The autumn is a special time in the world of awards punditry. After speculating in the spring and merely surveying in the summer, we’re finally able to screen most of the films in the fall. As we now brace for winter and the first round of nominations and critics’ awards, we have some idea of what we might expect.
It’s kind of like when Dorothy wakes up in Oz and everything is suddenly in vivid color. We’re not in the state of Kansas (or clueless) anymore.
And speaking of Dorothy…
One of the most talked-about performances of the season is that of Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in “Judy.” Her bravura performance as the tragic entertainer has earned her raves. An Academy Award nomination for Best Actress seems as certain as the smile on Glinda, the Good Witch of the South.
But things won’t be going south for Zellweger anytime soon. In fact, she should smile as she clicks those ruby red slippers three times. Here are five reasons why Renée will win the Oscar for “Judy.”
1. She plays a real person and is physically transformed onscreen.
If it seems like I’m plagiarizing from another Gold Derby article – it’s because I am. Last November, I presented “Five Reasons Why Rami Malek Can Win Best Actor for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’” This was the number one argument that I made for Malek. And it applies to Zellweger, as well. She’s given the challenge of portraying one of the biggest stars of the twentieth century. And she nails it. Her movements, mannerisms and speaking style are all uncanny emulations of the onetime Mrs. Minelli. What’s even more impressive is that she bears little resemblance to Garland, but becomes her on film. The hair-dyed hairdo, florid fashion and meticulous makeup turn her into a genuine Judy. If voters go by the book, it’s a bookend Oscar for Renée.
2. She delivers what will likely be the flashiest performance of the final five.
Since I’ve already started, I’ll continue to copy from last year’s model. We’ve seen time and time again that the Academy goes for the showy over the subtle. (Hence the Oscar for Malek and the omission of Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed.”) Zellweger in “Judy” has arguably the showiest roles of the year. From her constant confrontations and witty wisecracks to her endless antics and dizzying drama, she has two hours of theatrics to sell. She gets serious bonus points for doing her own singing, incredibly looking and sounding like Garland on stage. She might even out-act her depiction of the “Razzle Dazzle” Roxie Hart in 2002’s Best Picture, “Chicago.” Renée lost her Oscar bid by a nose to Nicole Kidman in “The Hours.” But with this year’s razzle and dazzle, she sure smells like a winner for “Judy.”
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3. She’ll sweep the precursors.
Zellweger’s first big test will be at the Golden Globes. And there’s little reason to think that she won’t pass. She’s proven to be a darling of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, triumphing three times in four years – for 2000’s “Nurse Betty,” 2002’s “Chicago” and 2003’s “Cold Mountain.” A victory for “Judy” will hardly be an uphill battle. Her next battle will be at the SAG Awards, which she’ll probably win in a landslide. Actors will consider her role the most challenging, both physically and dramatically. SAG members seem to have a special affection for Renée. The group nominated her for her breakout performance in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire,” when other major entities overlooked her. A few years later, she pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning back-to-back SAG film honors for “Chicago” and “Cold Mountain.” To date, she’s the only actor to do so. (Take that, Meryl.) Also, keep in mind that “Judy” hit theaters in late September – much earlier than the films of her likely competitors. It’s quite possible that her work will be the most widely-seen in the bunch. (SAG members may not get around to viewing all the others during the year-end crunch.) Finally, Zellweger should be a serious threat at the BAFTAs. Most of “Judy” is set in London, and London very much loved the late Judy. Unless London has lost that love, it would be baffling for BAFTA to reward someone other than Renée. Success at these precursors will be a strong Oscar bellwether for Zellweger.
4. She portrays someone struggling with addiction.
I’ll broaden this out a bit, and note that the Academy has a soft spot for actors playing individuals with any type of disease, disability or physical/mental challenge. The past three decades provide numerous examples, including Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot,” Kathy Bates in “Misery,” Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” Tom Hanks in both “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” Holly Hunter in “The Piano,” Jessica Lange in “Blue Sky,” Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas,” Geoffrey Rush in “Shine,” Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Nicole Kidman in “The Hours,” Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose,” Kate Winslet in “The Reader,” Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart,” Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech,” Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything,” Julianne Moore in “Still Alice” and Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” In “Judy,” we witness through Zellweger’s depiction how years of drug and alcohol addiction take a toll on Garland’s health. Will any other contender have the material to top this? This leads me to my final point.
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5. There’s no one who can beat her.
Let’s consider in the possibilities. The previously snubbed Scarlett Johansson delivers the richest performance of her career in “Marriage Story.” But since she shares the film with costar Adam Driver, she steers considerably less screen time than Zellweger. This may leave her the bridesmaid rather than the bride. “The Color Purple” Tony recipient Cynthia Erivo has earned hurrahs for “Harriet,” which is a more of a story-driven picture than a character study. Saiorse Ronan seems poised to pull off her fourth nomination for “Little Women.” Will voters judge her role to be too little of a stretch? And then there’s Charlize Theron in “Bombshell,” who is astonishingly transformed into journalist Megyn Kelly. However, playing a polarizing contemporary media/political figure can be a tough sell. (Just ask Christian Bale in “Vice.”) All of this leaves Renée somewhere over the rainbow and on a golden brick road – straight to the wizard of Oscar.
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.