We’re at a very fascinating point in this year’s awards race. The Oscar nominations have been released, we’ve already had two major precursor award shows – the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards – and we have two more yet to come – the BAFTAs and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Which is to say, we have an idea of who the potential frontrunners are right now, but we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle that we need to feel fully confident in our Oscar predictions. Of course, things can switch at the last minute, and winners can genuinely come out of nowhere (just look at last year’s Best Picture winner). Still, for the most part, these precursor awards are essential in helping those of us who find joy in Oscar prognosticating to make the most informed predictions possible.
What sets this year apart from most is that even this deep into the season, most of the acting races are still quite unpredictable. Best Supporting Actor will almost certainly go to Ke Huy Quan for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and it’s looking increasingly likely that Angela Bassett will finally win an Oscar for her supporting work in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” However, the two lead categories are a complete mystery. Best Actor is a wild three-way race between Austin Butler (“Elvis“), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin“), and Brendan Fraser (“The Whale“) – for a complete analysis of this category, check out Giovanni Lago’s article here. And Best Actress seems to be up for grabs between two titans of the industry, each with a very different Academy Awards story – eight-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner Cate Blanchett for “TÁR” and Michelle Yeoh for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” which is, unfathomably, her very first nomination.
Before delving into the chances that these two actresses have at Oscar glory, let’s first look at the other three nominees in the category who, pending a colossal upset, will likely have to be content with just their nomination. Michelle Williams was an early contender for her work in “The Fabelmans” when many were predicting her to campaign in the Best Supporting Actress category. And then, to the surprise and disagreement of many in the awards world, it was announced that she would be running in the leading actress category. Suddenly, a seemingly guaranteed win turned into a battle even to secure a nomination. After not even being mentioned by the SAG nominations, many predictors felt she would miss entirely. However, Oscar voters came through for her, giving her the fifth nomination of her career. It seems like she’s solidly in the running for the bronze medal in this category, given her precursor hiccups.
And finally, Ana de Armas (“Blonde“) and Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie“) both received nominations that, to one degree or another, have attracted attention for the wrong reasons – the former because of the explicit, arguably offensive content of the film she’s in, and the latter because of the already-notorious campaign that secured her nomination. On top of that, they’re the only nomination their respective films received, making it very difficult to win an acting Oscar. The last person to do so was Julianne Moore, who was the only Academy Awards representative for the film “Still Alice.” Having only one nomination indicates a lack of widespread support for a film, which makes it hard to garner votes once folks from all the various branches of the Academy are selecting winners.
Therefore, the Best Actress race will likely come down to Blanchett and Yeoh. In terms of what they’ve already won, both actresses have collected their fair share of early season critics prizes – Yeoh won Best Actress from 26 critics organizations, including the National Board of Review. Blanchett is just a little behind her with 20 critics group wins, chief amongst them the triple crown of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, and National Society of Film Critics. And when it comes to televised precursors, both women won at the Golden Globes – Blanchett in the Drama category and Yeoh in Musical/Comedy – while Blanchett prevailed at the Critics Choice Awards. On paper, it’s a near tie in terms of awards won. However, different awards hold different values for different predictors. In fact, it’s common in recent years for an actor with very few, if any, critics awards to win any number of the four televised precursor shows before winning the Oscar.
