Who Should Win: Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Minari follows a Korean American family that moves from California to Arkansas so that patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) can realize his dream of becoming a successful farmer. While Jacob is passionate and excited to build a life his kids can one day be proud of, the move from a city on the coast to the middle of nowhere doesn’t sit well with the rest of the family. To soften the blow, Jacob and wife Monica (Han Ye-Ri) agree to bring in Monica’s mother Soon-ja to help look after the children.
Most of Minari revolves around the relationship between Jacob’s son David (Alan Kim) and Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung). Initially excited to meet his grandmother, David is disappointed when Soon-ja turns out not to be a kind matriarch who bakes cookies, reads to him, and speaks English. Instead, Soon-ja is a strong-willed, crass older woman with a penchant for gambling and a mean streak. Her first gift to him is a set of Korean hwa-tu playing cards, so she can “start him young to beat those other bastards!”
Since Soon-ja can’t fit with David’s expectations, she instead tries to be a fun grandma. She uses her limited English for well-intentioned playful ribbing that comes across more hurtful than intended. When Soon-ja learns that David wets the bed, she laughs and proudly declares in broken English that his “penis broken”, prompting David to angrily correct her that “it’s called a ding dong” and run off.
Initially resentful, David regularly returns Soon-ja’s teasing with pranks of his own. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Soon-ja asks her grandson to get her some Mountain Dew but receives a bowl full of different yellow liquid instead.
Youn’s Soon-ja is a woman trying her best to connect with a child who couldn’t be more generationally, culturally, and even linguistically removed from her. When David is off-screen, Soon-ja’s expression will often briefly change to one of utter exasperation, conveying in a moment just how hard she’s trying. She wants to be everything her grandson wants from his grandmother, but can’t just change everything about herself, either.
Minari is a great movie full of emotional performances, and easily the best one comes from Youn.
Who Got Snubbed: Gina Rodriguez – Kajillionaire
Kajillionaire starts with depictions of extremely petty theft: stealing coupons from mailboxes, pretending to have “found” previously stolen goods in return for unposted rewards, and attempting to return free massage coupons for the cash value of the massage. The film’s main characters aren’t even good at being small-time con artists, though to hear Robert Dyne (Richard Jenkins) explain it, they’re much closer to criminals with a code of honour of only stealing enough to get by.
Robert explains early on to his daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), that big heists are dangerous, and get you hooked: “Most people want to be kajillionaires.”
But when the Dynes meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a much better scam artist, her creativity boosts their heist game from astoundingly bad to mostly awful. Suddenly, the thought of being “kajillionaires” – or at least less poor – no longer seems so far off.
Melanie is the most “normal” in a cartoonish cast of characters. She stands in contrast to the repressed Old Dolio and her Dickensian comic-relief parents as an outgoing, clever person who forms relationships easily. She’s a perfect foil to Old Dolio, and the two actresses’ chemistry makes for some of the best scenes in the movie.
Though Kajillionaire looks like a heist movie, the budding relationship between Old Dolio and Melanie forms the backbone of the film.
Other Notable Snubs:
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian, Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman