Let’s get this party started right, shall we? Telluride and Venice are just two weeks out. The Academy still hasn’t set what the rules will be for the popular film category – if there will indeed be such a category – but the rest of the Oscar race should follow according to plan. And that plan is this: Venice and Telluride hit, then Toronto, then New York and finally, the last gasp with the AFI Fest. But we’re not anywhere near there yet. What we have right now are a lot of maybes floating around. The one category that appears to be very competitive at the outset is Best Actress. There are several films headed for the race that are Best Actress driven, which may or may not mean they land in the Best Actress category. As we’ve pointed out ad nauseam, Best Actor is more often than not chosen from among the Best Picture contenders while Best Actress isn’t. Is that changing? Might it change THIS year? It’s hard to know. The pattern seemed to be that actresses had to find their own material and that meant plucking projects that could be showcases – but those films would not usually crack the Best Picture race. We know last year broke the trend for a Best Actress nominee even starring in a Best Picture winner. The Shape of Water won, Sally Hawkins was a nominee. Million Dollar Baby was the last time a Best Actress nominee was in a Best Picture winner, as well as the last time a Best Actress winner was in a Best Picture winner.
Last year was either an indicator of a trend on the rise or just an anomaly:
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
Sally Hawkins, Shape of Water+
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post
*the last time all five Best Actress nominees were in Best Picture contenders was 1977.
Emma Stone, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Brie Larson, Room
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
In the era of the expanded ballot, it seemed as though there would be more Best Actress / Best Picture correlations but there haven’t been. Last year, there were 4 out of 5, as there were in 2012. But as you can see the overall average is much less. If you tracked Best Actor and Best Picture you would see a much closer match.
At any rate, Best Actress is off to running start with a few names that are kicking around. At the top of the list has to be Glenn Close with The Wife. There is movement behind her campaign and she herself is appearing lots of places, doing lots of press, which can make all of the difference. She stands out.
In a year like this, standing out makes all of the difference because there are going to be many names crowding out the category of films that have not yet played. The performances of note so far include Charlize Theron, who gained 50 pounds to star in Jason Reitman’s Tully. Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place is another standout.
The names that stand out in the most anticipated films that are possible or likely Best Picture contenders include:
Viola Davis for Widows – a powerhouse actress paired with Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn? Sounds like she could be a force to be reckoned with.
Lady Gaga in A Star is Born – rumor has it that Gaga has one performance of a song that will blow the roof off the joint, and that’s really all it took for Jennifer Hudson to WIN Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls.
Emma Stone, Olivia Colman for The Favourite. It might be Stone, it might be Colman – it might be both but it’s obvious from the trailer this will be “battle of the bravura Best Actress performances.” It is too early to say how it will shake down in terms of who is named for what.
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie again will be offering up two powerhouse performances in Mary Queen of Scots. Ronan came close to grabbing the prize last year, which automatically puts her in good stead to win this year.
Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade – while many believe this film will fly way too far under the radar – I have a feeling it will stand out in a sea of darker themed movies as one shining bright spot. That is how I would sell it, anyway.
And those that might just be the performance:
Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me? McCarthy is so good, but her career has mostly showcased her comedic side. Here is the chance to see her more serious, darker side.
Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex – Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early life and career will be celebrated alongside the excellent doc RBG.
Kiki Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk – not much is known about the performance or the film but Barry Jenkins directed it and he’s great with actors.
Julia Roberts who is supposed to be great in Ben is Back. She stars alongside Lucas Hedges. If Sandra Bullock is up for Bird Box that would be something to make note of, if it’s coming out this year. There’s always Constance Wu from Crazy Rich Asians because even though it’s comedy you never know where the movie might land – does it get into the new popular film category, thus boosting Wu’s chances? Keira Knightley as Collette is always one to look out for.
AwardsWatch has quite an extensive contenders list and their own rankings at the moment, which you can check out. I won’t be listing them all here – just the ones I think have the best shot. It’s only August so of course there is time for other names to build…
My Best Actress column from last year at this time was mostly a shot in the dark, way off base. I had Sally Hawkins in there, mentioned Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand but I had no Lady Bird, and no I, Tonya. And many of the names I thought would play didn’t – like Annette Bening, Judi Dench, Emma Stone, etc.
Right before Venice and Telluride, the Gurus of Gold (now defunct?) had Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Three Billboards, The Shape of Water, and a few had Lady Bird all on our lists. But we also had many films in play that, for whatever reason, didn’t get there.
It is too early to say who will be in. The films have to be seen first. But I guess if I had to pick five right now I’d go with:
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Viola Davis, Widows
Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots
Emma Stone or Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex
But really, it’s TOO SOON.