Who doesn’t like a little bit of chaos early in Oscar season?
That’s what happened earlier this week when Universal Pictures announced that Michelle Williams, playing Steven Spielberg’s mother in The Fabelmans, the semi-autobiographical tale of his youth, will be campaigned in lead rather than supporting as most of us thought.
Williams has been a ‘good on paper’ prediction all summer, not only for her role but as an actress of respect within the industry, earning four Oscar nominations and an Emmy win for Fosse/Verdon three years ago. Then the film premiered at TIFF and we saw her hit every possible acting quadrant and emotional acting beat ranging from a quiet whisper to standing on a table exclaiming “I started therapy!” Williams chews and gnashes through her role of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and struggling with mental illness (a theme this season for actresses). The choice to forgo what seemed like the easiest win of the season in supporting actress and head into much more competitive territory is a risky one but an admirable one. It’s not often we see the dreaded ‘category fraud’ essentially work in reverse. It’s usually clear co-lead performances being pushed to supporting (like Rooney Mara in Carol or Mahershala Ali in Green Book) to avoid another lead co-star. But that’s not the case here; Williams has no internal challenger so the choice feels more like how she, and/or her team, feels about her place and position in Hollywood as a leading lady star. Either that or bestie Busy Philipps is the mastermind behind it all. Whichever it is, Williams is still likely on her way to her 5th Oscar nomination.
So how much does this really shake up the race? Quite a bit, actually. Since last month we’ve now seen powerhouse performances from previous Oscar winners Cate Blanchett in TÁR and Olivia Colman in Empire of Light, with Blanchett getting best-of-career raves and Colman possibly entering her ‘Judi Dench gets nominated for everything’ phase. It’s hard to see either of them miss (although Colman’s film tanked in reviews) and in fact, Blanchett now looks like a frontrunner. Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) should still be secure, with acting tributes set up for her throughout the season, keeping her and her March release front and center. Viola Davis has been a contender leading up to the TIFF premiere and theatrical release of The Woman King but the Oscar winner (who knows a little something about strategic awards category placement) feels even stronger now.
We have a handful of films and performances yet to be seen outside of trailers: Margot Robbie in Babylon, Naomie Ackie in I Wanna Dance with Somebody and Danielle Deadwyler in Till. Maybe Carey Mulligan in She Said…and there’s an argument to be made that Universal wants both Mulligan and Zoe Kazan run supporting to give Williams a full berth. Word is that Rooney Mara in Women Talking will be campaigned lead, too. Kinda saw that coming. Ackie and Deadwyler have an advantage by playing real-life people in a category that feels a bit light at the top here. Mulligan and Davis do as well, but not with the same instant name recognition. Obviously Ana de Armas plays the biggest name of them all with Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, and her reviews have managed to escape the depths of many of the film’s but it’s not going to be an easy watch and you can already hear the “that’s not my Marilyn” comments from the anonymous voter pieces we get every year. Kristen Stewart narrowly avoided that last year, playing Princess Diana in Spencer, but it was a close call and she got the nomination.
A fierce month; not a single placement in the top 20 stayed put. It’s the Wild West in Best Actress this season.
Here are my 2023 Oscar predictions in Best Actress for September 2022.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new entry ♦
1. Cate Blanchett – TÁR (Focus Features) ↑
2. Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24) ↓
3. Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures) ♦
4. Olivia Colman – Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures) ↓
5. Danielle Deadwyler – Till (UAR/Orion) ↑
6. Naomie Ackie – I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Columbia Pictures) ↓
7. Margot Robbie – Babylon (Paramount Pictures) ↓
8. Viola Davis – The Woman King (Columbia Pictures) ↑
9. Ana De Armas – Blonde (Netflix) ↓
10. Emma Thompson – Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures) ↓
11. Jennifer Lawrence – Causeway (Apple Original Films) ↑
12. Tang Wei – Decision to Leave (MUBI) ↓
13. Jessica Chastain – The Good Nurse (Netflix) ↑
14. Florence Pugh – The Wonder (Netflix) ♦
15. Florence Pugh – Don’t Worry Darling (Warner Bros) ↓
16. Mia Goth – Pearl (A24) ♦
17. Taylor Russell – Bones and All (MGM/UAR) ↑
18. Carey Mulligan – She Said (Universal Pictures) ↓ – lead or supporting?
19. Zoe Kazan – She Said (Universal Pictures) ↓ – lead or supporting?
20. Rooney Mara – Women Talking (UAR/Orion) ↓
Other contenders (alphabetical)
- Emma Corrin – Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Netflix)
- Charlbi Dean – Triangle of Sadness (NEON)
- Bae Doona – Broker (NEON)
- Zar Emir Ebrahimi – Holy Spider (Utopia)
- Greta Gerwig – White Noise (Netflix) – lead or supporting?
- Sally Hawkins – The Lost King (IFC Films)
- Manal Issa – The Swimmers (Netflix)
- Nathalie Issa – The Swimmers (Netflix)
- Ji-eun Lee – Broker (NEON)
- Lesley Manville – Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (Focus Features)
- Margot Robbie – Amsterdam (20th Century Studios)
- Joanna Scanlan – After Love (Vertigo Releasing)
- Léa Seydoux – One Fine Morning (Sony Pictures Classics)
- Anya Taylor-Joy – The Menu (Searchlight Pictures)
- Anamaria Vartolomei – Happening (IFC Films)