It has been a good couple of weeks for “Eighth Grade.” It was one of the top nominees at the Independent Spirit Awards, earning four bids including Best Feature and Best Actress (Elsie Fisher). And at the Gotham Awards for independent film on November 26 it won both of its noms: Breakthrough Director (Bo Burnham) and Breakthrough Actor (Fisher again). It’s early yet, but could Fisher be on her way to becoming one of the youngest Best Actress nominees in Oscar history?
Fisher plays Kayla Day, who is awkwardly coping with her last week of middle school. It’s one of the year’s most acclaimed films with an 89 on MetaCritic and a 99% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fisher’s performance was singled out by many, including Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), who praised her “masterful command of vulnerability, anxiety, resilience and steadfast self-belief.” And Jake Coyle (Associated Press) called her a “remarkably natural young performer.”
But Fisher is 15-years-old, and it’s often difficult for actors to get noticed by the academy at such a young age, especially for leading roles. No boys under the age of 20 have ever been nominated for Best Actor, and only two girls under 20 have been nominated for Best Actress. The good news for Fisher, though, is that those two girls were fairly recent.
In January 2004 Keisha Castle-Hughes became the first Best Actress nominee under 20 when she earned a bid for “Whale Rider” at age 13. That record held for nine years until Quvenzhane Wallis earned a Best Actress nom for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” when she was just nine. In fact, Wallis was born just a few months before Hughes earned her historic nomination, and Fisher is just a few months older than Wallis is now.
So if Fisher earns a Best Actress bid she’ll slide into third place, pushing 20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) down to fourth. But it’s a crowded field this year. Can she keep up this early momentum all the way to January when Oscar nominations will be announced. Given the film’s acclaim, there’s a strong possibility we’ll see her show up in the upcoming critics’ awards, if not in Best Actress then in categories devoted to breakthrough or younger performers. And as of this writing she’s ranked among likely Golden Globe nominees where musical/comedy actresses get their own category and Lady Gaga (“A Star is Born”) has helpfully stepped aside to compete in the drama race instead.
A SAG Award nomination would also help since those kudos correlate closely with Oscar, and they have shown they’re especially open to younger performers. Jamie Bell was nominated as a lead actor for “Billy Elliot” (2000) at age 14. Evan Rachel Wood picked up a leading bid for “Thirteen” (2003) when she was 16. And several other kids have been nominated in the supporting field like Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”), Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), among others. Of those, only Breslin and Steinfeld were subsequently nominated at the Oscars, but the others probably came pretty close.
So will Fisher graduate from “Eighth Grade” to the Oscars? She’s off to a good start, but there’s a long way to go.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.