Best Picture has always been tied closely to Best Actor, but I would posit that Best Actress has been the more exciting race in recent years. Outside of Frances McDormand dominating the 2017 season, recent years have introduced Brie Larson vs. Saoirse Ronan, Emma Stone vs. Natalie Portman, and last year’s daring upset when Glenn Close dramatically lost her locked-up victory to first-time nominee (and deserved winner) Olivia Colman. This year should, hopefully, be no different, for while there are a few contenders that seem obvious in the short-term, we’re looking at a wide-open race for the upcoming Oscar ceremony. So let’s do our best to make sense of it all with our predictions for Best Actress in the 92nd Academy Awards!
Last year, I did pretty average in terms of my Oscar predictions – while I only got 2/5 correct (including Colman’s win), I did successfully have Close, Aparicio, and Melissa McCarthy shortlisted. My current predictions for Best Actress have gone through several iterations since I launched this series back in March. When I started, Lily James was my #1, and while she absolutely deserves it for her work in Yesterday, there will be no nominations for that abortion of a film (ok, MAYBE Best Original Song). And literally the day I started writing this piece, it was announced that my #4 actress, Amy Adams, had seen her film pushed back to 2020. So that’s pretty solid evidence that this is a list in flux. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the contenders! Obviously, between Olivia Colman and six other nominees in the past three years, the Academy loves to nominate actors playing real people. It’s something that Best Actress shares with its male counterpart – a good impression can be more beneficial than a well-rounded character (although in Colman’s case, she managed to do both). This year there’s no shortage of great actresses playing real people. There’s Meryl Streep in The Laundromat, Natalie Portman as the heartbroken astronaut assailant in Lucy In The Sky, and of course Renée Zellweger’s comeback as Judy Garland. However, I’m fairly certain it’s going to be hard to beat Cynthia Erivo portraying Harriet Tubman in Harriet. Erivo is an actress on the rise – a Tony Award winner fresh off the success of Widows and Bad Times At The El Royale, it’s only a matter of time before Erivo finally gets the awards love she deserves. Add in the fact that the film may utilize a “Honor the Woman, Honor the Film” to honor Tubman’s legacy as an escaped slave, Underground Railroad “conductor,” Civil War spy and nurse, and suffragette. It’s too good to pass up, and Erivo should likely be nominated for Best Actress.
Up next, we have the actresses who always give great performances, and will likely be nominated this January. There’s Helen Mirren as a Hitchcockian heroine in The Good Liar, Alfre Woodard in the Sundance winner Clemency, Cate Blanchett in the hit book Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, and especially Scarlett Johansson in Noah Baumbach’s exciting festival hit Marriage Story. However, the previous nominees most likely to receive nominations this year are Saoirse Ronan in Little Women and Melissa McCarthy in The Kitchen. Saoirse Ronan is one of the most talented actresses under 25, and the last time she worked with the impeccable director Greta Gerwig, she earned an Oscar nomination. This time around, she’s playing the legendary literary character Jo March, for which Winona Ryder earned an Oscar nomination in 1994. The film has been earning gangbuster reviews in preview screenings, and with Ronan deserving to have three Oscars by this point, I would say she’s the presumed frontrunner for the time being. As for McCarthy, she has finally turned over a new chapter in her long and illustrious career. No longer just the focus of pratfalls and fat jokes, McCarthy managed to demonstrate her dramatic capabilities with last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? And in the upcoming The Kitchen, McCarthy will tackle sexism and crime in a Goodfellas send-up. While playing the leader of an all-female crime syndicate didn’t manage to earn Viola Davis a nomination last season, The Kitchen should prove to be a successful Oscar contender, with McCarthy leading the way.
And finally, we have two slots to fill. I could go with one of the actresses that we’ve already seen this year in all their glory, like Awkwafina in The Farewell, Emma Thompson in Late Night (could go Supporting), and Lupita Nyong’o’s terrific turn in Us. But instead of a known, fantastic quantity, I’m going to take a risk and predict two complete unknowns, each hungry for a starring, Oscar-worthy role that will make them a star. The first, and most likely nominee, is Jodie Turner-Smith for Queen+Slim. I’ve been going back and forth on Queen+Slim’s Oscar potential. It’s supposed to be a bold, daring piece of art, tackling modern-day racial issues and police brutality cases in a unique and challenging way. But new and daring is also is a bad sign for the Oscars, who in the aftermath of giving Green Book, a rather middle-road story that both white people and African-Americans can equally enjoy, may be put off by such an intense story involving justifiable homicide and race relations. But whether or not the film makes an Oscar push down the road, I think it’s safe to say that the much-discussed breakout of Jodie Turner-Smith. Meanwhile, while The Nightingale’s stock is significantly falling, I’m still expecting Aisling Franciosi to break out for her impeccable work as the film’s lead. Franciosi is taking on a challenging role, as a mother who has watched her husband murdered, her infant son killed, and been herself raped who sets out on a cross-country journey to get bloody revenge on the man who committed the atrocious act. Should the film become a huge hit and play the Oscar scene well, expect Franciosi to have a big Oscar season.
That wraps up my current slate of Best Actress contenders. But there are still so many variables that we have yet to figure out for this year’s race. Will Annette Bening try her hand in the Lead category for The Report, despite a chance at winning Best Supporting Actress? Is Brie Larson Lead or Supporting in Just Mercy? And will Frances McDormand get a shot for The French Dispatch or Nomadland? And what of the other contenders? Can Michelle Dockery translate Emmy love for an Oscar nom? Is Anne Hathaway a major force in The Last Thing He Wanted? And what about Charlize Theron, who has two chances for the Roger Ailes drama Fair and Balanced (as Megyn Kelly) and the political romantic comedy Long Shot? All of these actresses have a solid chance of making an impact, not to mention the performers listed above. And who knows? I’m already doubting McCarthy and Franciosi. Until we know for sure, you can see the full list of Best Actress contenders right here, and you can see my updated overall Oscar predictions here. As always, here are my Top Five:
- Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
- Jodie Turner-Smith – Queen & Slim
- Aisling Franciosi – The Nightingale
- Melissa McCarthy – The Kitchen
- Cynthia Erivo – Harriet