By John H. Foote
There are so many potential nominees in this category that it will be a fight to the finish and no doubt have some major surprises come nomination morning. It is ironic because thirty years ago the Academy might have had a tough time finding five nominees, but in a testament to the evolving times and the good roles for women, times have made a drastic change.
Women and roles for women have come from a great distance, something refreshing to see.
One thing is certain, no one knows anything, no one can predict with absolute certainty the nominees. No one. Yet we keep trying. Here is a look at Best Actress one month after TIFF.
The frontrunner(s) at this writing are six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close in The Wife, and Lady Gaga for A Star is Born, both ladies considered the frontrunner, both capable of winning the Oscar. Close is superb as a frustrated wife sho has stood silently by her man through thick and thin, but finds herself now seething with a rage about to explode. This is no sentimental choice, this is the best work of her career and she is among the finest actresses in cinema.
Lady Gaga is sensational in A Star is Born and the entire world now knows it. She and Bradley Cooper have created a magnificent love story, one for the ages, and her performance announces her as a major actress. A star was truly born. The race is really between Close and Lady Gaga, though they could split the vote, allowing someone else to snatch the award.
Melissa McCarthy joined the race as Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and is without a doubt in the mix, at the front of the line. McCarthy is wonderful in the role, stepping out of comedy for the first time and delivering a strong, perfect performance as a toxic woman who finds an illegal way out of her financial fix. Unlike anything she has ever done, the actress is perfection in the role. If nominated she must be considered a threat to win the whole thing.
Joining the race is Olivia Colman in The Favourite, who we long thought was going to go supporting. Not now, this week they announced she would go lead and her co-stars would go supporting. Colman is brilliant as the daffy Queen, just slightly unhinged, in what is a funny, energetic performance.
In the performance of her career, there is a strong chance Nicole Kidman might NOT be nominated. As a tough, beaten up detective in Destroyer, she is astounding as she searches for a killer returned from her checkered past as an undercover cop. Never has she gone this far as an actress never has her artistry been so daring, so sublime. Everything glamorous about the actress is toned down and crushed, and her character is among the most repellant roles she has ever taken on. She is brilliant. And yet, she might not be there. Shame on the Academy, and I say this LOUDLY, SHAME ON THE ACADEMY IF SHE IS NOT THERE!!!!!
Oscar winner Julia Roberts does some of her finest work in Ben is Back, as a mother struggling to come to terms with her drug-addicted son, home for the holidays. She ends up going on a journey with him, and in doing so learns more than she wishes to know about his addiction and past. It is a fine performance, but I am not sure it is Oscar nod worthy? That said, I am firmly in the minority.
Charlize Theron was so good in Tully, but my worry is that the film’s release in May might hamper her chances. The Oscar winner is brilliant as a mother, pregnant, who gives birth and is just beat, yet gets the chance for rest, sleep when a magical young nanny comes into her life. It is a daring performance in a strong film I hope gets remembered. She would be a worthy nominee if nominated.
In Widows, Steve McQueen’s taut caper film, Viola Davis shines as the head of a group of widows who decide to pull off a robbery her late husband was planning. Her emotions run rampant, but Davis is so laser focused, so intense, she gives the film a remarkable edge. She is loved within the industry and that alone could land her in the final five.
Natalie Portman was brilliant in the science fiction thriller Annihilation, as good as she has ever been, but she might be a victim of the same thing that could keep Theron off the list. Timing. The film was released a long time ago, back in February, which might work against her. That said she is brilliant. A previous winner for Black Swan (2010), she should have a second for her stunning work in Jackie (2016).
In Roma, the foreign language entry from Alfonso Cuaron, the performance of Yalitza Aparicio has earned the best reviews of her career and is the center of attention surrounding the film. Created by Netflix, I see that as the only major obstacle for the actress.
Critical darling Toni Collette could sneak in for her work in Hereditary, the horror film that earned her raves across the board. She is a well-liked actress in the industry and could manage a nod for this formidable performance.
A nominee last year, Saoirse Ronan could be back in Mary, Queen of Scots, though the film is screening late and could suffer in not being seen by the critics’ groups and major guilds. There is an argument to be made for the award contenders films screening before mid-November.
Julie Andrews won an Oscar as Mary Poppins (1964) and Emily Blunt might do the same in Mary Poppins Returns if the film is as good as the early word suggests. I think she will be hard-pressed to crack the final five, but you never know these days. She is a major talent also in the mix for her work as the terrified mother in A Quiet Place.
There still might be someone come out of the woodwork but I think these will be the major and minor players in the race. The final five are tough to call, and sure thing matters not at all. Remember Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)? A sure thing? No way she can miss? And yet she was snubbed!! There is no longer any such thing as a sure thing.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.