Mia Goth Deserved an Oscar Nomination for Her Work in 'Pearl' (2023)

2022 was the year of Mia Goth. The actress was one of the main faces of the horror genre this year, starring in two of the year's best: Ti West’s X and its prequel, Pearl. And while, in X, Goth delivered not just one, but two stellar performances as the leading final girl and the film’s big bad, it is in Pearl that she truly shines. Delicate, unhinged, sorrowful, and full of rage, Goth’s Pearl is a character that will live on in the memory of cinephiles for a very long time. Like Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes and Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, Pearl is one of those memorable, complex movie villains over which we will obsess for years to come, and all of that is thanks to Mia Goth’s amazing performance. And, yet, looking at this year’s nominees for the 95th Academy Awards, it’s as if Pearl and Goth never existed.


The days following the announcement of the Oscars’ nominees are always a bittersweet period for movie fans. It’s the time we engage in one of our favorite, but also most painful pastimes: identifying the many movies and talents that are unfairly left off the nominations lists. Among this year’s many snubs - Viola Davis not getting nominated for The Woman King, Indian blockbuster RRR being restricted to Best Song etc. - one that feels particularly egregious is Mia Goth’s absence in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. With her three performances this year, she deserved a prize for her body of work. But, if nothing else, she at least deserved to be recognized for her once in a lifetime performance in Pearl. Sadly, her chances of getting an Oscar nod were never that great: the Academy isn’t exactly known for its love of horror. And, yet, as announcers Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams skipped the letter G and went straight from Ana de Armas to Andrea Riseborough, something didn’t feel right…

In X, Goth Delivers Two Stellar Performances That Help Make the Ti West Movie What It Is

Mia Goth Deserved an Oscar Nomination for Her Work in 'Pearl' (1)

Our introduction to Goth in 2022 was in Ti West’s X. Based on the slashers and softcore pornos of the 70s, X is by far one of the best horror movies of 2022. No, scratch that: it is one of the best movies, period. Full of gorgeous shots, courtesy of cinematographer Eliot Rockett, the film is a tense, violent, expertly written slasher like we hadn’t seen in a very long time. The premise of a group of adult performers shooting a skin flick at a farm unbeknownst to the property’s elderly, sadistic owners is the perfect setup for a story that feels both timely and timeless. X is a true love letter to independent horror, and its penmanship couldn’t be more elegant - even if the ink used to write it is made of the blood of young porn stars in the making.

Part of what makes X such an achievement is its handpicked cast of performers. The women, in particular, are at the top of their game. Brittany Snow is a delight to watch as the provocative, bubbly, and outspoken Bobby-Lynne, and Jenna Ortega’s prudish Lorraine is just one of the many jewels in this new scream queen’s crown. But the real star of the show is Mia Goth, who doubles as the star-in-the-making Maxine and as the obsessive star-that-never-was Pearl.

RELATED: 8 Entrancing Mia Goth Performances That Prove She's a Star on the Rise

It is almost impossible to tell that Maxine and Pearl are played by the same person. This is partly, of course, thanks to the skills of the makeup department, that have succeeded in making the 29-year-old Goth into a convincing octogenarian. However, even after you manage to see through the wig and the prosthetics, it still takes a while for the realization to hit that the person beneath all that is Goth. There is an abyss separating how Goth portrays Maxine and Pearl that makes the two characters entirely different from one another, even without makeup. As the young porn-star-turned-final-girl, Goth is energetic, sometimes mousy, and effortlessly alluring. As the old-lady-turned-serial-killer, she is sad and desperate, full of longing and rage. As both characters, Goth uses all of her talent and range to make them the best, most honest versions of themselves.

Mia Goth Deserved an Oscar Nomination for Her Work in 'Pearl' (2)

Pearl, in particular, is a hard character to portray. The wrong performer could have fallen into sexist, ageist tropes and played the character as just a disgusting old woman that kills out of spite for the youth of others. Goth, however, infuses Pearl with such fragility and sorrow that you can’t help but sympathize with her, at least for part of the film. It is clear that it is not youth itself that offends Pearl, but the way in which her age is seen as synonymous with the absence of desire. Even in the creepiest of scenes, when Pearl first touches Maxine, when she watches her sleep, you can see in Goth’s eyes that it is love that the character wants, it is the touch of others that she craves.

