We’re barely into the decade yet, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about yet. Still, no sense waiting to start the conversation, right? I will keep adding Best Supporting Actress winners as the decade goes on and we’ll see how things shake out by the end.
A quick note on process: I will comment on whether or not a win was deserved, but that in and of itself cannot impact the ranking. And as time progresses and I revisit and rethink movies and performances, I reserve the right to make changes. These are fluid ranking for me, and since these are my lists I feel very comfortable with that.
2. Ariana DeBose, West Side Story (2021)
This was a really difficult call for me because I truly love both of the Supporting Actress performances that have won so far in the 2020s. Both feel worthy of the top spot to me. And while Ariana DeBose has the same star quality as her predecessor, Rita Moreno, I think this Anita suffers just a bit from the rest of 2021’s West Side Story being so good. As good as the original movie version is, Rita Moreno was always on another level. Ariana DeBose matches that, but Spielberg manages to bring the rest of the movie up to that same level–which means Anita doesn’t stand out as much. It’s no fault of DeBose’s, and it’s still a great performance. I’m splitting hairs, here.
Ultimately, I’ve decided that Youn’s deft work in Minari wins out. Her tender chemistry with the actor who plays her grandson gives the movie its emotional heft. Managing that without feeling overwrought gives Youn the edge over the spectacular DeBose.
But ask me again tomorrow and I may have changed my mind.
Should have won in 2021: DeBose deserved it, but pour one out for Kirsten Dunst, who did some excellent work in The Power of the Dog–and Aunjanue Ellis as well, who gave the best performance in King Richard (but maybe don’t tell that to Will Smith).
1. Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari (2020)
Like the Best Actress race for the same year, the Best Supporting Actress race felt wide open heading into the final stretch. Unlike the Best Actress race, though, there were signs at the end that people were beginning to zero in on Yuh-Jung Youn’s stellar performance in Minari. Still, there were a lot of Oscar pundits who saw it likely that Maria Bakalova could have won for her work in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm or Glenn Close could have gotten a win in acknowledgment for her career (nevermind that Hillbilly Elegy was a truly terrible movie). Thankfully, Youn’s momentum after her BAFTA speech turned out to be the real deal.
Playing a sassy grandmother can be a thankless part–indeed, it’s a trope that echoes throughout Hollywood history. And while actresses have won Oscars in this category for playing sassy old ladies before (Helen Hayes in Airport, Margaret Rutherford in The V.I.P.s, Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, etc.), it is rarely done with the care and subtlety of Youn. As the Korean grandmother who moves to Arkansas to help her daughter, Youn forms the heart of Minari and gives it its emotional resonance. She also goes through a full character arc with precision.
Should have won in 2020: I never understood the weird fascination with Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and I certainly wasn’t on board with Hillbilly Elegy. To me, Youn’s biggest competition would have been someone who wasn’t even nominated: Candice Bergen in Let Them All Talk. I still would have gone with Youn, though.
Other Rankings for the 2020s