I may be oversimplifying it, but this year’s Actress race is certainly different. Most people were under the impression that whoever won at the Golden Globes this year would be our new frontrunner. The only exception being the person who ended up winning. Since then, the race seems to be a little ambiguous. If you ask Film Twitter, Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman“) is the clear frontrunner, which isn’t totally off in my opinion, but the way she’s being presented, it seems like she’s the locked-in, done-deal winner. I don’t know if that’s true because, personally, I believe that in the Best Actress category, there is a path to victory for each of the five nominees.
Easily, though, the one path to victory that is the absolute weakest is Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom“). The factors working in her favor are that Davis is a very respected actress in Hollywood, and she does give a very showy performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” And that’s about it, honestly. She’s a previous winner and a recent one at that. Her movie has absolutely no steam outside of Best Actor ever since it was snubbed for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The performance itself has been the center of a debate over whether or not her role is Lead or Supporting, which is ultimately attributed to her small screen time. But the most damning thing going against Davis is her late co-star, Chadwick Boseman. Not only does Boseman give a better performance, but he’s the frontrunner and almost certainly the lock to win Best Actor, so the chances that a non-Best Picture nominee gets both of the lead acting awards are slim-to-none.
But as I said, there is a path for Davis. Her path is to win SAG. While that isn’t the lock that some think it is, it’s not impossible. She has an excellent track record with SAG. She’s won every single individual SAG award she’s been nominated for, except for her supporting performance for “Doubt” in 2008. However, even if she does win, her chances are very slim for the reasons listed above.
Moving on to Frances McDormand (“Nomadland“), her path is clear on paper but bumpier the closer you look at it. “Nomadland” is the clear Best Picture frontrunner, for which she is also nominated. I feel like that will both help and hurt her. It helps because she and writer-director Chloe Zhao are the faces of this movie, and if “Nomadland” truly is going to be the juggernaut at this year’s Oscars, McDormand could go along with it. But, in my opinion, it might be a detractor. For “Nomadland,” the worst-case scenario is it only wins Best Cinematography and Best Director for Chloe Zhao. Best Picture and Best Screenplay are the next two most likely. So, if a voter were to be filling their ballot, it could be easy for a voter to not wanna give “Nomadland” every award, and not voting for Best Actress is an easy solution to that given the nature of the performance. She is a two-timer winner who gives a small, subtle, and restrained performance compared to the four bigger performances nominated alongside her. On top of that, given that she recently won a second Oscar four years ago for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” if giving her a third Oscar is a driving force for voters, the simple solution is to reward the film Best Picture, given that she is a producer.
Despite all that, she is one of two women to get all the major nods. If McDormand wins both, the Oscar is as good as hers. Another path is she wins SAG and loses BAFTA. She could still have an edge in that outcome. Due to the nature of the voting for the nominations at BAFTA, if she wins BAFTA and not SAG, that may strengthen the SAG winner. In summary, due to the nature of her performance, it’s unlikely, but she does have a clear path outside of that.
I’m going to move on now to Andra Day because, even though there are tons of cons going against her, her small amount of pros almost outweigh it. Let’s start with those cons; for one, the movie is terrible. That’s not good. You can say, “What about Bohemian Rhapsody?” all you want in response. That still had a majority of good reviews and enormous audience support. Day also has only Golden Globe and Critics Choice nods, and those are not the award bodies with voter overlap. I’ll accept the idea that “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” had a screener issue for SAG, but Day wasn’t even longlisted at BAFTA, where the movie was longlisted elsewhere. Also, she hasn’t really made a big name for herself in the film industry, at least not as much as the other four have.
