By John H. Foote
The race for the Academy Award for Best Actress will be hotly contested with many worthy performances being left out. Indeed, it is a year in which they could easily expand the category to 10 nominees, and it would still not be enough. With a mixture of previous winners, nominees, and newcomers the only person missing seems to be the 21-time nominated Meryl Streep, absent from the screen this year.
Michelle Williams moving from the supporting race to lead has shaken things up a bit and, though cate Blanchett is the absolute odds-on frontrunner, Williams is beloved in Hollywood and has been nominated four times previous without a win, she is as they say (whoever they are) “due”.
Cate Blanchett in Tar has delivered a performance for the ages, simply one of the screen’s greatest performances and I doubt anyone can beat her. However, there are some mighty great performances about to be in the race and in discussion, and one just never knows.
CATE BLANCHETT IN TAR — Mesmerizing as the ferocious conductor Tar, the actress surpasses all her previous work, which was formidable, to give an unsettling performance that she might never equal again. Blanchett dominates every frame of this remarkable film, throwing her entire being into the performance, fearlessly creating a character it is difficult to feel much for, and challenging audiences to see the human being inside the spiky, raging artist. As De Niro did in Raging Bull (1980) she creates a sometimes repellant character but in doing so, displays nothing less than her genius. A previous winner for The Aviator (2004) and Blue Jasmine (2013), the lady should win her third.
MICHELLE WILLIAMS IN THE FABELMANS — In her performance as Steven Spielberg’s surrogate screen mother, Williams dazzles as an artsy Mom who challenges her son to be an artist too. Mitzi (Williams) reverentially hands the young boy an 8mm movie camera as though she is passing to him the Holy Grail and then proceeds to encourage him to create. What the father calls “a hobby” she already knows will be his life. It is a wonderful confident performance from one of our finest actresses.
OLIVIA COLMAN IN EMPIRE OF LIGHT — A strange little love story with another brilliant performance from Olivia Colman. Be honest, as of 2015 had you even heard of her? I remembered her in Hyde Park on the Hudson with Bill Murray, but her part was small. Since The Favourite (2018), for which she won an Oscar, she has been a frequent awards season regular, both on film and television. Count on her in the race for what might be her finest film performance yet. Luminous, and entirely pure.
MICHELLE YEOH IN EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE — As a woman jumping from multi-universes where each presents a different incarnation of her as a person, Michelle Yeoh has been earning rave reviews since the film opened in the spring. The big question is can she carry the momentum through the long awards season? No question she is much admired and has not enjoyed this kind of success often in her career, not since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) has she had a hit of this magnitude, excluding James Bond of course. A hard maybe.
EMMA THOMPSON IN GOOD LUCK TO YOU LEO GRANDE — It has been a few years since Emma Thompson has been in any awards discussion, more than two decades in fact, though she should have been in the mix for Saving Mr. Banks (2013). Between 1992-1995, Thompson won one Oscar for Best Actress, another for screenplay and was nominated three other times, twice for Best Actress, and one for Best Supporting. She gave astonishing Emmy nominated performances in Wit (2000) and Angels in America (2003), but then never got close to awards season again. She should be there this year for her lovely performance as a retired schoolteacher discovering her sexuality with a pleasant young sex worker. Her courage in the film is remarkable, rarely do plus 60-year-old actresses appear fully nude, but Thompson lays bare her character and in the final scene her body. I loved every minute of this film, and Thompson was a revelation. Hers is not the best of the year, just my favourite.
DANIELLE DEADWYER IN TILL — As the devastated mother of a murdered Chicago teenager on vacation in Mississippi, Deadwyer is astounding. Capturing not just the pain of knowing how her beloved son died, but also the rage, the grief, the intense sense of loss, that feeling of helplessness, wondering how terrified he was as they lynched him, it is a stunning performance that guts the viewer. If she is not a nominee, it is one of the most horrific snubs in Academy history.
NAOMIE ACKIE IN I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY — There have been a lot of rock star biographies over the last few years, this year’s Elvis all but promising a nomination for star Austin Butler, and Miss Ackie is superb as Whitney Houston. She captures the joy Houston put into her singing and rumour has it she brings the tragedy of her addictions to the part.
ANA DE ARMAS IN BLONDE — An astounding performance in a demanding, often very difficult film about Marilyn Monroe and the constant abuse she was met with throughout her life. De Armas is truly remarkable as Monroe in a fierce, brave, deeply moving performance as a woman whose greatest performance was the one she gave as the movie star she was. Desired by all men, she was often abused by those closest to her, which is heartbreaking. The finest portrayal of Monroe ever put on screen. I dare the Academy to nominate her, see if they have the guts. A bold and daring performance.
MARGOT ROBBIE IN BABYLON — She continues her incredible rise which began in 2013 for Martin Scorsese in The Wolf of Wall Street, saw her nominated as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya (2017) and create one of the most iconic comic book villains in Harley Quinn, Robbie is now among the elite artists in the business. Here as Clara Bow, she dazzles and dominates an exceptionally hyper kinetic film. She has two chances for nominations this year: this film, the more likely, and Amsterdam. I am betting on this one.
VIOLA DAVIS IN THE WOMAN KING — In an astonishing break from what we know of her work, Davis gives an extraordinary physical performance as the leader of a group of African women warriors, fighting back against the slave dealers who come to take as many of them away as they can get. Ripped into a woman of pure muscle and ferocity we have never seen her like this before which alone gives some idea of the accomplishment. The Academy loves her so she could be there nomination day.
CAREY MULLIGAN IN SHE SAID — After being burned for Pretty Young Woman (2020), for which she absolutely deserved to win, this time she’s New York Times reporter Megan Twoney, one half of the writing team that researched and exposed one time Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. A fresh exploration of reporting and investigation in the modern age with the Internet, superb acting throughout. Will Hollywood be willing to recognize a film about the bringing down of one of its own?
ZOE KAZAN IN SHE SAID — And as Jodi Kantor, the other half of the reporting team of the New York Times, Kazan, grand daughter of Elia Kazan, should also be in the mix right alongside Mulligan. If one is nominated, the other should be because they feed off each other for the performances.
JESSICA CHASTAIN IN THE GOOD NURSE — Last year’s winner for The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) might be another nomination as a nurse who comes to realize her partner and friend on shift is killing people. As a single mom with a heart condition, she is working as often as she can to qualify for higher benefits and stumbles on a series of overdoses of patients her shift partner is caring for. Chastain is outstanding, as always, and steal the film.
ROONEY MARA IN WOMEN TALKING — When will the Academy give an Oscar for Best Ensemble Performance? They need to do so and soon, because Sarah Polley’s film Women Talking would win hands down this year. As it is Mara will likely go lead with the others going supporting. The women live in a Mennonite cult and have been abused and raped for years and are now meeting to decide what to do about it. Mara is pregnant by her abuser and has the most to lose. The gifted actress is outstanding as she often has been.
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.