Best Actress is always the category that draws much attention, at least around these parts. I myself have always been most interested in Best Picture. As my dearly departed friend David Carr used to say, “the only real heat is in Best Picture.” But Best Actress, when it isn’t locked down with a frontrunner, can be equally interesting. This year we have many different narratives that could play out. It is looking like an unusually competitive year for Best Actress. It might turn out to be a year of women, and women of color especially, with Chloé Zhao a strong early contender for writer and director for Nomadland.
Although most of the anticipated performances we’ve been reading about have been seen, a few of them have been seen and seem to be also early contenders holding their place.
Frances McDormand in Nomadland. McDormand has already won two Oscars for Best Actress, which means it’s highly unlikely she will win again but she does seem like a slam dunk for a nod, especially considering she helped get Nomadland made as one of the producers (see video above). Regardless of any other names that land in Best Actress, McDormand seems like a fair bet.
Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of Woman – Netflix has picked up the film and will be repping Kirby this year. Her performance is centered on a now legendary 25-minute childbirth scene. Words like “harrowing” have been used to describe it. That alone seems to be something to consider in terms of her making it in.
Kate Winslet in Ammonite is less of a sure bet, even though it is among her most brilliant performances. The reactions so far have been somewhat mixed and if it’s a crowded year there might be no room. Of course it is too soon to tell but she is among the early standouts.
Next we head into the sight unseen performances. A big one will screen soon at the New York Film Fest – Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit. Pfeiffer has never won, needless to say, despite a long and interesting career full of great performances. The film does have a talking cat so it could go either way.
As we already wrote about, all eyes will be on Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jennifer Hudson in Respect and Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. These are all sight unseen and we can’t know. How good they will be. But we do know that the Academy has not awarded a black woman for Best Actress since Halle Berry in 2001, who was the first one ever. There will be a sense of urgency around that in this of all years, but no pressure! And we also have to add here that women of color overall have rarely won Best Actress – maybe someone has the stats on that and you can leave it in the comments.
Halle Berry is also potentially a contender in her directorial debut, playing Jackie Justice in Bruised. There is potentially Ana de Armas in Blonde. There is potentially Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. There is potentially Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy. Rachel Zegler in West Side Story. Olivia Colman in The Father, unless her role is supporting.
There are so many things we do not know and a very long time to figure it out. The real heat of the race won’t even start until after New Year’s. AwardsAce has a long list of potential names you can check out. And you can take our poll below.
Right now, I think I would predict:
But that is just a bare minimum of how it could go at this way too early point, but perhaps you all know better than I.