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(POLL) Best Actress Will Be a Fiery Showdown

All Quiet on the Meryl Streep Front as we wait for Meryl’s performance in The Post to drop and see how it might shift the Best Actress race. Will she, won’t she? It’s hard to say right now. It’s hard to talk about the unknown. But soon we will know.

The actresses leading the Best Actress race right now (which means those whose names are being hotly buzzed for the five nomination slots to be named later) all seem to have one thing in common: fire. From Frances McDormand’s explosive and angry mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, to Jessica Chastain’s girl genius who owns the world of poker until the Feds bring her down, to Margot Robbie’s fiercely competitive and ambitious Tonya Harding, to Saoirse Ronan’s ready-to-take-flight Lady Bird, to Emma Stone’s Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in an epic tennis event, and finally, to a woman who can’t even speak but whose fires within burn more brightly than any of them — Sally Hawkins, who risks it all for one chance at love.

How these names ended up here, whether these names will persevere through the awards season gauntlet of the Globes, the SAGs and finally to the Oscars is a whole different question. There are many names in the Best Actress race this year that could emerge. Brooklynn Prince might make the cut as a pint-sized nominee, or Millicent Simmonds, the wonderful actress from Wonderstruck. There’s Judi Dench for Victoria and Abdul, Annette Bening for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper (who might have the critics behind her as they were with Clouds of Sils Maria), or even Rooney Mara in Ghost Story. We know how big and sprawling this race has been for many months now — even Gal Gadot has a shot, being one of the biggest things happening right now. But this is how we play this game. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re very very wrong.

Still, Best Actress for the win is a whole different thing. How do we figure that out right now, when we know nothing? Here is how the pundits over at Movie City News are seeing it — they have it down to three:

MCN has Sally Hawkins vs. Frances McDormand — which is funny, since both are from Fox Searchlight films. Sort of like how DPs Roger Deakins and Hoyte van Hoytema will be going head-to-head in cinematography this year, even though Warner Bros. is behind both their films. How do you compete against yourself? Well, both Hawkins and McDormand have a challenger in Margot Robbie that doesn’t appear on this chart, but you can bet she will be one of the biggest contenders this year. Here’s why: Oscar voters love it when pretty actresses ugly themselves up to play a part. Neither Hawkins nor McDormand do, but Robbie does. Robbie is good in the part and it’s surprising to watch her play Harding. Her star could not be burning more brightly than it is right now: she is the right girl at the right time in the right part to win.

Another name that should be considered here is Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game, who is way overdue for an Oscar win. What a career for Chastain up to now, who has consistently delivered many brilliant performances in a little less than a decade. Chastain’s work in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is one of the big standouts, both for being fiery — as they all are — but also because she carries the entire film.

Our Oscar squad has the same two but with Hawkins on top: has McDormand out front, with Meryl Streep in the number 2 spot:

If you take out Meryl Streep, obviously you have Hawkins vs. McDormand, again. Robbie seems solidly in the number three position. We’ll see if that changes. McDormand really has the kind of role you can’t really ignore, as Anthony Lane puts it:

Not since “Fargo” (1996) has she found a character of such fibre. She doesn’t pitch it to us, still less try to make it palatable; she seems to state Mildred, presenting her as a given fact, like someone unrolling a map. If her demand for the blood of every guy in America is unreasonable, so what? A parent from whom a child has been torn may no longer feel the need to comply with the powers of reason that constrain society and insure its peace. Hence, not just the rarity of Mildred’s smile but also the warring outfit—overalls and a spotted bandanna—that makes her look like a distant relation of Rambo and which she wears on most occasions, even at dinner with James (Peter Dinklage), a friend who’s done her a favor. She will not rest. Hers is the battle of all mothers.

What I love most about McDormand is that she has allowed her face to shape itself to express her experiences, her own evolution within and without; that makes her one of the finest actresses to watch, vanity-free. She’s smarter than everyone else in Ebbing, Missouri — one look at her face and you can see that. Indeed, her role as Marge Gunderson remains one of the all-time greats, but her Mildred is what would happen to Marge if she lost Norm and the baby she is about to have in Fargo. She’d lose it too. Probably.

McDormand’s anger seems to speak for so many who are angry right now — and who are maybe angry at the same things we’re angry at, at least some of them. She isn’t politically correct and says offensive things from time to time, and is violent and careless — but she expresses the frustration we feel.

Hawkins has the most likable role of all. She really is. Every other potential nominee is somewhat abrasive, ferocious, even kind of mean. But Hawkins? Pure love. That makes her potentially someone who can’t lose. It will depend, of course, on how much voters like The Shape of Water overall. She acts with her whole body because she has no ability to speak. Watch how she uses even her hands in her performance. It’s brilliant. But they’re all brilliant this year. It’s going to be a race for the ages.

Either way it’s exiting to have an exciting Best Actress race. Who knows where it will take us from here. A poll!

Choose Five Performances Most Likely to be Nominated for Best Actress

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