91st Academy Award Predictions: Best Actress

In a lot of ways, it may have actually worked out in my favor to delay these Oscar predictions until after the festival season had passed. While I haven’t changed my predictions significantly since early August, I do have a stronger look at the awards, allowing for stronger coverage. After all, had I written this two months ago like I intended, I would have incorrectly stated that this was a weak year for female-led films – and a quick look through the list below will prove how wrong this truly is. If there’s ever a category that will sneak up on you to become the most competitive, look no further than Best Actress! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at which performances will claim the title this year!

Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born

Before we dive any further into the category, let’s just come out and declare a frontrunner. I have had this actress in the race from the beginning, I’ve expected her to win for months now, and that feeling has only been confirmed thanks to the buzz out of Venice and Toronto. That’s right: I think Lady Gaga is the frontrunner for her turn in the fourth adaptation of A Star Is Born. I mean, let’s just look at the history of the role by itself: it’s the story of a singer who rises to fame while trying to balance a struggling relationship. Oscar voters relate to that. They vote for that. They love this story so much that not only have they given the award to performances like Emma Stone in recent years, but they’ve nominated the exact role that Gaga is playing twice – once for Janet Gaynor, and once for Judy Garland. It’s a popular role, and in theory alone, Gaga should take it. But there’s more to this performance than that. There’s the way Gaga has stripped herself down for the role, the way she has mastered the art of soulful looks, of showing, not telling. People are falling in love with her portrayal of Ally, and if people continue to swoon over the film as it goes on to become a commercial and critical success, I don’t think there’s anything in the world that can stop the young, beautiful starlet from strutting to the stage and claiming a Best Actress Oscar.

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

Now that that’s settled, let’s take a look at the biopics. Every year, there’s at least one nominee that’s portraying a real-life individual and hoping the Academy takes notice. Last year we had Margot Robbie and Meryl Streep, 2016 had Ruth Negga, Natalie Portman, and Meryl Streep, 2015 had Jennifer Lawrence, and so on. This year is no different, with a series of actresses looking to break into the field with their turn as an iconic figure. Keira Knightley is portraying a famous author in Colette, Felicity Jones is taking on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early cases in On the Basis of Sex, and should it come out this year, Renée Zellweger may return to the Oscar fray with her turn as previous nominee Judy Garland in the aptly named Judy. And while I originally thought Melissa McCarthy was a long shot for her turn as a disgraced author-turned-conwoman in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, early reviews seem to indicate that the film is a real barn burner, and a contender in several categories across the board. Still, I’m going to overlook her for now in favor of two contenders that I like to call “The Queens.” I’m referring, of course, to Saoirse Ronan in Mary Queen of Scots and Olivia Colman in The Favourite. At the moment, Ronan seems like the safer choice between the two, thanks to her hot streak of great roles, a killer script, and her ability to truly transform herself into anyone, from a 1940s immigrant to a 2002 teenage girl to the Queen of Scotland who tried to overthrow her cousin. I think that if Ronan can get nominated, she’s a real threat to win. However, there is something rotten in Denmark: the fact that the film, a surefire Oscar contender and festival hit, has decided to skip going to any early indicators. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does indicate that the studio has lost support for the film. Does this mean it isn’t an Oscar contender? Or not a Best Picture contender, but the actors can go big? I’m not sure, but I do know that I refuse to sleep on Ms. Ronan until proven otherwise. As for Colman, this is something of a known quantity, considering she just won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in Venice. The Favourite is a real force in the Oscar race this year, with many critics singling out Colman’s manic, depressingly hilarious turn as Queen Anne. Colman is a real threat to win whichever category she’s nominated in. However, that’s precisely the problem: where will she be nominated? At the moment, Fox Searchlight has no idea where they want to submit Colman, meaning she could be a contender for Best Actress or the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. Should she flip, it will likely mean Emma Stone will end up being nominated here in her place. However, time will tell, and at the moment, I will trust the Venetians when it comes to Colman’s standing.

Kiki Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk

Next we have the ingénues. As creepy as it sounds, the Academy likes its actresses younger and passionate. It’s why Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated four times since 2010, why Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, and Felicity Jones have had success in recent years, and its why actresses like Quvenzhané Wallis can manage to sneak into the fray at age 9. Who will be the ingénue this year? Well, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are many contenders this year. We have actors as young as Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade (should win, fwiw) and as old as Claire Foy in the previously nominated role of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. We have stars as famous as Chloë Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post and as unknown as Yalitza Aparicio in the highly acclaimed Roma. And should it end up earning a nomination for Best Picture (time will tell on that front), The Hate U Give could carry over breakout star Amanda Stenberg. However, if there’s one actress I think will really break through in the race, it’s newcomer Kiki Layne. I’ve had my eye on Layne since she earned the lead role in Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight, and I truly think she’ll be one to watch out for this season. She’s got everything working for her when it comes to the older Academy voters: she’s young, she’s pretty, she has a meaty role. And as it turns out, word on the Canadian street is she’s a real knockout! It’ll be deserved! I think that Layne will surpass the field to end up earning a nomination in her breakout debut.

Carey Mulligan in Wildlife

And finally, we have the fifth spot. A spot so contested and so controversial, I’m not sure my current pick will be here in a week. After all, there are many contenders to choose from. Glenn Close is looking to pull a (more deserved) Julianne Moore with her modest August contender The Wife. Toni Collette gave it her all, quite literally, in Hereditary. Viola Davis is the centerpiece of Steve McQueen’s intelligent heist thriller Widows. Charlize Theron gained the weight and killed the role of mother in Tully. And Julia Roberts gives her best performance in five years in Ben Is Back. However, my current fifth slot, for no other reason than I love her and hear good things, is Carey Mulligan. Mulligan has been one of my favorite actresses since she broke out in 2009 for An Education. While she’s deserved about four nominations since, somehow she has not gotten the love she’s earned. With her recent role as a spurned mother in a bitter and loveless marriage in the 1960s, she supposedly gives one of her best performances yet. Mulligan has been earning acclaim since the film premiered in Sundance, and while she is by far the weakest of my current picks, I currently think she will break through and earn the nomination.

That wraps up my current predictions for Best Actress. As I said at the beginning, this is one of the most heated categories in years. Any of these actresses could end up falling away within a week, let alone three months. We could see Nicole Kidman break into the race for her role as an undercover cop in Destroyer, or Natalie Portman’s batsh*t turn as a school shooting survivor-turned-pop star in Vox Lux (unless she goes supporting). And then there’s Melissa McCarthy, earning career-best raves in a film that may be an Oscar dark horse. Could she end up breaking through? And I haven’t even mentioned the potential surprises, ranging from Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns and A Quiet Place to Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a crazy year everyone, so strap in. Until then, you can see the full list of Best Actress contenders right here, and you can see my updated Oscar predictions right here. And as always, here are my Top Five:

  1. Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born
  2. Saoirse Ronan – Mary Queen of Scots
  3. Olivia Colman – The Favourite
  4. Kiki Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk
  5. Carey Mulligan – Wildlife

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