Here in Telluride, Kristen Stewart is the talk of the town. Her performance is among the most praised of any so far since the Venice/Telluride one-two punch. Stewart has never been better, finally living up to the promise of her earlier career. Although she’s always done good work, much of her popularity has rested on her enigmatic persona on screen. What has been missing so far is the kind of transformational acting that often takes a career to the next level. She has absolutely delivered that here, nailing a posh accent on top of the tortured vulnerability of an infamous figure in America. Stewart clearly feels an affinity with Lady Diana Spencer, whose fairy tale marriage was a horror show the moment the other glass slipper dropped.
Stewart’s performance is a favorite among critics, Film Twitter and bloggers, to be sure. Part of that, to be perfectly honest, is the energy her fan base brings to any Stewart news. Everyone who covers the beat knows this though few will admit it. But in this case, the performance really does live up to the hype, in my opinion, having been on both sides now — pre-hype and post-viewing. Stewart not only is able to connect with Diana’s vulnerability, but also with her rebellious spirit.
That was the problem, of course, Diana was never “right” for the Royal Family. It wasn’t just that her husband was in love with another woman. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance, but it was her own indepence – she was unique, curious, with a strong will buried beneath that shy expression. And it’s interesting because after having seen Kristen Stewart dodge the public eye, get embroiled in scandal and being hounded by photographers it is hard not to now see her face when looking back on Diana’s. The two seem linked in more ways than just this film.
Stewart will not be taken under as Diana was, however, and the film Spencer is about the moment Diana escaped and tried, finally, to live the way she wanted to live but more importantly, the way she wanted her boys to live.
The Best Actress race is far from over, however. In fact, it is just getting started. Already, Jennifer Hudson‘s Aretha Franklin is a strong contender to win and these two make up an interesting pair of Queens – Queen of Soul vs. Queen of Hearts. They could not be more different in terms of their backgrounds and their accomplishments. But the one thing they had in common is that they were touchstones for women all over the world. Women see both Aretha Franklin and Princess Diana as speaking only to them. Their influence is immeasurable and both are beloved icons. Both performances are, to my mind, of equal skill and brilliance. There will be something that ultimately separates them and I think that something will be how voters (and actors especially) like their movies overall.
TIME’s Stephanie Zacharek calls Penelope Cruz‘s performance in Parallel Mothers a “career-best,” which seems to indicate she’s a strong contender as well heading into the festival phase of the Oscar race. Cruz, it could be said, is Pedro Almodovar’s muse and, at least according to Zacharek, this is their best collaboration yet.
Another performance that is being buzzed about here in Telluride is Haley Bennett for her performance of Roxanne in Cyrano. Bennett is one of the things, in addition to Peter Dinklage, that makes Cyrano work and if the film hits with actors, if it’s a SAG ensemble contender and a Best Actor and Best Picture contender, it makes sense that Bennett could be among those standing in the “final five.” Because she is not as well known as some of the others, publicity on this will be key. But Bennet does hold her own against Dinklage.
The two leads from Passing, Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are coming in with strong buzz, Jessica Chastain in the Eyes of Tammy Faye is also topping many predictions lists and can’t be counted out by this point.
Here in Telluride, Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter has gotten enough buzz to land on a few lists. She plays an interesting and complex person whose story unfurls like an onion, revealing one awful detail after the next until the full picture is revealed by the end, or the “core of the onion,” to quote The White Lotus. It’s an interesting performance and she is clearly well-liked as an actress so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Still, there are a few more we have to look at before we start talking about “the five.”
Best Actress and Best Picture
A good many pundits are predicting Kristen Stewart to win without also predicting Spencer to get a Best Picture nomination. While this isn’t a deal-breaker — plenty of performances have won without that, like Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Julianne Moore in Still Alice — there is no doubt that when voters like the movie the acting contender does better.
