Frontrunners are already forming in the Oscar race Best Actress race, according to early combined predictions at Gold Derby. Now that the three major fall film festivals — Telluride, Venice and Toronto — have unspooled many of the most anticipated titles, these predictions reflect the flux now that some award journalists and industry leaders have passed judgment on early fall contenders. Two major shifts for female leads: Both Julianne Moore (“Gloria”) and Nicole Kidman (The Goldfinch”) have dropped out from the top 10, replaced by Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” and Helen Mirren in “The Good Liar.” We’ve confirmed most category placements with studios or campaigners, but decisions are not yet final and — as awards season veterans know — such labels can change later. For example, JLo may drop to the supporting race if that improves her chance to win. For now, Gold Derby ranks her in both categories.
BELOW: the current top 10 Best Actress rankings on the Gold Derby site, in order, as of Sept. 14.
1. Renee Zellweger (“Judy,” Sept. 27): 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 if her voice has 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 shine through.” Most critics have basically swooned over Zellweger’s nuanced transformation into Garland, especially when she basks in the glow of her adoring fans when she is in the spotlight on stage.
Oscar history: Zellweger was nominated as a lead for her klutzy singleton working girl in 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and as 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.” But it has been a while since she’s had a role so rich as this showcase. Her own comeback meshes nicely with Garland’s on-screen except she is fully in control of her stellar performance.
2. Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story,” Dec. 6): 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 gifted his leading lady with a 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.
3. 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 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.”
4. Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet,” opens Nov. 1): Heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s appearance on our $20 bills might be delayed. But 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,” 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.
5. 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. RogerEbert.com critic Christy Lemire‘s 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.
6. Charlize Theron (“Bombshell,” Dec. 20): Unlike Showtime’s recent miniseries, “The Loudest Voice,” that focused on Russell Crowe’s portrait of the rotund Fox News founder, Roger Ailes, and his demeaning treatment and sexual harassment of the cable channel’s female on-air talent, this film directed by Jay Roach puts his victims front and center. Theron plays anchor Megyn Kelly, one of his prime targets who would become a controversial figure herself. She would reveal her superior’s sexual misconduct in a memoir but never spoke about it. Theron somehow is the spitting image of Kelly in the film’s trailer and gives off defensive vibes aplenty.
Oscar history: The highly attractive Theron got serious and went the transformational route in 2003’s “Monster” to play real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who robbed and killed her johns. The actress shaved off her eyebrows, gained 30 pounds and wore fake teeth. Stripped of her sex appeal, Hollywood took her seriously and she won a Best Actress Oscar. She was also nominated as a lead in 2005’s “North Country,” as a woman who finds a job in an iron mine where she and other female workers. When they are subjected to sexual harassment and humiliation by their male co-workers, they join together in a class action lawsuit to fight back..
7. 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.
8. 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 grueling role as slave Patsey in 2013’s “12 Years a Slave.”
9. Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”): It’s been a long time since this actress, singer, dancer and reality-show judge has earned glowing reviews for her movie work — since 1998’s “Out of Sight,” to be exact. But her bad luck streak is over thanks to her role as a ring leader of a group of Manhattan strippers in the just-opened “Hustlers.” Check out this gushy review from “Los Angeles Times” critic Justin Chang: “As Ramona, a one-woman supernova who reigns over a New York strip club, Lopez gives her most electrifying screen performance sinc “Out of Sight,” slipping the movie into her non-existent pocket from the moment she strides out onto a neon-lighted stage in a rhinestone bodysuit.” The premise of the film written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler”) is pretty much irresistible as well as these working gals turns the tables on their male clientele during the financial crisis of 2008 by drugging them, snatching their credit cards and stealing thousands of dollars from their accounts.
Oscar history: None yet.
10. Helen Mirren (“The Good Liar,” opens Nov. 15): Isn’t every Oscar contest much improved when there is a capital-D dame in the race? Career con artist Roy (Ian McKellen) can’t believe his luck when he meets a wealthy widow online who seems like someone just waiting to be taken advantage of. She happily allows him into her sumptuous London home and he allows himself to become emotionally involved with this seemingly easy mark — a no-no for someone in his profession.
Oscar history: Mirren has been up for a supporting Oscar twice, for 1994’s “The Madness of King George” and 2001’s “Gosford Park.” She won a Best Actress Academy Award as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s “The Queen.” Her most recent nomination was for her role as Russian author Tolstoy’s wife in 2009’s “The Last Station.”
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.