All eyes are pointed to the two remaining precursor shows for guidance in this tight Best Actress race. Unlike most seasons, the BAFTAs will announce their winners before SAG this year. This places a lot of weight on BAFTA, as they now have more power to accelerate an already-solidified narrative or completely disrupt it. It can’t be overstated how valuable the BAFTAs are at predicting acting winners at the Oscars. They’ve even awarded the eventual Oscar-winner in years where a race was tight (such as Frances McDormand for “Nomadland” and Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained“) or awarded an actor who went on to win the Oscar in a surprise (like Anthony Hopkins for “The Father” and Olivia Colman for “The Favourite“). In addition, the list of actors in the era of the expanded Best Picture lineup who’ve lost the BAFTA and still won the Oscar is relatively small. The following actors did just that, despite being nominated by BAFTA:
- Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight“
- Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl” (Vikander was nominated in lead at the BAFTAs but won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress)
- Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave“
- Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook“
- Christian Bale for “The Fighter”
- Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart”
In addition, a slim list of actors failed even to receive a BAFTA nomination (often because of their UK release date) but still won the Academy Award:
- Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye“
- Regina King for “If Beale Street Could Talk“
- Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club“
- Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club“
- Melissa Leo for “The Fighter”
- Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side”
Suffice it to say, in a tight race, an actor should be crossing their fingers going into the BAFTAs. The British awards body is a strong indicator of the kind of support that can translate into an Oscar win. Blanchett and Yeoh are nominated at this year’s BAFTAs, and many predict that Blanchett’s journey from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards will continue here. However, the BAFTAs clearly liked “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” giving it ten nominations total, so Yeoh is certainly still in the running. If, however, Blanchett does win the BAFTA, it will be hard to bet against her when it comes to Oscar predictions. At that point, even if Yeoh were to win the SAG, Blanchett’s precursor haul would be an intimidating hurdle to overcome.
Of course, some factors play into any awards race that has nothing to do with precursor wins and losses. Regarding their standing in the industry, both women are highly respected veterans with decades of work behind them, filled with an array of career highlights the likes of which most actors would be lucky to have happened to them once. Yeoh has the distinct advantage of being in the Best Picture frontrunner, and there’s a chance that general voter enthusiasm for her film will allow her to get swept up in its many potential wins. It’s also hard to separate her incredible performance from the achievement of the film itself. Simply put, if you like “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” you like Yeoh’s performance. That being said, Blanchett’s film “TÁR” had a fantastic nomination morning, garnering nods in the expected above-the-line categories, plus somewhat surprising mentions in Best Cinematography and Film Editing. It received as many nominations as possible, barring a massive surprise in Best Supporting Actress for Nina Hoss. Academy voters clearly love “TÁR” and, as her significant history with the Oscars shows, they adore Blanchett.
Curiously, Blanchett is the only one of the twenty actors nominated in total by the Academy who’s previously won. In fact, sixteen of the acting contenders are first-time nominees. The only other previous nominees, along with Blanchett, are Angela Bassett, Judd Hirsch, and Michelle Williams. It’s hard to tell if this fact will help or hurt Blanchett. On the one hand, voters apparently love to award her. And they’ve also shown lately that they’re eager to award acting legends a rare third Oscar, as has happened recently with Daniel Day-Lewis, Frances McDormand, and Meryl Streep. On the other hand, in a year where the Academy is enamored by relatively fresh faces, will members feel compelled to vote for someone who hasn’t gotten the chance to climb the stairs onto the Oscar stage? Another factor to consider is the speech Blanchett gave upon winning her Critics Choice Award. She called her win “arbitrary” and made a call to “stop the televised horse race of it all.” There’s a chance that some voters might not take kindly to her perspective on awards season, but then again, they have a history of awarding actors who seem averse to “playing the game,” such as Oscar winners Mo’Nique and Joaquin Phoenix.
If Yeoh were to win, it would be a historic moment for representation at the Academy Awards. She would be the first Asian actress to triumph in her category and only the second woman of color to win Best Actress after Halle Berry’s victory for “Monster’s Ball” over two decades ago. In addition, awards bodies are currently under severe scrutiny for their treatment of women of color. Heavily predicted contenders Viola Davis (“The Woman King“) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till“) were left out of the Best Actress category. And at the recent Grammys, there was a huge uproar when Beyoncé lost Album of the Year for the fourth time for her universally acclaimed “Renaissance.” As such, the Academy has the chance to both fix a glaring blind spot in its own history and serve as a sign of progress for awards groups overall by awarding Yeoh.
But putting all the precursors, history, and competitive aspects of the awards season aside, both Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh gave undeniably phenomenal performances in their nominated roles. No matter which of the two wins, it’ll be difficult not to rank their victory among the best performances to have ever won Best Actress.
Who do you think will win Best Actress at the Oscars? Who would you vote for if you were an Academy voter? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.