On top of that, the absolute worst thing going against Day is she has zero steam anymore, and she can’t gain any more unless the movie has a random surge on social media. Again, because of the quality of the film, that is unlikely. But, there are pros here as well. For one, her performance is very “awards-baity.” She’s playing real-life singer Billie Holiday. She does her own singing and sounds very similar to Billie Holiday’s singing voice. She did win the Golden Globe, but at the same time, the more I think about it, her win there makes sense. There are two things the HFPA loves more than anything; musicals or movies about music, and Day checks both boxes while also being a singer superstar. But the biggest thing going for her is her narrative that she could become only the second black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, the first being Halle Berry for “Monsters Ball” in 2002. After a year of so much racial division in the aftermath of George Flloyd’s murder, a win for a performance of a black icon like Billie Holiday will be very appealing to voters.
So, what’s her path to a victory? It may sound harsh, but it may come down to luck. She can’t gain any momentum with the remaining televised awards, while her opponents have big opportunities to gain some. So when I say it comes down to luck, she has to hope that McDormand, Kirby, or Mulligan lose SAG and that Kirby and McDormand lose BAFTA. Even if (and most likely when) that doesn’t happen, her path is possible but highly unlikely.
Now, personally, when it comes to the last two, Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces Of A Woman“) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman“), these are the two that have the best path to victory. Let’s start with Mulligan, the perceived frontrunner.
Mulligan and her movie, “Promising Young Woman,” slowly became major frontrunners, all the way to when nominations happened, which caused Mulligan to become the frontrunner to win Best Actress. She’s the face of the movie, and she’s a previous Oscar nominee for “An Education” in 2009. She does have a strong, lasting presence in the film, and it sticks with you after it’s concluded. Plus, she has a very famous scene towards the climax when she faces Al Munroe in the nurse outfit. Another significant factor is the fact that “Promising Young Woman” secured broad support from the Academy, not missing a single crucial nomination.
Every theory for her win has been busted so far. The idea that the Golden Globes would be the beginning of her clean sweep wasn’t accurate. The theory that BAFTA was her’s cause she’s British won’t happen as she wasn’t even nominated (Note: Her snub at BAFTA doesn’t mean she can’t win the Oscar due to the nature of the voting this year). She won Critics Choice, which is good, but not amazing because it makes sense that the CCA would give it to her, and there is still no Academy overlap. Usually, CCA likes to give it to the frontrunner, which is, in most cases, the Globe winner. However, Day’s win made the category ambiguous, so naturally, they gave it to the favorite with the most critic award wins.
And, finally, the nature of the performance itself. She is unbelievably fantastic in “Promising Young Woman.” However, as good as she is, it’s not the kind of performance that typically wins due to the fact that she is a little stoic the entire movie. It works amazingly for the character, but it’s not really the kind of performance that usually leads to an Oscar win. She has her flashy Oscar moments, but even those aren’t as bombastic as others. On top of that, while the love for the film certainly far outweighs the movie’s divisiveness, there are still those who are mixed on this movie, such as old straight white men who feel threatened by this kind of character and the survivors of sexual assault who find some of the movie’s more intense moments to be triggering.
My point being, this has been a surprisingly bumpy season for Mulligan. And when it comes to her path, it will all rely on this Sunday’s SAG awards, which is an absolute nail-biter for Mulligan and her fans for one reason: if she wins, she’s almost certainly on her way to the win, but if she loses, it’s almost certainly over for her. Could she win SAG? Absolutely! There is no reason to say she can’t. But if she loses, especially if it’s to Kirby or McDormand, she would then have to bank on just her CCA win. If Davis or, somehow, Adams wins SAG, then she needs to hope Kirby and McDormand lose BAFTA.
And finally, there’s Vanessa Kirby. Before I start, I will acknowledge that I have a slight bias here as anybody who’s seen my Twitter will know I consider her performance the best of the year regardless of gender or whether it’s lead or supporting. I do love “Pieces Of A Woman” more than most (hell, I’m probably its biggest fan). But when it comes to predicting wins, I completely disregard biases, and I will prove that by beginning with what her cons are.
