Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Why It’s Michelle Yeoh’s Time

All Michelle Yeoh had to do to challenge Cate Blanchett for the Best Actress Oscar was win the SAG Award. And she did just that.

Best Actress is now undeniably a two-horse race, and no matter what those on either side say, it will be a nailbiter right up until the envelope is opened. Cate Blanchett may have three televised awards (the Drama Golden Globe, the Critics Choice Award, and the BAFTA) to Michelle Yeoh’s two (the Comedy/Musical Golden Globe and the SAG). Still, both have one real industry award (the BAFTA vs. the SAG). And even though Blanchett can claim the mantle of being “the critical darling” following her Volpi Cup victory at the Venice Film Festival and her sweep of the Best Actress honors from the NYFCC, LAFCA, and NSFC, Yeoh is starring in the Best Picture frontrunner that is simultaneously becoming a potential Oscar sweeper if its recent guild award wins are any indication (the DGA, the PGA, and the SAG Ensemble Award). However, while not dismissing Blanchett’s very real Oscar potential, I’ve landed firmly on the side of Yeoh, and here’s why.

One of the first things one might say in favor of Blanchett’s Best Actress campaign is that “TÁR” overperformed with Oscar nominations, which is true. Heading into the Oscar nominations announcement, many predicted it to secure four nods: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. But on the morning of, it walked away with an additional two in the categories of Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. If Blanchett – long seen as the best opportunity for “TÁR” to actually win an Oscar – isn’t strong enough to take home the Best Actress trophy, why did “TÁR” do so well? Where does all that love go? Well, for starters, this wouldn’t be the first time momentum across-the-board and in specific categories has shifted from Oscar nomination voting to final Oscar voting. Look no further than last year, when “CODA” initially only earned three Oscar nominations and was never seen as a top five contender for Best Picture (let alone a potential winner) before closing the gap in the two months before final Oscar voting thanks to a SAG Ensemble win and ever-growing love for its cast. Conversely, “The Power of the Dog” – seen as the frontrunner in 4-5 categories when Oscar nominations were announced, which it led with 12 – lost ground and ultimately only won one award at the end of the day, in Best Director.

Additionally, “TÁR” wasn’t the only film to overperform on Oscar nomination morning, as the Michelle Yeoh-led “Everything Everywhere All At Once” did as well, nabbing surprise nods for Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song, alongside the expected nominations in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (times two), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. Of course, one could say that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is already likely winning several of its awards (at the time of this writing, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor are almost guaranteed), so it doesn’t necessarily need Best Actress on top of all that to show that the love for it is visible and strong the way “TÁR” should have the upper hand in said category to justify its own nomination overperformance. At one point, I’d be inclined to agree. I also thought there could be a cap on the love for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and a limit to how many Oscars it could win. But after its dominance with the guilds thus far (where it has astonishingly racked up wins with not just the DGA, PGA, and SAG but also the ADG, CDG, MUAHS, and SDSA), the reality we’re now faced with is one where there actually is no limit.

Ignoring Best Actress for a moment, as of today, the film is widely seen as the frontrunner in at least five categories – Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing. It’s not uncontested in those latter two (“The Banshees Of Inisherin” or “Top Gun: Maverick” could still surprise), and Jamie Lee Curtis’ SAG win puts Best Supporting Actress on the table as well. But for now, it’s looking really good in those five, at the very least. Which begs the question: if The Academy is going to rally around “Everything Everywhere All At Once” in five major categories, four of which are above-the-line, how do you not then also award the very face of the film itself and the actress who the film is essentially an ode to? How can voters give “Everything Everywhere All At Once” five or more Oscars and not simultaneously support Michelle Yeoh? If you love the movie, chances are you love her – and what she brings to it – too. Even if you don’t love the film, Yeoh’s performance has been one of the most universally praised elements from it ever since the film’s premiere last March, from lovers and haters alike.

Everywhere the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” team goes, Michelle Yeoh has been made the focus, and rightfully so. There hasn’t been a single acceptance speech given by the Daniels, Ke Huy Quan, or Jamie Lee Curtis in which Yeoh isn’t uplifted in an overwhelmingly emotional manner, reminding everyone that this movie would not have been possible without her. Basically, if you’re supporting the film elsewhere, Yeoh needs – and deserves – your love just as much. Hell, Curtis’ SAG acceptance speech was widely seen as the best of the evening, and she devoted the entire last minute of said speech to praising Yeoh (going so far as to lead the crowd in a cheer for her) and crediting her very involvement in the film to Yeoh. It is getting to a point where, as strong as “TÁR” and Cate Blanchett might be, they may no longer be strong enough to combat the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” fever,” which undoubtedly extends to Yeoh as well.

