2020 Calvin Awards: Best Actress

By David Mumpower

February 14, 2020

I'm thinking of curses to lob at the Academy.

Perhaps no category has experienced a more optimistic growth pattern than Best Actress. During the earliest years of the award, countless women earned nominations for roles that were lazily written as The Girl. Later, the internet updated this term to the more specific Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, but the premise remained similar.

Thankfully, Hollywood faced an existential crisis a few years ago. Studio bosses realized that their films had to display a bit more modernity. Importantly, women also gained more power in writing and directing films, thereby lending more truthful voices to female characters. Our most recent sets of Best Actress nominees have demonstrated this sincerity and depth. To wit…

The winner of Best Actress at The Calvins this year is Awkafina, a sentence I wouldn’t have even known was possible three years ago. Yes, the ascension of the comedic actress has occurred rapidly. She went from stealing scenes in Ocean’s Eight to anchoring The Farewell.

In this film, Awkwafina plays a frustrated artist who receives devastating news. Her grandmother, whom she idolizes, will soon die of a fatal illness. Her Chinese relatives have chosen not to tell the women. So, Awkafina’s character must travel to her parents’ home country to say goodbye to a woman who doesn’t even know she’s sick.

Awkafina provides the emotional center for the film. Honestly, the entire thing would fall apart without her nuanced portrayal of suffering, conflict, and forced maturation. As you'll see, The Farewell is one of only three films this year to win multiple awards, which demonstrates how passionate our staff is about this tale of the challenges of familial love.

Lupita Nyong’o finishes a not-too-distant second in Best Actress. She was competitive until the final three ballots, but Awkafina ultimately earned more first-place votes and total ballot recognition. Still, the two women stood on a different tier than the rest of the options in the category, signifying how much we loved both performances.

Nyong’o plays a wife and mother harboring a dark secret. She has what I can only describe as an evil twin, although that’s simplifying the story quite a bit. The actress portrays both roles, and people don’t fully appreciate what a tour de force she delivers until a twist explains it all. The depth of her performance proves (yet again) that she’s one of the finest actresses in the world today.

Our voters separated the Best Actress category into three tiers. Awkafina and Nyong'o reside on the top line, while our third through sixth place finishers are in the second grouping. Then, the rest of the top ten falls behind them.

Third place goes to Scarlett Johansson, who is either way ahead of the rest of the top ten or far behind the top two, depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. BOP loved Johansson’s work in Marriage Story, where she played a frustrated wife and actress who has to leave her husband to save herself.


Smothered as a professional and unseen as a person, this woman changes coasts and blows up her life to start fresh. Johansson somehow makes her sympathetic even though the man that she dumps is the film’s protagonist.

I’m not sure that I can call someone a BOP fave after only a couple of roles. But I must confess that I’m all-in on Ana de Armas at this point. After her work in Blade Runner 2049 and now Knives Out, I believe in her talent. I’m certainly not the only one, as she earned cross-ballot support for her nausea-inducing role in Knives Out.

A two-time Oscar winner and a three-time nominee take the next spots on our list. Saoirse Ronan is one of many March sisters, but she has the most crucial role as the family writer. Ronan can't seem to miss as an actress and has proven the perfect muse/representative for Greta Gerwig.

Falling just behind her is Renee Zellweger, who won an Oscar for her work on Judy. Our voters didn’t like her work quite as much and would have selected Johansson. Still, people don’t win multiple acting Oscars by accident. Zellweger’s a star in the truest sense of the word, and everyone’s happy to watch her comeback.

Our seventh choice this year is Charlize Theron, but you may be surprised to learn that it’s not for her work in Long Shot. I kid. Anyway, we loved her in Bombshell, the latest film where she delivered a chameleon-like performance while wearing a disguising amount of makeup.

Close behind Theron is Cynthia Erivo, a rising star whom we adored as Minty Ross, the woman who becomes Harriet (Tubman). Erivo’s a hyphenate of the highest order. We fully expect her to win an EGOT one day, which isn’t a bold proclamation. She’s already won everything but the Oscar.

Our final selections this year are a 26-year-old and a 24-year-old, both of whom are shooting stars in this industry. Beanie Feldstein earns a nod for her lead role in Booksmart, wherein she plays a dedicated high school student who suddenly decides to have some fun.

Florence Pugh, who arguably had the best year of any previously unknown actress, receives a nomination for her work in Midsommar, a horror film involving a pagan cult. She was so great this year that she almost received a double-nomination, as she finished 14th for Fighting with My Family. Speaking of which…

The following actresses didn’t quite manage a nomination, but we loved their Lead Actress work this year: Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart), Emma Thompson (Late Night), Naomi Scott (Aladdin), Alfre Woodard (Clemency), Mame Bineta Sane (Atlantics), Haley Lu Richardson (Five Feet Apart), and Samara Weaving (Ready Or Not). It was a very strong year for this category overall.

Finally, just because I think it bears noting, half of our nominees this year have the names of Beanie, Charlize, Saoirse, Lupita, and Awkwafina. Writing The Calvins has really helped me learn to spell celebrity names.

2020 Calvin Awards
Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Actress Film Total Points
1 Awkwafina The Farewell 125
2 Lupita Nyong'o Us 111
3 Scarlett Johansson Marriage Story 81
4 Ana de Armas Knives Out 74
5 Saoirse Ronan Little Women 62
6 Renee Zellweger Judy 60
7 Charlize Theron Bombshell 49
8 Cynthia Erivo Harriet 45
9 Beanie Feldstein Booksmart 43
10 Florence Pugh Midsommar 38



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