she’s pregnant, or painfully walk through her sexual history for a doctor, you ache for her. She breathed beautiful life into a character I’ve seen in the background of countless movies but never in the forefront of one until now. And this was not a performance pieced together in the editing booth. So many of Roma‘s scenes are told in very long, unbroken takes of immense technical complexity. The blocking alone would challenge a seasoned actor, but first-timer Aparicio navigates every shot seamlessly.

Lily James – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
A performance as light, fun and joyous as Lily James’ turn as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again will never be recognized by the Academy, so I’m here to do my part. James brings an infectious energy to the role, her movie star magnetism serving as the sun around which everything else in the film orbits. This is the most rewatchable movie of the year and that’s almost entirely due to James’ electrifying presence.

Emma Stone – The Favourite
The Favourite‘s Oscar campaign is pushing Emma Stone as Supporting Actress and Olivia Coleman as Lead. I would switch that. The arrival of Stone’s character, Abigail Hill, kicks the film’s plot into gear and much of the story is told from her perspective. Hers is also the character with the most dramatic arc. Regardless of category, Stone deserves recognition alongside her stellar co-stars (Coleman, Rachel Weisz and the under-heralded Nicholas Hoult) and may well deserve Best in Show. Her Abigail is charming, devious, playful and intelligent, an underdog you root for until you realize the sharpness of her fangs. Stone relishes every delicious morsel of physical and verbal comedy but always shows the desperate neediness just below the surface. Stone won this award two years ago, and she’s only gotten better.

Kathryn Hahn – Private Life
Hahn is best known for her no-holds-barred comedic turns in movies like Bad Moms and, indeed, she is priceless when tapping into the reckless id of a laugh-a-minute supporting character. But in Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, a film about a couple exploring every possible avenue to conceive a child, Hahn sinks her teeth into a leading role full of pathos, pain and, yes, humor. Stealing the show while sharing the spotlight with an always-great Paul Giamatti, Hahn delivers such heart-wrenching realism that it takes a moment to realize how much she is simultaneously entertaining you.

Regina Hall – Support the Girls
Like Hahn, Regina Hall has spent a couple of decades delivering comedic turns in movies nobody mentions come Oscar season. She has had major success in the Scary Movie franchise and 2017’s Girls Trip, but nothing like the praise she’s received for writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls (culminating with her Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics, the first time the award went to an African-American). As Lisa Conroy, the manager of a Hooters-like restaurant somewhere in Texas, Hall delivers a human-scale performance so warm and inviting you don’t want the movie to end because it means you’ll have to stop spending time with her.

As for who would win the prize in my personal Oscars, I believe I’d go with Regina Hall. It’s the least likely great performance of the batch, and the most life-affirming.

Tomorrow: Best Actor

[Verse 1: Lily James]
I was cheated by you
And I think you know when
So I made up my mind
It must come to an end

[Pre-Chorus 1: Lily James]
Look at me now, will I ever learn?
I don’t know how
But I suddenly lose control
There’s a fire within my soul
Just one look
And I can hear a bell ring
One more look and I forget everything, w-o-o-o-o-h

[Chorus: Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn & Alexa Davies]
Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist ya?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I’ve missed ya
Yes, I’ve been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
Why, why did I ever let you go?
Mamma mia, now I really know
My my, I should not have let you go

[Verse 2: Lily James]
I was angry and sad
‘Bout the things that you do
I can’t count all the times that I cried over you

[Pre-Chorus 2: Lily James]
And when you go
When you slam the door
I think you know
That you won’t be away too long
You know that I’m not that strong
Just one look
And I can hear a bell ring
One more look and I forget everything, w-o-o-o-oh

[Chorus: Lily James, Jessica Keenan Wynn & Alexa Davies]
Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist ya?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I’ve missed ya
Yes, I’ve been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
Why, why did I ever let you go?
Mamma mia
Now I really know
My, my, I should not have let you go

8 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,853: ‘Mamma Mia’ – Lily James

  1. Madison says:

    Nice list 🙂 I’ll play along this week. My personal nominees for Best Actress would be:

    Carrie Mulligan – Wildlife (She would win too)
    Natalie Portman – Annihilation
    Blake Lively – A Simple Favor
    Helena Howard – Madeline’s Madeline
    Constance Wu – Crazy Rich Asians.

    I still have to see Roma and Private Life, I suspect they may change up my list when I get around to them. 🙂

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    I really haven’t seen many of these performances of these women, including Glenn Close, who I understand to be the favorite. I like Maddie’s shoutout to Portman though. She was great in that film.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    Very compelling arguments! Though I too haven’t seen many of these films you are mentioning and can’t particularly vouch for the actresses myself I do believe sometimes the Oscar race ends up awarding those who are more in the zeitgeist vs those who are the most deserving. Kiersey Clemons from “Hearts Beat Loud” is someone who I feel should be and (definitely won’t) be nominated. She was perfect opposite Nick Offerman in a movie that was completely overlooked this year and was so good hugely in part to her beautiful, nuanced acting.

  4. Peg says:

    I too haven’t seen all these films but I’ve seen several. Early in the year when I saw The Wife I commented to many who would listen that the Oscar should go to Glenn Close. That was mostly forgotten until the Golden Globe was awarded to her. Certainly she was shocked. I still feel it should even after watching some excellent performances during the year.

  5. Amy says:

    I want to see Private Life – love Kathryn Hahn always. I’m also eager to see The Wife. I don’t get the over the top love for Gaga, who was certainly good but not among the five best performances of the year. We’re seeing The Favourite today, so I’ll better understand the nods for its three leads.

    In addition to several of the performances mentioned above, I’ll throw in Felicity Jones for On The Basis of Sex. I found her to be absolutely wonderful. Out of the films I’ve seen thus far, my list would include Jones, Blunt, Theron, Portman, and McCarthy, with either Theron or McCarthy taking home the prize.

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