In my opinion, and I might be alone in this, when it comes to Best Actress there is Jennifer Hudson and there is everyone else. The Best Actress race is already in the red hot territory with both Hudson and Lady Gaga as early buzzed contenders. We can’t really say “frontrunners” yet because that would be premature but we’re looking at two major powerhouses already who might populate this race.
My Best Actress pick for this year – number one with a bullet – has always been Jennifer Hudson. The reason being — her own story, that she was called upon by the goddess herself, Aretha Franklin — and above all, that voice. The movie would have to be really terrible to dampen the fact that Jennifer Hudson’s voice is somehow on par with Aretha Franklin’s.
I mean, come ON man:
Jennifer Hudson isn’t the only Best Actress contender, of course. It’s going to be a race. Unless, of course, you take your rightful place and, to quote Beyonce, BOW DOWN bitches. BOW DOWN.
Lady Gaga also appears to be burning down the house in the trailer for House of Gucci, also playing a real life character, although not a goddess worshipped globally like Aretha Franklin.
If you head on over to Gold Derby, there are only two people predicting Jennifer Hudson to take the season (Thelma Adams and I). By far, Lady Gaga dominates over there, with 7 of the pundits predicting she takes the whole thing. I guess this is based on Lady Gaga’s star power and how funny she is in the trailer. This same wave of enthusiasm thought she would win for A Star is Born early on. Gaga has that Barbra Streisand and Madonna kind of “big star” cred – singers/pop stars who gravitate to movies. So far, Gaga has hovered between the two. She’s not yet on Streisand’s level as an actress, but not quite on Madonna’s either.
So why do I not have Lady Gaga in my number one spot? Well, two reasons. The first is simply this: know your voters, know your publicists. The second is that I really hate to go with the crowd. I always have. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Like if House of Gucci turns out to be a great movie and it’s too big to ignore then of course I will switch over to the general consensus.
Granted, coming out of last year people will remember that I predicted and hung onto the idea that the Academy was not going to pass up the chance to break the Halle Berry stat – only one black actress to win in 93 years of Oscar history. I think if Viola Davis OR Andra Day had been the lone nominee that stat would have been broken. But I think they likely split that voter sentiment, given that Day won the Globe and Davis won the SAG. That left Frances McDormand to benefit. Things were complicated by the bizarre BAFTA category switch that threw the race out of whack. Some people, like Scott Feinberg and someone else I know who wishes to remain anonymous, had McDormand winning regardless. They figured, if they liked Nomadland that much, it is a showcase for McDormand so why wouldn’t she win. That makes sense when you think about neither Davis nor Day having even a Best Picture nomination.
And that might be true if, say, House of Gucci is an Oscar monster and lands in every category, where Jennifer Hudson may be the lone nominee from Respect. But here’s the thing. Jennifer Hudson has an “Oscar story.” And she’s got a whopper of one. She was hand-picked by the beloved icon Aretha Franklin who not only said, “I want you to win an Oscar playing me,” but she also happens to be the only human being alive who actually COULD play Aretha Franklin. Lady Gaga will not need much publicity as the online Twitterverse and the media machine that feeds off of it will give her plenty. She’ll be everywhere, just as she was with A Star is Born. But you’re still looking at the Academy itself. You’re looking at what people FEEL when they watch these performances. Hudson will have the advantage of having that voice, singing those songs. I’m not sure how you beat that.
But what do I know. Since I was wrong last year, my own opinion on this will be disregarded. Either way, it seems safe to assume that these two performances (I will see Respect tomorrow) have an early lock on nominations.
Now we have three other slots to fill. One of those slots will probably be Frances McDormand, going for her FOURTH Best Actress win with the Joel Coen-directed The Tragedy of Macbeth. Over at Gold Derby, a couple of people have her down to win it all. Many of the pundits, by the way, have already seen Respect and have elected not to put Hudson down. This must be considered, even though I will not consider it. The reason being, nobody knows anything. And I’m stubborn to a fault, what can I say.
That’s three that seem pretty well locked at this point, barring some kind of unforeseen catastrophe. Next, we have Jessica Chastain landing in the number one spot with a couple of pundits for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. And that seems potentially likely unless the movie doesn’t do quite as well as it’s expected to do. Chastain is in the category of overdue by now, given the many brilliant performances she has turned in throughout her career with only two nominations so far to show for it.
