Last year’s surprise win by Olivia Colman broke a fairly long-standing trend of a Best Actress contender getting out front early, hitting the campaign trail, and being as ubiquitous as possible until at last collecting the prize. Instead, Olivia Colman won as The Favourite’s only Oscar win out of 11 nominations. Colman barely campaigned, really only put herself in lead instead of supporting hoping to be thought of more as a lead performer rather than a supporting character player. She admits she never thought she’d actually win. Glenn Close was following the trajectory of Julianne Moore, whose performance in Still Alice was the vehicle to carry her all the way to the win. Like Close, and every Best Actress winner before her going back quite a long way, Moore campaigned hard for that win. It was highly unusual to see such an 11th hour shocker — why they didn’t want to bestow Close with that prize will have to remain a mystery. And before you say “but it wasn’t that good” or “Colman was better,” just imagine my face looking directly at you and saying, “oh please.” It’s never about that, folks. Except when it is.
To that end, it’s a little harder to predict how this year’s race will go now that our frontrunner juggernaut for Best Actress has been upended. There are a few rules that can still be applied, however, even though we are all going to be bouncing off of this surprise win when making our picks. You might think, as I am, of Renee Zellweger, who has already amassed much buzz for her performance as Judy Garland, or you might be thinking about Amy Adams’ lack of Oscar wins and that surely this might be her year with The Woman in the Window.
Only a few of the contenders or frontrunners laid out by Anne Thompson in her very early piece seem all that solid to me. It’s not unusual to have so few contenders in Best Actress compared to Best Actor — that is the norm. A year like last year, with so many women competing for five slots, was the exception.
Unlike Best Actor, having Best Picture heat isn’t usually an advantage, although it clearly helped Colman last year. In looking over Anne’s list, you are not looking at Best Picture contenders here so much as star vehicles for central female performances, with a few exceptions, of course.
Here is how Anne lists them as of the end of April:
Awkwafina (“The Farewell”)
Julianne Moore (“Gloria Bell”)
Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”)
Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”)
Renee Zellweger (“Judy”)< –Anne this one off but I assume she meant to put her in.
Amy Adams (“The Woman in the Window”)
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Anne Hathaway (“Dry Run,” “The Last Thing He Wanted”)
Jennifer Hudson (“Cats”)
Scarlett Johansson (Untitled Noah Baumbach Project)
Mindy Kaling (“Late Night”)
Helen Mirren (“The Good Liar”)
Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)
Meryl Streep (“The Laundromat”)
Charlize Theron (“Fair and Balanced”)
Jodie Turner-Smith (“Queen & Slim”)
I think I might be inclined to look at Best Actress two ways. First, the actress and the Oscar story. Next, which performance is going to stand out and for what reason?
It’s depressing that there are so far so few — hopefully in the coming months there might be more (Anne only predicts performances from films she’s already seen.) My list would probably include these:
Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window
Renee Zellweger, Judy
Meryl Streep, The Laundromat
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Then I would look closely at:
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Helen Mirren, The Good Liar
Penelope Cruz, Pain & Glory
Cate Blanchett, Where’d You Go Bernadette.
And I would wonder about:
Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell
Now we head over to AwardsWatch to see what they’re brewing up for Best Actress.
1. Cynthia Erivo — Harriet (Focus Features)
2. Saoirse Ronan — Little Women (Sony/Columbia)
3. Amy Adams — The Woman in the Window (20th Century Fox)
4. Meryl Streep — The Laundromat (Netflix)
5. Awkwafina — The Farewell (A24)
Those names they list but Anne Thompson doesn’t. This has me looking more closely and paying more attention to (sight unseen):
Frances McDormand — Nomadland (Fox Searchlight)
Lesley Manville — Normal People (Bleecker Street)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus — Downhill (Fox Searchlight)
The rest of their lineup is over here.
We don’t yet know what narratives will be in play in 2020. We have no idea where the “woke needle” will fall, how much hysteria will be whipped up, what films will be praised or panned, what scandals will erupt. All we know for sure is that the juggernaut path to victory by an actress that we’re used to seeing was upended last year. That means all bets are off, and at least for now it’s anyone’s game.