Passion, precursor or precedent? What will be the deciding factor for Best Actress this season?
Every year, during winner voting and just after it closes, several outlets drop their ‘honest ballots’ from actual Academy voters and more often than not they opt to publish some truly scorch the Earth takes that make the blood of Oscar watchers boil like liquid hot magma. But in using as much of a level-headed approach as possible, how much impact or strength should we give this handful of ballots as representative of what could potentially happen?
In the case of Best Actress it’s been an interesting one. In ballots published by Entertainment Weekly, GoldDerby, The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, IndieWire and one just received for AwardsWatch (yet to be published) the overwhelming choice was Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers. What’s obviously fascinating about that is Cruz was nominated with absolutely zero precursors: no Globe, no Critics’ Choice, no SAG, no BAFTA. She wasn’t even longlisted for BAFTA! Her nomination speaks to two different things; an initial lack of visibility during the nomination process (the film was an extremely late release) and intense passion once it was seen. “I went from Nicole Kidman at the beginning of the year to Olivia Colman, but until I saw Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers that’s when I made my decision,” said an actor in an EW anonymous ballot. Cruz managed to earn LAFCA and NSFC wins during her very brief critics’ run but the scattered precursors didn’t bite. Even the CCA with six slots and the Globes with 10 when you split between drama and comedy/musical failed to give her a mention. So, now that she’s here, are we looking at a case of ‘the nomination was the true obstacle’ like we’ve seen before in other categories?
While the BAFTA snub is not truly a snub this year since there was zero crossover with their Best Actress list to Oscar’s (for the first time in almost 35 years) we can mostly eliminate that as a factor here. Although, all Oscar-nominated actresses this year except Cruz at least made the longlist of 15. The bigger factor may be the Screen Actors Guild as no one has ever won the Best Actress Oscar without a SAG nomination first (Kate Winslet being a technical exception as she was nominated in supporting for The Reader but won in lead at the Oscars). At 28 years old, it’s still one of the younger industry awards bodies and we’ve finally started to see stats/history start bending and breaking. There was a time where you simply couldn’t win Best Picture without a SAG Cast nomination but now it’s happened three times in five years. No lead actress had ever won two lead awards for decades and then it happened three times in four years. So why can’t that stat break this year, especially in a season where history and stats of all kinds in multiple categories have already fallen or are likely to on Sunday night?
Another benefactor of the passion vote was Kristen Stewart for Spencer. The overwhelming critics’ favorite (25 wins, more than three times her nearest competitor), Stewart earned Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations but was stopped at SAG’s door for Lady Gaga in House of Gucci and Jennifer Hudson in Respect. But only Stewart got the Oscar nomination and she’s the only first-time nominee in contention, going up against three former winners (Nicole Kidman, Olivia Colman and Cruz) and someone on their third nomination (Jessica Chastain). What hobbles Stewart a bit is that she’s the only nominee from her film. That didn’t use to be a hinderance in the past, we used to see it quite a bit. But, when it has happened and that actress wins, she’s generally swept the precursors and the Oscar was an inevitability. That isn’t the case for Stewart, who amazingly even lost the Critics’ Choice after being the demonstrable favorite, to Jessica Chastain, who had five regional wins up to that point. Granted, this was the first time Critics’ Choice was after SAG so it’s not a stretch to say they played more into the hands of Oscar predicting, as they are wont to do (they did the same with Will Smith in Best Actor, a total critics non-starter).
A wild exception this year is that no nominee is in a Best Picture nominee, something that has never happened in expanded era and for the first time since 2007. While that creates a more level playing field for the five actresses, all but Stewart also have other nominations for their films, some more above the line than others. Chastain’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a makeup and hair nominee, and the frontrunner at this point. Cruz has an original score nomination for her film. Then there’s a significant gap, as Olivia Colman’s The Lost Daughter has adapted screenplay and that surprise supporting actress nod for Jessie Buckley, and Kidman has two acting nominations from her film joining her: Javier Bardem in lead and J.K. Simmons in supporting, both previous winners. Being the Ricardos snagged a PGA nod so it’s safe to assume that it and The Lost Daughter were probably the closest to Best Picture, but does that make them out in front?
Let’s take a look at Best Actress winners from non–Best Picture nominees since the SAG era began in 1994, removing BAFTA as it’s a non-precursor this season:
1994: Jessica Lange – Blue Sky (SAG, GG)
1995: Susan Sarandon – Dead Man Walking (SAG, GG)
1999: Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry (SAG, GG)
2001: Halle Berry – Monster’s Ball (SAG, GG)
2003: Charlize Theron – Monster (SAG, GG)
2005: Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line (SAG, GG)
2007: Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose (SAG, GG)
2011: Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady (SAG, GG)
2013: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine (SAG, GG)
2014: Julianne Moore – Still Alice (SAG, GG)
2019: Renée Zellweger – Judy (SAG, GG)
9 won GG
8 won SAG
6 won both
4 won GG without SAG (Lange, Swank, Cotillard, Streep)
2 won SAG without GG (Sarandon, Berry)
Based on those stats, history slightly favors a sole Globe win over a SAG win. This year we have Nicole Kidman with the Golden Globe and Jessica Chastain with the SAG.
Best Actress and Best Actor nominations without Best Picture since 1990:
2021: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos)
2020: Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
2005: Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line)
1995: Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking); Elisabeth Shue and Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas)
1993: Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to do With It)
With that, since 1990, no film with 3 acting nominations without a Best Picture nom until Being the Ricardos.
Jessica Chastain or Nicole Kidman winning the Oscar wouldn’t upset any precedents and fall in line with examples over the last 27 years of SAG and Golden Globe crossover. Last year saw a different winner at all precursors with BAFTA being the decider. With BAFTA a non-factor that makes Colman, Cruz and Stewart as winners completely unprecedented.
So how will voters choose? Will they pick passion, precursor or precedent in this truly up in the air race?
Here are my final Oscar predictions for Best Actress with some GG/SAG/BAFTA charts below.
1. Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight Pictures) – GG, CCA, SAG
2. Penélope Cruz – Parallel Mothers (Sony Pictures Classics)
3. Kristen Stewart – Spencer (NEON) – GG, CCA
4. Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter (Netflix) – GG, CCA, SAG
5. Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos (Amazon Studios) – GG, CCA, SAG
**won Globe and SAG in supporting, BAFTA in lead for The Reader