When it comes to this year’s Oscar race, one of the most exciting and competitive categories is Best Actress. Whereas Best Actor seems to be grasping at straws a bit, there’s an abundance of riches in terms of leading actress performances this year, and narrowing it down to five women who get nominated is going to be a very, very difficult task.
There’s not even a consensus on who the frontrunner is at the moment, but there are a number of women in the running for that top spot. Sally Hawkins delivers a stunning wordless performance in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which itself seems destined to be a major awards contender. It’s a delicate and impressive performance, and that Hawkins is able to tell the audience so much just with her movements and facial expressions is a testament to her talent.
There’s also Oscar-winner Frances McDormand, who delivers a towerhouse performance in the dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film nabbed the Audience Award at TIFF, which is usually a harbinger of at least a Best Picture nomination, so McDormand’s chances of getting nominated are very, very good.
Reigning champion Emma Stone is also in the mix once again for her outstanding turn as Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. Not only is it a great, nuanced performance but it’s the kind of role the Academy eats up: a biopic, a feel-good sports drama, and a coming-out story all in one. Reviews have been lacking the kind of passion that usually fuels a Best Picture winner, but I think Stone’s talent and the timeliness of the character dynamics will boost her chances at landing a nomination.
The young Saoirse Ronan, who was previously nominated for Atonement and Brooklyn, may very well find herself in the Best Actress circle once again for her terrific leading turn in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird. This is the kind of emotional and personal indie that has major crossover potential, and Ronan essentially carries most of the film herself with a balancing act of a performance—that of playing a genuine, complex teenager.
Meryl Streep may also find herself in the mix for her leading role in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, and while no one’s seen the film just yet, she plays the first female publisher for the Washington Post in the politically relevant drama, so it seems wise to err on the side of a nomination based on all of this alone.
But any number of other actresses could seemingly slip right into this nomination circle. Kate Winslet is drawing raves for her leading turn in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, even if reaction to the film itself hasn’t been exactly rapturous. And Margot Robbie delivers the best performance of her career thus far in the darkly comedic Tonya Harding film I, Tonya, but that film is from Neon, a new distributor who hasn’t launched an Oscar campaign before, and fallout from Neon co-founder Tim League’s Alamo Drafthouse drama could muddy the waters a bit.
Jessica Chastain certainly delivers a fantastic performance in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game, and Annette Bening has drawn strong notices for her turn in the real-life Hollywood drama Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. There’s even a chance for Jennifer Lawrence to sneak in for mother!, as the divisive Darren Aronofsky film has seemingly become a favorite amongst filmmakers—although it remains to be seen how widespread support is within the Academy.
As I mentioned in my Best Actor predictions post this is still very early in the race, and a lot can change, but I’ll be updating this article frequently throughout the race as things do move and shake. But right now, at this extremely early point, here’s how I see the Best Actress race shaking out.