Last year’s Frances McDormand win was based solely on Nomadland’s popularity. Carey Mulligan also had a strong Best Picture contender with Promising Young Woman. But neither Viola Davis (SAG) or Andra Day (Golden Globe) did. In a competitive year that can SOMETIMES make the difference, and to my mind, that was what held me back for going all in on Natalie Portman in Jackie. Granted, the person I have in the top spot at the moment is Jennifer Hudson who will have the same problem.
Let’s quickly look at the way it’s gone:
2020-Frances McDormand, Nomadland
2019-Renee Zellweger for Judy beat BP nommed Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story and Saoirse Ronan in Little Women
2018-Olivia Colman, The Favourite (beat Glenn Close, non BP The Wife)
2017-Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
2016-Emma Stone, La La Land
2015-Brie Larson, Room
2014-Julianne Moore, Still Alice (non-BP)
2013-Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine (non-BP – beat Sandra Bullock for Gravity, Judi Dench for Philomena, and Amy Adams for American Hustle)
2012-Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
2011-Meryl Streep, the Iron Lady (non-BP beat Viola Davis in The Help)
2010-Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2009-Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
So, it isn’t IMPOSSIBLE to win without a Best Picture nomination, but remember, we are now expanding to ten Best Picture nominees – so my advice is this: if you are predicting Kristen Stewart to win you should also be predicting Spencer to get in for Best Picture. With ten slots if it doesn’t get in, there is a chance that means they just really didn’t like the movie. I could be wrong, but let’s think about that as we’re going through these pulses in the Oscar race.
So, speaking of Best Picture, a performance that should not be discounted is Caitriona Balfe‘s work in Belfast. If voters love this movie enough to put it in Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing (and I think they will), Balfe might be swept along with the film.
Lady Gaga will star in House of Gucci, which also seems like it’s headed for a Best Picture nomination, as well as the other film Ridley Scott is directing, The Last Duel, starring Jodie Comer. And finally, of course, Rachel Zegler in West Side Story. Although Best Picture is more tightly aligned with Best Actor, in a year like this one there will be a lot of competition for only five slots. Having a Best Picture nomination will certainly help.
There is some talk about the Hollywood Foreign Press perhaps dropping a list of nominees anyway, even without a show, and I think that would be fantastic in a year with so many musicals. If so, that will mean that Haley Bennett has a great shot at building some buzz heading into the critics phase, although if I know the critics they will be 100% behind Stewart.
We have to watch for narratives to form throughout the season. It is also, and there is no other way to put this, a “dog and pony show” that not everyone is up for. If you want to win you have to play the game and playing the game is not fun.
Best Actress is often measured by three things:
Likability of star.
Likability of role.
Likeabiliy of movie.
These three things will come into play in a year where there are so many performances based on real-life characters. So that means not only will Kristen Stewart be under the microscope but so will history itself and how filmmakers tell the story of Princess Diana. The same goes for Aretha Franklin and anyone else whose real life might be part of the entire picture of choosing the winner.
I’m still a little hesitant at the moment but my predictions right now are:
Jennifer Hudson, Respect
Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Lady Gaga, House of Gucci*
Frances McDormand, Tragedy of Macbeth*
Caitriona Balfe, Belfast
Jessica Chastain in the Eyes of Tammy Faye*
Jodie Comer the Last Duel*
Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers*
Haley Bennett, Cyrano
Rachel Zegler, West Side Story*
Olivia Colman, Lost Daughter
Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley*
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos*
We’re not even close to this race being over, but at least we kind of know who the frontrunners so far. At least we think we know. We can’t really know until the wins start coming down.
One last note – the BAFTA last year decided their nominations via a committee that want to make them equitable — equality of outcome over equality of opportunity. If they are still doing that this year then it will be harder to predict how the race will go with BAFTA figured in. So it isn’t even worth discussing what they’ll do in terms of whether they will “go for” Stewart as Diana or not since their choices will be fairly arbitrary vis a vis how we write about the race.