If you look backwards in time at the winners of the Best Actress race you will see one thing they all have in common. That, like the Best Picture race, they grab the frontrunners’s spot early. There doesn’t appear to be many who show up late and win. Let’s take a quick look back:
2017-Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – shown at Venice and in Toronto.
2016-Emma Stone, La La Land – shown at Venice, Telluride, Toronto
2015-Brie Larson, Room – shown at Telluride, Toronto
2014-Julianne Moore, Still Alice – shown at Toronto in 2014, released in 2015
2013-Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine – shown in July in New York
2012-Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook – Toronto
2011-Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady – LATE BREAKER
2010-Natalie Portman, Black Swan – Venice
2009-Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side – November – LATE BREAKER
2008-Kate Winslet, The Reader – December – LATE BREAKER
2007-Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose, summer release
2006-Helen Mirren, The Queen, Venice
2005-Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line, Telluride
2004-Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby, December LATE BREAKER
2003-Charlize Theron, Monster, AFI – LATE BREAKER
2002-Nicole Kidman, The Hours, December, LATE BREAKER
2001-Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball, November, LATE BREAKER
2000-Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich, March release
1999-Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry, New York Film Fest
1998-Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love, December, LATE BREAKER
1997-Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets, December, LATE BREAKER
1996-Frances McDormand, Fargo, March release
For the most part, things have flip-flopped. Where the best performances often came at the end of the year for Oscar consideration, after the date change, they were more likely to come from earlier in the year. Momentum builds for one name. Though there are exceptions. Sandra Bullock is one. Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep are two more (pushed by Harvey Weinstein, which must be said because it made a big difference back then). But for the most part, the buzz starts at the fests or earlier.
Glenn Close is following the Julianne Moore trajectory with The Wife, which was seen a year ago at TIFF and now has been released in theaters this year, with Close one of – if not the – frontrunner for the Best Actress race. This idea has seemed to be a fluid one. That is, some wonder if the performance is “Oscar big” enough to finally win Close her long overdue Oscar. Her performance in The Wife is, of course, brilliant. But yes, understated. Much of what she’s doing is under the surface. Still, if the conversation is about the art and craft of acting, then Close is peerless this year.
In terms of whether or not the performance is in a Best Picture contender, that is hit and miss. 14 out of the past 22 have been in Best Picture winners, while 8 have not been. So that seems like the edge would go to a Best Picture nominee. It did not make a difference for Julianne Moore in Still Alice, as she went on to win her much overdue Oscar, as Close might be doing here.
Close’s biggest challenger seems to be, at least at this moment in time before the film opens and before any of the major reviews have been released, would be Lady Gaga for A Star is Born. Gaga is a brand newbie and that can happen sometimes, depending on how popular the film is overall. It’s hard to see through the fury online where the film is a favorite among bloggers and pundits and fans. That can sometimes distort the reality a bit, like last year’s Timothee Chalamet. These things can sometimes be about the personality involved, like Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings. The industry fell in love with her – and though her performance was good, she didn’t win for it. Just like Sandra Bullock didn’t win for The Blind Side, Julia Roberts didn’t win for Erin Brockovich – they won because of who they are and whom they represent in the industry. That could be Gaga this year, even if her performance is good. What is electrifying about it is her singing, which is really something to see on screen. It is as spectacular as the space missions in First Man. And that alone might do it.
Behind Lady Gaga would have to be Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? a film I’m hoping can make the Best Picture cut. Overcoming Glenn Close’s overdue status and Gaga’s popularity is a tough one – it will depend on what the actors think. Her performance is certainly worthy and she’s funny enough at the mic that all she has to do is win once and her win will be something to see. So much of this is just figuring out which person people want to see at the mic over and over again. Which win makes them feel the most excited?
Viola Davis was the other big name to come out of Toronto with Steve McQueen’s Widows. It feels very much like the moment for Davis, too, though I’ve not yet seen it. And then there is the matter of The Favourite. Emma Stone is really the lead performance. She should be run as lead and Olivia Colman in supporting. That is how I would do it and as such I could talk about Stone as one of the strong Best Actress contenders for this year. If she’s not lead, and Colman is lead, though it’s a brilliant performance I’m not sure it’s a central enough performance to be thought of as lead. Debatable, of course.
Julia Roberts came back strong playing the mother holding her family together in Peter Hedges’ Ben is Back. Roberts dominates the screen, delivering one of her best performances. She is a popular actress, and a strong contender.
But there are two big late breakers coming – that’s Rosamund Pike who is hard-hitting in A Private War, and Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots. As late breakers, they must make up a lot of ground but it’s not impossible. We have not yet gotten to the stage where the nominees are set. We don’t know anything. We have a vague idea of how it’s going to go, but beyond that – nope. Nothing.
Last year, we were making room for Margot Robbie, whose I, Tonya just made a big splash at Toronto. But we were also talking about quite a few names that never did ultimately make it: Jessica Chastain for Molly Bloom, Michelle Williams for All the Money in the World, Emma Stone for Battle of the Sexes. But, for the most part, all five Best Actress contenders were in the conversation in October of last year. We held a spot for Meryl Streep in The Post, without knowing it would be good or not. The other four nominees, including the winner, were all seen much earlier.
There are performances from earlier that are worth noting and could break through – one is Nicole Kidman in Destroyer. It is going to be a divisive performance that will either be in or out depending on where voters come down on that. There is no question it’s a good, even great performance. Another is Charlize Theron in Tully. It came out so early in the year, though, and it hasn’t seemed to really hold onto the buzz it had but you never know how these go. All it takes is one win by a major critics group and it changes the conversation, as each win often does.
And, it’s worth noting, that we have the Golden Globes to consider, where contenders are divided into two categories – drama and musical/comedy. The comedy category could resurrect some contenders, like Charlize Theron if Tully is considered a comedy. Emily Blunt will likely get in for Mary Poppins Returns. Natalie Portman is generating buzz for Vox Lux and might turn up here.
If I had to predict right now, I might go something like:
Glenn Close, The Wife
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots
Viola Davis, Widows
Also strong contenders:
Julia Roberts, Ben is Back
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rosamund Pike, A Private War
Nicole Kidman, Destroyer
But this could all change, and likely will change. I would run a poll but I’m worried it will be overtaken by Lady Gaga fans so I guess you’ll have to put your predictions in the comments.