In 'Pearl,' Goth Gives a Captivating, Fluid Performance as an Uneven Character

This lonely, confused personality is expanded upon in X’s prequel, released just six months after the original film. Also starring Goth, Pearl is a character study that explores the depths of its titular killer’s mind and gives us insight on her backstory. Quite different in tone from X, the movie is nonetheless spectacular, particularly due to the work of its star, who gives the performance of a lifetime as a 1919 farm girl with big Hollywood dreams. Present in virtually all scenes of the movie, Goth portrays a completely unhinged character that is, at the same time, full of nuance. As Pearl alternates between deep sadness, longing, and bouts of rage, Goth switches gears abruptly, but never unnaturally: her performance is always fluid, even when her character’s emotions are uneven. For her breakdown at the dancing audition and her final deranged stare at the camera alone, she should’ve been at the top of the head of every single Academy voter.

Mia Goth Deserved an Oscar Nomination for Her Work in 'Pearl' (3)

But as memorable as these scenes are, they aren’t the ones that truly showcase all of Goth’s skill and range. The two moments in which the actress really shines are acting opposite a scarecrow and in her monologue right before taking the life of her sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro). In the first scene, Goth transpires naïveté and sensualness as she dances with a corpse-looking scarecrow up until the moment she kisses it. Picturing the doll as the dashing projectionist that has been courting her, Pearl screams that she is married, and Goth's voice and facial expression convey all of her anger and confusion. It is clear that this is a character that was not given the tools to work out her own desires, not just because the movie tells you that, but because Goth shows you all of Pearl's panic in her performance. In the second scene, Pearl tells Mitsy all about her failed dreams, her resentment at her family, and her crimes as if talking to her husband, who’s away at war. Eight minutes long, the scene is as terrifying as it is heartbreaking, and it is all Goth’s. One of the best character-centric scenes of the year, it also provides the perfect clips for awards ceremonies, such as Pearl tearfully saying that all she really wanted is to be loved.

A Long-Lasting Bias Against Horror Is Keeping Goth from Getting that Statuette

But if Goth’s performance in Pearl is so amazing and Oscar-appropriate, why wasn’t she nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role? Well, the answer is that the Academy has a somewhat complicated history with horror. The genre isn’t exactly a voter-favorite. Over the course of 95 years, only 19 horror movies have been nominated for an Oscar, most of which in technical categories. In 1974, The Exorcist took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and, in 2018, Get Out got the Original Screenplay award. The only horror film to ever win Best Picture was 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which also won Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Just six horror movies were ever nominated for Best Picture: The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and Get Out.

Mia Goth Deserved an Oscar Nomination for Her Work in 'Pearl' (4)

Acting-wise, besides Hopkins and Foster, few horror stars have taken home that golden, bald statuette. Fredric March was the first, winning the prize in 1932 for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Kathy Bates and Natalie Portman were crowned Best Actress for Misery and Black Swan, respectively, and, in the Supporting category, Ruth Gordon won the prize in 1969 for Rosemary’s Baby. Still, the Academy repeatedly fails to recognize the work of performers in the genre. Not even Academy darlings are safe: Nicole Kidman was nominated for an Oscar for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and won the award the next year for The Hours, but her brilliant work in The Others was completely glossed over. Recently, these snubs are becoming more and more evident as the Oscars leave behind critically acclaimed and audience beloved performances such as Lupita Nyong’o’s in Us and Toni Collette’s in Hereditary.

Given this history, Goth’s chances were always slim. And the worst part is things don’t seem to be changing all that rapidly. Apart from Goth’s performance, another horror snub this year is Jordan Peele’s Nope, that was left out even of the technical categories despite its amazing cinematography, production design and visual effects. The truth is that non-specialized awards-givers have a huge bias against genre films in general, and horror in particular. This is especially sad to realize in a year in which horror has produced so much greatness such as 2022. Let’s just hope that next year’s horror performers will get a fairer deal. Who knows? Maybe Goth can even get a second chance with the upcoming MaXXXine.

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