Top 10 early-bird lead actress Oscar predictions: Saoirse Ronan (‘Little Women’) soars for now

Frontrunners are already forming for the Oscar Best Actress race, according to early predictions at Gold Derby. While most films in contention have not yet been released, enough teaser trailers are out there, ranging from “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “The Irishman” to “Harriet” and “Ford v Ferrari,” to provide some sense of what at least feels like a worthy contender. We’ve confirmed category placements with studios or campaigners, but — as awards season veterans know — such labels can change later. And once the fall film fests commence, the standings will likely rapidly shift.

Here are the current top 10 lead actress picks on the Gold Derby site, in order, as of Aug. 15:

1. Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women,” opens Dec. 25) —   Filmmaker Greta Gerwig is one smart cookie, reuniting her “Lady Bird” leading lady Ronan as spunky March sister Jo as she pursues her literary ambitions,  with the scrumptious Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, who would much rather be her beau than best friend. That said, this is the eighth filmed version of Louisa May Alcott’s evergreen novel Civil War-era novel, and you just know there will be think pieces aplenty comparing Ronan’s performance with those of Katharine Hepburn, June Allyson and Winona Ryder in the same role. But judging by the just-released trailer, she definitely displays her own unique brand of humor, smarts and energy.

Oscar history: Her breakout was as a defiant adolescent whose actions cause pain for her loved ones in 2007’s “Atonement,” which led to a supporting actress spot. Ronan then graduated to the lead category for her Irish lass who finds love and opportunity in New York City in the ’50s in 2015’s “Brooklyn” and as a headstrong high-schooler in 2017’s “Lady Bird.”

2. Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” premieres at the Toronto film festival and opens Nov. 1): Heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s appearance on our $20 bills might be delayed. But at least having the hugely talented Erivo, who won a Tony for her performance as Celie in the 2015 Broadway revival of the musical “The Color Purple,” to bring the founder of the Underground Railroad to life on the big screen is an honor in and of itself. Biopics and movies based on real-life events have been all the rage among Oscar voters this decade. But only a handful have focused on a woman, let alone one of African-American heritage. And, somehow in this day and age, Halle Berry (2001’s “Monster’s  Ball”) remains the only black actress to win for as a lead.

Oscar history: Erivo is well on her way to an EGOT as she is already in possession of  an Emmy,  Grammy and Tony, but no Academy Award action yet.

3. Awkwafina (“The Farewell”): This rapper and comic whose presence elevated last year’s “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians” takes her acting  game to the next level as an adult granddaughter who conspires with her family to keep her Nai Nai (Mandarin for grandma)  from learning she has terminal lung cancer. A wedding is being planned for one of her cousins in China so that her family has a reason to come together and celebrate the family matriarch. As critic Christy Lemire  observations of Awkwafina’s  performance reflected most critics, “It’s thrilling to see her previously untapped, formidable dramatic abilities on display in a lead role.”

Oscar history: None so far.

4. Renee Zellweger (“Judy,” premieres at the Toronto film festival): Yet another musical biopic with Zellweger bringing to life Judy Garland in her later years before her death at age 47 from a barbiturate overdose. She would fly off to London for a five-week engagement of  her final sold-out concerts. As the film’s synopsis says, “It is 30 years since she shot to global stardom in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but it her voice is weakened, its dramatic intensity has only grown. As she prepares for the show, battles with management, charms musicians and reminisces with friends and adoring fans, her wit and warmth shines through.

Oscar history: Zellweger was nominated as a lead for her klutzy singleton working girl in 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and as a housewife turned murderous jazz-age chorine Roxie Hart in the 2002 musical “Chicago.” She would win a supporting trophy by for her earthy frontier woman Ruby Thewes in 2003’s “Cold Mountain.”

5. Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story,” premieres at the Venice film festival):  Johansson takes a break from her Marvel duties as Black Widow and gets down with some real-life nitty-gritty in filmmaker Noah Baumbach‘s portrait of a nasty bicoastal divorce between a New York City playwright (Adam Driver) and a TV actress who takes a job in Los Angeles. Baumbach has revealed that his leading lady gets five-minute monologue to her lawyer that sounds like the kind of scene that leads to trophies.

Oscar history: She has won a Tony as a featured actress for a 2010 Broadway revival of “A View from the Bridge,” but somehow has never received Academy Award attention.

6. Meryl Streep (“The Laundromat,” premieres at the Venice film festival):  This story directed by Steven Soderbergh is based on one of the biggest data leaks in history known as the Panama Papers that happened in 2015. It features Streep as Ellen Martin, a widow whose dream vacation is interrupted when she is dragged into the world of shady financial dealings linked to a Panama City lawyers Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas).

Oscar history: Since her first nomination for 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” she has been up for Hollywood’s most coveted prize 21 times — 17 for Best Actress and four for Best Supporting Actress. She has won three times for supporting in 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and for lead in 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice” and 2011’s “The Iron Lady.” Katharine Hepburn still holds the acting record with four wins, all for leading roles — but considering she has been nominated six times this decade already, La Streep could tie soon.

7. Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”): Horror is not Oscar’s favorite genre but director Jordan Peele‘s latest effort offers both jump-in-your-seat frights while also making statements about social issues. Nyong’o takes on two roles as a tightly wound mother and wife who goes on vacation with husband and two children at a lake house in Santa Cruz. They run into four intruders who are doppelgangers of themselves. That requires Nyong’o — who earned most of the film’s acclaim for her ferocious and committed performance — to be both a victim and her own terrorizing villain, a neat trick to pull off.

Oscar history: She won a supporting Oscar for her role as slave Patsey in 2013’s “12 Years a Slave.”

8. Alfre Woodard (“Clemency,” opens Dec. 27):  Woodard is a hardened prison warden who oversees executions of death row prisoners with a steely lack of empathy. When one goes horribly awry, she faces mounting pressures at work. This Sundance entry won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize, making its director Chinonye Chukwu the first black woman to claim the trophy.

Oscar history: Woodward was nominated for supporting actress for her role as Geechee in “Cross Creek,” the 1983 biopic about”Yearling” author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

9. Julianne Moore (“Gloria Bell”): This English-language remake of the Chilean foreign film, 2013’s “Gloria,” directed by the original’s Sebastian Lelio focuses on a divorced middle-aged L.A. office worker who yearns for romance and companionship. She meets a divorced man (John Turturro) and they hit it off  — until she learns that he is still tethered to his ex-wife and he proves to be unreliable. Moore might  be more polished in her appearance than the original actress, but she also adds starry transcendency.

Oscar history: Moore has been nominated five times starting with a supporting actress nod as a porn actress in 1997’s “Boogie Nights.” She was promoted to the lead category for her work in 1999’s “The End of the Affair” and 2002’s “Far from Heaven” She also was in the supporting line-up for “The Hours.” She would win for her portrait of a 50-year-old linguistics professor who learns she has early on-set Alzheimer’s disease in 2014’s “Still Alice.”

10. Nicole Kidman (“The Goldfinch,” premieres at the Toronto film festival): In the film based on Pulitzer-winning novel,  Kidman’s somewhat distant yet caring wealthy socialite and her family takes in 13-year-old Theo (Ansel Elgort), whose mother dies during a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Oscar history: Kidman has been nominated four times —  She was a lead actress candidate for the 2001 jukebox musical “Moulin Rouge!,” and the 2010 drama “Rabbit Hole” while winning for her take on depressive author Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours.” She also competed as a supporting actress in the 2016 biopic “Lion.”

PREDICT the Oscars nominations; change them until January 13

Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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