By John H. Foote

In recent years the category for Best Actress has been overcrowded, which is something it had never been before. In the last five years, the Academy could have easily nominated ten actresses for the Best Actress award. This year is no different, the category is proving to be very tough to call because there are simply so many possibilities.

At this point the frontrunner is Glenn Close for her stunning, career-best work in The Wife. Close has been in the race before, and truth be told possibly should have won before, but for this, she will be hard to beat. The trick will be making it clear she deserves the Oscar and it is not a sentimental award. But then, who cares? She is brilliant in the film as a woman quietly seething with rage at having always taken a backseat to her husband and his work.

Lady Gaga is getting the best reviews of the year for her star turn in A Star is Born as a young singer discovered by a rocker on his way down. Said to be brilliant, Gaga is a lock, like Close for a nomination. Gaga stunned everybody watching the Oscar a few years ago with her performance of songs from The Sound of Music, so no question, the girl can sing. Rumour has it, she can act too.

Young Elsie Fisher from Eighth Grade has earned some of the best reviews of the year in this coming of age film that could see the young actress land in the race. However after last year, when Brooklynn Prince was snubbed (I am still reeling over that one) I am not so sure if the Academy will nominate a child over one of the adults. As a young girl struggling with the last days of eighth grade, prepping for high school, she tries a bit of everything the last week, some of which terrifies her.

Though Tully came out very early in the year, last May, Charlize Theron gave such a devastating performance I am not sure how they can ignore her come nomination time. As a  mother struggling with a special needs child, a busy daughter, a husband who is not involved, and another, brand new infant, she is quietly terrified and feels her sanity slipping away. Her life changes when a young nanny comes into her life and they become closer than she ever thought possible.

Though horror films rarely make the major categories, Toni Collette could do so for Hereditary in which she is astonishing as a woman coming unhinged in front of her family. Nominated for supporting actress for The Sixth Sense, it has been a while for the actress, but the reviews were raves across the board. The genre might hurt her, the performance might help.

Natalie Portman should have won the Oscar for her astounding performance in Jackie (2016) but was bumped aside by the La La Land juggernaut. As a troubled rock star in Vox Lux, she could find herself in the race again. I am not sure we have fully seen her depth yet, but what we have seen and discovered with Portman has been extraordinary.

Pike stars as the celebrated war correspondent, Marie Colvin in A Private War. Colvin is a society woman who is equally at home in a war zone with bullets whizzing past and bombs all around her. Rosamund Pike, who should have been a nominee a year ago in Hostiles (2017) and a winner for Gone Girl (2014) is Colvin, who proudly wore an eyepatch like a war wound. As a huge fan of Pike, this could be it for her, and she could emerge the dark horse in the race.

Nicole Kidman has quietly built a career after her Oscar win for The Hours (2002) into that of a gifted character actress. As a tough as nails cop in Destroyer, it is said we have not seen anything like this from her before. I love it when an actress throws vanity to the wind and just goes for it, and that seems to be what Kidman has done with this.

Viola Davis won, finally for supporting actress for Fences (2016) but is back with a lead role in Steve McQueen’s caper film about a group of widows who lose their men in a robbery and decide to take over the job and do it. In Widows, Davis is the ringleader, and I expect her to be nothing less than brilliant simply because she always is.

Julia Roberts has been notoriously choosy about which roles she takes since winning the Oscar for Erin Brockovich (2000). She was terrific in the film, but an Oscar? I think not, not over Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream (2000).  She is back in Ben is Back, a powerful family drama about a mothers relationship with her abusive, difficult, wayward son portrayed by fast-rising Lucas Hedges. Roberts has grown substantially as an actress since her Pretty Woman (1990) days, just watch Closer (2004).

She nearly won last year for Lady Bird (2017), and I expect to see a lot of Saoirse Ronan in the Oscar races of the future. She could very well be the next Meryl Streep, hugely talented. This year she is the doomed Mary, in Mary, Queen of Scots opposite Margot Robbie as Elizabeth. The focus of the film is Mary, and Ronan has not once been anything less than brilliant. Expect more of the same.

Emily Blunt could pull off a feat just one other actor has done, winning an Oscar for a role that won another actress an Oscar years ago. In 1964 Julie Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins, and this year Blunt will take the role in Mary Poppins Returns directed by wunderkind Rob Marshall. A wonderful actress who should have been in contention a couple times by now, she could land a nod for this or the superb horror film A Quiet Place. Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando each won Oscars for portraying Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Godfather (1972) respectively.

In another screen biopic, Felicity Jones (nominated a couple of years ago for The Theory of Everything (2014) as Mrs. Stephen Hawking), appears in On the Basis of Sex. She is this time onscreen as Ruth Bader Ginsburg who fought for women’s rights. A lawyer, she felt she should receive equal pay and went against an all-male establishment to get it breaking ground for women everywhere. A wonderful actress on the way up, she might make the cut.

Comic actress Melissa McCarthy was a nominee for her breakthrough performance in Bridesmaids (2015) and has been a comedic force of nature since. In Can You Ever Forgive Me? she has a dramatic role as a woman who steals the work of another and has it published. I am a believer in McCarthy, but we will see.

Olivia Colman and Emma Stone share the screen in The Favourite, and could each be a nominee, though I think the field is too strong for them and anyone above from above is a better bet.

And of course, expect surprises, those that come out of the blue, or emerge with little fanfare.

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