Then there is Kristen Stewart for Spencer, which one or two have in the number one spot, likely based on the test screening reviews that sprouted up on social media. While you can’t trust reactions from test screenings in general, one never knows. Stewart spent a lot of time researching Princess Diana, worked with a dialect coach and became, according to this article, quite attached to the role. So maybe there is something to the early buzz.
If you’re keeping track, so far only one of these contenders isn’t based on a “real person.” It’s theoretically possible that all five will be based on real people. But for now, it looks like at least two will for sure, maybe more.
Next, and this is only because I tend to pay attention when Anne Thompson is bullish about something, especially when no one else really is – and in this case that is the film Passing, which is directed by the actress Rebecca Hall. Thompson has Ruth Negga in the top slot for the film. She only predicts films she’s already seen so the fact that none of the other names mentioned so far make her list doesn’t mean anything. The film received mostly good reviews – but it’s always hard to tell with critics whether they are being honest or being nice, given that it’s a female director (sorry but it’s true). Once the movie is more broadly seen we can get a better idea of where this thing lands. At the very least it does seem to put Rebecca Hall in a good place to continue directing. But we make a note of her enthusiasm for the film as of now, which is still very early – pre-Telluride, pre-Venice, pre-Toronto.
I personally have Jodie Comer for The Last Duel being among the performances that surprise people. I base this on the kind of role she is playing – a woman who survives rape then must face down her accusers. And also her previous work in Killing Eve and The Doctor. She’s great. And she’s a star on the rise. Kirsten Dunst crops up a lot on these predictions for her work in The Power of the Dog. As does Penelope Cruz who will be reuniting with Pedro Almodovar for Parallel Mothers.
Nicole Kidman will be playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, about something that might destroy their marriage while filming I Love Lucy (I imagine it’s his infidelity). Cate Blanchett was originally slated to star but dropped out. The role then went to Kidman. There was some mild kerfuffle on Twitter about Kidman playing Lucy, which seemed like an odd choice. But she’s a great actress so I would imagine she would be considered top tier. And here we have yet another actress playing a real person.
Coda’s Emilia Jones makes an appearance on a few lists. Cate Blanchett shows up for Nightmare Alley. I have Rachel Zegler down for West Side Story, and who knows how that will go.
Heading on over to AwardsWatch, I see that Erik Anderson has put Jennifer Hudson in the number one with a bullet spot (drats, I was hoping to be the only one!). Here is his list:
1. Jennifer Hudson – Respect (MGM/UA) ↑
2. Lady Gaga – House of Gucci (MGM/UA) ↑
3. Frances McDormand – The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24) ↑
4. Kristen Stewart – Spencer (NEON) ↑
5. Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers(Madres Paralelas) (Sony Pictures Classics) ↓
6. Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight Pictures) ↓
7. Cate Blanchett – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ♦
8. Rachel Zegler – West Side Story (20th Century Studios) ↑
9. Tessa Thompson – Passing (Netflix) ↑
10. Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter (TBD) ♦
I do think Erik’s are pretty well spot on, as you can see. Our only major area of disagreement is Jody Comer. I think some people are predicting The Last Duel won’t be the Ridley Scott movie that does well, but House of Gucci will. I can see that happening. But watching Jodie Comer rise unexpectedly with television awards is partly what makes me feel confident that she will hit it out of the park. But again, one never knows.
The only one not on my radar here is Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter. This is a film written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal that sounds very Oscar-baity. It will screen at the Venice Film Festival. Here is the plot: A woman, while on a summer holiday, finds herself becoming obsessed with another woman and her daughter, prompting memories of her own early motherhood to come back and unravel her.
As we know, Colman is a formidable actress, needless to say, and talk about your Oscar-friendly actors. So yes, keep an eye out for that one.
Finally, we do have to think about which movies will be strong Best Picture contenders. That will definitely influence who gets in, not so much for who WINS but since actors remain the largest branch, in general, if they like the performance they nominate the movie. By far, Best Actor drives the Best Picture race but Best Actress often shows up in the expanded ballot era, and that will likely be more true with an even ten.
As you can see by how it breaks down here. Some of those years are grim, with only one Best Actress nominee represented in the Best Picture race, but lately, at least 2, sometimes 3.