Then, there’s the “narrative” of it all. It is not lost on any of us that it should be Michelle Yeoh who wins the Best Actress Oscar. After all, she’d be only the second woman of color ever to do so and the first Asian woman in all 95 years of the Academy Awards. Should Cate Blanchett win, a white woman who already won two Oscars would be denying Yeoh of this historic moment giving a once-in-a-lifetime performance in a once-in-a-lifetime role in a film that has defied any and all expectations all season and now has the stars perfectly aligned for Yeoh to seal the deal and take it all the way to the finish line (yes, it is harsh, but it’s true). Do voters always necessarily care about narrative, particularly when it comes to diversity and representation? No, otherwise, Chadwick Boseman would have received a posthumous Oscar over the already-awarded Anthony Hopkins two years ago, but he did not. However, Yeoh has something Boseman didn’t have – a Best Picture frontrunner that is simultaneously winning three-five other Oscars (as “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” infamously missed out on several ‘should’ve been secure’ nominations like Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, signaling that his film was weaker than anticipated).

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk more about Boseman and leading actors who won SAG Awards but lost the Oscars in general, as some have posed the theory that this could be the same fate that awaits Yeoh. Some recent leading actors who notably won at SAG and lost at the Oscars include Viola Davis (“The Help”), Denzel Washington (“Fences“), Glenn Close (“The Wife“), Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom“), and Viola Davis again (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom“). Only one of these actors (Davis, for “The Help”) was starring in a film that went on to win the SAG Ensemble award, as Yeoh’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once” did, while none of them were starring in a film that was the Best Picture frontrunner and guilds sweeper. At the end of the day, most lost to actors in stronger films (Denzel Washington losing to “Manchester by the Sea’s” Casey Affleck, Glenn Close losing to “The Favourite’s” Olivia Colman, Chadwick Boseman losing to “The Father’s” Anthony Hopkins, and Viola Davis – in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – losing to “Nomadland’s” Frances McDormand).

But this time around, Yeoh has the stronger film between her and Blanchett, and it is really no competition. Interestingly enough too, this wouldn’t be the first time Blanchett won the Drama Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, and BAFTA for a performance only to lose Best Actress to an actress who only had the Comedy/Musical Golden Globe and the SAG but starred in the stronger film and eventual Best Picture winner. The year was 1998 when Blanchett was contending for “Elizabeth,” while Gwyneth Paltrow ultimately prevailed for “Shakespeare in Love.” Though both were Best Picture contenders, there was no questioning that “Shakespeare in Love” was the stronger film across-the-board, as Best Picture was always a battle between that and Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” And sure, some will say it was Harvey Weinstein who eked out those wins for “Shakespeare in Love” and Paltrow. Still, the fact of the matter was that “Shakespeare in Love” was the stronger film at the end of the day, and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is here too – and it didn’t need Weinstein to get it to this point.

With that being said, there is another occurrence where an actress with the Drama Golden Globe and the BAFTA (though not the Critics Choice Award) went head-to-head with an actress in the eventual Best Picture winner with the Comedy/Musical Golden Globe and the SAG and the former actually won, and that was in 2002, when “The Hours'” Nicole Kidman bested “Chicago’s” Renée Zellweger (though “The Hours” was still at least a Best Picture nominee). Many have cited this as a counterpoint to the Blanchett v. Paltrow race that was just explored. Yes, it is fair to consider, but there are a few major differences, with the first being that both Blanchett and Yeoh are at very different points in their careers than Kidman and Zellweger were. In 2002, Kidman and Zellweger were two ingenues duking it out for their first win, while – as stated above – Blanchett has already been awarded twice, and Yeoh is an overdue international icon whose win would make Oscar history, giving her the better “narrative” of the two. While it was a draw between Kidman and Zellweger, where Kidman simply had the more “transformative” part to help her (and neither Blanchett nor Yeoh have that over each other here).

No emphasis on “Everything Everywhere All At Once’s” awards strength can negate the fact that Cate Blanchett is an incredibly formidable challenger for Michelle Yeoh, given all the awards she herself has also amassed this season, including (but not at all limited to) her Drama Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, and BAFTA. But, I do believe that following “Everything Everywhere All At Once’s” record-setting triumph at last Sunday’s SAG Awards, it’s clear that the love for this film is on another level, and Michelle Yeoh is the face of that now uncontrollable fervor. Since this is the last note of the televised awards season prior to final Oscar voting, it is hard not to believe that Yeoh will be a beneficiary of this exuberant emotion and enthusiasm, not just because of what her win would mean, but because she simply is in the movie that voters love with all their might, and I find it hard to foresee the film doing as well as some are predicting it to do come Oscar night as Yeoh is left in the dust – and a history-making triumph is left on the table.

Who do you think should win the Oscar for Best Actress? Who do you think is going to win the Oscar for Best Actress? How many Oscars do you think “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is going to win? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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Zoe Rose Bryant
Zoe Rose Bryant
Writes for AwardsWatch & Loud & Clear Reviews. Omaha based film critic & Awards Season pundit.

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