Last Updated: December 13th
This year’s Best Actress Oscar category may be filled out by a diverse mix of first-timers, Oscar veterans, and possibly even someone who’s never even acted before. And in a year as rich with great performances as 2018, there are also some exciting contenders waiting just outside the wings for a little push to make them fully-fledged Oscar nominees. We’re still in the thick of critics awards, but the first guild has now weighed in with the Screen Actors Guild nominations, shedding a bit of light on how the Best Actress Oscar category could shake out.
It should be noted that the SAG nominees rarely match up as a 1:1 with the Best Actress Oscar nominees, but last year they had all but one in common (SAG went with Judi Dench, Oscar went with Meryl Streep), and this year’s lineup of SAG nominees in this category seems like it could very well be our eventual Oscar nominees: Colman, Gaga, Close, Blunt, and McCarthy. Let’s take a closer look.
The frontrunner for Best Actress is pretty unanimous, and it was settled as soon as Fox Searchlight figured out who would be submitted for what category in Yorgos Lanthimos’ critically acclaimed comedy/drama The Favourite. BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning actress Olivia Colman delivers a powerhouse performance as Anne, Queen of Great Britain in Lanthimos’ riotous film, and while there was some discussion as to whether she’d be submitted for Lead or Supporting, Fox Searchlight ultimately decided to put Colman in Best Actress and her co-stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in Supporting—both of whom are also now frontrunners in that category.
Colman’s frontrunner has been solidified by a slew of critics group awards, and by my count there’s only one other actress who has a serious shot at winning the Oscar over Colman: Lady Gaga.
Indeed, A Star Is Born is the overall Oscar frontrunner right now. It’s a box office and critical smash that’s captured the zeitgeist in a serious way, and it’s expected to pull in a lot of nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards. One such nomination that’s expected is Best Actress, with Lady Gaga turning in a truly stellar performance as the titular star—an up-and-coming songwriter who becomes a pop superstar under the mentorship of an aging musician (played by Bradley Cooper).
Gaga’s work is stunning, and her performance has been drawing raves ever since the film was unveiled on the festival circuit back in September. At this stage it’s a bit too early to start calling winners in the Oscar categories—there’s a lot of “narrative” left to be told over the next couple of months, and early frontrunners can often fall in that crucial final phase (see: The Social Network, The Revenant, Boyhood, etc.). But Colman and Gaga are undoubtedly at the top of this list.
Beyond these two, there are a number of exciting possibilities to fill out the Best Actress category. Melissa McCarthy delivers the best performance of her career in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which I have a feeling may be a bit of a surprise Oscar hit this year. It’s a melancholic, impeccably acted true-story drama and those who love it really love it. There’s also Glenn Close in The Wife, a film that actually debuted at TIFF 2017, but Sony Pictures Classics pushed it to 2018 to better position Close in the Best Actress race. Both actresses scored SAG noms, further solidifying their places here.
Then there’s the late-breaking surprise, which is Emily Blunt for Mary Poppins Returns. While the Disney musical was initially seen as a mere commercial play, it’s become a genuine Oscar contender thanks to glowing early reactions and raves for Blunt’s performance. It should also be noted that Julie Andrews was not only nominated but won this category for her performance as the titular character in the original Mary Poppins. The film’s all-but-assured box office success will only help keep Blunt in the minds of Oscar voters when January rolls around, which is why I think it’s highly possible she gets nominated.
Somewhat on the outside looking in there’s newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, whose phenomenal performance in Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA is the emotional centerpiece of the critically acclaimed Spanish-language film. ROMA is positioned as a major Oscar contender, especially in Best Picture and Best Director, and almost every major Oscar contender usually needs at least one acting nomination. But Aparicio hasn’t yet received many Best Actress notices from the critics groups, and it’s possible Oscar goes for the flashier picks over her nuanced turn here. There’s still a lot of runway left, but at this stage I’d say Aparicio’s slot has been taken over by Blunt.
Toni Collette was the year’s first Best Actress contender with her head-spinning work in Hereditary, but the horror film’s reputation as a rough watch may simply mean not enough voters get around to watching it (although they absolutely should). Oscar winner Viola Davis is terrific in Widows, but 12 Years a Slave filmmaker Steve McQueen’s take on a blockbuster movie failed to bring out audiences on opening weekend and has had a frustratingly muted—if still positive—reaction from critics. This is the kind of film that could’ve gotten a second wind from the SAG Awards thanks to its terrific ensemble cast, but for whatever reason SAG voters made the boneheaded decision to completely shut this movie out.
Past nominee Rosamund Pike is in the mix for her excellent turn in A Private War, which faces a bit of an uphill battle in that it doesn’t hail from a major distributor (therefore doesn’t have Fox Searchlight-like Oscar campaign money). Nicole Kidman drew strong notices for her antihero turn in Destroyer, although the film itself has mixed reviews. Ditto Julia Roberts in the nice but forgettable Ben Is Back. And Carey Mulligan delivers the best performance of her career in Wildlife, and I have a feeling she could easily sneak in if IFC Films puts the necessary money behind a campaign for her performance.
If the Oscars really want to surprise, young actress Elsie Fisher’s turn in Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age dramedy Eighth Grade is a solid contender, and Kiki Layne’s performance in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk could be in the mix if that film hits big with Oscar voters. I’d also contend that Kathryn Hahn‘s work in Private Life is one of the best performances of the year, and Netflix would do well to push her in this category.
All eyes were on the Ruth Bader Ginsberg drama On the Basis of Sex and the period drama Mary, Queen of Scots to see if Felicity Jones and Saoirse Ronan, respectively, had the goods, but both films skipped the fall film festival season and drew mixed reviews out of their recent AFI Fest debuts, so neither actress feels like a major threat this year.
So that about covers it. Obviously it’s still early and the race will shift in the coming weeks, but as of right now here are my Best Actress predictions in order of likelihood to be nominated.