It’s been 34 years since Marlee Matlin won the Best Actress Academy Award for her film debut in 1986’s Children of a Lesser God and stamped two Oscar records in the process; she became the youngest Best Actress winner in Oscar history (21-years-old, a record she still holds) and remains the only deaf person to win any acting award.
While Matlin has had a thriving television career and captured three Emmy nominations, the promise of a film career never really came to fruition after her win the way it does so often for young Best Actress winners. Directors and producers didn’t know what to do with her outside of her deafness (remember the ‘woman who knows too much’ 90s thrillers Hear No Evil and Snitch?) and it took television – specifically The West Wing and The L Word – to find a place for Matlin’s talent and for her deafness to feel less exploitative as a plot device.
With her new film CODA (Children of Deaf Adults), which just premiered on Apple TV+ on August 13 plus around 100 select theaters that utilized onscreen captioning, Matlin has her first real shot at returning to the Oscars not just as a presenter (she popped up at the most recent Academy Awards where she introduced the awards for Best Documentary Short and Best Documentary Feature. Matlin’s presence at this year’s Oscars was shrewd and smart; Sound of Metal was a multi-nominated film about a drummer going through the process of losing his hearing (played by hearing actor and Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed) and featured a nominated actor who is a real-life CODA himself, Paul Raci, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
All of this opens the door to an epic comeback for Matlin, who has been everywhere promoting the film, but that August release date could hinder her chances once the big guns of November and December are unleashed. A fall festival run and a later premiere date could have cemented her status but she should be able to weather the storm of other contenders on the strength of her performance, the Academy’s continued striving for more diverse nominees and recognizing one of its own with a return nomination three decades in the making.
Here are my ranked Supporting Actress Oscar predictions for August 2021.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new/re-entry ♦ Black – no movement ↔
1. Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog (Netflix) ↔
2. Ariana DeBose – West Side Story (20th Century Studios) ↔
3. Ruth Negga – Passing (Netflix) ↑
4. Toni Collette – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ↑
5. Marlee Matlin – CODA (Apple TV+) ↑
6. Caitriona Balfe – Belfast (Focus Features) ↑
7. Cate Blanchett – Don’t Look Up (Netflix) ↓
8. Rooney Mara – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ↔
9. Meryl Streep – Don’t Look Up (Netflix) ↓
10. Ann Dowd – Mass (Bleecker Street) ↑
Other contenders: Jessie Buckley – The Lost Daughter ♦ (Netflix), Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard (Warner Bros/HBO Max), Judi Dench – Belfast ↓ (Focus Features), Vera Farmiga – The Many Saints of Newark (Warner Bros/HBO Max), Rebecca Ferguson – Dune (Warner Bros/HBO Max), Sally Hawkins – Spencer (NEON), Salma Hayek – House of Gucci (MGM/UA), Gaby Hoffman – C’mon C’mon ♦ (A24), Jayne Houdyshell – The Humans (A24), Dakota Johnson – The Lost Daughter ♦ (Netflix), Olga Merediz – In the Heights (Warner Bros/HBO Max), Rita Moreno – West Side Story (20th Century Studios), Anya Taylor-Joy – Last Night in Soho (Focus Features)