89th Academy Award Predictions: Best Actress

Best Actor may a deciding factor in the Best Picture race, but if you ask me, the most interesting races the past six years or so have been from the Best Actress field. Many of the closest and craziest races have come from this field, and if you ask me, many of the better performances of each year wind up competing here. 2016 looks like it will be no different, as already we have a strong list of contenders for the 2016 Best Actress prize.

neggaSo far, only two performances have been seen by audiences: Rebecca Hall for Christine and Ruth Negga for Loving. Hall was the breakout in Sundance for her tragic performance as the deeply depressed reporter who ended up shooting herself on live television, and I sincerely hope she gets an Oscar nomination one day. However, the relatively small indie lacks the support needed to make a breakout in a tough year and field. As for Negga, I have written about Loving’s impressive response already, and while I’m on the fence over Edgerton, the enthusiastic response to her performance as Mildred Loving tells me she will be in contention for Best Actress. Now, she does face the fact her performance is quite subtle-I’ve discussed already the Academy’s disdain for such acting-but considering this seems to be 2016’s Carol, Negga should be safe for a nomination.

emma stoneNext, we have the battle of the major stars. Emma Stone vs. Jennifer Lawrence. Emma will be playing the lead role in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, which, as noted, is an original musical. The early buzz on the film from even people lukewarm on the project has been ecstatic for Stone, calling it a “tour de force” performance. Add that to her rising status and the love she earned for her Academy Award-nominated performance in Birdman, and I feel confident calling her a major frontrunner. I’ll call it now: if Emma Stone doesn’t win the Oscar this year, she earns it next two years for her performances as Billie Jean King or Rosemary Kennedy. Meanwhile, we have everyone’s darling J. Law. Jennifer is playing the female lead in Passengers, a film that features almost exclusively
Jennifer and Chris Pratt in space. Acting alone is a difficult task, and has earned Oscar nominations for j lawTom Hanks in Cast Away, Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Matt Damon in The Martian. The debate rages over whether the film is commercial fare or prestige fare, but until I’m proven wrong, I think the Academy will attempt to turn Jennifer into their next Queen (speaking of which, we’ll get to her later), and start nominating her for everything. Hell, if she got nominated for Joy, she can get nominated for anything. So I think both of these ladies will hear their names in January, and should start picking their dresses now.

viola davisThe most interesting aspect to this race, however, is a different battle: the Battle of the Snubbed. Two incredibly talented actresses who should have won in the past, but got knocked out final round by another actress (sometimes, the same actress twice). I’m talking, of course, about Viola Davis for Fences and Annette Bening for 20th Century Women. Davis was a contender in 2008 for Doubt, receiving a nomination for a ten-minute monologue that is really just incredible. She followed this up with a nomination for The Help, an Oscar she almost won before the Academy remembered that the Queen didn’t have her third Oscar yet and chose to remedy that (again, we’ll get to her). This year, she has Fences, where she plays the wife of Denzel Washington’s character. Davis won the Tony Award for her performance in the play, which you can watch here:

annetteAs you can see, she really knocks it out of the park. Combined with the love for her television show How to Get Away With Murder, Davis is a major threat for the trophy this year. The only two things standing in her way are if the film will come out this year (I’m fairly certain it will) and if the performance will be considered supporting. I don’t think it will, but if it does, then she may end up winning that category. Until then, I’ll have her as a strong number two here. As for Bening, she has been nominated three times in the past. Her first nomination came for her remarkable performance in American Beauty, an award she lost to Hilary Swank. In 2004, she was nominated for Being Julia, losing again to Hilary Swank. In 2010, Swank’s film bombed, so Bening had a real shot for The Kids Are All Right before Black Swan came out and won Natalie Portman the Oscar. She returns this year in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, and considering Mills’ pedigree, as long as she gives it her all, she should follow in Patricia Arquette’s footprints and win an Oscar for playing a strong single mom. The only thing that stands in her way is whether it is a lead performance or a supporting performance, and like Davis, should she go supporting, I am fully confident she will win. Either way, her name should be called that Thursday morning.

meryl streepAnd of course, we have the elephant in the room: Her Majesty Meryl Streep. Meryl has a habit of getting nominated for every performance she gives (sometimes even if the performance is undeserving), and has earned an astounding nineteen nominations and three wins. However, her lighter fare doesn’t usually earn her a nomination. Look at Mamma Mia! or Hope Springs if you don’t believe me. So the question is, where will Florence Foster Jenkins fall? Let’s break this down. Pro: It’s based on a true story. Con: It’s the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman who had her husband pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to make her an opera star despite being tone deaf. Pro: It’s directed by Stephen Frears, who earned an Oscar for Helen Mirren and a nomination for Judi Dench for “frivolous” performances. Con: An August release date. Honestly, I find it a toss-up, so I’ll give her the number six spot and keep my eye on her. We shall see how the chips fall.

Of course, there are other performances that have a shot. Jennifer Connolly may be nominated for American Pastoral, Amy Adams has two chances at a nomination-Arrival and Nocturnal Animals-after going through a dry spell since an undeserving nomination in 2013, Michelle Pfeiffer is lighting up the indie circuit in Beat Up Little Seagull, Rooney Mara in a Tony-gobbling role in UnaEmily Blunt could follow in Gone Girl’s footsteps with The Girl on the Train, and of course, a romance could sneak in there with Lily Collins for Rules Don’t Apply or Marion Cotillard for Allied. Hell, Molly Shannon could sneak into contention for Other People. This should be a fascinating race, and I’m positive the best performance of 2016 is on this list somewhere.

To see the full list of contenders, click here. Otherwise, my predictions can be located below:

  1. Emma Stone-La La Land
  2. Viola Davis-Fences
  3. Annette Bening-20th Century Women
  4. Ruth Negga-Loving
  5. Jennifer Lawrence-Passengers

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