By John H. Foote
Usually by now all the major acting races are decided long before Oscar night. The only surprise we have had in the last 10 years was Olivia Colman winning Best Actress in The Favourite (2018). Everyone, including me, figured it would go to Glenn Close in The Wife with a shocker maybe, A HUGE MAYBE to Lady Gaga in A Star is Born (2018). Colman, however brilliant, came right out of left field, and Close again went home empty handed.
This year the Best Actress race is a complete mystery, as wide-open a race as any there has ever been. In fact this might be the closest race for Best Actress since Judy Holliday bested both frontrunners Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) and Bette Davis (All About Eve) with her comedic turn in Born Yesterday in 1950.
Coming out of TIFF the front runner appeared to be two-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand in Nomadland, which would make her the first three-time Best Actress winner since Katherine Hepburn who won four awards in her career. Not even Streep has three for Best Actress, though she should have at least that many. McDormand’s flinty, tough performance as a woman evolving in her independence while in her sixties is truly a great piece of acting, but then Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom exploded onto Netflix and Viola Davis was suddenly in the race, neck and neck with McDormand. Brassy and bold, Davis dominated and filled the screen with her superb work, leaping to the front of the race.
And then Carey Mulligan scorched the screen in Promising Young Woman as an angry, seething young woman seeking vengeance for her friend’s death after being raped. Mulligan is astounding in the film, reminding me of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), hellbent on revenge against men. Boom, the Oscar is suddenly hers to lose.
Now Andra Day is in the race for The United States vs. Billie Holliday, an exquisite performance which could topple the category.
The fifth nominee, British star Vanessa Kirby gave a harrowing performance as a young woman who lost her child in childbirth in Pieces of a Woman, but this is not her year.
That said if there is a huge split between any two, even Kirby could suddenly win.
My choice personally is Mulligan, but that diversity ghost hangs over the awards this year and there could be a huge movement for all the acting winners to be non-white. That would be a terrible disservice to Mulligan.
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.