Now that Margot Robbie made the cut at the Gothams, two things became immediately true: 1) the Best Actress race must make room for Robbie (not hard considering she has Hollywood at her feet at the moment), and 2) Best Actress is too crowded to sufficiently honor all the versatile work by actresses this year.
There are so many actresses that might not make the cut this year who would be frontrunners in any other year, like Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled, Kate Winslet in Wonder Wheel, Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion, Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck, Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, and Salma Hayek in Beatriz at Dinner. But with so many strong features led by women — which is usually not the case at all — those slots in the Best Actress lineup will likely be filled by the films that have the Best Picture heat. And it’s a mighty list, one that keeps growing as the days wear on.
And yes, it goes without saying that women of color are nearly nowhere to be found this year. This is a serious problem in Hollywood and one that could be very easily remedied but hasn’t been.
What goes into a Best Actress nomination? It is a combination of things that I would order this way:
1) The Actress’ current standing in cinema: e.g., up and comer, respected vet, “it” girl.
2) The film’s current standing in the race — no one is going to care if no one likes the movie. But a movie of the moment will push its star into the race, even if the performance itself is good but nowhere near the best of the year.
3) Whether the actress has won an Oscar before or not. Not winning can help push a nomination, just as having recently won can help push an actress into the race. Recent wins and nominations always help because the voters remember you and you remain fresh in their minds.
4) If the critics unite to take up the cause, as they did with Charlotte Rampling, Isabelle Huppert, and Marion Cotillard.
5) Timing – a fresher performance in a film released later in the year has a better chance of standing out on a crowded ballot.
It’s going to be a tough road ahead in terms of predicting which five of all of these incredible performances actually gets into the Oscars. We know that the Globes will help a bit. The SAG nominations will also help a bit, but there will be a straggler or two who makes it into the Oscar race that doesn’t show up anywhere else. It’s possible.
It seems to me that Margot Robbie has “it girl” steam, and is, in many ways, the hottest girl in town. Every time you turn around, she’s been cast in yet another movie. That Robbie has “deglammed” for I, Tonya is an even bigger draw because many people will want to see how one of the most beautiful women in the world can transform herself into Tonya Harding, the trashier one who was the sideline girl to Nancy Kerrigan’s sophisticated “it” girl. It’s an intriguing concept and by all accounts a successful accomplishment. But what will drive Robbie primarily is her popularity at the moment, and the popularity of the film overall rather than her performance.
This is also true of Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, though she is probably the stronger contender because of her cred as a serious actress. Also, The Shape of Water is a film that could win Best Picture, which puts Hawkins in a close contest to win, so a nomination should not be hard to acquire.
And it’s true of Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Like Hawkins, she’s starring in one of the most beloved films of the year, and one that could also win Best Picture. It should get nominations across the board, like The Shape of Water, so that puts McDormand with Hawkins right at the top.
Jessica Chastain‘s place in the race, if she makes the cut, has more to do with her growing and impressive body of work. The brilliant Chastain has yet to win an Oscar, even though she has deserved to win again and again. Molly’s Game isn’t a film that is expected to get a Best Picture nomination, although who knows — maybe it will. But her place in the lineup has more to do with her career so far, and the buzz of her performance out of Toronto.
Emma Stone is another popular actress who is the reigning Best Actress winner. Having just won might make her slightly less likely to earn a nomination the following year, though she certainly deserves it and gives a career best-performance in Battle of the Sexes as Billie Jean King. In a crowded race, she might not make it, though I’m still predicting her because I’m hoping voters will like the film overall and that will pull her along with it.
Meryl Streep is always a potential contender because she turns in the best of the best every year. Not much is known about her performance as Katharine Graham in The Post except that the film revolves around her. Whether she will earn a 21st Oscar nomination remains to be seen, but she can never be counted out, especially with a film like this.
Michelle Williams will enter the race late in the game and also plays the real-life figure caught up in the Getty kidnapping saga. Not much is known about the film or her work in it, but now that the film will show at the AFI Fest that means she will be given a prime spot should the performance deliver.
Saoirse Ronan just earned a nod for Best Actress at the Gothams and that might be enough to push her atop the pile for a nod. Lady Bird could pick up steam as one of the few strong contenders for female directors and if so, Ronan could see a nomination in this very competitive category in a very competitive year.
We should celebrate a year like this one with so many films driven by female characters aiming straight at the Oscar race, but at the same time, with so much fierce competition it could be a blood bath. Just saying.