Now that Fox Searchlight has decided to back Jackie, we will once again have the clash of the titans as the industry’s best publicists back the Best Actress frontrunners. With Fox Searchlight behind Natalie Portman’s already lauded performance, it will be interesting to see which of the following contenders makes it.
The frontrunners remain:
Emma Stone, La La Land – Stone comes to this performance and this position in this year’s race after a short but celebrated career. She’s charismatic, well liked on screen and off, but really this film, like Shakespeare in Love was to Gwyneth Paltrow, is a love letter to Stone. She’s brilliant in it and I suspect no one will emerge from the film not having fallen in love with her.
Natalie Portman, Jackie – critics will probably embrace this performance more, I’m guessing, because it has slight more street cred (no offense but you know what I mean) given who the director is.
This tweet, for instance:
JACKIE is monumental. like Under the Skin and Marie Antoinette swirled together in a kaleidoscope of American history. what a movie. #TIFF16
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) September 12, 2016
It is also probably more deep and dark (I haven’t seen it yet) than Stone’s tap dancing, singing actress but Portman has recently won an Oscar for Black Swan where she went deeper and darker than anyone had ever seen her. Winning her second Oscar would have to mean that Jackie becomes a formidable Best Picture contender. Actresses who have won their second Oscar soon after their first usually have done it with a Best Picture winner – like Hillary Swank with Million Dollar Baby or Jodie Foster for Silence of the Lambs.
Amy Adams, Arrival – Adams has two strong performances this year and other than Portman in Jackie, she might be the only female who carries the entire film. She’s the central performance, which makes a difference. Many in my field will say that the film is too challenging for Oscar voters and that might turn out to be true but Adams is brilliant in the film and for those who get it, they seem to love it. Adams could be looking at a double nomination year with Nocturnal Animals.
Ruth Negga, Loving – Negga’s subtle performance in Loving seems like a sure bet, particularly if you factor in who is behind the film. She does the entire movie almost wordlessly and for that, she embeds herself deeply upon viewing. If Negga and Davis are both nominated in lead, it will be the first time since 1972 that two black actresses have been nominated in the lead category in the same year. In 1972, Cicely Tyson for Sounder was up against Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues but both lost to Liza Minelli for Cabaret. That makes it historical for both to be nominated but also extremely unlikely.
Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins – for Streep, this would be her 20th nomination, and yet another record. She’s gotten nothing but raves and Oscar talk but if there is any downside to a nomination for her it’s the she’s gotten 19 already, won lead twice and won supporting once. In a competitive year like this one, Streep might have to wait it out. On the other hand, who knows?
For those that haven’t yet been seen, two major performances are set to shake things up dramatically, depending on how they are perceived and that’s:
Viola Davis for Fences – I hope that Fences starts screening soon because it gets harder and harder to break up the list of frontrunners once they’re set. Davis has a place held for her for a couple of reasons. The first is that she should have won in 2011. When she didn’t win, many said “oh she’ll have plenty more chances.” That was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now. Most actresses don’t get plenty of chances but especially not women of color, not in the lead category. There has been rumblings that she might “go supporting” and if so, well, she has a clear win there. But otherwise, she has to go up against Emma Stone and I would not want to go up against Emma Stone if I were anyone. Davis won a Tony for her performance in Fences – we know she will knock it out of the park. But we also know that voters will fall madly in love with Stone in La La Land. There is no way around that. Still, at this moment in time, I believe Davis is the only viable challenger for the win.
Annette Bening for 20th Century Women – I heard through Kris Tapley that this might be a formidable challenger to this year’s race. When it comes to being overdue, Bening hovers close to the top of the list. She was already there when she went up for Bugsy and lost to Jodie Foster. She’ll have a supporting part in Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply so who knows where this one will go.
Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane – here is another film carried entirely by a female lead. But we don’t yet know much about Miss Sloane except the plot and Chastain’s own reputation which is a dazzling array of diverse performances. As the list fills up it becomes more and more difficult to bank on films not yet seen versus those that have. Once there is a list of five frontrunners, a later breaking film has to then bump one of the five already in place. It happens – like Amy Adams in American Hustle bumping Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks (if memory serves). But still, Chastain is worth thinking about as a possible contender.
Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train – since this is a late breaker, it is also hard to find a spot for Ms. Blunt at the moment. Like Chastain, she is one of the most reliable and promising young actresses currently working and like Chastain, she will carry The Girl on the Train with two other actresses.
These are the strongest names so far, but we’ll keep our minds open for other possible contenders.
My current list of potential winners would be as follows:
1) Emma Stone, La La Land (can’t be beat of those that have been seen)
2) Viola Davis, Fences (the only actress who can legit challenge Stone, but sight unseen)
3) Natalie Portman, Jackie (she will have the support of the critics but has already won recently)
4) Amy Adams, Arrival (dazzling performance in challenging sci-fi epic)
5) Annette Bening, 20th Century Women (some have said the role of a lifetime and her best work)
But let’s then look at potential nominees and not winners – that list looks a little different:
1) Emma Stone, La La Land
2) Viola Davis, Fences
3) Natalie Portman, Jackie
4) Ruth Negga, Loving
5) Amy Adams, Arrival or Annette Bening, 20th Century Women, or Emily Blunt, Girl on the Train or Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane, Rooney Mara for Una or Lion, etc.
You see, the list of those who can win is always much smaller than potential nominees. It’s theoretically possible any actress can WIN but we know that in a given year that number shrinks to about three potential winners and realistically, down to about two.
This race is either going to be between Emma Stone vs. Viola Davis or Emma Stone vs. Natalie Portman or Emma Stone vs. Annette Bening. At least, that’s how it looks today, Tuesday, September 13.