One of the most hotly debated races early in the season, thing gelled quickly around Cate Blanchett in TÁR and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once, who won the lion’s share of critics’ awards heading into the televised shows where Blanchett took the drama Globe, Yeoh the comedy Globe, then Blanchett again with Critics’ Choice.
They are joined by Viola Davis (The Woman King) as the only contenders to earn all four precursors, with SAG and BAFTA nominations as well. Danielle Deadwyler (Till) just missed a Globe but if her and Davis both get it will only be the third time in Oscar history that Best Actress has two Black nominees. The first time was 50 years ago when Cicely Tyson (Sounder) and Diana Ross (playing Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues) were both nominated and the second time happened just two years when Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Andra Day (playing Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday).
If Yeoh is nominated, she will be the first south Asian (Malaysian-born, based in Hong Kong) Best Actress nominee in the Oscars’ 95-year history. If Davis, Deadwyler and Yeoh are all nominated, it will be the first time in Oscar history that three non-white women have been nominated in Best Actress in the same year.
Ana de Armas’s film Blonde may have been savaged by critics but what most were able to agree on is that her performance, aside from the film, is something of a marvel. Voters seem to think so too, as the actress has earned GG, SAG and now BAFTA nominations, quite an arsenal to land an Oscar nomination. Plus, de Armas fits into so many classic elements of a Best Actress nominee, she’s a young, pretty ingenue, for one. But on the other side, a much darker one, is the commonality of actresses earning nominations for characters who are violently, physically and/or sexually assaulted on screen. There is a Venn diagram of voters who probably like to see it and those that feel empathy towards the actress for her bravery in shooting those scenes that lands during Oscar voting. It goes hand in hand with some very dated Hollywood tropes in how voters see male actors and female actors; men are heroes who overcome, women are victims who suffer at the hands of men (and in many cases, it’s those men who come in as the hero). Rape is a common calling card for Best Actress winners, from Jane Wyman in 1949’s Johnny Belinda to Jodie Foster in 1988’s The Accused to Brie Larson in 2015’s Room, and it certainly extends to Best Actress nominees, from Geena Davis in 1991’s Thelma & Louise to Rooney Mara in 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Isabelle Huppert in 2016’s Elle. It’s a sobering thought but one that gives some insight into the minds of voters, at least what it used to be, even if that past is still very recent.
Two wrenches, albeit exciting ones, were tossed into the ring here recently. The first being Michelle Williams’ choice to make a run in lead instead of the presumed supporting actress campaign that was expected for her for The Fabelmans. Many, myself included, felt Williams could be a lock for a win in supporting early on and in an interview with Kyle Buchanan in The New York Times, Williams commented on the choice saying, “I think that was a conversation that was happening outside of the core group that made the movie, and I don’t really know why there was a disparity.” She went on to say that at the time of the interview, which was released the first week of January, she hadn’t seen the movie yet but felt “the scenes that I prepped, the scenes that I shot, the scenes that I’m told are still in the movie, are akin to me with experiences that I have had playing roles considered lead.” Turns out it hasn’t worked out too well for her. While she earned Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations in lead, she missed the two more important ones, BAFTA and SAG. Was it an error in judgement to run lead or just an overall deflation of the film as a major contender?
No Best Actress conversation would be worth a damn without talking about the cult-like rise of Andrea Riseborough for her performance in the independent film To Leslie, which has grossed $27,322 since its theatrical debut in October. It’s been one of wildest things in recent memory for this last minute campaign that was seemingly grassroots, but actually heavily weaponized and orchestrated. Dozens of high-profile actors like Edward Norton, Sarah Paulson and Oscar winners Jane Fonda, Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron hosted screenings or Q&As and/or came out with social media posts last week fervently promoting Riseborough and her Independent Spirit Award-nominated performance, which seems to have been started by Gwyneth Paltrow. Or maybe…Mary McCormack. It seems the actress and wife of Riseborough’s To Leslie director Michael Morris took it upon herself to contact every famous person she knows, for weeks on end, asking them to see the low-budget drama and post something nice. (Her manager, Jason Weinberg, also reps Riseborough.) Howard Stern, McCormack’s Private Parts co-star, started talking up the film, and she really hit paydirt over the holidays, with dozens of star endorsements and screenings. We’ll see on Tuesday if it worked on the Academy.
Fascinatingly, this wasn’t a self-promotion push like the self-funded campaigns from Ann Dowd in Compliance (which didn’t work out) or Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart (which did) or even more infamously, Melissa Leo for The Fighter after her nomination (who won) and that’s what makes it different. Curiously, as each day unfolded in this saga, the social media posts from several actors were cut-and-paste comments over and over, with Titanic actress Frances Fisher, early on the Riseborough train, going after Twitter users who were questioning the practice. That’s not necessarily an eyebrow-raising thing for many celebrities that have social media managers that post on their behalf but did they all get the same memo of what to say? To its end, will it be enough to tell voters who might already have their favorites lined up or a stack of screeners to get through during the 6-day voting period to now consider something they’ve probably never heard of? If it happens for her it will one for the history books and could potentially impact future campaigns for years, but it it doesn’t it’ll join the countless others that either didn’t have the precursors aligned or buzz built up to snag a nod.
The largest single branch of the academy, the Actors Branch membership dropped a bit from 1,336 last year to 1,302 this year, which means if all eligible members vote, it will take 218 votes to secure a nomination in Best Actress.
Oscar nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 24. Here are my final Oscar nomination predictions for Best Actress.
|1. Cate Blanchett – TÁR (Focus Features) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|2. Michelle Yeoh – Everything Everywhere All At Once (A24) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|3. Viola Davis – The Woman King (Sony/TriStar) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|4. Ana de Armas – Blonde (Netflix) – BAFTA, GG, SAG|
|5. Danielle Deadwyler – Till (UAR/Orion) – BAFTA, CCA, SAG|
|6. Michelle Williams – The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures) – CCA, GG|
|7. Emma Thompson – Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures) – BAFTA, GG|
|8. Margot Robbie – Babylon (Paramount Pictures) – CCA, GG|
|9. Olivia Colman – Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures)|
|10. Andrea Riseborough – To Leslie (Momentum Pictures)|