The Shia LaBeouf scandal is definitely not a positive, but I will point out that “Bohemian Rhapsody” won four Oscars despite who directed that. The movie is very mixed with critics and audiences, and her co-star, Ellen Burstyn, was completely snubbed this season, despite being considered an early contender at one point. She is the only nominee for her movie, which isn’t always terrible for Best Actress as the last decade has told us, but it certainly isn’t a good thing if you’re not already steamrolling the televised awards, which she isn’t. But easily, the most significant factor going against Kirby is that she and the movie have, at present, absolutely no momentum. Kirby has won no critic awards, and up until the movie’s release, she received no nominations (despite winning Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival). That’s bad, but it’s not as damning. I know I brought this up with Day and said that almost sinks her, but the difference is the fact that Kirby can gain momentum in the coming weeks.
Now, what’s working for her? If you were to ask Film Twitter, they’d probably tell you that nothing is working in her favor (three different people called me delusional for thinking she had a shot at winning). But there are factors in her favor. Alongside McDormand, she’s the only one to receive every major nomination. Like Mulligan, she’s a young ingenue who has made a name for herself thanks to her Emmy-nominated performance in “The Crown,” as well as starring in “Fast And Furious” and “Mission: Impossible” movies. And Kirby gives a very flashy performance that voters typically like to reward. Like Mulligan, she is somewhat stoic for a lot of the movie, but the difference is that her Oscar scenes are very flashy. She has a gut-wrenching crying moment at the end in the courtroom. She has a screaming match with Burstyn, and of course, the famous 20-minute long-take birthing scene.
Now, what is her path? Well, like McDormand, she could easily just win both SAG and BAFTA. If that happens, then the Oscar is her’s to lose. And it could be easy for voters to pick her due to the nature of her performance. However, because she is the sole nomination for the film, it might sink her if she isn’t seen enough by the voters. If she loses both, then those three people who called me delusional were right this whole time. But let’s say she wins one of the final two major precursors; what happens then? That depends. If it’s SAG, then she’s in a good spot to win the Oscar. A SAG win will most certainly lead to a BAFTA win, but even if it doesn’t, the momentum she would gain from the SAG win could cause enough people to watch the movie, leading to her win. Now, let’s say she only wins BAFTA; that depends on whether or not Mulligan wins SAG.
If Mulligan wins SAG, Kirby’s BAFTA win could have a similar effect to what her SAG win would have done, but more likely, Mulligan would end up winning the Oscar, as Kirby is British and has won a BAFTA before, so there is a bias there. If Mulligan and Kirby lose SAG and Kirby wins BAFTA, she can gain that much-needed momentum I was talking about just in time for Oscar voting.
So, if I’m right, it looks like the easiest paths are Mulligan and Kirby’s. Davis and McDormand are not impossible but not strong enough either, especially since a previous winner won this category just last year. Day is also not impossible and could easily defy all the odds as she did at the Globes, but it’s not the smartest bet to place right now.
So, it would help if you probably were predicting either Kirby or Mulligan. And this might shock people who know me; even though Kirby has an easier path (she has two opportunities to secure a win while Mulligan only has one), Mulligan’s path is probably the more realistic one. She might just easily win SAG, and that will likely secure it for her, as the CCA and SAG combo is a good package for her. But the point of this isn’t to add on to the “Carey’s gonna win, it’s over” narrative because the reality is, it’s not a done deal yet.
I want to make two points come across from this; Watch out for Kirby. She is not this lost cause that she is being presented as and can easily take it at the end of the day. The other thing I’m trying to do is temper expectations on Mulligan. She could easily win, but she could just as easily lose. Unless something crazy like Amy Adams winning SAG happens, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this Sunday’s SAG Awards will be a nail-biter for the Best Actress, but it will be (hopefully) MUCH less ambiguous after.
Who do you think is going to win SAG, BAFTA and Oscar for Best Actress? Check out the Next Best Picture team’s most recent predictions here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.